The skiing yesterday was so good, that it was definitely worth going back for some more today. Snow continued to fall last night, and even down at the house it was still snowing under partly cloudy skies during the first part of the morning. It was only accumulating minimally in our yard, but the radar showed the moisture continuing to crash into the Northern Greens, so the mountains were getting at least of bit of additional accumulation. Down at the house, the mix of clouds, sun, and snowfall eventually gave way to full sunshine. Ideally, it would have been nice to head out really early to catch the powder before it was potentially affected by the late April sun, but the boys were enjoying a leisurely start to a day off from school, and we didn’t head to Stowe until late morning.
With the clear skies, it was a chance to finally see how the snowfall had played out in the mountains on our drive to the resort. The first thing I could see was that accumulations of white were just painting the tops of the ~2,000’ peaks across the Winooski Valley from our house. Our next view was of the Worcester Range, which was white for about the top 1,000’. The real dramatic views came when we finally saw Mt. Mansfield though, where the alpine regions were just blazing white above the touches of green foliage in the valley. Everyone in the car was stunned by how white the mountain looked, and E pulled over so I could get a few pictures from a good viewpoint.
Unlike yesterday, we found the gate to the Mansfield parking lot fully locked, so we parked right near it along with the cars of a few other people who were doing the same thing. We geared up, and walked over to the area above the Mansfield Base Lodge. The morning sun was already warming the snow in the lowest elevations, and I could see that there was less snow down near the lodge than when I’d been there yesterday. The temperature was still 34 F at the base though, so the freezing line wasn’t going to be too far above us.
We put on our skins right on the flats above the lodge. We were able to piece together a skin route up to Crossover fairly easily, but some gaps in the snow cover were starting to form. The strong April sun was also starting to make the snow sticky, but there was a nice stiff, cold breeze that seemed to be fighting against that. E and the boys weren’t too psyched by the look of the snow coverage, but I assured them it was going to get much better above 2,000’, and indeed it did. Not only did the coverage get better, but the snow was much drier above the 1,800’ Crossover level, and it looked like turns were going to be quite good. We encountered a few groups making ascents and descents, and a lot of dogs, but they were all quite well behaved. Actually, one of the coolest dog encounters of the day, or perhaps lack of encounter, was with what we’re guessing was a Samoyed. He appeared way above us, and came bounding down toward us with fur so incredibly thick that the look was that of an abominable snowman. We’d seen a few people around, but there was no obvious owner in sight, and when the dog came by he didn’t hassle us at all, he just passed along with a friendly look and went on his merry way. He definitely had the bearing of a dog that was built for snow and was having fun in his environment. We were able to continue our ascent up to around the 2,800’ elevation just above the top of the Mountain Triple before the boys really decided that they’d had enough. E was also unsure about the quality of the snow, and didn’t want to continue on a long ascent just to get more snow of marginal quality. Based on my impressions of the snow, which had continued to dry out more and more as we ascended, along with the body language of the skier’s we’d seen descending, I felt that the conditions were going to be great. But, you never really know how it’s going to ski until you try it, so I offered to skin up a little farther and ski down to check the snow before we made our final decision about the descent. Dylan was full of energy and made the ascent with me. After removing our skins, Dylan made the first descent, and once I saw him rip off a beautiful Telemark turn, I knew we were going to be in great shape. Indeed the snow was fairly nice packed powder up at that elevation; the cool temperatures and breeze were doing their job well.
We still descended at that point, and went by the same route we climbed, knowing that the coverage was decent and there would be a lot of good turns. The boys had several days of fairly intense Telemark training toward the end of the lift-served ski season at Stowe, but it’s been a few weeks since they did all that work, and E was wondering if they would retain all the progress they’d made. It was also the first time since those sessions that they’d been in powder, chowder, or any type of winter snow. We were happy to see that those first turns that Dylan made weren’t a fluke, and the boys really made a lot of excellent Telemark turns, even some in steep terrain in the chopped up powder. Various groups of skiers and riders had used the North Slope route by this afternoon, so most of the terrain was tracked up, but we still found some nice areas of untracked snow, and those were some of the best turns of the day. The last pitch of North Slope had a few tricky spots because it’s steep and has some areas of rock instead of grass, and then below Crossover in the terrain park area it was a game of connecting the dots among sticky snow, but it was a pretty minor part of the run compared to the bulk that had good snow. The fun part about that last section was the team route finding, and playing in the pockets of powder that had settled in among the vestiges of the some of the terrain park features.
Overall I think E was pleasantly surprised by just how good the snow turned out to be; it certainly wasn’t up to the quality of yesterday by time we got out, but there was definitely some midwinter snow above that 1,800-2,000’ level. I was intrigued by the interesting interplay between the strong sun and the cold and wind; I’m still amazed at how well the snow avoided getting sticky in the higher elevations. It was definitely a really good outing for Dylan. First off, it was his birthday, but he also go to use his new Anon goggles for the first time and he was very excited about that. On top of that though, he really had good energy on the ascent and made some really nice Telemark turns on parts of the descent. I’d say he kicked off his seventh birthday with some style.
