We’ve had some decent temperatures to get the corn snow cycle going over the past week, and this weekend has been much better than last weekend in terms of warming up the snow on the slopes. Yesterday was pretty nice in terms of weather, but today was even warmer, and the sky was crystal clear. In terms of the mountain snowpack, Stowe is looking great down to pretty low elevations based on Powderfreak’s latest pictures, but I know the snow at Bolton Valley isn’t going to last as long due to its western exposure and late-day heating. With that in mind, I decided to make it a Bolton tour today, and since I haven’t been up since my April 14th tour at Timberline, it was a good time to check on the snow situation at the local hill.
“I actually found some of the smoothest snow, or more accurately softest snow, on Beech Seal…”
I headed up in the late afternoon, with valley temperatures around 70 F. There’s no visible snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road until one reaches the 1,500’ elevation, where there’s a big patch at the base of the Timberline area. There’s really not much snow visible on the Timberline trails below the 2,250’ elevation though, and I suspect most of what is there is leftover manmade snow. After passing Timberline, I next saw natural snow appearing a bit below the 2,000’ elevation as I approached the Village. Temperatures were in the low 60s F up at the main base area, and on the slopes in that area there’s snow right down to the main base lodge, but it’s not continuous on all trails. I had to walk a couple hundred feet in the flats above the lodge before I could put on my skins and ascend Beech Seal. From there on up though, the snow is basically continuous on Beech Seal, Sprig O’ Pine, Sherman’s Pass, and Spillway right to the Vista Summit. I took the Sherman’s Pass ascent, and there is some pretty dirty snow in protected areas that haven’t seen much sun. That sun was glorious today though, and I definitely brought along the sunscreen because we’re talking about an August-like sun angle now. On the upper half of the mountain, there’s actually a good mix of manmade and natural snow options, although the trails that received manmade snow are the ones that will really give you those continuous runs with good snow coverage. I stopped my ascent at the Vista Summit right beyond the top of Spillway Lane, ripped off my skins, and got into descent mode. There was just the slightest breeze, but the wind turbine was making good use of it and spinning along.
There are some sun cups starting to form that make the snow surface uneven in spots, but Spillway has smooth options just about everywhere so you can get in some really nice turns. Spillway’s steep pitch felt good as usual, and the snow is indeed nice after this week’s corn cycling. I actually found some of the smoothest snow, or more accurately softest snow, on Beech Seal; perhaps the lower elevation let it warm a bit more than what’s up on Spillway. In any event, the softening was far superior to what we experienced last weekend on either Saturday or Sunday – those temperatures were just a bit to cool to get things to where I found them today at Bolton. At the bottom of my run, I took off my skis and threw them back on my pack to walk through the couple big broken patches of snow in the flats above the lodge, but you can essentially ski all of the ~1,000’ of vertical on the main mountain for now. There’s no snow or even cool temperatures in the forecast this week; it looks fairly mild and sunny, so I’m not sure what the situation will be on the mountain next weekend. There will still be snow for skiing, but I don’t think it will be continuous with the melting that could take place in the sunny, warm afternoons we look to have on tap in the coming days.
It was a Telemark day for the family yesterday at Stowe, but today was an alpine day for the boys, in line with plans to hit some steep and challenging terrain. We were hoping to introduce Dylan and E to some of the Bypass Chutes that Ty and I had skied last Saturday, with additional plans to head over to the Gondola area of Mt. Mansfield and potentially up to some of the steep alpine terrain of The Chin. The weather was looking pretty good, with clear blue skies and fairly seasonable temperatures. E had tweaked her back a bit the other day, so she ultimately decided that the best course of action would be to rest it, and I took the boys off to the mountain in the mid afternoon. On our drive, the one thing I quickly noticed was that today’s temperatures were actually a bit colder than yesterday’s – whereas it was roughly 50 F in the lower mountain valleys yesterday, today I was seeing numbers more in the mid 40s F. The car thermometer was reading just 39 F when we arrived at the base of Mansfield, and that got me a little concerned about the snow surfaces, since yesterday’s slightly warmer temperatures were already somewhat marginal with the softening. Today had 100% sunshine though, so I was hoping that could make a difference.
