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.