Stowe, VT 23FEB2014

An image of Dylan playing with a chunk of snow at the top of the Gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Playing out in the sun and snow today at Stowe

It was back to Stowe today for our weekly BJAMS ski program, and we were curious to see what Mother Nature was going to deliver.  The forecast called for temperatures in the mid 20s F at summit elevations, around 30 F at mid mountain elevations, and in the 30s F at base elevations.  While those temperatures certainly weren’t going to soften the snow at all elevations, it seemed like there was a good chance for the lower slopes of south-facing Spruce Peak to soften up into something very nice.

We certainly had brilliant sunshine when we headed to the mountain around midday, and temperatures in the low to mid 40s F in the mountain valleys gave way to a temperature of 38 F at the base of the mountain.  Upper 30s F with sunshine was definitely enough to get Spruce Peak to soften right up, and even at the top of Sunny Spruce, on terrain that was in the sun, the snow was beautiful.  Some of terrain not in direct sun also had good snow, but it was definitely hit or miss there.  At the top of Sunny Spruce, I took the boys aside and chopped out some of the snow to show them some the crust that had developed subsequent to the mixed precipitation storm at the end of the week.  I noted that it was why we wouldn’t be doing too much off piste skiing today, but you could see that there was indeed some very nice powder below the crust, so areas that had seen previous skier traffic would definitely hold promise.  Indeed, most of the mountain didn’t even get above freezing during the last storm, so the snow was preserved quite well below the crust.

We had our usual group of Ty, Dylan, Luc and Jack, and Ken was able to join me today as an additional coach.  I started everyone off with a look at the terrain above Meadows, and you could see that it was nicely sun softened all around, but terrain that had not been groomed or skied yet had a layer of crust on it.  It actually yielded somewhat due to softening in the sun, but the snow the groomed/skied on Nastar Hill was just so good, there was no point in busting new lines through there.  We ventured higher on the mountain via Sensation to see how high the soft snow had ventured.  It was more varied up at the top of Spruce Peak, gradually getting better and better as we descended.  They were actually just cleaning up from racing on Main Street, but we were able to ski it and found some nice smooth terrain on the side of the trail where racing hadn’t taken place.  We hit one more run on Lower Smuggler’s and West Slope, which both had excellent, sun-softened snow.

After a quick break, we decided to head over to the Gondola to see if Chin Clip had softened at all.  The most surprising conditions of the day were found on Upper Gondolier, where there was excellent midwinter snow, and large amounts of loose powder thrown about by all the people that had skied it during the day.  Chin Clip had generally winter snow, nothing as good as the top, but as one got lower you could start to feel where the warmth had gotten to it.  If it had all been as good as Upper Gondolier it would have been worth another run, bet we all decided that Spruce Peak was clearly the place to be in terms of snow consistency.

It was 3:00 P.M. when we returned to Spruce, and since Dylan was feeling a bit under the weather, I headed with him into Spruce Camp so that he could rest, and Ken took the boys out for some more runs on Spruce.  We had a good time hanging out in the lodge, and it was so peaceful that I was dozing off more than Dylan was.  Once E was back into the lodge from her coaching and could watch Dylan, I headed out to catch one more run.  I just barely missed the boys’ last run on Sunny Spruce, but took a quiet run by myself on the Adventure Triple.  I’d never really spent much time checking out the houses they have up there, and the views of the village were quite interesting from among all those buildings.  Even down at that elevation, the snow was starting to firm up, so closing time was just about right for allowing people to get in on the best conditions.  The base is in fine shape, even if it’s only around average, but we could use some rounds of snow to just soften things up and get the conditions bumped up in quality.  It looks like we’ve got several chances for small systems this week, and any one of them could run into the mountains an unload a bit more than expected, so we’ll keep our eyes peeled for how the accumulations turn out over the next few days.

Bolton Valley, VT 22FEB2014

An image of some ice-covered trees and sunny skies at the mid station of the Timberline Lift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
There was some nice weather out there today at Bolton Valley

There’s no doubt that last Saturday was one of our best ski days of the season so far; it’s just hard to go wrong with a couple feet of fresh snow.  Today wasn’t quite going to be able to hold up that level though.  After a couple smaller storms earlier this week, a mixed precipitation event came though the area on Thursday and Friday.  Although there wasn’t any dramatic warming or melting in the mountains, the temperatures did get high enough to affect the snow.