As soon as we arrived in the Mansfield Parking Lot, it was obvious that the number of people at the resort was nothing like what we’d encountered yesterday afternoon. Yesterday we just pulled up and grabbed a parking spot in the first row, directly in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge, but today I didn’t see a single open spot in the entirety of the east side of the lot. I eventually decided that it would just be easier to park over in the Midway Lot at the Gondola, since we’d be finishing our day there. Even over there though, there was a healthy amount of vehicles, so the resort was definitely drawing a crowd for its last official day. As we made our way over to the base of the Fourrunner Quad, we witnessed the incredible sea of vehicles and skiers that filled the Mansfield Parking Lot. The sights and sounds were simply everywhere, there was one source of music that was so loud that it sounded like a live band was playing. I even heard someone mention something to that effect a bit later, but didn’t know if it was true. Anyway, that’s what happens when you combine that last day of Stowe lift service with weather like we had today.
“It was still reasonably
good corn snow, and
fortunately it improved
with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation.”
Up at the summit of the Fourrunner Quad it was certainly a bit chilly, and I suspect that the temperature was right around the freezing mark. I thought about doing a run on some of the quad terrain before making our way over to the Gondola, but decided that it was best to get going early so we’d have maximal time for whatever touring we wanted to do. The snow seemed at least somewhat softened in the sun from what we could see below us on our trip up the quad, but as soon as we dropped onto Nosedive, we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency. We saw that the upper entrance to Bypass was roped, presumably because of the firm snow surface. The trip down those next couple of pitches of Nosedive was quite hairy, and I wouldn’t have recommended it for anyone like us that doesn’t keep their edges sharp. We picked our way down with some survival skiing to find that even the next entrance to the Nosedive Glades was roped off. Access over to Rimrock was only available once the pitch flattened out a bit, and we got our butts off Nosedive as soon as possible.
Based on the snow surfaces, I didn’t think there was much sense in heading above tree line, but the ascent over to the top of the Gondola still looked viable, so we set our sights on that. To make it easy on the boys, especially since they’ve been under the weather a bit this past week, I took care of carrying their skis for them. I skinned with my skis, and attached theirs to my pack. We actually encountered a number of people heading over to the Gondola via Rim Rock, they were keeping that aggressive traverse that would let them reach High Road and maximize their vertical. We were heading higher than that though, since we continued up Cliff Trail once we got to that High Road intersection. After a break at that intersection, we continued on up with the Cliff Trail ascent, and even though it’s just an intermediate pitch, it looked daunting to the boys compared to what we’d just traversed. It really went quickly though, it felt like we began to see the top of Cliff Trail just after ascending the first steep pitch, and even with the boys somewhat beleaguered pace due to recent fought illness, it couldn’t have taken much more than 10 minutes. We could still see some sunlit terrain above us at that point, so after a quick break, we continued on a bit more and finally stopped our ascent up near the flats leading to the Cliff House. In terms of both sunshine and slope, there wasn’t much point in going beyond the first big pitch of Perry Merrill. We could hear, and in some cases see, people picking their way down through the Rock Garden and other, even steeper lines off the Mansfield ridgeline, and it sounded horrible up there. That terrain is shaded, high in elevation, and steep. It looked like it was worse than what we’d found on Nosedive, and that experience was already going down as serving up the most hellacious ski conditions we’d encountered all season. At least the snow was being well-preserved for future use, but it had me longing for the fresh snow that Ty and I got to play in last weekend.
“…we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency.”
The boys finished with a final snack and some roughhousing in the snow off to the side of the trail as we enjoyed some sun, and then we were off for some turns. We stuck to as much sunny terrain as we could, descending on Perry Merrill and then to Gondolier on the skier’s left. The snow was only marginally softened, so it was OK, but like yesterday, not really as great as the sunshine might suggest. It was still reasonably good corn snow, and fortunately it improved with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation. All I can say is that the upside of the minimal softening is that even down in those lower elevations below the alpine, the preservation of the snowpack was looking quite good. I was happy for E though, as she’d made the right call in staying home and resting her back. Although she missed a fun bit of hiking and touring, which gave us a nice workout, she certainly hadn’t missed out on any extraordinary (or even ordinary for that matter) spring skiing.