I checked on the Bolton Valley Web Cam a couple of times during the day today, and knowing that it was snowing the whole time in the mountains, I headed off to Stowe in the afternoon to do a tour and ski some of the new powder. Temperatures remained in that upper 30s F through the Winooski Valley and into Waterbury Center; and although it wasn’t accumulating, it snowed continuously in the mountain valleys. It was right around 1,000’ near the Matterhorn that I first started seeing accumulations of snow on the ground, and by the time I’d reached the base of Mt. Mansfield at around 1,500’, the temperature was near freezing and the snow was accumulating easily. I found an inch or two of new snow outside the Mansfield Base Lodge, and even down at that elevation it was quite dry.
I put on my gear and skinned up in the North Slope area, knowing that it had a decent base of snow thanks to Powderfreak’s snow reports from the past few days. Light snowfall continued during my ascent, but the wind wasn’t bad, and temperatures just a few degrees below freezing were pleasant. I followed the vestiges of a skin track that while presumably fairly recent, wasn’t very deep, and indeed the new snow and at least some wind erased it in many spots. There was visible grass poking through the snow in the lowest elevations below Crossover, and even a bit above that level, but at around 2,000’ atop the bottom steep pitch of North Slope, the coverage got more consistent and things really started to look appealing. The snow depth didn’t really increase all that rapidly with elevation; there were probably 3 to 4 inches in the middle elevations, and some areas were scoured a bit, but some areas were also a bit deeper.
I continued my skin on up on Lord and Lower Ridgeview, and the snow had reached a depth of about 5 inches at 3,500’ where I stopped my ascent just a bit below the top of the Fourrunner Quad on Lord Loop. It was a little tough to get an accurate measurement of the snow depth due to drifting, but I’ll go with 5 inches as my best guess for up near the top of the quad. I did find areas where accumulations were as deep as 7 inches, but those seemed to be spots where snow had collected efficiently with help from the wind. As of 5:20 P.M., the depth of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake had gone up by 4 inches, so that certainly seems to be in the range of what I found up in the higher elevations. I saw a couple of small groups of skiers and riders during my ascent, but there really weren’t too many people out on that North Slope route.
I descended generally in the region of my ascent, since I’d seen the state of the base coverage there, although I did make a side excursion onto Sunrise because I was presented with a huge expanse of unbroken snow that looked like it had decent base. I touched down on firm stuff a couple of times, but it was definitely worth it. I was unsure of the coverage lower down on that route, but I was able to make my way back toward the main North Slope route by using what I think was part of Toll Road. Anyway, the snow was nice medium-weight powder, and although this storm hasn’t delivered as much as that last one a couple weeks ago, the powder is of much higher quality. It’s not totally bottomless powder skiing everywhere, but in many areas it is, and with the nice base snow below, it makes for some smooth and effortless turns. In the last few hundred vertical feet of the descent below Crossover, there are certainly areas where there’s no base, but the snow is deep enough and of enough substance that the turns are smooth all the way to the top of the stairs above the Mansfield Base Lodge. You certainly want to be careful to watch out for rocks, but one doesn’t really need rock skis unless they really want to venture well off the beaten path into areas that don’t have any sort of base.
Back at the car, I spoke with another guy who had skied in the Nosedive area, and he said it was fabulous in the upper elevations, and OK toward the bottom, but I’m not sure if there is quite as much base in the lower elevations there based on what I’ve seen from afar. Temperatures were dropping when I left the resort around 6:30 P.M. or so, and I saw accumulating snow all the way down to The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, which is around 750’. I met E and the boys for dinner at Frida’s, and when we were done, snow was accumulating right in the center of Stowe at around 700’ as the temperatures continued to drop. It snowed on and off all the way back to our house in Waterbury (495’), and I found a couple of tenths of an inch of accumulation on the snowboard as of 8:00 P.M. It’s continued to snow all evening, it’s still been light, but there’s another tenth of an inch or two on the board now. It’s going to be quite cold the next few nights, and not really that warm during the day, so the new snow should be around for some good skiing during that time.
The huge cutoff low pressure system that brought more than two feet of snow to the mountains has been great for replenishing the slopes and supplying winter-like temperatures, and we made good use of it with ski outings on Tuesday and Thursday, but the sun was finally out consistently today and temperatures have been warming up. Even though we’re just a few miles from Bolton Valley, it’s been really hard to get a sense for how the snowpack is doing in the mountains. From the house, you can’t see snow in any of the 2,000’ peaks across the Winooski Valley, so that makes it especially hard to gauge. Also, when it’s sunny with temperatures in the 60s F at the house, it can be hard to think about snow.
“The descent really wasn’t
the highlight of the trip,
since the snow was still
fairly isothermal and mushy,
but I did manage some
decent turns here and there.”
I’ve definitely been curious about the state of the snowpack though, and hadn’t visited Bolton since the recent storm, so after making use of the weather to get some yard work done during the day, I headed up in the late afternoon for a ski tour. Some clouds actually came into the area during the afternoon that kept temperatures relatively cool, so I was thankful of that with some hiking ahead. Honestly, most of the trip up the Bolton Valley Access Road, you wouldn’t even know there was snow anywhere. The first snow I saw was at 1,500’ at the base of Timberline, but that was just leftover manmade snow that had been stockpiled in that area. The first natural snow along the road was visible at around 1,800’, just patchy of course, but right around 2,000’ in the Village the coverage started to become continuous, with a depth around one inch. Just jumping up in elevation minimally to back behind the base lodge at ~2,100’, the depth of the snow had increased to 2-4”.
