Bolton Valley and Backcountry, VT 16FEB2013

An image of Erica skiing powder in one of the glades in the Nordic and Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
E enjoying the powder in one of the glades today

Although the recent midweek storm gave a decent shot of snow to the Northern Greens, with Stowe picking up a foot of snow, and Jay Peak picking up a foot and a half, it’s still been fairly dry in general.  Because of the rather high Froude Numbers for that storm, the more west-side locations of Smuggler’s Notch and Bolton Valley saw them picking up just a half foot of snow during that event, and that’s what Bolton was reporting for their seven-day total as of today.  The dearth of snow and a holiday weekend had me thinking a tour on the Nordic/backcountry network was in order, because there’s some excellent snow out there, but there’s been enough time since if fell for lift-served traffic to pack it down pretty well by this point.

“Depths of powder above whatever
firmer subsurface lay below were in
the 8-12” range, with a bit of that melt
layer in there in the lower elevations
or on south facing terrain.”

I devised a somewhat ambitious tour for today, at least with respect to what the boys might be willing to accommodate.  It would be an opportunity to show E and the boys the two glades that I discovered last month on the 19th and the 27th.  The plan was to skin up Bryant to the Bryant Cabin, descend through the first glade, then connect over to the alpine trail network, catch an assist from the Wilderness Lift to the Wilderness Summit, traverse out on Heavenly Highway, ski the second glade, and return to the car via the Nordic/backcountry network.  If we couldn’t complete the whole tour we’d have some opportunities to truncate it as needed.  The forecast called for some sun and temperatures in the 20s F today, so it looked like we wouldn’t have to worry about anyone getting cold too quickly.

An image of our car parked along the edge of the Broadway trail in Bolton Valley's Nordic skiing area with Erica unloading backcountry ski gear in preparation for a ski tour
Unloading and preparing the gear along Broadway

We arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village in the late morning period, and the main parking lots were getting pretty full, but we were able to get a trailside spot right on World Cup in the lower tennis court lot.  There were plenty of people about as we began our ascent, including a number participating in the “Bolton to the Barns” event.  We ran into Alex, one of my former students on his descent with the event group, and learned that he is now at Tufts Medical School, although he seemed very happy to be back in Vermont visiting Bolton Valley. Dylan asked for just one break on the ascent, and we pulled over into the sunshine along the top section of World Cup and had a snack.

An image of the World Cup Nordic Trail at the Bolton Valley Cross Country Ski Center in Vermont
Admiring the beautiful conditions in the World Cup Nordic trail as we pause for a snack on our way up to Bryant Cabin

Near the start of our tour when we’d passed by the Courtside 1 Condos on Broadway, we ran into a Nordic skier who was pausing there.  She inquired about the substantial width of E’s fat skis, and E indicated that they were for powder skiing.  The woman seemed puzzled because as far as she could tell there was no powder around.  She wished us luck on finding powder, but you could tell she figured it was a lost cause.  It was very interesting to hear her speak that way when just a few feet away from her off the side of the trail, you could see the powder sitting there.  People certainly have some unique perspectives on snow conditions.  As a Nordic skier, perhaps she’s got a totally different idea of what powder snow actually is, or she may have just been oblivious to what conditions were like off the groomed runs of the Nordic trails.  Anyway, in terms of the actual snow conditions, out near the car a bit above the 2,000’ mark there were 2 to 3 inches of fluffy snow above a bit of a melt/sun crust, but I suspected that crust would disappear as we got out of exposed areas and headed up in elevation.  Indeed, pretty quickly in shaded areas I found that the powder was deeper and the melt crust underneath was disappearing, and after a few hundred feet of ascent it was essentially gone.  Depths of powder above whatever firmer subsurface lay below were in the 8-12” range, with a bit of that melt layer in there in the lower elevations or on south facing terrain.

An image of Bryant Cabin in the Bolton Valley backcountry showing the snow depth outside reaching halfway up the windows
Snowy Bryant Cabin

An image of a thermos and cup sitting in powder snow outside the Bryant Lodge on the backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe found the Bryant Cabin in use with the woodstove pushing a fragrant plume of smoke out the chimney.  When we talked to one of the guys using the cabin, he said that the resort is no longer renting it or regulating the usage; you can just use it on a first come, first serve basis.  I’m guessing that also means that they aren’t supplying wood, which is why we frequently saw him browsing around for dead stuff to throw on the fire.  We sat down and had lunch off to the side of the cabin clearing, and enjoyed hot soup, cocoa, and other items we’d brought.  Various groups of skiers made their way past while we were there; it was probably one of the busier days I’ve seen out there on the backcountry network, and it was nice that all the people were out supporting the use of the trail system.  Hopefully the initiative to buy the land with the help of Vermont Land Trust will go through and people will be able to continue enjoying it as public land.

An image of Black Diamond AMPerage, Black Diamond Element, and two pairs of Volkl Gotama Junior skis mounted with Telemark bindings and sitting in the snow near the Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network in Vermont
The Tele powder boards hanging out at lunch

“We found the Bryant Cabin
in use with the woodstove
pushing a fragrant plume
of smoke out the chimney.”

Our first descent was in the North Slope and Gardiner’s Lane areas, and the powder was very good in the upper elevations.  On our first pitch dropping from North Slope, conditions were just right so that both Ty and Dylan made some nice Telemark turns.  Later, Ty dropped a nice Telemark-style jump turn launching off one of the steeper pitches, and he was very proud of that.  The boys threw in a good amount of alpine turns, especially when they wanted to go faster, but it was all around great practice for them.  Like I’d noticed on our ascent, the last couple hundred vertical of the descent featured some of that melt crust below the powder.  We were on a south-facing slope, so that certainly wasn’t surprising.  I found my fat AMPerages to be really helpful in that terrain, and E had some nice turns on her Elements, but she’s still finding them hard to get up on edge in packed snow due to their width.  We’re wondering if the play in her boots is just too much and it’s ruining the ability to convey the necessary pressure into the ski.

We connected over to the Wilderness Double Chair and took it to the Wilderness Summit as planned, but Ty was pretty insistent on a quick descent without additional skinning.  So instead of heading across on Heavenly Highway to drop through the second glade I’d chosen for the day, we opted to descend on Peggy Dow’s to quickly get to Snow Hole.  There was decent powder in Snow Hole, although it was certainly more tracked and packed than what we’d seen in the backcountry glades.  I got off to the sides of the main route a good deal though and got a number of fresh lines, and at times the boys would follow me.  We did make a good connection back onto the Nordic network and caught a few final turns on the Telemark Practice Slope and other lower mountain glade areas before heading back to the car.  We’ll be planning another tour at some point to catch that second glade; I still want to show it to E and the boys.

An image of a Google Earth map showing the GPS track of a ski tour on the alpine, Nordic, and backcountry areas at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont on February 16th, 2013
A map of today’s combined alpine, Nordic, and backcountry tour at Bolton Valley – click for full-size image

Our next shot at snow appears to be coming into the area in the Tuesday timeframe.  It looks like it’s going to be a pretty standard frontal passage at face value without much fanfare in terms of snowfall, but there is definitely the potential for some upslope snow.  The crew at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington has had their eyes on the potential, and Powderfreak has been watching as well.  We’re hoping for that snowfall boost from the upslope snow, because there isn’t much forecast in terms of synoptic snowstorms in the immediate future.

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