From the initial snow report I saw from Bolton Valley this morning, it didn’t seem like it was going to be worth heading up to the mountain for skiing – it sounded like groomed runs were going to be the call since they’d seen some freezing rain that glazed up the terrain.  As the afternoon wore on though, it was sunny and warm enough that it seemed like the slopes might soften, especially the lower-elevation, west-facing terrain at Timberline.  Also, the non-groomed terrain must have been acceptable, because virtually everything was open.  We decided to head up for a couple of runs and check it out.

Although initial reports had indicated that the Timberline mid station was not going to be open, but the time we got up to the mountain, it was.  We took a run off Twice as Nice, and found that the conditions up top were somewhere between winter and spring.  I’m not sure if the freezing level was higher earlier, but it was only on the lowest quarter of the trail where we found soft, spring-like snow.  The high elevations were cold and windy, but we decided to take one more run from the top of Timberline to see what other options presented themselves.  We skied Sure Shot, and in general the snow was hard up there, not softening until we got down toward the bottom of Timberline Run into the more directly south-facing terrain.

The base looked fine when we were at Timberline today, and in fact the most recent storm probably substantiated it more with at least a half inch of liquid equivalent.  We’ll just need to get some new snow on it to get the skiing back to soft conditions, but whatever storm comes next could make for some really good skiing atop the current base.

Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry, VT 16FEB2014

An image of the "Breakfast Bowl" sign and glades at  Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting ready to drop in for some first tracks in Breakfast Bowl this afternoon

We had a great day of lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley yesterday thanks to almost two feet of new snow from Winter Storm “Pax”, but today looked to be colder and windier, so some backcountry touring seemed like a good fit. It was such a gorgeous midwinter day today in the valley, with lots of sunshine, and highs around 20 F. The boys were more interested in sledding than skiing, but at least they were getting out enjoying the day. E stayed home with them and ended up doing some snowshoeing, but I headed up to the mountain for a tour. There had actually been a few more inches of fluff overnight in association with upslope flow from Winter Storm “Quintus”, so that new snow simply topped off what came from the larger storm.

“The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.”

Since I was solo, I decided on an interesting tour that would hit some common spots as well as some new areas that would let me check out some additional glades. I began with a standard skin up to Bryant Cabin via the Bryant Trail, which went quite quickly without any real stops. I actually had my pass checked by one of the resort employees out on the trail, so the resort is keeping up on that. The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.

An image of prayer flags at the top of the Prayer Flag trail in the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontFrom Bryant Cabin I headed out on Gardiner’s Lane and descended via JJ’s. There had been some skier traffic in the area, but there were various lines with fresh snow, and everything was simply bottomless and soft. I cut across to Possum, merged onto Cliff Hanger, and then skinned up to reach the top of Prayer Flag. Although I’ve explored that area before, I didn’t really know the name of the run until I saw it on the new Bolton Valley Backcountry Map. There was only one track on Prayer Flag, and it seemed to be an ascent track. The turns were good, and it was trench city with respect to the track I left. It was actually a bit much in the way of new snow for shallower grades, but for the steeper pitches it was excellent.

An image of ski trakcs in deep powder in the Breakfast Bowl area of the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The powder was so deep today that ski tracks were often trenches.

From the bottom of Prayer Flag I headed out toward “Breakfast Bowl”, a glade I’ve never skied before, and noted that the tracks looked really good coming down out of Holden’s Hollow. I found Breakfast Bowl totally untracked, and those were some of the best turns of the day – there is plenty of pitch there for whatever amount of powder you’ve got. At the bottom of Breakfast Bowl, instead of heading back up toward Broadway, I decided to cut across Joiner Brook, head up to the plateau on the other side, and take the Valley Loop Nordic trail back to the car. On my way up out of the streambed, I really got a feel for the instability of the snowpack. With the upside down snowpack having dense snow on top of lighter, drier stuff, “whumphing” sounds were being made with every step. It felt like a snowpack that would be ready to rip in appropriate terrain, and no sooner had I been thinking about it, than a room-sized slab shifted under me on a fairly steep slope. It only moved a couple of inches since it was stabilized by some trees, but it sure let me know that the snowpack meant business. Finishing my tour on Valley Loop was somewhat slow on my fat skis, but it was relaxing, and I cut a few corners to speed up the process on the very winding trail.

