Earlier this week the Northeast experienced its warmest weather of 2012 to date, with the feel of spring in the air as temperatures reached well into the 50s F in the valleys of Northern Vermont. Seasonable temperatures resumed on Thursday night however, with a strong cold front passage that produced winds as high as 96 MPH on Mt. Mansfield and brought along a few inches of snow to the mountains. This frontal passage was followed by a small upper level disturbance that brought more snow as it came through the area last night. Snowfall totals weren’t expected to be more than an inch or two, but many of the Vermont resorts picked up several additional inches of snow, with some of the Central Vermont Ski Areas topping the accumulations list at around a foot; Sugarbush reported 11 inches of new snow overnight to bring their 48-hour total to 15 inches.
Unsure about how much snow was coming, we didn’t have any hard and fast ski plans for today, but when 4.4 inches of snow had fallen at the house by this morning, and Bolton had tacked on another several inches to their Thursday night totals, it called for hitting the slopes. The Vista Quad was loading at 8:30 A.M., and the new powder got the boys motivated enough that we made it up to the Village only 5 to 10 minutes after that. I dropped E and the boys off in the Village Circle, and easily got parking in the top tier of the Village lot – we’re into March now, so many people are thinking warm weather activities, and today wasn’t really forecast to be a significant powder day either. With that combination I wouldn’t expect it to be a very busy day at the mountain.
The base area was indeed very quiet as we loaded on the Vista Quad for our first ride – Jason and the other instructors were out for their early training/clinic runs, and let us know that conditions were great. It was cloudy, with the cloud ceiling dipping down just low enough to skim the peaks up above 3,000’. Temperatures were in the mid 20s F, and there was no wind. The midweek warmth and return to cold had hardened up all the subsurfaces, and with only modest amounts of snow since then, we knew that moderate and low angle terrain was the best way to go for bottomless powder turns. We were encouraged by what we saw beneath our feet as we cruised along on the quad though – the morning’s initial tracks had the look of a respectable powder day. With moderate terrain and fresh tracks in mind, we set our sights on a trip over to Wilderness, since the lift hadn’t been fired up since last weekend.
Right from the Vista Summit, we had a chance to check out the float in the fresh powder as we ventured skiers left on Spillway Lane. The snow was very nice, with no effects from any sort of wind; we actually found ourselves in some quality Champlain Powder™. That first pitch was a perfect spot to see how all our skis performed in the snow at hand. I found myself touching down occasionally on my RT 86s, which have only an 86 mm waist, but that shovel up near 130 mm really helps with the float. E’s Telemark skis are pretty skinny, with 10 mm less width all around, so she may have touched down a bit more. For the boys though, who were on their twin tip/fat skis that have the equivalent of a ~130 mm waist at adult length, floating was a piece of cake. They boys don’t weigh very much of course, so combine that with wide skis and they’ve got it easy, but E and I are definitely keen on getting some fatter Telemark skis because we continue to see the benefits even on these small to moderate powder days.
We continued on Sherman’s Pass, carving some turns in the new powder off the edges off the trail, and then turned onto Swing around the 2,800’ elevation where I used the sheltered area to check the depth of the powder. The depth came in right around 7 inches, presumably representing the accumulation from the past couple of days. Work Road was pleasant with the usual areas of powder, and then once over at Wilderness we headed down part of the Wilderness Lift Line and into Wilderness Woods. Turns were very nice in there, as the pitch fit the amount of new snow nicely, and I could see that E was enjoying the Telemark turns. We exited out onto Lower Turnpike and finished the run through the powder along the edges.
Upon checking in at the base of the Wilderness Chair, the lift operator informed us that it would be opening at 10:00 A.M. We made a mental note, and traversed over to the Vista Quad for another run. I was planning on another run in that moderate pitch category, and we opted for Cobrass to get us down to Five Corners or enable us to check out some of the trees in the area if the snow was good enough. The skiing in the Villager Trees turned out to be very nice on all but the steepest pitches, so we really enjoyed that. By the time we’d finished there we noticed that the rope had been dropped signifying that Timberline had opened, and we had to make a decision between heading there or to Wilderness. It didn’t take long… we were right there at the access point for Timberline and the whole area was going to be essentially untracked. It turned out to be the perfect choice.
On our way down to the Timberline Base we ventured through Lower Tattle Tale and were the first ones at the top, so fresh tracks were had all the way down. I’d been concerned about how deep the powder was going to be around the 2,000’ elevation range and below, but there were a good 5 inches of fluff in which to float, so there were plenty of bottomless turns. Once we’d experienced that, we knew we’d be spending a good amount of time at Timberline. As we were finishing off the run I cut over onto Lower Spell Binder, and was the first one on there for the day. For fun I took a line right down the middle, and the turns were stupendous; I showed Ty the tracks when I met everyone at the bottom and he agreed that we should do more of that. It was already starting to feel like one of those semi-private Timberline powder days.
