Stowe, VT 26MAY2013

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Perry Merrill trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a spring storm on Memorial Day Weekend
Visiting Mt. Mansfield for some glorious Memorial Day Weekend powder today

For the past several days, the meteorologists and weather enthusiasts in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather have been talking about a late-season snowstorm with the potential to unload on the northern parts of New York and New England.  Around mid month, a thread discussing the Memorial Day Weekend weather was started, and even at that point there was a suggestion that the weather could be cool.  However, by Thursday, just a couple of days before the weekend, it was obvious that a late-season snowstorm was developing, and the discussion began to focus on just how much snow the Northern Greens were going to get.  I hadn’t been following the weather too closely, but when I stopped in to check the board and found out about the impending snowstorm in the local mountains, my interest was definitely piqued.  We spent last weekend skiing in spring snow on Mt. Washington, and it began to look like this weekend would bring winter skiing on Mt. Mansfield.

“…you didn’t have to
 worry about hitting
anything underneath
and you could just let
it rip.”

Saturday arrived with a nor’easter developing just like the weather models had suggested.  For folks that had outdoor, warm-weather plans for the big holiday weekend, you almost couldn’t find a nastier combination of weather.  Temperatures were in the 40s F, and there was plenty of wind and rain.  We wondered if we were going to have to turn the heat back on in the house.  Reports began to come in about the snow in the mountains, and by mid afternoon, Whiteface was already reporting that they had received 18” of new snow.  As the afternoon wore on, even valley temperatures fell down well into the 30s F in many places in New England, and fairly low elevation spots began to report snow mixing in with the rain.  Although we weren’t getting any snow down to the low elevations in our area, we lost power from about 8:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. for some reason, so we headed off to bed early and decided to see how things were going in the morning.

An image of ski trails and a status sign for Route 108 through Smuggler's Notch in Vermont indicating that the notch road was closed due to snow over Memorial Day Weekend
Snow closed down the road through Smuggler’s Notch today.

I made my morning CoCoRaHS observations at 6:00 A.M., and after checking back in on the weather board and looking at some of the mountain web cams, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour.  I couldn’t tell quite how low the snow line had gotten, but it was still below freezing in the higher elevations, and the precipitation had continued through the night.  There was a good chance that a nice shot of snow had accumulated on Mt. Mansfield.  I didn’t try convincing E or the boys to try to join me, since they were all still in bed, so I got into my ski clothes, let E know that I was on my way, and loaded up the car with my gear.  I don’t typically find the ski gear vying for space with the baseball stuff in the back of the car, but it definitely was today.  I headed off to the mountain around 7:30 A.M. or so, and temperatures throughout the mountain valleys in the WaterburyStowe area were in the lower 40s F on my drive.  The precipitation was generally light rain until roughly the point where the electronic sign indicates the status of Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch, and not long after that, the rain became much heavier.  The sign, by the way, read “NOTCH ROAD CLOSED… DUE TO SNOW”.  The road through the notch tops out near 2,200’, so clearly the snow was accumulating at that elevation on paved surfaces.  The temperature remained in the lower 40s F until that final rise above The Matterhorn to Stowe Mountain Resort, where they dropped into the upper 30s F.

“You could do laps
up there from 2,500’
to 3,600’ and think
it was midwinter.”

I parked at the Midway Lodge (~1,600’), where the temperature was in the mid to upper 30s F, and the precipitation was generally snow, but certainly some rain as well, and the snow that was falling was of course incredibly wet.  It was pretty nasty at that point, with 25 MPH winds and driven wet snow/rain.  The snow wasn’t quite accumulating there, but it was close, and you could see the accumulations just a few hundred feet up the trails.  The weather was nasty enough that I left my lens hood on my camera in its protective orientation, even when it went back in my pack.  I rarely feel the need to do that, and typically flip it back around for storage, but that speaks to just how wet and windy that snow was to make me take that extra step to minimize the amount of precipitation getting on the lens filter.

An image of the 2,100' snow line on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont during the Memorial Day Weekend Storm of 2013
Snow line in sight on Nosedive at 2,100′

In the Midway parking lot there were a few dozen vehicles belonging to skiers, and most of the people were heading up Gondolier, but my initial ascent was via Nosedive; it’s often a good bet for decent snow coverage and preservation in these early and late-season storms.  Also, based on what I saw in the report from AdventureSkier.com last Sunday, it looked like there would be some decent base snow left in case the new snow depths were marginal.  The first traces of snow accumulation on the ascent were at 1,800’, by 2,100’ there was generally complete coverage of the trail, and by ~2,200’ the depth was a couple of inches and it was consistent enough that I switched from hiking to skinning.  Even with those couple inches of snow, I was beginning to experience some occasional slipping as I hiked, so it was nice to get the skis off the pack and on the snow where the skins had beautiful traction.  There was a faint skin track from an earlier ascender, but it was intermixed with some of the descent tracks of skiers and a bit hard to follow.  I met up with another guy that was making the Nosedive ascent, and we chatted a bit about skiing as we made our way up the mountain.  He was just hiking in his boots with his skis on his back, which seemed like a bit more work as the snow got deeper and deeper, but it didn’t appear to slow him down too much.  Listed below are the snow depths I found on the ascent of Nosedive with respect to elevation:

