Stowe, VT 03MAR2013

An image of Ken on skis dropping into the Gondolier Woods at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Conditions are outstanding right now at Stowe – Ken demonstrates as he drops into the Gondolier Woods.

We’ve been under the continued influence of an upper level low pressure system off to our northeast for the past couple of days, and it’s brought persistent light snows to the mountains and even the valleys in Northern Vermont.  As of this morning we’d picked up a couple of inches of snow here at the house, and the mountains had received up to 7 inches of powder.  The snowfall was fairly robust up around 3,000’ yesterday when I was out in the Bolton Valley backcountry, and although it had tapered off somewhat today, we knew that conditions were going to be good with the consistently wintry temperature regime we’ve had.  Today was BJAMS ski program day at Stowe, and based on the latest report from Powderfreak yesterday, we knew the skiing was going to be excellent.

“It’s almost hard to get
a handle on just how good
much of the mountain is
skiing right now – each new
line we try seems to deliver.”

Claire recently returned from her trip to Africa, so we headed off to Stowe a bit early to make some initial “face time” ski runs that E and Claire could use to catch up on program coordination.  We did a couple of laps off Sunny Spruce with the boys, and the conditions were fantastic as expected.  The groomed surfaces were all packed powder, and the edges of the trails and the off piste areas were providing ample powder.  I did encounter a bit of firmer snow beneath the powder on the open slopes above Meadows.  Signs of that melt layer from last week’s bits of low-elevation warmth are certainly getting buried with the continued rounds of light snow, but low elevation and south facing areas still have some of that underneath.

An image of Ken doing a tip stand on his skis outside the Spruce Camp Lodge at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ken keeps the boys on their toes as we get ready for the day’s ski session.

When it was time for our session, we gathered up our main group, which consisted of me, Ty, Dylan, Luke, and Ken.  We chatted with Joe and his group about joining up for some runs – we heard about how much fun they’d had in the Chin Clip Streambed, and figured that they would love Angel Food.  We were anxious to get Ken a run out there, so it was high on our hit list for the day.  Our first run up on the docket though, was Spruce Line; that was Ty’s request, and we figured that we should get it in before we headed over to Mansfield.  We teamed up with Joe and his group right away, since they wanted to ski that area as well.  We were even able to take Horse Barn Chute on our way over; since coverage is really good right now, and that area has filled in well.  From the top of Sensation we dropped into Green Acres, and Luke was very excited to be making turns down that first steep face that has intimidated him in the past.  The snow in the trees there was outstanding, with a few inches of untouched powder on the main lines, and bottomless powder off to the sides.  It seems like there’s been very little traffic in there as of late.  In order to attempt the lower areas of Spruce Line, we connected back to Main Street, but we found the entrances to those lower areas closed (possibly because of the race taking place on Main Street) and took it as our cue to head over to Mansfield.

“Joe was amazed at how
deep and plentiful the snow
was out there – he said it
reminded him of Lake Tahoe…”