For the final half of the descent on Gondolier, we used my camera (Canon EOS 30D) and E’s camera (Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS) between the three of us and played “Shootout”. It’s a contest in which everyone skis in front of the cameras, but also gets behind the cameras to serve as photographers. The goal is to see who can get the shot of the day in both the photographer and skier roles. E’s point and shoot camera does have a decent high speed shooting mode that runs at 7.8 FPS in low (~3 megapixels) resolution, and it does a decent job of capturing images, even if you can’t really view your subject the way you can with a DSLR. The big downside of her camera is that the focus, exposure, and other parameters are set on the first shot and remain fixed – also, you have to stop shooting to adjust the zoom. For sports photography, this represents a serious disadvantage compared to the DSLR that is rapidly adjusting all these for every high speed shot, and even though it’s only shooting at 5 FPS, it’s going at full resolution and is attempting to optimize the picture every time. Also, you can zoom on the fly and keep filling the frame with the skier if you want. E pointed out that I had a huge advantage using the DSLR (since it’s big, the boys don’t typically use it), so it was a bit uneven in that regard, but we’ll see how things come out in the end.
We almost did a little skiing at Stowe on Thursday this week, but it was just starting to rain when we stopped in at the mountain around midday, and with E and the boys a bit under the weather, we decided to hold off. The weather was much better today, so we headed up to Mansfield in the afternoon to make a few turns. Temperatures were up around 50 F in the mountain valleys, and the sky was a mix of clouds and sun, so it seemed like a reasonable spring skiing day. It was only in the 40s F at the base of the mountain, but that was still more than warm enough to soften up the slopes.
One item of note today was that it was E’s first chance to try out her new Telemark ski boots that she bought a couple of weeks ago. After almost six seasons of using the $50 boots that she picked up at the South Burlington Ski Swap, it was finally time to up the fit and performance level of her Telemark footwear. Her boots had always been just a bit on the large side, and she’d just either worn some thicker socks or dealt with the minor inconvenience, but when she got some fatter Telemark skis this season (Black Diamond Element) with a width of 115 mm underfoot, the fit became a real concern. There weren’t any serious issues in untracked powder, but as firmer or more uneven surfaces were encountered, the slop in the boot was clearly making things difficult. Relative to a narrow-waisted ski, getting a wide ski like that on edge takes more pressure, and if you don’t have a snug fit in your boot, you’re potentially going to have problems when you encounter groomed or other firm surfaces. Since I have the standard, slightly stiffer version of her ski (Black Diamond AMPerage) I could feel the extra force required to get the ski up on edge when encountering groomed surfaces, but I found the inconvenience fairly trivial in a good-fitting boot. With that in mind, E got a gift certificate from Outdoor Gear Exchange for her birthday last month so the she could go and get the boot that she liked best without thinking about the price; she’s more than paid her dues the past six seasons in her current boots. E’s birthday has always been timely for ski-related gear, and as is typical, all the current boots are on sale now that we’re near the end of the ski season. After a solid boot-fitting session with one of the associates, she found the Scarpa Women’s T2 Eco to be the perfect fit. It’s a three-buckle boot with a power strap, similar to my Garmont Garas. It looks like they’ll be a great boot for the combination of lift-served and backcountry skiing that we do. It’s also interesting to note that Scarpa T2s were the Telemark boots we tried back in 2002 at Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana on our first day of Telemark skiing ever. We had no other reference at that point, but liked the boots a lot.
“As for conditions on the hill, they were a mixture of corn snow bordering on loose granular at the very top, which blended to a softer corn snow below.”
As for conditions on the hill, they were a mixture of corn snow bordering on loose granular at the very top, which blended to a softer corn snow below. I enjoyed the snow a lot, being able to really bite in and carve, although Ty and Dylan felt like they were being pushed around in the soft snow at times. The major downside I found today was that it wasn’t quite warm enough to really soften up the subsurface to where I like it, so there were occasional encounters with firm patches. Both boys were still feeling the effects of being under the weather this week and they didn’t really have their usual levels of energy. With the combination of low energy and what they found to be challenging snow, they ended up going pretty minimal on the number of Telemark turns they made. They stuck with alpine most of the time, but at least they got a bit of Tele practice and were out in the fresh air.
E immediately noticed the security and stability in her new boots. They were noticeably harder to flex than her old boots, but of course these are new, and her old ones must have seen a decade worth of ski seasons… and they had cracks in the bellows as well. The rigidity and support in her new boots must be light years ahead of what she had. E was quite impressed with the increased control she had with the new boots, she said that she could feel the soft snow wanting to push her skis around, but she could overpower that more easily and direct her skis wherever she wanted. She said that she couldn’t do that to nearly the same degree with her old boots.