1,600’:  0”
1,800’:  Trace
2,100’:  1”
2,200’:  2”
2,500’:  4”
2,600’:  5”
3,000’:  8”
3,300’:  10” – 12”-15”

We stopped our ascent at 3,300’ because as we approached the switchbacks at the top of the trail we got some beta from a couple of skiers coming down Nosedive – they indicated that everything above that elevation in the switchbacks was scoured and really not worth it, and indeed that was obvious once we got to the landing below that final switchback at 3,300’.  I’m going to call the average snow depth there 10” to be on the conservative side, but there were plenty of areas with 12”-15” of snow; there was just variability due to the effects of wind deposition.  I stuck my measurement pole right in the snow in the center of that landing, and found 15” of snow depth.  The guy that had ascended with me headed up just a bit higher to catch some turns along a drift of snow, so I pulled out the camera and got some action shots as he made his way down.

An image of a skier  on the Nosedive trial at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a Memorial Day Weekend snowstorm
I didn’t get his name, but he had quite a blast ripping up the powder on Nosedive today.

An image of Vanilla Bean GU Energy Gel

Before beginning my descent, I downed a packet of GU Energy Gel to see if it would provide that extra boost of energy to my legs to permit proficient and aggressive Telemark turns.  I’ve noticed that after fairly long and/or quick ascents, my legs are often still recovering, and not to the stage where they can handle a lot of rigorous Telemark skiing right away.  Alpine turns are typically no problem, since they’re easier and more stable to begin with, and after decades of alpine skiing, my muscles have the memory to really let them do it efficiently.  But those Telemark turns take a lot more work, and it seemed like a little extra boost of quick energy would get me where I needed to be.  So, I took a cue from the boys, who like to have a GU when they’re starting to fade while we’re biking or skiing – the Vanilla Bean flavor is a favorite among all of us.  I usually don’t find that I need to worry about having enough energy on outings with the boys along; the pace is so slow that E and I usually don’t get drained.  The boys certainly push themselves though, often needing some sort of recharge due to their smaller energy reserves, and when that’s the case, it’s GU to the rescue.  On bigger, faster paced outings by myself though, I also feel the drain, and today I wanted to give a recuperative GU shot a try.  I had the GU just a few minutes before my descent, and it absolutely worked.  It helped give my legs that quick energy that they craved, and they had no trouble making Telemark turns.  It was great having maximum powder to drive the legs, and while there’s no way to know exactly how my legs would have performed without the shot of GU, it was certainly my hero for today.  I can still remember when I first learned about those energy gels back in the early 2,000s when Scott and Troy and their Dirtworld.com mountain biking team would use them.  They’d strap them to their handlebars and down one on each lap to keep their energy up.  With the way it performed today, I think a shot of GU before each earned descent is going to become part of the routine.

“There were plenty of
untracked lines to ski,
and it was dense, wall-
to-wall snow…”

As for the snow conditions, indeed there was some leftover base snow on Nosedive, and that offered up great turns, but the new snow itself was extremely dense (probably 12-14% H2O or so) and as long as there was enough of it, there was no need for previous base because it kept you off of anything below.  I caught some beautiful bottomless powder on the skier’s left below the switchbacks, and then a lot more on the skier’s right along the edge of the trail.  The Telemark turns were definitely flowing, and despite the fact that it was dense snow that could easily have been challenging to ski, it wasn’t.  I immediately thought back to that storm last year on April 10thMt. Mansfield picked up more than two feet of dense snow that covered everything, but it was quite a challenge to ski on the Teles.  Sometimes you would punch through the snow too far, perhaps with one ski, making lateral balance tough, and fore-aft balance was also extremely challenging.  It’s possible that there was snow of varying densities in that storm, with some less dense snow underneath the topmost layer.  That’s “upside down” snow, which is typically more challenging to ski.  It was after that storm that I really decided that I wanted some fat, rockered Telemark skis for powder, and eventually got the Black Diamond AMPerages.  I can only wonder how they would have performed in that storm – they would have been nice today, but being unsure of the snow depths I went with my older Atomic RT-86 midfats, and there were no issues.  Really, the most challenging aspect of today’s skiing was negotiating areas of thinner snow as you dropped in elevation.  I was actually quite impressed with the quality of some of the powder skiing on Nosedive today, but little did I know it wasn’t even going to hold a candle to what was in store over at the Gondola.