Even if not super deep down near the base, it was nice to see all the slopes covered with the recent snows. There had definitely been plenty of skier traffic since the end of the storm, and tracks were scattered all over the slopes. I ascended on Beech Seal, using various tracks of others to ease my ascent. The snow was certainly thick and heavy, and the depth increased very rapidly with elevation, just as I’d seen at Stowe on Tuesday. By the time I’d reached the Mid Mountain area at 2,500’, the depth of the snow was 8 to 10”. Above Mid Mountain, the main skin track eventually continued onto Hard Luck, and although it’s much too steep for an efficient skinning ascent, I decided to stick with it just for a change of pace from my usual ascent routes. Indeed it was pretty rough, with post holes galore amidst a bunch of descent tracks, but it worked out OK. Up around the 2,800’ level the snow had reached 16” in depth, and again similar to the results at Stowe, it didn’t get much deeper than that, with roughly 16-18” near the Vista Summit at 3,100’. That 2,800’ level must have been where the storm was snow throughout, whereas below that level it had gradually changed over to snow while the temperatures cooled.
The descent really wasn’t the highlight of the trip, since the snow was still fairly isothermal and mushy, but I did manage some decent turns here and there. The snow was tricky enough on Telemark skis that I stuck to the Sherman’s Pass and Bear Run combination. The snow seemed to be consolidating a bit with the afternoon’s cooling temperatures, but it certainly wasn’t where we want it yet. Sub-freezing temperatures tonight should help out with some consolidation though – there could be a nice window of skiing tomorrow when the snow surface softens up. I’d say today’s outing was most fun from the tour aspect and the chance to assess the snow depths, but the snowpack up high is definitely looking good. Another storm in the near future would have some base snow to set down on and produce some nice turns.
E has been at a teacher’s conference in Boston for the past couple of days, and with the boys on spring break, I’ve been mostly out of the office to watch them. With the recent snow we’ve had, today was an obvious day for us to get out for some skiing, but based on my experience with the snow quality on Mt. Mansfield on Tuesday, skinning for turns wasn’t going to cut it with the boys. Depending on elevation, the dense Sierra Cement-style snow had been quite challenging to ski, and in order to get to the best snow, one really has to make the long trek above the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range. That’s a big ascent to ask of the boys, only to deliver challenging snow conditions that would probably frustrate them anyway, so lift-served skiing with the potential for some groomed runs seemed to be the way to go. Killington and Jay Peak were running lifts today, and since both were reporting about a foot and a half of new snow, deciding between them was a toss-up in that regard. I decided on Jay Peak, being a touch closer and hopefully a touch colder; I was also hoping to check out all the expansion that has gone on at the resort since my last visit.
Even with all the snow that the mountains have received over the past few days, there’s literally no snow in the lower valleys, and it wasn’t until fairly high elevations along Route 118 south of Montgomery that we saw any snow along the road during our trip to Jay Peak. What we saw were just a couple of old north-facing snowbanks along the side of the road, but snow cover did build steadily once we got up high enough up on Route 242, and it carried through right to the base of the resort. We parked on the tram side, and the changes in the area’s development were obvious. The last time I’d visited Jay Peak was during the Mother’s Day snowstorm in 2010, and while the Tram Haus Lodge was there and we got to eat at Alice’s Table, the new Hotel Jay and the massive Pump House Indoor Water Park were not. I could see that the new Hotel Jay was quite a step up in size from the old one, and while I couldn’t see any sign of the water park that everyone has been talking about, I figured we’d have some time for exploring the area after we gotten in some skiing.
The weather in the late morning was a mixture of clouds and blue sky, and we were presented with some impressive views of the snowy slopes. I’m not sure what the slopes had looked like before the storm, but they were totally covered today. I’d told the boys about the tram, and let them know that while it was closed for the season for skiing, they’d at least get to have a look at it. The tram was in action though, apparently running in association with some maintenance, and the boys just had to watch it dock at the Tramside Base Lodge. We booted up inside the lodge, and there was literally nobody there but employees. We could see that there were about a dozen ski bags hung in various spots along the walls, but it was obvious that we weren’t going to see too many others out on the slopes. It’s easy to see how dicey the prospects for making a profit must be on these midweek days in April, but we were thankful that the mountain was open and they were definitely getting our business. Tickets were reasonable at $45 for me and $25 apiece for the boys, and from what I’d heard, they had about two thirds of their terrain open. The resort now employs an RFID ticket system like we’re used to using at Stowe. In fact, when we bought our tickets, the associate recommended removing our StoweRFID passes just in case they interfered with the signal on our Jay Peak tickets.
We kicked things off with a ride on the Flyer Express Quad, which whisked us right up toward the peak. We did see some skiers down below us on Exhibition, and the snow looked fantastic. Coverage was deep and soft thanks to the storm, so the only concern was whether or not the snow was sticky; unfortunately it’s not easy to tell that from just watching a skier make turns, since you can’t see the subtle corrections being made by their muscles as they adjust their balance, but the folks we saw sure seemed to be enjoying themselves as they silently cut arcs into the groomed snow. The air temperature was definitely cooler when we reached the summit of the Flyer, and we found that the snow itself was actually pretty cold and wintry. It was very dense like one would expect, and in untracked areas you only sunk into the snow an inch or two, so it certainly wasn’t mush. In fact, the mountain had a sign up about how the off piste snow was going to be difficult for the first part of the day until the temperatures warmed up a bit, since areas that had seen skier traffic were going to have relatively stiff, uneven snow surfaces.