We decided to get right on with our plan to ski Angel Food, since it wasn’t the sort of endeavor I wanted to tackle late in the day with a group of eleven, most of whom had never been out there.  As it turned out, we were going to appreciate that cushion of time.  Our first snafu took place just as we were finishing the traverse out to the top of Angel Food. Joanna dropped a bit too low on the traverse, and wound up being committed to a lower line.  Ken decided that he’d better accompany her to make sure everything went smoothly – it’s roughly a mile of distance that needs to be covered to get out of there, and the route is through forested terrain of varying densities that is typically filled with deep powder.  It’s important to have a sense for where you are going, so Ken’s choice was apt.  And then there were nine.  The general descent of Angel Food went fairly smoothly for the rest of the group, and Joe and everyone else experiencing the area for the first time were simply having a blast.  Joe was amazed at how deep and plentiful the snow was out there – he said it reminded him of Lake Tahoe, and I let him know that it’s one of the reasons people are so enamored with the skiing on that part of the mountain.  That area beneath The Chin gets perhaps the most snow at the resort, on a mountain already known for getting a lot of snow.  Indeed the conditions out there have just been getting better and better as the snow’s been piling up over the past month, and it was packed powder all around on the main line with virtually limitless options for powder off to the sides.  Our next snafu began when we just missed the main traverse back to the gondola base.  I quickly got the word out that we should start traversing hard on our own, but Ethan missed that announcement and was already a few dozen yards below us.  I started a fresh traverse through the powder, with the other folks following me, and we instructed Ethan to start his own traverse below.  I cut a pretty hard traverse that was doing a good job of getting us back on track, but Ethan’s traverse was not quite as strict, and before long he was a hundred yards below us.  There was no way he was going to get back up to us in a reasonable amount of time.  I decided that we needed to keep the entire group together, and if it meant taking one of the lines all the way down to the notch and lengthening our run, then that’s what we’d do.  It’s one of the reasons we made sure we had the extra time.  The bonus result of the situation of course was that we got to ski a fairly steep, very lightly tracked line.  It’s one of the multitude of fantastic lines that one might ogle when they’re out there, wondering where they go… and we got to find out.  As it turns out, it still has a traverse that gets one back onto the main line, and we had Ethan to thank for the discovery.  I’m sure it’s got a nice name given by someone that worked hard to create such an excellent piece of ski terrain, but “Ethan’s Chute” is going to be our name for now.  Honestly, today’s explorations only reinforced the fact that it could take years to really piece together the hundreds of acres of glades, chutes, and everything else that is out there.  Thanks to today’s explorations though, we were able to add another small piece to the puzzle.

Ken and Joanna had made good time on their descent, which was somewhere inside of ours and more proximal to the resort, and Ken said that although there was still some undergrowth on their route like we’d experienced a few weeks back in the Bench Woods, they encountered just ridiculous amounts of untracked powder.  Sam had battled just a little too much powder and a few too many trees on our Angel Food descent, so Joe brought him back over to Spruce for a break, and Joanna and Julia had some runs they wanted to do on their own, so we were down to a group of seven.  After the long Angel Food adventure we decided to slow it down a bit by taking a standard run on Waterfall and Gondolier, and then giving the boys a break in the Midway LodgeWaterfall had absolutely excellent snow after just a couple of windswept moguls at the top – it was soft packed powder with a few inches of new powder sifted in on top.  It’s almost hard to get a handle on just how good much of the mountain is skiing right now – each new line we try seems to deliver.  We generally stuck to Gondolier for most of that descent, but some of us couldn’t help but get sucked into the Gondolier Woods for at least part of the run.  That terrain was already in good shape a month ago, so it’s not hard to figure out how good it’s getting now.

As we sat in the Midway Lodge, taking our break by the fireplace (which I think is becoming a favorite spot for Ken as well as me) we threw around ideas for our end game.  We’d have time for just a run or two, and we ultimately decided to traverse over to the Fourrunner Quad and catch either Lookout or Hackett’s Highway.  Lookout was closed from the top, so we wound our way down to Hackett’s, again visiting some of those Lord Trees that we’d explored last time.  Ty had quite an exit there, dropping a six foot cliff back onto the trail area, and nearly landing on a rock, but he pulled it out.  Hackett’s was in nice shape, and we coupled it with some Hackett’s Highway Trees as we made our way to Crossover and back to the Spruce Peak Base Area.

On the way home, E and the boys and I stopped off for some dinner at Piecasso, and while we were there discussing the day’s exploits on the slopes, a gentleman sitting at the table next to us with his family, overhead us and asked about conditions.  He said that they had just arrived in town, and that they were concerned about the amount of snow that they were seeing, wondering if there was going to be enough on the slopes.  I was surprised, because Stowe actually has decent coverage in town – I’m sure it’s below normal for this time of year at a bit less than a foot (March 3rd is actually the peak for snowpack at our house, and that’s typically around two feet), but everything is well covered and white thanks to the recent light snows.  Depending on where he came from though, he may have seen some rather meager looking snowpack in places.  I assured him that the mountain was very well covered, and that there was over five feet of natural snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake.  I’m not sure where that family was from, perhaps Quebec based on the accents, but they should have a classic, fantastic Stowe experience this week.  We’ve got a couple more days of this light snow, then some clear days are expected at the end of the week, and there’s the potential for a larger snowstorm next weekend.  I’m looking forward to making turns next weekend already.

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