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.
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.