Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry, VT 27JAN2013

An image of ski tracks in powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Making tracks in the Bolton Valley backcountry today

We’ve had arctic air in the Northeast all week, which has made it one of the coldest and driest periods of the season.  With the lack of moisture there’s been only an inch of snow at the house in the past seven days, and although Bolton Valley was reporting a similar accumulation, they had picked up a few inches since I was last there for my backcountry outing on the 19th.  I also suspect they’ve picked up various small accumulations of dry arctic snow similar to what we’ve seen down here at the house, but they haven’t hit that one inch threshold for the snow report.  Although still rather cold this weekend, temperatures have definitely moderated somewhat from the beginning of the week… when high temperatures actually remained below zero in many locations.  Yesterday we topped out around 15 F down here at the house (495’), and the afternoon temperature was sitting around 4 F up in the Bolton Valley Village (2,100’).  Today we actually got up around 20 F at the house, and when I arrived at the Village in the mid afternoon, the temperature was a reasonable 12 F.  The arctic air is definitely waning.  Although I wasn’t planning on doing too much skiing this weekend with the combination of air temperature and minimal new snow, I at least wanted to get out one day for a tour.  I almost got one in yesterday, but ran out of time since we were having James and the kids over for the evening.  However, E and Claire cancelled our BJAMS ski program at Stowe today due to the forecast temperatures, so it gave me the opportunity to get in an afternoon tour.  I think today actually worked out to be the better ski day of the weekend, since it was almost 10 F warmer up on the mountain, and we had sunny skies in contrast to a bit of gray yesterday afternoon.

“It was surprising to think
that the snow was holding
pat after such a dry week,
let alone improving.”

Last weekend’s outing on the backcountry network was fun, since the powder was decent, but also fruitful in that I discovered a nice new glade in an area I hadn’t previously visited.  That discovery really wasn’t planned, but since it worked out well I figured I’d go with a similar theme today; my goal was to check out a descent off Heavenly Highway in the Moose Glen area.  It’s an area that E and the boys and I have wanted to explore for a while.  Since the boys were a bit under the weather and they weren’t going to head out in the cold temperatures, it was another solo outing for me.  I find these solo outings work well for reconnaissance though, because I can move quickly and efficiently and explore a lot of terrain relative to when we’ve got the boys along.

“As I slid through that last run in
the powder, my feet felt really quick.
I guess that’s the best way to describe
it; the pitch of the slope, the depth of
the powder, and the length and width of
my skis all just came together to make
everything work for Telemark turns.”

Once again, despite the chilly temperatures and dearth of fresh snow, the main parking lots up in the Village were pretty full, so the resort was getting a lot of visitors.  On piste conditions are actually pretty good based on what I’ve seen though, as the arctic air appears to be preserving packed powder surfaces very nicely.  I’ve been sort of down on the arctic air that’s been hanging around because it doesn’t bring fresh powder for skiing, but boy does it do a heck of a job on snow preservation.  Even though new snow has been minimal in the past week, I could tell that the quality of the snow on the ground had improved as soon as I began my ascent today.  I saw a bunch of Telemark skiers working on turns on the Telemark Practice Slope, and even though that was a tracked area and they were often on the subsurface below the powder, the turns were very quiet.  As I probed around and checked depths during my trip up the Bryant Trail, I could tell first hand that the subsurface had improved since last weekend.  Presumably that ultra dry arctic air has been working on it, because it was even more crumbly and Styrofoam-like than last weekend.  The conditions also seemed to be bolstered by additional powder.  Whereas last weekend I found 3 to 4 inches at the 2,100’ level and 6” up at 2,700 at the Bryant Cabin, today I found roughly 5 inches at the base elevations and 7 to 8 inches at the cabin.  It was surprising to think that the snow was holding pat after such a dry week, let alone improving.