An image showing a ski measurement pole indicating 22" of snow at the Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont on Memorial Day Weekend
22″ of new snow up at the Cliff House today

I had no time limits, and plenty of energy left in the tank with the shortened ascent, so I skied down to the junction of Nosedive and Cliff Trail, and continued my tour by skinning up Cliff Trail.  Within a few moments of starting my ascent, it was obvious that snow depths were substantially greater on Cliff Trail than they were on Nosedive at equivalent elevations.  I wasn’t sure if it was because I was heading toward the Gondola, or because Cliff Trail offers better protection from the wind, but coverage was deep, wall-to-wall.  Unlike what I’d seen on most of Nosedive, there were no signs of whatever lay beneath the snow.  It wasn’t an illusion either; the depth at 3,000’ on Cliff Trail was 11”, vs. the 8” on Nosedive.  The snow just continued to increase as I ascended toward the Gondola, there was 12”+ by the junction with Perry Merrill at 3,400’, and 12” – 15” easily up at the Cliff House.  That’s on the conservative side for what you could find up there, and in general the snow depth was somewhat deceptive because you didn’t sink much into the dense snow.  But right in the middle of Perry Merrill just beyond the Cliff House I measured 22” of new snow in flat terrain with no drifting.  The usual measurement off the top of the picnic tables was deceptive as well – there was about a half foot of snow on the tables, but you could tell that the snow was much deeper because the table’s seats were just about buried.  I measured in the open space between the tables and got a depth of 18”, so presumably the tops of the tables didn’t accumulate the snow well due to wind, melting, or some other effect.  Here’s the summary of the depths I found on the Gondola side ascending via Cliff Trail:

3,000’:  11”
3,400’:  12”-15”
3,600’:  12”-15” – 18”-22”

“…at times it was dense
enough that you’d be
smearing turns right
on the surface.”

I had another GU and got ready for my descent.  Even that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill had great coverage comprised of that dense snow.  Typically you’d sink in a few to several inches, but at times it was dense enough that you’d be smearing turns right on the surface.  It took a moment to adapt when that was happening, but somehow the variability in the turns didn’t seem to disrupt the flow of the skiing – it was just really fun.  I almost headed back down Cliff Trail since the coverage was so complete, but there were already a couple of tracks on it, and it’s fairly narrow, so I opted to check out Perry Merrill instead.  I was hoping it would live up to the coverage I’d seen on Cliff Trail, and indeed it was just as good, if not even a bit better.  There were plenty of untracked lines to ski, and it was dense, wall-to-wall snow, all the way down to 2,500’.  You could do laps up there from 2,500’ to 3,600’ and think it was midwinter.  The snow certainly wasn’t fluffy Vermont Champlain Powder™, it was dense Sierra Cement, but it wasn’t wet or sticky.  It made for plenty of base and just skied really well – it was right near the top on quality that I’ve experienced relative to many similar early and late-season dense-snow events.  Sinking into the snow only a few inches or so was inconsequential compared to the fact that you didn’t have to worry about hitting anything underneath and you could just let it rip.

An image looking down at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont from a snowy Perry Merrill trail down toward a snowless base area during a Memorial Day Weekend snowstorm
The view from white to wet

I stopped my descent at around 2,300’, as the snow was down to about 4” and it was getting notably wetter.  You could probably go down to around 2,100’ easily if you had your rock skis.  I hiked down the last 700’ back to the Midway Lodge, and the last vestiges of snow disappeared right around 1,800’ just like I’d seen over on Nosedive.  The precipitation was snow down to just a couple hundred feet above the base, and back down at the lodge it was mostly rain with some snow mixed in at times.  There were some really good bursts of snow on my descent, even in the lower elevations.  The temperature had increased a few degrees to ~40 F at the base, but it was midday at that point, so that was still quite impressive.

Overall, I was really excited about how my equipment and supplies performed on this tour.  My Gore-Tex did its job in keeping me dry, despite the driving rain and snow.  My skins held like glue even in the wet snow, and hiking both up and down in my Telemark boots was a joy.  I remembered to put them in walk mode for the walking sections (and put them back in ski mode for the descents) and it was almost like being in my hiking boots.  And then there was the GU.  It really quickened my recovery for the descents, and I’m going to be keeping that on the tour menu going forward.  The boys won’t be able to borrow GU from me as easily though when they need it.  While the GU certainly did its thing, I’m sure my stop off at Dunkin Donuts to fuel up before the tour also helped.  I was feeling so great when I got home at midday, that I was ready to go for another round of skiing if E and the boys wanted to.  It was still nasty and rainy outside, and not really conducive to doing too much else, but we had some fantastic winter powder skiing sitting up there in the high country.  I couldn’t convince them to go though, so they unfortunately missed out this time.  We did get some quality time indoors though, which I’m guessing a lot of families were doing this weekend.  Ty, Dylan and I had a great round of “The Settlers of Catan” while E did a bit of shopping.  It was quite a storm though, with Whiteface and other areas of the high peaks really cleaning up and putting out some amazing pictures.

