The powder at Stowe yesterday was so good, that I had to head out today for some more. E and the boys had some things to do at school in the morning, but for me it was a very casual Saturday today; with light snow falling to the tune of about an inch at the house, and powder in the mountains, it was just the sort of way you’d want to usher in the month of December. I took care of some things around the house this morning, and then headed off to Stowe in the early afternoon.
Temperatures have warmed considerably today relative to yesterday, and the temperature at the house was around 28 F when I left. That was pleasant though – much more comfortable than the teens, but not so warm that one would worry about melting the snow or affecting the powder. The temperature dropped to 24 F as I approached the resort base, and as has been the case for the past couple of weeks, numerous snow guns were cranking away on the slopes. On the American Weather Forum, Powderfreak sent in some impressive pictures of what Stowe has been doing in terms of snowmaking – those modern guns can really crank out the white stuff.
With the Fourrunner Quad area open with lift service, I decided to head over to the Gondola side of the resort to earn some turns. It was my first visit to that area of the resort this season, but if the snow depths were anything like what I’d experience on National yesterday, I knew that there would be plenty of natural snow for turns. There were just a couple of cars in the Midway lot, and as I began my ascent on Chin Clip Runout I saw that there had been a surprising amount of skier traffic on the trails. Several people skied down past me as I climbed, and it had me wondering where they were all coming from. I was still plagued with the lack of uphill traction that I had to deal with yesterday because of the narrow skins on my skis, so I stuck to a moderately pitched route that took me up Switchback.
“Even though it was only
a couple hours past midday,
the clouds were thick and
low, and the world had that
close, dark, quiet feeling of
December with deep snow.”
It was an incredible afternoon to be out on an ascent though. Even though it was only a couple hours past midday, the clouds were thick and low, and the world had that close, dark, quiet feeling of December with deep snow. Sounds were so muffled with all the powder around, that as I was ascending Switchback, two guys making their descent along the edge of Gondolier almost went unnoticed even though they were probably only 20 feet away from me. The only reason I knew they were there was because I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. Within another second they were gone, gliding downward in the fluffy silence.
When I hit eventually hit Gondolier, I had to make my own switchbacks because the pitch was just too steep for my skins, but things got a bit better when I reached Perry Merrill. Soon after that, I realized where all the people were coming from – they were coming out of the exit of Lower Rimrock, so people were making their way over from the quad to hit the lower terrain of the Gondola area. Above that point I found that the amount of fresh powder on the trail increased dramatically, because traffic really was down to people who were hiking for turns. I continued on up and wrapped around to finish my ascent on Upper Gondolier. In the 3,000’ elevation range it became a bit difficult to estimate the natural snow depth because of the effects of wind, but my depth checks along the ascent had revealed the following numbers:
I had a snack and a drink at the Cliff House picnic tables, and it was definitely colder up there than at the base elevations; I put away my wet hat and got on my balaclava and helmet pretty quickly. The south side of the lodge had a nice area of drifted snow in excess of two feet, so I stowed my skis there while I recharged and enjoyed the quiet scene. Based on what I’d seen of Upper Gondolier (very windswept), and the terrain leading toward Chin Clip (pretty tracked up), I decided to descend on Perry Merrill. The best parts there were that very first steep pitch that drops toward Cliff Trail, and then the section near the big Gondola waterfall on down to where the traffic entered from Lower Rimrock. Between those stretches, the terrain was pretty windswept like I’d seen in other areas. Those Perry Merrill turns were awesome in general, with plenty of untracked powder, but I think that first steep pitch was the very best. There were only a few tracks, and the pitch, snow depth, and fat skis combined for quite a ride.
The snow became more tracked with plenty of chowder below Lower Rimrock where all the skier traffic was entering, and it was my first chance to see how the AMPerages handled those conditions. I was able to tell pretty quickly that powder was really where they were the most at home. They were fine in the chowder or partially packed areas, they just didn’t have that feeling of amazing superiority that they do in the powder. Their slower edge to edge speed due to the width, which doesn’t really become apparent in untracked powder, was more evident in packed areas. It’s interesting to hear Black Diamond speak to the potential of the AMPerage as “the closest thing you’ll find to the mythical one-ski quiver”, because while it does have camber underfoot to go with the tip and tail rocker and make it more versatile on packed snow, it’s still a ski with a 115 mm waist. Based on impressions so far, I suspect one could pull it off as an all around ski here in the Northern Greens and various places in the mountains of Western North America, depending on their penchant for powder, but it still seems wide for everyday use. It’s definitely not something I’d consider an all-around ski for many locales. I got the AMPerages (and E the women’s Element version) as our powder Telemark skis, and although I don’t think we’ll refer to them as our all-around skis, they will probably see fairly heavy use. There’s almost always some powder out there to ski, even if it’s not a deep day, but the beauty of fat skis is that they can help float you even on those smaller days. I’m sure we’ll both have more to say about these new fatties as we work our way through the season, but up to this point I can only reiterate that I’m extremely impressed with how they ski in powder – if you haven’t yet tried a pair of fat, rockered skis for powder – do it.
It was well on to dusk as I was finishing my run, and when I saw the lights of the base area laid out below me, I stopped alongside the bottom race shack on Gondolier and took some pictures of the scene. The darkness really reinforced that December feeling. I actually think the powder may have settled a bit more in the higher elevations (probably due to wind) relative to some of the lower elevations, but the skiing was still excellent. It was absolutely a good start to the month.