An image of drifted snow along the edge of the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Along the Bryant Trail

My ascent went smoothly, and I saw a few other groups of skiers here and there having fun in the good snow.  After reaching the Bryant Cabin, I continued on up to Heavenly Highway, and once I got up to around the 3,000’ elevation I could really see just how well preserved things were at those elevations.  In protected areas, the evergreens were still coated in white like snow had just fallen.  I finally switched to descent mode in the Moose Glen area, where below me sat a nice open, untracked line powder line.  The pitch looked perfect for the 6 to 8 inches of medium-weight arctic fluff that it held, and I could see the exact line I wanted to take.  As I sat there contemplating those first turns, there was an almost tangible excitement in seeing if the snow was going to deliver.  As good as the snow can seem on the ascent, making those turns is really where the rubber meets the road.

I dropped in and the turns were smooth and effortless; there was still the occasional touch on the subsurface, but indeed the conditions had taken quite a leap since last weekend.  There were a couple old tracks from previous skiers to give me an idea of where to go on the descent, but I also let the lay of the land dictate the route.  A number of clear areas offering nice turns, but I could tell that many more shots would be available if the snowpack was bumped up a foot or two.  After some consolidation and this dry January spell, snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is about a foot below average, so typically some of those areas with brush would be covered by now.  Hopefully we can do some catching up on snow depth in the next couple of months.

An image looking down at an untracked powder line from Heavenly Highway in the Moose Glen area on the Nordic & Backcountry Ski Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting ready to drop in

I continued downward in a general southerly direction and entered an area of flat terrain among evergreens.  I could tell that it was a bit of a shelf with land sloping off to the south.  There was a clearly cut route that entered the area, but the ski tracks that had led me there disappeared.  After a few minutes of poking around, I was happy to find that my instincts had led me in the right direction.  There was a nicely made glade dropping down the initial steep slope, and then in mellowed out into a large, sparsely treed area with lines everywhere.  I enjoyed a lot of good turns in there, and I eventually found that it had led me right down in Snow Hole, which without the Wilderness Lift running, didn’t have many ski tracks.  I was really appreciating the consistency of the snow in Snow Hole – the powder was just perfect for the pitch; it was dry, but somewhere just on the dry side of medium in density, and the floatation was great.

When I came to the fork indicating the route over to the Wilderness Lift, I opted to check out the right option instead, and quickly found myself on Gardiner’s Lane.  I was really liking the overall setup of this descent, gaining that extra elevation above the Bryant Cabin had already given it that extra boost of vertical, and I knew I still had some good turns to go.  On World Cup I headed past the glades adjacent to the Telemark Practice Slope, since I could see that they had seen a number of skiers, and continued on until I got to some additional untracked lines.  The woods are pretty open there, so there was no need for a specific glade to get some really nice turns.

As I slid through that last run in the powder, my feet felt really quick. I guess that’s the best way to describe it; the pitch of the slope, the depth of the powder, and the length and width of my skis all just came together to make everything work for Telemark turns.  I’d say that was really just the pinnacle in terms of that feeling, but all day today I felt good on the AMPerages.  After the way they’d felt slow at times last weekend when I hit the Bruce Trail, I was tempted to switch to my narrower-waisted RT-86s today for a faster feel with a potentially firmer base.  In the end I decided that I wanted the float of the AMPerages, and I’m glad I went that route.  Whether it was that improvement in the powder, the subsurface, the snow density, or just the lines I hit today, they were the tool of choice.

This is a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the Nordic/Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
GPS tracking data for today’s Bolton Valley Nordic/backcountry tour – click for full size map

It was getting close to 5:00 P.M. before I was done with my tour, and now that we’re over a month past the solstice, I’m definitely noticing (and thankful for) that longer light.  We’ve also got some warmer temperatures coming in the next few days, with a dramatic change in the weather pattern this week.  A storm is coming in tomorrow that is forecast to deliver a modest 2-4” type of snowfall, but that is going to feel like a lot after only arctic dustings over the past week or so.  We’re also expected to go above freezing with the next round of the storm as it cuts to the west, but hopefully we’ll get some additional snow on the back side.  We could be into a more active pattern going into next weekend, which would be nice to build the snowpack after these January doldrums.  With that said, I’ve certainly got a new found respect for what these arctic weather conditions can do for the snowpack, so if we do get another round of that weather, the skiing could be good as long as we can get at least some snow to go with it.

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