An image of snow-capped Mt. Mansfield in Vermont from the west after a Memorial Day snowstorm
…and this is what you get for Memorial Day

Monday update:  The clouds cleared out today to produce crystal blue skies, and naturally that revealed some amazing vistas of the spring foliage and snow-capped peaks everywhere.  Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump were topped with white, shimmering in the strong sun of late May, and the high peaks of the Adirondacks were brilliant.  We traveled around from Waterbury to Vergennes to Cambridge doing various activities, so we took in numerous vantages of the Greens and Adirondacks.  It turned out to be a spectacular Northern New England Day for the holiday, almost as if Mother Nature was trying to strike as sharp a contrast as possible against the recently departed storm.

Mt. Washington, NH 18MAY2013

An image of Erica skiing the eastern snowfields on Mt. Washington
Mt. Washington delivering the goods today

Using the Auto Road to gain access to Mt. Washington’s East Snowfields is a convenient way to get to some fantastic spring skiing, but a number of factors need to align for an optimal outing to come together.  First, the road has to open.  One never knows exactly when that’s going to happen, since it depends on how much snow has to be removed, how fast it’s melting, how much road maintenance needs to be done, how often bad weather delays work, etc.  Then, even once the road is open, weather can still play a factor.  Although some folks might be inclined to head up into the alpine regardless of the forecast, I think most folks would agree that a calm, warm, clear spring day (or at least as close as you can get to that ideal) is the way to go.  Those types of days can be rare on Mt. Washington, but they certainly happen, and they typically occur more frequently the farther one gets into late spring.  While time might be on your side with regard to weather, it’s generally not on your side when it comes to snowpack.  With each passing day of warmth, the snowpack melts a little more, and ski options diminish.  And, even if the stars align to create that perfect combination of access, weather and snowpack on the mountain, there’s everything else in life that has the potential to get in the way of letting you jump at the opportunity.  Once in a while, things just don’t come together before the snow melts, but somehow, even with all those obstacles, we usually manage to get over to New Hampshire for some spring camping and skiing with the boys, and this year was no exception.

“We had the snowfield
 to ourselves the entire
 afternoon…”

For two weeks from the end of April through to the second week of May, we saw an incredible stretch of clear, warm spring weather with absolutely no measurable precipitation at our house in Waterbury.  This period produced some great spring skiing, but the warmth and sun also accelerated the snowmelt to a rate that was a bit faster than usual.  This period was great in terms of progress on clearing snow from the Mt. Washington Auto Road however, and it was open to the summit as of last weekend.  The weather was unsettled for that first weekend though, so we opted to head down to the South Shore area and visit Erica’s mom for Mother’s Day, and keep our eyes peeled for a good weather window.  After a couple more days of unsettled weather, the clear regime returned this week, and prospects for an Auto Road trip were looking excellent.  This morning, the forecast called for decent weather with temperatures in the 40s F, and the morning shot from the Ravines Cam revealed crystal clear skies.  It also showed that the east side ski options below the Mt. Washington summit are still quite plentiful, with many additional snowfields available along with the main one.

An image of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire from the west
Presidential view

We were on our way to the mountain by mid morning, and views from the west side were already encouraging as we approached the Presidentials.  When the west side still has skiable snow, you know the east side is going to have plenty of options.  Steep lines with decent snow were even visible on the north side of the range as we passed by on Route 2, and on the ascent of the Auto Road we could see various snowfields in the peaks towering above the Great Gulf.  In the proximity of the Auto Road itself, the first signs of snow were at roughly the 3,500’ elevation.  As for the East Snowfields, the setup today was a lot like we encountered during our 2010 trip, in that the broad strip of snowfields was present off to the north of the main East SnowfieldA look at the availability of snow in 2010 shows an interesting distribution of snow – that strip of snowfields off to the north was very prominent, and the main East Snowfield was surprisingly small.  The current snowpack is definitely different from what we had available on our 2011 and 2012 trips, where the skiing was essentially down to just the main snowfield.