On our first decent we set off alongside the lift on Northway, and the snow was indeed in good shape – it was somewhere between winter and spring in consistency, but stickiness wasn’t an issue. We worked our way back toward the lift line of the quad on Upper Goat Run, which was our first taste of something steeper. The snow was holding up well in consistency, even as we descended in elevation. As we merged back toward the lift line, Dylan seemed hesitant for us to drop into the steepest terrain because ski patrol had placed some poles at the top of the “slow skiing area”, but it was just serving as the warning about speed control, and there were no coverage issues. You could just sink your edges in and let the skis ride. We’d soon reached the top pitch of Upper Exhibition, something we’d seen from the lift that was steep, groomed, and looked like it was a lot of fun for the skiers that were on it. We opted to save it for after a little more warming up, and instead veered to the right down Upper Goat Run and over toward Lower River Quai. Lower River Quai is actually a bit steep, and while there, we met a family that was picking their way down it. The snow was starting to get a little tricky at that elevation, and by the time we hit the Interstate trail below, the snow had indeed taken on that stickiness that made it a challenge. I was excited about the conditions though, our sampling of the terrain suggested that we’d only have to deal with sticky snow in the low elevation runout trails, and if that was the case then we were in for some great runs.
The boys had been quite intrigued by the resort’s covered magic carpet lift, and since it was running, they just had to check it out. It feels a bit like one of those informational rides at a theme park, or maybe like the Light Tunnel in the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit Metro Airport, without the lights. Stowe has a small cover that they place over their magic carpet at night to keep off the snow; it’s only a couple feet high and the boys got a kick out of imagining what it would be like to ride with that in place. Having a full cover probably means less hassle dealing with snowfall during storms. We immediately headed to the Flyer again, and took a similar descent route with the change to Upper Exhibition this time. Exhibition delivered some nice steep turns, and was above the elevation of the sticky snow issues, but of course the flats of Harmony Lane were a slow return to the base.
With all the new snow, the mountain did indeed have quite a bit of its terrain open, so I definitely wanted to get the boys out for some farther-reaching explorations over toward the Stateside area. From the top of the Flyer we followed the usual Northway Route, and on the way noticed a skier come down from one of the untracked trails above us. He was skiing some of the dense powder up there, and although he only sunk into the snow a few inches, it looked pretty fun. We’d been playing around in the powder off to the sides of the trails a bit, but with it still being somewhat dense and stiff, you really wanted some reasonably large untracked areas to have the best experience. We were eventually lured off Northway to our right, into some terrain in the Catwalk area that hadn’t been groomed; the snow was decent, so we just sort of kept going. We found ourselves above some steep tree lines there, and I was leery of the snow conditions, but Ty really wanted to jump in… so we did. The lines were generally tracked, and we were low enough in elevation that the compaction of the snow was probably for the best, as the untracked snow was getting wet and difficult to ski. Ty and Dylan ripped up the lines though, and we found ourselves continuing on non-groomed terrain all the way to Stateside. There seemed to be just enough snow to cover the natural terrain down to the base with a couple of careful water bar navigations. That last part was a lot of fun, as I knew our general location, but had no clue of exact where we were until we popped out at the base of the Jet Triple Chair. I’ve got a reasonably good knowledge of Jay Peak, and there was definitely enough semi-obscure terrain open to keep us exploring.
The weather had continued to be a mix of clouds and sun through midday, and all around us we’d continually see these huge billowing cumulus clouds that made if feel like spring or summer. At times, we’d be able to watch snow crash out of these clouds atop various surrounding peaks. This was going on all over the place, but we had some gorgeous views of it from the summit of the Jet Triple Chair, and of course being Jay Peak, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we were going to get blasted with snow. The Jet trail itself looked really enticing, so we hit that up, and indeed the carving was fantastic. We watched a really accomplished Telemark skier crank some amazing turns down The Jet, and he seemed to be doing lap after lap. He really liked the boys’ alpine skiing though, and made a comment to me about them. If they can get their Telemark turns to be half as graceful as that guy, they’ll be well on their way to some great Telemark skiing. They had a lot of fun with the turns on The Jet, but probably just as much fun with the snowballs they were carrying and tossing at each other. Because the snow was so good, I wasn’t sure that we wanted to pull away after just one run on The Jet, but I knew the boys were soon going to request a mid afternoon snack, so we started to work our way back toward the tram side. We found ourselves in the same Catwalk trees that we’d hit on the way over, so we skied those again. After a few more pitches, the rest of the trip back was rather flat and sticky though, so I’d often help Dylan along with some pushes to keep him up at Ty’s pace.
I’d hoped to introduce the boys to some poutine in the lodge, but the cafeteria had already closed; apparently they were only keeping it open for the immediate lunchtime period on weekdays. Fortunately we’d brought a collection of our own food, and it was enough to hold us until dinner. It was still quite quiet in the lodge, but a few skiers were around, those that had apparently skied the morning and were calling it a day.