By our second run, temperatures seemed like they were cooling, because the snow was beginning to tighten up near the summit of the Fourrunner Quad. By that point the boys had had enough skiing anyway, as they were feeling tired. One can always tell when Ty is tired, because he’ll take a seat or lie down when we stop on the trail. He used to do that a lot when he was much younger since he didn’t have any stamina, but if we see it frequently now, we know he’s getting tapped out. We did finish that next run on quite a high note by catching some untracked corn snow on Lower Gulch. Those were some very smooth turns. On a weather-related note, we were very surprised to find that it was actually snowing at times this afternoon, despite the fairly warm temperatures. Clearly some colder air has moved in at the higher elevations to support the snow we saw, because that’s the only type of precipitation that fell.
So E had a great experience with her new boots today, and I think it’s going to be interesting as she tries them out under different conditions, and eventually on her fat, powder skis. It seems like they’re going to give her much more control, but we’ll just have to see what the combination of boots and skis is like. I realize now that after checking them out more closely, that her old boots are actually only a two-buckle model with a power strap; they seem like they might be some Scarpa T3s, and an old well-used T3 from a decade ago is going to be a dramatically different boot than a modern T2. I’m sure we’ll have more boot updates as we move ahead in the spring skiing season.
We had a family gathering through early afternoon today, but in the mid to late afternoon, I headed up to Bolton Valley for a tour. Up to that point we’d had on and off bouts of precipitation in the valley, often showers mixed with sleet, but no notable accumulation other than transient stuff. Temperatures were in the mid 40s F in the 300’-500’ elevation range along the bottom of the Winooski Valley as I headed westward toward Bolton; we’d had breaks of sun among the clouds and precipitation, and I was preparing for some fairly soft and slushy spring turns up on the hill. Since I never pulled them out yesterday at Stowe, I’d even brought my fat skis to evaluate how they’d perform in the soft stuff. A lot of people seem to like the way they smooth out the mushy stuff, but I’m still curious about how well that works.
Precipitation was pretty sparse as I headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road, and while there’s patchy snow all the way up out of the valley, consistent natural snowpack really didn’t appear until roughly the 1,500’ elevation at the Timberline Base. Temperatures had dropped into the upper 30s F by that elevation, and light snow was falling. It was mid to late afternoon, but it was actually pretty dark with the clouds around, and more of them appeared to be building in from the west. Based on the available light, it actually felt like a typical November outing in the mountains.
“The snow was good on the whole descent…”
On the slopes, the snow wasn’t really the mushy spring snow that the valley temperatures had given me the impression I’d find; I think the temperatures and/or available sunlight really weren’t high enough to support that. Instead what I found was the couple inches of wet snow/sleet that we’ve picked up from these latest storms, sitting atop the base. The subsurface was still fairly soft and spring-like, presumably due to the recent rounds of wet precipitation percolating some moisture down in there. The intensity of the snowfall was fairly light on the ascent, although I could see squalls around off to the west. There was one off to the south, and another more ominous-looking one off to the north, they were both starting to devour the views of the Adirondacks and it looked like the spine of the Greens was in their path.
Up around the Timberline Mid Station at 2,250’, the surface snow began to have a bit more coalesced consistency relative to what was below. The temperature was approaching the freezing mark, and it appeared to be due to a combination of elevation and some cooler air coming in with the approaching weather. I topped out at the Timberline Summit at 2,500’, and the temperature by that point was either below freezing or very close – the trees still held snow from the recent storms.
After starting down Upper Brandywine, I was about to head back toward the Timberline Mid Station, when I saw that there was a lot of good untracked snow farther down on Brandywine, so I followed that less traditional route. The coverage was actually quite good, and although I don’t follow that route as often, I’m realizing that it’s got more of a northerly aspect than the slopes below the mid station. I think it’s going to be a good route to use in more marginal situations of coverage or sun exposure. The snow was good on the whole descent, transitioning from that stronger, peel-away stuff in the higher elevations, to a wetter consistency down low. I was amazed at how much be It was very much like what we experienced yesterday at Stowe up to the midday hour before the freezing level rose up above the summit of the Fourrunner Quad. There are certainly areas starting to develop bare patches at Timberline, but if you wanted you could ski natural snow terrain all the way down to the Timberline Base; that’s pretty decent for west-facing terrain down at those low elevations this time of year.