“The snowfield held
beautifully flat and
pristine corn snow…”

With the lower snowfields in action, we decided to go with the approach applied in our 2010 trip, which is to use the parking area below the 7-mile post on the road, instead of the parking area at the top of the snowfields.  Using this technique, one can tour out along the more northerly snowfields as far as they want, even hitting the main East Snowfield if they’d like.  Then, to finish the tour, instead of having to hike back up to the parking area atop the East Snowfield, one can essentially traverse back along the base of the snowfields with minimal additional ascent.  Along the way, you can make descents in the other snowfields as well, which often have untouched snow.  They’re used much less than the main East Snowfield and we’ve typically found that we have them to ourselves with untouched corn snow.  At the end of our 2010 trip, we also discovered a very efficient use of the mountain’s hiking trail network for this type of tour.  We’ve started traversing on the Nelson Crag Trail before, but, it turns out that simply descending straight down from the lower parking area on the Huntington Ravine Trail drops you right onto the northern edge of the snowfields, so you can use the trail to get you right to the snow.  You can’t really see the snow from above, so it’s not obvious unless you know what you’re doing, but as long as those northerly extensions of the snowfield are present, it’s a really sweet and efficient approach.  Even though the distribution of the snow in the snowfields area is different each spring, it’s nice to be developing a knowledge of what works well for getting to the snow.  We’re definitely starting to dial in a good understanding of how to best approach what we see on the Ravines Cam in terms of touring the snowfields.  This year our goal was to tour out toward the main East Snowfield as described above, with the potential to ski there, but it would depend on how good the skiing was that found along the way, as well as time, and of course the boy’s attitude and morale, which can be extremely flighty on these outings.

A dimensionally square image of the Dakine Women’s Pro II 26L Ski backpackAs expected, taking the Huntington Ravine Trail got us to the snow in just a few minutes of hiking from the car, and Ty and Dylan were ready to just stop right there and start skiing.  E and I explained to them that what they saw was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of snow, and that we would be traversing southward for some longer lines.  The snowfield there was only about 50 vertical feet or so, but typically the priority for the boys is to minimize the amount of hiking they have to do in whatever way they can.  The boys did have a bit more challenge this year, since they were both carrying their own skis on their packs for the first time.  Fortunately, they had both decided to use their Telemark skis, also a first for them, so it’s nice that their Teles are lighter than their alpines.  This also meant that they could simply wear their Telemark boots and hike like me and Erica in ours, since they are very flexible and have rubber soles.  This meant we didn’t have any alpine boots to carry, although Tele boots still aren’t quite as easy for hiking as standard hiking boots, so that was a bit of a bump in challenge for the boys.  For E, this trip was also a chance to carry her skis on the Dakine Women’s Pro II 26L ski pack that she got for Christmas.  Although she used it on some backcountry outings this winter, we were always skinning, so there was no need to carry her skis on her back.  This was her first opportunity to really put it to the test with skis on it, and she was very impressed.  I wouldn’t have thought about it, except that she commented on how it didn’t even feel like she had skis on her back – that’s always good sign when it comes to a ski pack.  She also mentioned how the diagonal carry is so superior to the A-frame style carry in terms hitting the backs of the skis with your legs.  I’ve always been very impressed with the diagonal carry on my Dakine Sequence ski/photo pack, so I’m glad E is getting to make use of that system.  Dakine definitely knows how to set up a ski carry system.  The one issue I did notice with E’s pack is that since it has a helmet carrying system (very cook and I wish I had one) it gets a bit tight when the skis are on there in diagonal carry as well.  Overall the skis and helmet were nice and snug there though, and E had no complaints.  Our only lament heading outbound on the tour was that with our skis angled down to the right, it meant that they occasionally touched the rocks because of the direction of the side slope on our southward traverse.  It was only an occasional inconvenience though, and I joked that we could always traverse around the entire Mt. Washington summit cone in the other direction if we really wanted to avoid that issue ;).

An image of Jay carrying his skis on his pack on one of the snowfields on the east side of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Time to hit the snow!

After only about ten minutes of southward traversing, we came to a substantial snowfield of about 250’ vertical or so, and we decided to do some skiing.  We hit the snowfield about midway up, so I set in a boot ladder to the top.  The snowfield held beautifully flat and pristine corn snow, aside from a couple of very faint tracks from a previous skier or two that must have been there quite a while ago.  The snowfield was continuous, but did have a choke point about midway down along the left, so one had to take that route.