When we headed back out onto the slopes, we gave Dylan the choice of lift and descent route, and he decided on the Metro Quad. Both Ty and I told him that it only serviced the bottom flat area of the mountain (which had the stickiest snow) but he was keen on giving it a try, and it would mean we’d ridden every open lift on the mountain. The partly sunny conditions of the morning had been gradually giving way to a few more clouds, and this was actually cooling the air down enough to let the stickier snow tighten up a bit. It was a subtle change, but definitely there, and much appreciated when we were in the lower elevations.
Clouds continued to build as we made another lap on Exhibition and enjoyed the good snow, and meanwhile, the skies began to darken around us with the promise of snowfall. During the day we’d already encountered various snow showers on the mountain; we’d seen rounds of regular snow, graupel, and even these pyramidal-shaped (or miniature Hershey’s kisses as Dylan described them) flakes falling from the sky. Our next ride on the Flyer was when things really started to get exciting though. On our previous ascent we’ seen heavy precipitation in the peaks just off to our north like Jay Peak West, Middle Jay and North Jay Peak. Those peaks had soon disappeared in a maelstrom of white, and that snow clearly seemed to be building in our direction. A few minutes later it moved in on us, and it meant business. The snowfall was so intense that at a couple of points we could see a wall of flakes in front of us, and we had only a few moments to batten down the hatches (i.e. hoods and parka collars) before the lift carried us right into it. We got hit with some very heavy snowfall comprised of huge, wet snowflakes . The gargantuan flakes were at times falling so intensely that they rapidly accumulated on our goggles to the point that we could barely see, and we had to keep wiping them off almost continuously during the height of the squall; I’d say we picked up about a half inch of snow in just 10-15 minutes in that episode. The clouds and precipitation associated with that blast of snow even gave an additional shot of cooling to the air. The huge flakes also put down a fresh, stippled coating of snow on everything that was very picturesque. That whole squall cycle was a fun experience, and the same thing appeared to be going on throughout the high peaks of the Northern Greens, because Powderfreak sent in a very cool report to the American Weather Forum entitled “Photos of the passing of a convective snow squall”, in which he documented the whole progression of one of these convective snowstorms today from Stowe. He photographed the scene on Mt. Mansfield from blue skies with white, billowy cumulous clouds, to dark clouds building in, to getting hit hard with massive snowflakes, just like us. The report was very nicely done with the usual quality pictures that Powderfreak produces, and folks on the weather board seemed to enjoy it a lot.
The boys started picking areas of the mountain that they wanted to explore, and one area that we’d not yet visited was the slot between Exhibition and Northway. We eventually found ourselves approaching to top of Upper Can Am, and I was definitely concerned about what we’d find down there. I was expecting deep snow that hadn’t seen any grooming, and indeed that’s just what we found. Dylan definitely had some trepidation about dropping in, but Ty was so eager that his enthusiasm won out. There had been some skier traffic since the storm, so we found 16” of partially tracked, dense snow. Ty was flying down like a madman, but Dylan was struggling, and started to get upset because he seemed to be falling every time he made a few turns. We gave him some reassurance, and I let him know that I was battling the slope on Telemark gear, so he could definitely do it on alpine gear. As before, the fact that there had been some skier traffic was good, because the bottomless cement was the most difficult part to ski, and the partially compacted areas were better. Dylan eventually got himself into a better rhythm, and soon I found that both boys has already descended through the steepest terrain and were waiting for me. As difficult as the turns were on my Teles, the challenge was worth it. We had all this steep terrain to ourselves that had just seen a major resurfacing with 2+ inches of liquid equivalent. Coverage wasn’t an issue, and if you got your groove going you could just let the turns fall away. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to have my alpine fat skis to really crank things up, but it was a heck of a lot of fun convincing the Teles to do their job.
The traverse back to the tram base was still somewhat slow and sticky, so any cooling of the air hadn’t helped out down that low. The boys amused themselves with another ride on the magic carpet, and then we thought about finishing out the day. The snow up top was so good that we couldn’t pull away without at least one more run, even though the boys were getting anxious for some après ski food (which they knew was going to be pizza). I convinced them that we needed to do at least one more run, and said that we’d check out something new.
I wasn’t sure exactly what that something new was going to be, but we got ourselves to the big intersection below Upper Goat Run and had to make a choice. The top of Green Mountain Boys was in view, and it was only then that I realized just how good it looked. It had been groomed, and then it had seen some traffic, but it looked smooth, soft, and fast. I had the boys read the trail sign at the top of the stack… “Green… Mountain… Boys”, Ty said at a reading pace. The boys were excited to try it out, and I got a picture of them pointing to the sign with their poles. The different generations of intermediate trail signs left Dylan intrigued by the fact that Green Mountain Boys seemed to be not a blue square trail, but a purple square trail. He started to discuss what that might mean before I eventually suggested that it was likely just a different shade of blue from a different batch of signs. The boys didn’t want to wait around long though; they wanted to get at it, and quickly dropped in. Within moments they both moved into big, fast, swooping arcs down the trail, because they immediately felt how perfect the surface conditions were, and they knew that their edges were going to hold whatever g-forces were thrown at them. It was deep snow that had been freshly groomed and softened to perfection for carving, and matched with the fairly steep terrain, it was just beautiful. Dylan was especially invigorated by how fast he could go – when he’d make his big, fast arcs, he said it was his “gliding” technique. The end result was that they flew down the trail in a state at high speed, somewhere shy of reckless abandon, and I had my work cut out for me keeping up. Indeed they skied it like you’d expect from a couple of Green Mountain Boys, and I suspect Ethan and Ira Allen would have agreed.