The precipitation that had been looming off to the west finally pushed its way over the ridge and into the valley as I was switching out of my ski gear at the car. In typical Bolton Valley style, it came strong, and it was snowfall that meant business. It wasn’t quite the whiteout that I saw in Powderfreak’s Stowe pictures, I think in part because the flakes weren’t as large (probably about ½” max in diameter), but a decent wall of snow came in and made its presence known.
If that snow had been rain, it would have been pouring, and indeed I was able to watch that transition as I descended back down the access road. The snow stayed with me down to around the 500’ elevation, and finally mixed out to just a pouring rain. That rain followed me through the lower elevations of the Winooski Valley, and then by the time I got up a bit higher back at that house along the Waterbury/Bolton line, snow was mixing back in. Checking the radar a little while later, it showed a nice shot of moisture making its way through the Winooski Valley.
“…a healthy layer of smooth, dense snow that offered up some great turns and did a nice job of covering the subsurface.”
E and Dylan had midday communion practice, but Ty and I planned to ski, and I’d alerted Ty about the potential for some fresh snow earlier in the week. He was definitely ready for some skiing, but I was still torn about whether or not to head out first thing in the morning. Either the snow was going to be good and wintry from the get go because it was soft and sufficient to cover up the old subsurface, or we’d have to wait for it to soften up. We told E and Dylan that we might just end up doing a run or two if the snow wasn’t good, and Ty was definitely prepared for the worst. I brought both fat and mid-fat Telemark skis for me, and fat alpines and Telemark skis for Ty – we also brought out skins and ski packs in case we got ambitious and wanted to earn some untracked powder over on the upper part of the Gondola area.
Ultimately we went with a mid morning start, finding temperatures in the mid 30s F at the base of Mansfield. The snow on the lowest slopes of the mountain had clearly softened into something nice based on the sounds (or lack of them) we heard from the lift, but up in the higher elevations, the temperature was below freezing and the quality of the skiing was still a mystery. The top half of the mountain remained in the clouds, and appeared to be well protected from any warming effects of the sun. We started off the day’s explorations near Ridgeview, and with a few quick samplings off piste it was quickly evident that the high-elevation snow was not some hard, refrozen amalgam of immovable ice, but a healthy layer of smooth, dense, sugary powder that offered up some great turns and did a nice job of covering the subsurface. Discovering this, we quickly dove into the trees toward Toll Road, and Ty was immediately captivated by the quality of the turns. He confirmed that we wouldn’t be going home after just one run. We found ourselves certainly more “on” than “in” the powder, based on the density, but the turns were silky smooth and skiing the trees was like mid winter. We worked our way down through a series of gladed areas on the various tiers of Upper Toll Road, before reaching Sunrise. Ty is always talking about how much he likes Toll Road, more for the glades that cut the switchbacks than anything else, and with the discovery of all these new lines it’s becoming even more attractive. We’ll have to find a way to get in there more often; perhaps I’ll have to capitalize on Ty’s requests. We dove back into the Sunrise Trees, and continued into the Chapel Glades, with good snow all the way to the Chapel. The snow really started to transition to a wetter, spring-style consistency below that point, and going was slowed on Lower Tyro. We did catch some nice, albeit somewhat sloppy and wet, fresh tracks down there though. After the experience of that first run, I was ever so close to grabbing my fat skis off the car and switching to them, but the mid-fats were getting the job done and I decided to save the time.
On the next run I decided it was time to introduce Ty to the Bypass Chutes. He’d never been in there before that I can recall, but I told him that it was like doing the Kitchen Wall traverse in the opposite direction. We traversed high, and saw a lot of good lines. The snow was definitely the deepest of the day out there, and when we finally hit an area where my depth checks revealed 11 inches of new snow, it was time to ride. I couldn’t believe how deep the snow was in that area, but you could see that it was likely spillover from the ice cliffs above. Mt. Mansfield always seems to find a way to deliver the goods. Ty hiked up a bit higher than me to get a good starting point, and then let it rip down a beautiful line, while I shots some photos. Some other skiers who were on the traverse below us stopped to watch the show, and gave him props for his turns. Ty was definitely loving his first experience in the Bypass Chutes; it’s totally his kind of terrain. The trip through various steep cutes continued, until we reached Rimrock. We worked our way over to check out the Gondola area next, and eventually got back into that springtime snow as we dropped in elevation. One nice aspect of this recent storm made itself apparent though – the sleet that fell really isn’t all that different than corn snow, so it really made a quick transition to something other than mush. There were still sticky areas due to the recent snow, but overall that snow was transitioning to a nice spring snow much quicker than dry, fine-grained powder would.