It was good that we’d reached at least an initial snowfield, because the boys were already getting grumpy.  They really wanted to get on with the camping, and while they enjoy being out on the snow, getting them to thoroughly relish all aspects of earned turns is always a challenge.  Some days they enjoy the experience, or at least substantial parts of it, but other times it’s essentially putting up with Mom and Dad dragging them around to these snowy spots.  We’ve learned that it’s good to have a “carrot” aspect of the trip as well, whether it’s a stop in a the Bryant Cabin on a Bolton Valley Backcountry Network outing or the swimming pool after, a chance to eat out somewhere once we’re done, or in this case, a chance to do some camping.  We relayed to them that they were sitting on their own private snowfield with great temperatures, no wind, no bugs, beautiful snow, and even some sunshine.  These aren’t things that you can get every day, but in their minds they were already off the mountain and down by the tent and campfire.

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on the East Snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in May
Getting after some of that smooth corn snow today

At the top of the snowfield, I hung out for a while and enjoyed the scene, while the boys did a bit of sliding on the snowfield, and E made the first descent.  Her turns looked good, and it was amazing how fast she dropped that vertical.  It seemed like she was down toward the flats of the Alpine Garden area in an instant, and she looked so far away.  I skied a run next, and then we eventually got the boys to make some turns, even though they were being somewhat lazy and reluctant.  They both put together some nice Telemark turns, even though the pitch of the snowfield was quite steep.  E and I both made some additional turns, with me finishing off a run on the lower right of the snowfield while E shot some pictures.  We had the snowfield to ourselves the entire afternoon, so even though it was only about half the vertical of what was available on the main East Snowfield, it was such good skiing that we never even continued over there.  The boys were a bit too sour for that anyway, and really wanted to get on to the camping.  We could hear that occasional shout from people on the main snowfield though, and I’m sure there were some great times going on over there.

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in May on the East Snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Dylan out there carving some turns on the Telemark skis

The return traverse to the car was pretty quick, and E and I helped out the boys by each carrying a pair of their skis.  For the extra set of skis, we went with a vertical carry, and E seemed to still be impressed with the stability and ease of her pack, even with the second set of skis on it.  I made the lowest traverse, so that meant a few minutes of hiking back up the Huntington Ravine Trail at the end, but I was eager to test that out.  It was nice to walk on an established trail, since the going was a big quicker than across the random jumbles of rocks that give the Rock Pile its name.  While we were loading up the gear at the parking area, we had some inquiries about where we’d been skiing, and one guy was very intrigued to know that you could access the snowfield from that lower parking lot.  He said he’d like to try it out in the future.

“…but in their minds
they were already off
the mountain and down
by the tent and campfire.”

Each year we like to try out a new campground on our visit to the snowfields, and this year I decided that we’d head south to Glen, New Hampshire.  I’d found a couple of potential campgrounds there.  The first was the Green Meadow Camping Area, but when we stopped in and found out that they weren’t opening until next weekend, we headed to the Glen Ellis Family Campground a couple of miles down the road.  I’d put it as the second choice because it was a bit more expensive, but once we got there you could immediately tell why.  The grounds are immaculate, and the building that functions as the main office and store was a beautiful building.  Everything was first rate, and they’ve got a huge playground, basketball and tennis courts, and even a pristine baseball diamond.  It’s certainly in that upper echelon of campgrounds.

Visitation was only modest since it’s no Memorial Day yet, so they gave us one of the riverside campsites.  We thought that would be nice, but it wasn’t until we finally got to it that was saw how amazing it was – it was absolutely one of the coolest campsites we’ve ever had in either to Eastern or Western U.S.  There’s a wooded section with the usual fire ring, picnic table, etc., but then that expands up onto a riverside area comprised of the rocks that are part of the riverbed, with a second fire ring.  It overlooks a gorgeous stretch of the Saco River that made E and I feel like we were back in Jasper National Park.  As soon as we saw that riverside section, we knew we were going to pitch our tent right up there.  The boys headed off to the playground for a bit, we cooked up some hot dogs and beans for dinner, and finished things off with s’mores and lot of campfire time.  There wasn’t actually anyone else camping out on the river since campground visitation was light, but I have to believe those riverside spots are pretty coveted on busy weekend.  The fly fishing looked amazing, and we saw one guy out working the stream about a half mile downstream.  That is a campsite that will not soon be forgotten, and it will definitely be on our list for the next time we’re in the area.  Apparently their Laundromat is a big deal as well, because there are as many signs for that as there are for the campground itself!