I hadn’t held out much hope for interest another run, since the boys had already had pizza on their minds before the last one, but something about the experience that Green Mountain Boys had offered them lit a fire under their ski enthusiasm. When I said that we had time for another, and that we could do Green Mountain Boys again, they jumped at the opportunity. If the skiing can pull Dylan back to the slopes and away from potential pizza, you know it’s got to be good. The descent was just like the previous run, and whether it was the extra round of cooling from our earlier snow squall, or just the correct timing of the day, something had left the trail in a state that really impressed the boys. Had the lifts still been running, I think I could have kept them going, and at that stage of the day that’s not easy to do. To say that they finished the day on the highest of notes would still be an understatement.
The boys’ transcendent vibe continued as we headed into the lodge and changed out of our gear. The lodge was essentially deserted at that point, so they had the run of the place. Once they’d taken off their ski boots, they played hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in the various nooks and crannies of the Tramside Base Lodge, while I packed up the rest of the gear. We dropped everything off at the car and then went to check out Mountain Dick’s Pizza on the ground level of the new Hotel Jay. It’s got one of those modern, part wood, part metallic decors, along with some funky accessories like coat racks made of wooden spoons, and it seats about 30 to 40 people. I ordered a pie for each of us (to ensure that there would be plenty of leftovers of course, since Mom was out of town) and the boys picked out some funky looking drinks from the cooler. The pizza is good; I wouldn’t put it up quite at the level of Jimmz Pizza in Waterbury Center, but we all liked it and everyone ate their fill.
While we’d waited for our pizza to come out, I searched around and discovered that Mountain Dick’s is connected right to the interior of the hotel; eventually I realized that some of the people we’d seen picking up pizza had called from their hotel rooms. When we’d finished up our meal and boxed up our extra slices, we decided to head right through the hotel so that the boys could show me the water park. We wound our way through some halls, headed up an elevator, and came out at an elevated area at the water park entrance, overlooking all the features. It was even bigger than what I’d surmised based on all the pictures I’d seen, and the boys gave me a quick visual tour from the overlook, and they were quickly spotted by their schoolmate Connor, who was there with his family. We all got to chat a bit and catch up on the day as we headed back to our cars. While E and the boys have already been to the Pump House, it’s definitely on my list to join them next time as I’m sure we’ll have a blast.
I’ve got to say it was really nice being back at Jay Peak, having not been to the mountain for a couple of seasons. With so many great ski areas like Bolton Valley, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen notably closer to our location in Waterbury, we don’t frequent Jay Peak all that much right now. Along with the slightly longer distance though, there are also some aspects of Jay Peak that knock it down on my list: the cold, the wind, some of the long flat areas on the Tram Side, and the way the glades and trees can get tracked out (and indeed even bumped up) so quickly (relative to what I’ve experienced at places like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush where lines can sit untracked for days after a storm). Jay Peak has always touted its glades, so of course people go there for that type of skiing and those areas get a lot of traffic. I love Jay Peak’s snowfall of course, but after scrutinizing and documenting the snowfall patterns in Northern Vermont’s mountains very carefully over the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana, I’ve noticed how marginal the difference is between the snowfall at Jay Peak and that at Mt. Mansfield. I think the weather patterns over the past few seasons have exacerbated that, as they really haven’t favored Jay Peak as much as they have traditionally, but I’ve paid more attention to just how much snow Mt. Mansfield gets, and it’s impressive.
The above is really just nitpicking for the sake of comparison though, because Jay Peak is a fantastic resort that offers some excellent terrain and amazing powder – there are numerous resorts even out in the Western U.S. that would probably love to receive the amount of snowfall that Jay Peak gets. And, the whole Jay Peak experience seems to be getting better with the developments going on around the resort, at least based on what we saw on this trip. While the host of resort enhancements that have been added at Jay Peak over the past few seasons may be a turn off to some hard core skiers, they are definitely a plus in my book; not from just the family perspective, but a personal perspective as well. The developments are things that if anything will lure us up there more. One aspect is simply knowing that the resort will be active year-round, and that whenever we go we can anticipate that some dining options will be available. In the days leading up to our trip, I knew about the upcoming spring snowstorm and was very close to getting a package of a room along with ski and water park tickets. I didn’t quite find the level of discount I was looking for this time, especially since the pricing per person wasn’t as efficient without Mom along, but it was absolutely a factor luring us toward the resort. They had a really good ski and stay package going at the Tram Haus Lodge a couple of seasons back, and I’m sure that there will be some similar April deals out there in the future, since it can be a slow time of year for skiing. We’re certainly excited to check out all the new terrain when the resort expands into the West Bowl area with lift service; the feel of the mountain is really going to be different when that happens, and I’m eager to see what it’s like. Perhaps it will spread out the visitors and keep the glades and trees from getting tracked out so quickly. The sidecountry, backcountry, and in-bounds opportunities that would be provided by the new trails and lifts look really impressive. Now that the boys are older and day-ticket style skiing is becoming more practical, Jay Peak will certainly be high on our list for visits, especially if they keep staying open longer than other resorts in the state.