“…the turns were
silky smooth and
skiing the trees
was like mid
We had a good lunch in the Mansfield Base Lodge, and by the time we got back out, the clouds had risen up to near the peaks, and it was really starting to warm up. There were even some breaks in the clouds off to the east and it was starting to turn into a partly sunny day. The freezing level had climbed all the way to the top of the Fourrunner Quad. We did get back into the Upper Toll Road Glades, but the snow was much wetter than it had been, and we spent most of the run back on the trails. Although not quite up to the level it was before, the skiing was still decent, but Ty was pretty tired and we called it a day. We’ve got more precipitation falling this evening though, and with temperatures in the 30s F down here in the valley, it’s going to be frozen up high. The snowpack at the stake continues to sit in that 70-80 inch range, and coverage remains excellent at Stowe all the way down to the lowest elevations. I suspect the mountain could be sitting at roughly 100% open if they really had the traffic to warrant it.
I didn’t have high hopes for the overall ski conditions today after what I experienced during yesterday’s outing at Stowe. Snow surfaces in the lower elevations had warmed earlier in the week, followed by plenty of cold nights, and the temperatures yesterday just weren’t warm enough to get the snow to soften. Gondolier was quite firm yesterday afternoon when I made my final descent to the base, with generally frozen granular and a bit of loose granular. Fortunately there was some refuge up in the alpine elevations above ~3,800’ where the snow was still wintry, but it would take some sun and/or warmth to get the lower elevations in shape today, and sun didn’t appear to be in the forecast. Whatever the case, we’d be able to head back up into the alpine to get to the good snow if necessary; today was our final BJAMS ski day of the season, and if the right group of willing students came together, my plan was to make use of the reconnaissance I’d done yesterday and get them up for some fun turns in the area of The Chin.
“…he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn…”
Throughout the morning today, E was getting various calls and text messages from folks letting her know that they weren’t going to be making it to ski program. Those students in the BJAMS theatre program have been putting in many long days of preparation over the past 10 weeks, and this weekend was the culmination of those efforts with shows on Friday and Saturday. Most of those students were so sapped of energy from long days and very late nights, that skiing just wasn’t in the cards. Luke was one of those students, but fortunately Claire had made it out for the day. After combining the usual number of absences for various reasons with the ugly-looking weather forecast and the many students resting up from the play, the end result was eventually just a handful of students and adults meeting at the base of Spruce Peak today. When the dust and reorganization had settled, it turned out that both E and Claire were free to go with our group, and the only kids that we’d have would be Ty, Dylan, and Jack.
Ty and Dylan were raring to go for some hiking and turns in the alpine, and it turned out that Jack was more than ready as well. Somehow, a little bird had told him that I’d been out on the mountain yesterday doing some reconnaissance in the alpine near The Chin… and that I just might be planning to take the ski group up there today. He came ready with his backpack holding a couple bottles of water, and an attitude that said “Let’s get up there!” Ty, Dylan, and I grabbed our ski packs, E and Claire joined us, and we headed up the Gondola for a visit to the wilds of The Chin. Everyone in the group had been up on The Chin and other alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield extensively for hiking in the warmer months, but for everyone but me, this was going to be their first experience up there with winter snowpack and skis. We hoped that Mother Nature was going to make the experience a good one.
Indeed the weather was ultimately on our side today, and skies that might have been cloudy became blue and almost cloudless as we set off on our midday adventures. Claire was unsure of how long she wanted to hike and ski, but when I told her we’d be starting off with and ascent and some turns in the Cliff Trail Gully, which was a fairly quick ascent to the ridgeline, she was game. While I was finishing with the other boy’s packs, Dylan led the charge upward, and blazed the ascent using a combination of the boot pack I’d used yesterday and some variations of his own. It was immediately obvious that we were going to be dealing with a different kind of snow today. The snow that had been firm with a bit of wind or sun crust yesterday was now softening in the sun. The ascent was absolutely delightful; there were occasional bouts of gusty winds, but for the most part the temperature was perfect, the snow supportive, and the boy’s attitudes positive. Although notably slower than my solo pace yesterday, we probably gained the ridge at around 4,100’ in roughly 30 minutes.
