Today was our annual school program training day at Stowe, so we were out at the mountain very early to allow E to take care of her coordinator responsibilities. Our instructor for the day was Arturo, who hails from Portillo, Chile. Since our group indicated that we’d be instructing all levels of students, we kicked things off on Spruce Peak at the Magic Carpet, then advanced fairly methodically to the Adventure Triple, Easy Street Double, Alpine Double, and Sunny Spruce Quad before breaking for lunch. The sky was crystal clear, the temperatures fairly chilly in the 20s F, and at Spruce Peak in the lower elevations where we skied, I’d call the snow conditions generally loose and frozen granular. That wasn’t too surprising with the terrain there getting the most sun and warmth. It was an excellent morning with Arturo though; he’s lots of fun and passed on numerous pearls of wisdom from his many years of instructing.
After the usual midday paperwork and season pass picture session, we had lunch at the Great Room Grill and headed over to Mt. Mansfield to continue the progression into higher level teaching. At the top of the Gondola we found the best snow of the day, which included plenty of packed powder that had been preserved thanks to cooler temperatures. I really enjoyed the snow and turns on that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill, which coincidentally was where I had my best turns exactly two weeks ago when I skinned up to the top of the Gondola. Below that we stopped just around the corner past the junction with Cliff Trail, and everyone commented on how good the soft, packed powder snow was in that area. The snow continued to be pretty decent (although still firm in lots of spots due to skier traffic) until about halfway down Perry Merrill, where it got notably harder. Presumably, temperature fluctuations had deteriorated the snow quality down there, similar to what we’d experienced over on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak
We finished the day off with a run from the Fourrunner Quad. Although basically just as high in elevation, the snow off the top of the quad didn’t seem up to the quality we’d seen at the top of the Gondola. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that the quad terrain has seen more traffic in general – I heard that today was actually just the first day for Gondola lift service. After a comment from Joe about wanting to get better at bumps, Arturo decided that we should make a run down Hayride. Frankly, it seemed like it was going to be pretty scary with the firm conditions – with the way the top of Hayride drops away, revealing nothing of the slope but just a view of the sunlit valley below, one had to cringe at the thought of an icy slope hiding behind the drop. Indeed there was plenty of firm snow, but Arturo had us work on turning on the tops of the bumps where the soft snow remained, and that was good practice and a surprising amount of fun at the relaxed pace at which we skied it.
I had several favorite new drills/techniques from the day; the first was a technique for kids turning in the wedge stance. Arturo puts his hands out to the side like an airplane, and then drops his hand down to a knee. This puts pressure on that ski and creates the turn. At the more advanced level, Arturo gets folks to put more aggressive angulation into their skis on steeper terrain by having them punch their hips in toward the slope with their downhill fist. I also like the way Arturo puts his ski poles on his shoulders to show how they are always pointing downhill, and uses the term “Shin-Tongue” (a.k.a. a new Asian dish) to remind students’ to keep their shins against the front of their boots to ensure that their weight is forward.
Since there’s been minimal new snow over the past couple of weeks, today was definitely a ski day worthy of edges, and not one in which I would typically venture out. But, that’s one of the benefits of these scheduled training days, they get you out on a day you might otherwise not hit the slopes. The temperatures were plenty cold, and the mountain continues to crank out lots of manmade snow and expand terrain, so there should be a lot available for the holidays, regardless of how much natural snow we get in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately, we’re looking at a much more active weather pattern starting up tomorrow. While the sun from the past few days has been nice, and it was fun being out on the slopes in it today, I’m definitely looking forward to the next week of wintry weather. Things kick off with snow tomorrow, and while we’re expecting some mixed precipitation in there as we head into the beginning/middle of next week, it sure seems like we’ll start adding to the natural snowpack in the mountains again. Right now the natural snow line is actually pretty low, down to around 1,000’ at the Matterhorn, but it’s still quite thin in general, so we need some storms to get the natural snow terrain rolling again like it was at the beginning of the month.