An image of a campsite along the Saco River at the Glen Ellis Family Campground in New Hampshire
The view from our campsite at the Glen Ellis Family Campground today

An image of the sign for the Glen Junction Family Restaurant in Glen, New HampshireSunday update:  The evening sky had some on and off broken clouds and a nice moon, and I bet it dropped into the 30s F overnight because even with the rain fly on the tent, we were down to the mid 40’s F.  After breaking camp, we decided to try out one of the local restaurants for breakfast on the way home, and found the Glen Junction Family Restaurant.  It definitely seemed to be the hot spot for breakfast, and the menu was almost overwhelming with the variety of combinations of fresh toast, omelets, and most of the usual morning fare that you can think of.  Not surprisingly with the junction location, the theme is trains, and they’ve got some fairly large-scale trains that circulate around the rooms up near the ceiling.  The boys definitely enjoyed watching those, as did the numerous children that were there as well – especially the younger ones.  Of course any adults like me would enjoy them as well.  One of the specials had eggs Benedict on French toast, which was tempting, although I ended up making my own omelet which contained corned beef hash and spinach.  The waitress said that was the first time she’d ever had anyone put together that specific combination, and it turned out great.  Everyone liked their fare, and we even had some extra to take home as the portions are plentiful.

We got home today around noontime, after a bit of maintenance on the mowers, I was able to do the first lawn mowing of the season.  It’s only about four short months until I’ll be on the last mowing of the season, and we’ll be thinking about the first snows, but there are plenty of summer activities to do in the meantime.  In terms of skiing, we’ll have to see if we want to take a trip down to Killington for some turns in the next couple of weeks, since they’re apparently going for June this year just like old times.

Stowe, VT 05MAY2013

An image of skis and poles on the snow at the top of West Slope at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont looking down on the Spruce Peak Base area
High above the Spruce Peak Base and ready for some corn snow turns

Our stretch of incredible spring weather continues, and today was another clear one with temperatures in the 70s F.  We had to head to Morrisville for a midday first communion mass, but we took along the ski gear in case we had the time to do some skiing on the way back through Stowe.  After grabbing some subs in Morrisville, headed up to the resort and took a look around to assess the ski options.  The most continuous snow is over on Mt. Mansfield, where the North Slope area is still looking very good, with no breaks that I could see even down to the lowest elevations.  There’s still a good amount of snow over at Spruce Peak as well though, with a lot of continuous vertical over in the Main Street area, and even snow down by the Spruce Peak Base.

“I’d say it might
be the best corn
snow I’ve skied
all spring.”

E and the boys weren’t up for skiing, but I was still looking to get in a quick run, so we decided to set ourselves up with some easy slope access right below Slalom Hill and West Slope.  We had lunch at one of the tables on the back deck of the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, and while E and the boys were off on a bathroom break, I stuck around and enjoyed the view of the slopes.  It has really been quite the run of clear spring days for us out here in the mountains – we’ve now gone 10 days without measurable precipitation at the house, and that’s very impressive for the land of upslope where Mother Nature can find a way to make some sort of precipitation more often than not.  Even if the rate of snowmelt is a bit faster than usual, we’re enjoying it, and there’s more to come this week.  After finishing up our lunch, E and the boys headed off to play some chess on the outdoor chess set, while I headed up for a run.

an image looking down toward the steep pitch of the West Slope trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont  on a day of spring skiing in May
On the descent of West Slope

Although I put my ski pants in my pack, it was warm enough that I just threw on my Tele boots and hiked in my shorts.  The effects of the continued warm and dry weather are very obvious on the slopes, as the areas without snow are essentially dry.  That made the hiking very easy on the grassy terrain, and it was a quick ascent up to the top of West Slope.  The views were excellent, and although I couldn’t quite make out E and the boys over by the Stowe Mountain Lodge, they said that they were able to see me.  I took a line down the skier’s left of West Slope, and the snow was beautiful – it was smooth, with a couple inches of peel away corn snow on top.  I’d say it might be the best corn snow I’ve skied all spring.  It was also nice to be back on the Telemark skis – I decided to just stick with skiing in my shorts since it was a fairly simple run, and was rewarded with some nice corn spray on the knees along with some really glorious Tele turns.  There was a final stretch of snow at the bottom of Slalom Hill, so I walked across the slope to connect to that, and it brought me right down to the car.

E and the boys timed their return to the car just right because they could see me on my descent, and when we met up I tried to tempt them into going for a run by letting them know just how great the snow was.  It didn’t work, as they were all just a little too tired from the busy weekend.  We’re watching the Mt. Washington Auto Road to see how things develop in the next couple of weeks.  There’s still quite a lot of snow up there, and the sooner they open the more options there will be on the snowfields.

Sugarbush, VT 04MAY2013

An image of Dylan skiing on Stein's Run at Sugarbush on spring snow in May
Dylan at Sugarbush today

Last weekend I visited Bolton Valley for turns, but in general it’s been another week with day after day of sun and warm spring temperatures of 70-80 F for the valleys, so I suspect Bolton’s snowpack isn’t very continuous at this point.  The Mt. Washington Auto Road opened to tree line today, but a full opening is required to use it for access to the snowfields, so local turns seemed to be on the menu again.  Stowe has plenty of snow and is one of the closest options at this point, but once I found out that Sugarbush was offering free skiing this weekend in support of Vermont Land Trust’s preservation of the Bragg Farm, that jumped right up on the list.