The views from the ridgeline were tremendous, and Claire was absolutely loving her decision to join us for the full ascent. The boys were already feeling in their element, as we watched them traverse higher on the craggy rocks farther south along the ridgeline. We hung out for about 20 minutes for drink and snacks, where we conversed about the season’s skiing, and just generally enjoyed the scenery and weather. We could have just as easily been up there in gray and cloudy conditions, but apparently the sun wanted to make its presence know.
To begin the descent, the boys headed over to the lip of the gully so that they could drop in on the steep terrain. The snow that was protected against the ridgeline was somewhere between spring and winter, but generally dry and edgeable; it was going to support some nice turns. Dylan was chomping at the bit to drop in, and after heading to the highest part of the lip, he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn that send him flying right down the gully into the terrain below. Ty and Jack followed suit, and within moments the boys were whooping and hollering about how great the turns were as they made their way down the upper sections of the gully. Indeed once I dropped in myself I found the snow to be well worthy of their praise. One could stick next to the protection of the rocky wall of the ridge for the driest snow, or head left out into more sunshine for more spring-like surfaces. We mixed it up with turns in various part of the gully until we’d dropped a couple hundred vertical feet, right to the spot where I’d descended yesterday that at that time marked the transition to lower-quality snow. That wasn’t the case today thanks to the assistance of the sun, but as we stood atop one of the overlooks and Jack saw the Cliff House below, he lamented the fact that we’d already descended so far and would soon be back to the bottom of the gully. I told him not to worry – we didn’t have to descend if we just wanted to keep touring.
Instead of descending the rest of the gully, I led the group on a traverse across to the next gully southward (see stage 4 in the detailed Google Earth GPS map from yesterday’s outing), and we were able to follow the same track that I’d used yesterday. I told the group that one option was to make another ascent here and ski this gully from the top of they wanted. The boys weren’t all that enthusiastic about another ascent, so after a few moments of discussion, we decided to descend the new gully and see how it went. We saw some great terrain below us, but I warned them that I hadn’t scouted the bottom of this gully yesterday. I told them that we could end up having to hike back out and descend via the Cliff Trail Gully if the trees got too tight or we got ran into cliffs. The acknowledged my advice, and then it was time to drop in. The descent of the second gully started with some nice steep terrain among sparse, buried evergreens. There were really a lot of fun terrain options such as rollovers and small ledges in there that will lend themselves to a lot of future exploration. As we continued downward, the trees began to get tight, and Dylan seemed to be having quite a time blazing a trail through the evergreens using a combination of his own ideas and the tracks of a previous skier that had passed through the area. With all the experience they continue to build, it really is inspiring to watch how confidently the boys navigate their way through challenging terrain like a maze of subalpine evergreens. They were inspecting options and helping each other out all while they were well ahead of the adults. Eventually my spider sense told me that that we needed to break right toward the Cliff Trail Gully, and after some tight squeezes through a few spots, we found ourselves in a pleasant spot atop a rock outcropping among the sea of evergreens. About 100-200 feet below we could see the Gondola summit area, and it felt as if we were on a balcony overlooking a show of skiers and boarders starting their way down the slopes. We spent another few minutes there on the knoll while everyone gathered back together via their own routes through the evergreens, and then we cut right about a dozen yards to get back to the Cliff Trail Gully. We finished our descent to the Cliff House there, and that bottom section of the gully served up some nice turns. It was ski pole-style high fives all around for the folks that had just completed their first descent from the alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield. I didn’t track our outing today by GPS, but for visual details, refer to stages 3 through 5 shown on the detailed Google Earth/GPS map from yesterday – today though, instead of ascending the gully shown in stage 5, we descended it.
“Indeed the weather
was ultimately on
our side today…”
It was around 3:00 P.M as we began the next phase of our descent through the resort. We took Perry Merrill, and didn’t see another soul on the entire descent. The late season date, the fact that it was Sunday afternoon, and the ominous forecast had really cleared out the mountain. With the terrain entirely to ourselves, I led the boys in some huge GS-style turns that took up the whole width of the trail, and they had a lot of fun with that. Ty said that he had used up all his patience for going slow during the hiking portion of the day, so with that in mind it was a great time to let him really open it up. The snow was in fact fantastic, not too firm, not too sticky; it was just what you’d want in corn snow to sink in those edges and let the skis ride. Whatever the sun had not been able to do yesterday in terms of softening up the snow surfaces, it had done it in spades today. We had time to squeeze in one more run of Gondolier before calling it a day and heading back to Spruce Camp. Today is the end of the season for the Gondola and for Spruce Peak, and it ultimately turned out to be a great one. The weather was extremely changeable though – once we were back at Spruce Camp, gray clouds had come in and sleet began to fall.