At the Timberline Mid Station we saw that the headwall of Spell Binder was closed, so we did a run in the Wood’s Hole Glades. The glades had seen just a little traffic, and it was a delight to watch Dylan silently and fluidly navigate his way down the entry line. Soon after, E got her timing banjaxed from the get go, and struggled her way down the same line. We laughed about how that one misstep at the start can leave you out of synch for the whole segment. The snow in the trees was good, but even better was the untracked expanse of Spell Binder that we eventually caught below; that was just the pitch for the snowfall we’d received, and the powder turns seemed endless. We agreed that it had to be done again, but the boys were calling for a snack break, so we popped into the Timberline Lodge for a few minutes. It was very quiet in there, with just a couple dozen ski bags and a few people; I’m sure most folks were out enjoying all the powder.
Once back out on the slopes, my plan was to check out the Corner Pocket Glades, which I expected to have an excellent pitch for the amount of powder that was around. Unfortunately, the surface in there was somewhat irregular for whatever reason, and it would have taken a few more inches of snow to really get the glades into prime form. E had trouble getting into a rhythm on her Telemark skis, and had a pretty good crash near a tree. Although the boys had no issues at all on their short, fat, alpine skis, I could feel the difficulty in the snow as well on my Teles, so once E had crashed we decided to clear out and head for open terrain. We worked our way over to Spell Binder, and in terms of snow it was like night and day. The skiing out there was so effortless and sweet, it was hard to imagine what had gone on in the trees to make things so difficult. Perhaps the more even distribution of melting/freezing on the open slopes made everything that much smoother. In any event, at least we discovered that quickly and got to enjoy a long run of turns out in the open.
The boys were getting antsy, so we headed back toward the main base area at that point, catching some turns off the sides of Villager. E was a keen powderhound and caught some nice looking turns off to the skier’s left. Ty and I made some extra powder turns in what has become an almost perfunctory little line from Timberline Run down to Villager – I warned Ty about the drainage swale at the exit, and he fluidly found a nice little snow bridge back to the trail. Although the boys were anxious to get home, it was easy to entice them with a Snowflake run, so we cut down Lower Foxy and were able to glide through the powder in all the untracked areas. Ty and Dylan even headed off into some of the trees that they like to explore along the lift line. Lower Foxy had delivered as usual, with not a single track in its powder stashes even though it was almost noontime.
The powder was skiing so well that I decided to keep the party going and take E and the boys through the Bonus Woods. That area has always had some decent lines, but we’ve helped to spruce them up over the past couple of seasons with patroller Quinn and the rest of the Bolton Valley Glade Enhancement team, so turns were pretty facile and E cruised through smoothly even on her Telemark skis. That run meant more first tracks and everyone seemed to be pleased with the run as we popped out near the Vista Quad. E and Dylan headed back on piste, while Ty and I headed toward Butterscotch – for me it was a chance to ski more powder along the edge of the park, but Ty sought out some box sliding on the features.
Another round of snow had started to fall as we approached midday, and as the family regrouped in the space between the bases of the Mid Mountain and Vista lifts, we had to make a decision. The conditions were too good to easily pull ourselves away, but the boys were ready to go and were making that quite apparent. We debated for a couple of minutes, with E and I certainly willing to stay and enjoy a few more runs, but having a birthday party to go to at my parent’s place in the evening and some associated food shopping to do was enough to tip the balance. We skied down to the Wentworth Condos and took our time strapping together the skis as we soaked in the midday scene on this wonderful powder day. An occasional car would come or go, many were covered with a fresh blanket of white, and a light snow was falling composed of exquisite flakes. I even had time to take a few photographs while the boys played around on some of the snowbanks.
Finishing up with the skiing on a powder day is always a little bittersweet; it’s hard to pull away knowing that there are more great turns available out there, but there’s also that physically and mentally relaxing/exhausting feeling of completing such an enjoyable activity. We were definitely efficient this morning, skiing miles and miles of untracked powder, hitting the right terrain, and getting over 600 photos in the process. All of that came from what was a bit of a surprise powder morning, and even if it wasn’t the deepest powder on record, with the whole family together it will go down as one of our favorite days of the season. It was still in the mid 20s F with the clouds hanging around on the mountain, but when we got back to the house down in the valley, a beautiful spring afternoon was underway with full sun and a temperature that had already risen to 40 F. Indeed it was a pretty classic Vermont spring powder day.