I had some time earlier today, so I headed off to Stowe to check out the new snow and make some turns. The temperature was in the upper 30s F through the valleys, so the precipitation was all rain, and it was literally pouring at times. Snow started to mix in with the rain up around 1,200’ as I ascended toward the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center, and it quickly changed over to all snow by the time I’d reached the Inn at the Mountain a few moments later. The precipitation was wet snow as I parked at the Midway lot (~1,600’) and the accumulation was a couple of inches. The snowflakes were small, in the 1-3 mm range, but it was coming down fairly heavily and I quickly had to put on my ski jacket to avoid getting soaked.
There were a few cars in the lot, and to begin my ascent I followed the collection of boot prints and skin tracks that led toward Nosedive; I definitely wanted to find an established skin track, because it sounded like the couple of inches in the parking lot was quickly going to turn into a lot more in the higher elevations. And indeed it did – within just a couple of minutes after leaving the lot, I was walking through several inches of fresh snow, so I put on my skis and hopped in the skin track. I was immediately thankful for the skin track, which felt like a superhighway since it was made by some pretty fat skis. With that great skin track in place, the ascent was smooth and fast, and as I continued to check the depth of the new snow with my measurement pole, I was astonished at how quickly it increased. By 2,000’ the depth of the snow was already 11”, and by 2,500’ it was 24 inches. That meant that it was essentially increasing by a couple of inches every 100 vertical feet, and if that level of increase kept up, there was going to be four feet of new snow at the top. However, the depth of the snow stopped increasing at 2,500’, and remained right around two feet from there on up.
I saw a couple of other guys on the skin track during my ascent, and talked to one of them when we both stopped near the top of Nosedive. He said that he was one of the guys that set the skin track this morning, and I thanked him a lot for that because it was fantastic. He said it was tough, but that the second person in line really had it easy because the dense snow compacted so well, so he and the guy he worked with switched off pretty frequently because the back person was rested so quickly. He had just done a lap down to the 2,500’ level, and said that he felt that was a bit low to go to stay in the best snow; ending a few hundred feet higher would be better.
The wet snow that had been falling heavily throughout the ascent was giving my Gore Tex quite a workout, but there was no wind and temperatures were very comfortable in the 30s F, so various vents and flaps on my gear were open to keep cool. As I crested the last part of Nosedive though, winter came roaring in, with the wind picking up a bit, the temperature dropping below freezing, and all the moisture that had accumulated on my gear during the ascent freezing into crustiness. These are the days when you really appreciate those high-tech waterproof breathable fabrics though, because things were nice and dry on the inside.
I stopped at the top for a few minutes, and there were several folks using the new ski patrol building at the top of the Fourrunner Quad for a quick break. Overall the snow was still just a couple feet deep, but there were a few drifts, and at one point while I was out of my skis, I stepped down and sank up to my waist in powder. The snow was still fairly dense even up around 3,700’, but bigger flakes were falling and it was overall a notably drier environment than the lower elevations.
For my descent, I headed down in the direction of Hayride; I was unsure how this dense snow was going to ski, but I figured Hayride was a reasonable, steep piece of terrain to keep me moving if necessary. After my first few turns I could tell that this snow was going to be challenging on my midfat Telemark skis. It was bottomless Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete, and it definitely required a certain level of finesse on the Teles. I’ve been used to skiing fairly dry Vermont powder all season, so it took a couple of impressive flops before I dialed in my technique and started to cruise through the dense snow. I was reminded of a day in December 2001 that E and I skied similar snow at Schweitzer Ski Resort in Idaho – they’d just received four feet of Cascade Concrete, and people were flopping all over the place on the trails, sometimes taking several minutes to extricate themselves each time. We were on alpine skis at the time, so things were a bit easier, but there’s no question that bottomless dense snow can be a challenge to ski. A group of three snowboarders passed by me on their descent, and watching them, I thought about how nice it would be to have my snowboard, but it would have been a pain on the ascent. I was happy to find that my turns were smooth for a while, but between the 2,500’ and 3,000’ level the snow began to get wetter, and I had to work harder and harder to keep my stance dialed in. Below the 2,500’ mark the skiing was a bit “survival style”, with the focus on just on keeping that perfect balance on each turn. There was actually another change in the snow that made things a bit easier below that point (perhaps dense enough that one didn’t sink in much at all) but as I approached the Crossover trail, the snow began to change once more as it really got slushy and difficult to do much more than straight line it. I rode Crossover back over to the Gondola base – it continued to snow even down that low in elevation, but I could tell that it was wetter than it had been at the base in the morning. Back at the car I chatted with Powderfreak, who had just arrived for some turns. I let him know about the nice skin track on Nosedive, and at one point he mentioned that there could be more snow coming into the area tonight.