We finished off the day with a visit to Frida’s for dinner, since we hadn’t been there at all this season. The guacamole was excellent as usual, with a real good dose of lemon today. Despite the fairly spring-like atmosphere out there, the boys both went for hot chocolate, which Frida’s does Mexican-style with some interesting extra flavor. It looks like this week is going to have more precipitation coming in, although not necessarily a lot of snow. It doesn’t look especially warm though, so it looks like it could be OK for snow preservation. It’s great to be going into the month with such a strong snowpack, because it looks like there a lot more great skiing to come.
Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield. Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling. There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F. That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’. I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse. It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.
“The snow was definitely all winter up there…”
I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing. There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today. If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring. As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road. The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.
I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off. I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”. There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles. However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow. That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there. On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear. Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’. Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow. I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.
I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns. The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds. I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me. The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over. I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully. I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully. By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.
I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them. I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing. The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent. Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before. It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel. The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there. I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff. The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’. It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick. Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations. I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier. Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around. I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was. The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions. We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures. It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.
I hadn’t really been paying attention to the weather forecast over the past couple of days, but I looked out in the back yard this morning to find that no longer was it just the leftover snow standing out – everything was whitened again. It looked like it was back to spring in Northern New England. There was over an inch of snow on our back yard snowboard here in Waterbury as of my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS report, and after a short lull in the precipitation, the snowfall came back in with huge flakes. When I checked the morning snow reports for the local resorts, I found that Bolton Valley hadn’t updated theirs yet, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to since they aren’t firing up the lifts until the weekend. Just a bit farther north though, Stowe was reporting in, and they were at seven inches of new snow and counting. If they’d received that much snow, Bolton was likely to be somewhere in that ballpark as well, so I packed up the gear for a stop in at the local hill on my way to Burlington.
“while I finished gearing up for the ascent, the snowfall ramped up to probably 2 to 3 inches
per hour or more…”
Light snowfall in the valley became a decent 1”/hr snowfall up in the Bolton Valley Village at 2,100’. A couple of minutes after parking and beginning to get my gear together, I re-parked the car with the back facing to the east because everything inside was getting covered with flakes due to the heavy snowfall driven by those westerly winds. That reorientation was apt, because Mother Nature decided to really crank up the snow spigot at that point; while I finished gearing up for the ascent, the snowfall ramped up to probably 2 to 3 inches per hour or more, with visibility dropping to less than 100 yards. It seemed like the parking lot picked up another inch in just 10 minutes.
The resort appeared absolutely deserted as I began my ascent behind the main base lodge. The wind was howling at times, and it was certainly pushing the snow around and making it difficult to get a read on just how much had fallen. I took a route up Beech Seal and then Cobrass to the Vista Summit and made the following measurements for new snow over the old spring subsurface:
With no midweek grooming taking place, the only issue with regard to measuring the snow depth was that wind, which somehow seemed to find a way to mess with everything on the compass that had any sort of westerly component. There had definitely been some southwesterly winds, because during my ascent of Cobrass I saw that the powder had been blasted in most areas, and indeed up at the Vista Summit I found the wind turbine facing a somewhat uncommon southwesterly direction. I was happy to see that it was running though and cranking out some power for the resort.
Seeing that wind, I opted for starting my descent on a more northerly aspect using Alta Vista, and the powder was notably better there with respect to scouring. The snow was indeed quite dry as my morning snow analysis from down at the house indicated, so even with 115 mm underfoot I was still hitting the subsurface on 50% of my turns. On the lower mountain I opted for Fanny Hill, since it’s typically well protected from most wind. A little wind had gotten in there, but nothing like what I’d found in the more exposed areas. Overall the skiing was certainly decent, with a good dose of surfy turns in the new snow, but not so mind-blowing that I wanted to throw on the skins for another run and delay getting to town. I’d had a good morning workout in any event, and headed off with a smile.
“…even with 115 mm
underfoot I was still
hitting the subsurface
on 50% of my turns.”