I’d been tossing around different ideas about when to ski among other weekend chores and activities, but once I got the word that Sugarbush wasn’t going to be opening on Sunday, that sealed the deal on today’s trip.  Ty was away at a friend’s house and E was busy with other things, but Dylan definitely needed to get out of the house, so I grabbed him in the early afternoon and we headed off to Sugarbush to make some turns.  Dylan actually protested about today’s trip at first, and you could tell that there was a big activation energy required to get him moving, but even he realized that he needed to get his butt off the couch.  We hadn’t been in the car long before his disposition started to change.  With him and Ty, it’s often about that activation energy.

The main paved parking lot right below the Clay Brook Complex had a decent amount of cars in it, but it wasn’t chock full and there were plenty of available spaces right up front from people who had already left for the day.  The mountain was requiring that everyone have free tickets, even with the free skiing, but the process was easy – we just stopped in the ticket building and they handed them over to us.  You could make your donation to the Bragg Farm preservation project right there as well if you wanted.  As we were walking over to the base of the lifts, my fired Chris spotted us from his seat outside at the Castlerock Pub, and he said to stop back after we’d done our skiing.  The scene was lively outside at the pub, with live music from a guitarist going strong.

I was initially surprised when we walked up the steps and found that the Super Bravo Chair wasn’t running, and quickly realized that skiing was off the Valley House Double today.  That’s a much slower and lower capacity lift setup, and meant that there was a decent queue of about 10 minutes or so to be able to load.  The upside was that it probably helped to keep traffic down on the minimal terrain they had open – essentially Stein’s Run with the Coffee Run runout below that to get you back to the base of the lift.  I wasn’t too excited when I’d initially heard that the skiing was only off Stein’s, since it never really seems to have any decent bump lines, just big, widely-spaced things, but at least it was warm enough out that its traditionally hard, manmade snow would likely soften.  As we stood in the queue, Dylan was still a rather reluctant participant.  He said, “Dad, I’ve got three things to tell you that I don’t like… one, it’s too hot out; two, this line is too long; and three, the snow is going to be sticky.  Apparently his glass was well empty, but I did assure him that the snow wasn’t going to be sticky; it was definitely well-ripened corn snow and you could tell that even as we stood there at the base elevation.

The skiing turned out to be much better than I’d expected, not so much due to the snow, which I expected to be decently softened with temperatures in the 70s F, but the terrain setup.  In this case, Stein’s tendency for those wide, spread out bump lines meant that there was actually some pretty smooth snow off to the sides where fewer people were skiing.  It wasn’t totally flat, but the bumps were fairly scattered, so you could enjoy that area for smooth turns, and then move toward the middle of the trail for more bumps.  Amazingly, even on such a warm day, Stein’s still found a way to have firm snow between some of the bumps.  It’s almost hard to imagine that on such a day, but Stein’s is steep and it really faces north.  Dylan worked on his pole technique and we both had some fun turns.  I’d gone with alpine equipment, not wanting to deal with Telemark turns on the typical crazy assortment of bumps that can sometimes be found on Stein’s, but it turned out to be so much better than I’d expected; Telemark skiing would certainly have been fun as well.

The lift queue at Valley House had gone down somewhat by the time we finished our run, but I still couldn’t convince Dylan to do any more skiing.  He did say that the skiing was better than he’d though it would be, so that was at least a bit of a positive note in his rather sour disposition.  We met up with Chris down at the Castlerock Pub, where we had some nachos and root beers.  We’d checked over at Timbers first, but they weren’t opening until 4:00 P.M., so it seemed like a perfect time to introduce ourselves to what to the pub had to offer.  On such a gorgeous day, you could either sit inside and be just out of the sun but catching the cool breeze, or hang out on the patio and absorb some rays.  We haven’t seen Chris since the Warren Miller movie in the fall, so we caught up with his latest exploits; he’ll be up in the area for some work in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully we’ll see him again.

An image of a Route 100 highway sign in Vermont covered with a variety of ski stickers
At least Vermont’s Skier’s Highway has got it’s 15 requisite pieces of flair.

I’m really glad that Sugarbush offered the free day today, because in our case, it needed to be something pretty economical to make it worth it for the minimal terrain.  Simply skinning for turns at a place like Stowe is pretty high on our list, but today’s skiing was definitely worth it for a nice change of pace.  It’s been a couple of seasons since we’ve had the occasion to visit the ‘bush, so I’m glad that we snuck a visit in under the wire today.