I’m going to be home with the boys over the next few days, so I’ll have to decide what skiing to do with them. If the texture of the snow doesn’t tighten up a bit, Telemark skiing will be very challenging for them, so we may have to think about getting in some lift-served turns on their alpine skis. Jay Peak is running their lifts, and they’re reporting 15 inches in the past 48 hours. Killington is also offering lift-served skiing, and they’re reporting 19” in the past 48 hours. With Stowe already at 24 inches as of this morning, and precipitation continuing to fall, it will be very interesting to see where the storm totals end up over the next couple of days. There’s been a nice recovery of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, as of this evening there’s been about 3.5 inches of liquid equivalent from this storm, and the snowpack at the stake is back up to almost 50 inches. This storm system has really felt like a classic Pacific Northwest-style dump though, with heavy valley rains, and lower elevation wet snow gradually morphing into dry, but still dense snow at elevation. I can certainly say that when I got back to the house this morning, my ski clothes felt like they’d taken a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and a good period of drying was definitely in order. They’re ready to go out into the storm again though, and so am I.
The sky cleared out for us yesterday at Stowe to produce some excellent spring skiing, but with snowfall on the way for tonight, this morning’s clouds were expected to stick around and the prospects for soft snow didn’t seem quite as good today. Due to the potentially marginal snow conditions, E and the boys chose not to head to the mountain, but I decided to stop in for a couple of afternoon runs to get in a quick workout and see what the slopes offered. The main parking lot at Mt. Mansfield wasn’t nearly as full as what we saw yesterday, but there were still a good number of cars there when I arrived in the mid afternoon.
Roughly halfway up my first ride on the Fourrunner Quad, flakes began to appear in the air, and it snowed lightly on and off all the way to the top. At the summit of the Quad I took in the views, and all around, the higher summits were disappearing with the onset of the light snowfall. I figured I’d warm up with a run on the Ridge View/Sunrise/Tyro/Crossover/Dalton combination that we’d been skiing with the boys over the past couple of visits, and it was immediately apparent that temperatures had not reached that critical threshold for snow softening in the higher elevations today. The main surfaces were refrozen granular, and while there had been some loose, sandy piles of granular snow kicked up and pushed together in places due to skier traffic, these areas were too few and far between. Skiing in the upper elevations definitely required some significant contact with the frozen granular surfaces, and I definitely did not have the edges for that. Around the elevation of the Sunrise/Tyro junction the snow began to soften somewhat and the piles of loose granular became more plentiful, but it still wasn’t possible to get continuous turns on soft snow. I called E when I got down to Crossover and let her know that she and the boys had made the perfect decision to stay home today. The snow got softer still down on Dalton, but so much of the route had been a tilted ice rink that the route didn’t seem like it was worth another run.
Skier traffic had actually been reasonably heavy on that route, presumably because a lot of people had been skipping the steeper terrain due to the slick conditions. It had made the skiing even more challenging though, because one had to navigate around other skiers and riders, further limiting the options to get to any soft snow. With that in mind, I decided to go for one more run and take one of the alternate routes. From the summit I opted for Lord Loop, which was similar to Ridge View in consistency, but it had nobody else on it and I was able to head wherever I wanted in order to get the best snow. I then stopped at the top of Centerline and looked down – the bumps looked really good, so good that I figured it would be worth dealing with some slick spots to check them out. It was the wrong decision; after a few Telemark turns, when I was already in too far to change my route, I found out just how hard the snow was. As the slope steepened, I went from Telemark turns, to occasional Telemark turns, to alpine turns, to “get me the hell of this frozen egg carton before I kill myself!” The bump lines were so tight and appealing looking too, but the snow was just too nasty. Alpine skis would have made life much easier, but it still would have been more hassle than it was worth.
I got myself down onto North Slope, and worked the best I could to ride the berms of sand-like granular snow along the edges of the trail. Access to this type of snow gradually increased as I descended, and I was able to burn out my legs pretty well with lots of tight turns thanks to those soft lines. The final descent of North Slope above Crossover and on to Dalton’s was the best part of the run, and I pushed my legs hard enough with very short radius Telemark turns that I felt good calling it an afternoon. I’d seen enough of what was available, and had enough close calls and unnerving situations with the Teles on the upper mountain, that leaving was easy. As I skied down the last slope to the lodge, I heard a guy mention to his friend that he was going to see if he could turn in his ticket and get a refund or voucher. I don’t blame him, since with the combination of terrain and conditions probably put the day in that bottom 10% for the season.
I’d definitely call today a rather inauspicious ending to Stowe’s lift-served ski season, in what was certainly an inauspicious season for snowfall (it looks like Stowe’s final snowfall tally will be 211 inches, which is just 63% of normal). Back at home, E had commented that we’d had a nice sunny spring day with good snow yesterday, and today wasn’t really going to top it; she was happy to end on yesterday’s note and that’s a good day to have for the last of Stowe’s lift-served skiing. I’m happy with the workout I got today, and glad I coupled the trip to the mountain with the grocery shopping that had to be done, but folks who didn’t make it out you really didn’t miss much. These sort of firm conditions certainly happen on cool, gray days in the spring, but normally we’d have a few weeks left to catch up on some more soft conditions due to powder or sun. Stowe’s early closing almost seems like it’s a manifestation of the collective psyche of the skiers, who appear to be finishing off the season earlier than usual, intent on putting 2011-2012 behind them. Other local areas are certainly staying open for a while though, so we’ll see where our ski travels take us next.