An image of a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on February 16th, 2014 at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The GPS data from today’s backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley mapped onto Google Earth

Bolton Valley, VT 15FEB2014

An image of Dylan skiing powder on Dynamite at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan bounding down through some of the powder from our recent big storm cycle at Bolton Valley today

Winter storm “Pax” affected Northern Vermont on Thursday and Friday this week, dropping up to 29 inches of snow on the ski resorts along the spine of the Green Mountains.  We haven’t had much in the way of large storm cycles up in the Northern Greens this season, so this was our largest to date, and it showed some interesting distributions with respect to snowfall density.  Some areas received extensive periods of large, fluffy flakes, and other locales had some very fine flakes that fell as very dense snow.  For instance, the first round of the storm at our location on Thursday night delivered some very dense, 13% H2O snow.  That’s actually just what the snowpack needed for building.  Whether the snow was dense or not, in the end, the mountains received well over an inch of liquid, and that liquid equivalent was really what was necessary to bolster the natural snowpack.  It was enough snow that Bolton Valley had finally opened all the terrain at Timberline, and we were psyched because that had been an inordinately long time coming this season.

“Winter storm “Pax” affected
Northern Vermont on Thursday
and Friday this week, dropping
up to 29 inches of snow on the
ski resorts along the spine of the
Green Mountains.”

We decided to get a relatively early start on the mountain today, and even though we weren’t expecting the Timberline Quad to open until 10:00 A.M., when we drove by at 9:30 A.M. it was already running, so we pulled right in and parked.  There were a couple of dozen cars in the lot, but it was still fairly quiet.  That was good, because being a holiday weekend, having the biggest storm of the season just hit, and then having great weather to enjoy it, we were worried about how many people were going to be out.  It was business as usual though at Timberline, with no lift queue and just a small group of people out to hit the terrain.

During our first lift ride we could see that the snow looked quite good, and there had definitely been a major resurfacing of the slopes.  People had skied the area yesterday, so it wasn’t entirely fresh snow, but there were plenty of untracked areas, and a few more inches had fallen last night to cover even areas that had seen traffic.  With almost two feet of new snow having fallen at Bolton Valley, we planned on hitting a lot of the steep off piste terrain that we’d yet to ski this season, so E decided to go with her fat alpine skis instead of Telemark skis.  The boys had their powder skis, and I had my fat Teles, so we were ready to tackle whatever Pax had delivered.  We had really great weather to enjoy the snow too – the temperatures were in the upper 20s F, there was no wind, and a little snow associated with our next storm system was floating through the air and adding a fresh coating to the slopes.

“The only complaint I’d
add about the snow is
that it was bit upside
down, with some dry
stuff underneath a
layer of denser snow
on top.”

Everyone took turns choosing trails, and E kicked things off with Twice as Nice.  That turned out be a great idea for a warm up.  The trail was generally tracked, with some untracked snow off to the sides, but there had been such a thorough resurfacing with all the dense snow that it hardly mattered where you went.  I was really feeling my AMPerages bust through the heavy snow with gusto, yet at the same time they were light and quick – I was really happy with the combination of skis and snow because everything just seemed to flow.  On our next ride up the quad, E commented on how we’d had the entire trail to ourselves for the whole run, except for a ski patroller who seemed to enjoy watching us from the side and generally surveilling the lay of the land in a very casual way.  Next up was Dylan’s choice, which was Adam’s Solitude.  I’m glad Dylan chose that early, because while the snow was quite good, a few bare spots were already starting to make their presence known.  It was easy to see that once the trail received a bunch of traffic, the skiing wasn’t going to be quite as free and easy as what we were experiencing.  With the rugged terrain present on Adam’s Solitude, it’s going to take another couple synoptic storms to really get it in shape for lots of skier traffic.  The roller coaster section that the boys love at the bottom is already in great shape though, and they had a blast.  I really enjoyed mixing in Telemark and alpine turns as the terrain dictated, and today was one of those days where mixing both techniques on the fly just came rather easily.

An image of Dylan smiling at the top of the Glades Right trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontIt was off to the main mountain next, where in order to add some fun in getting over to the base of Wilderness, we did a run off the Mid Mountain Chair.  I treated E and the boys to a run through Glades Right and Nixon’s; both areas had great snow and coverage, and the boys were impressed.  Wilderness was finally running today, and I led E and the boys on an attempted run through Super Snow Hole, but it was tough to find the entrance and we had to settle for regular Snow Hole.  There had been very little traffic on Snow Hole, and it could actually use a bit more people venturing in to pack it down a bit with the generous depths of the recent snows.  Ty called for a run on Turnpike, with an entry via Cougar, which the boys said they always seem to ski during the Olympics.  They made sure to practice their Olympic victory “raising of the arms” at the bottom.

An image of Erica and Dylan skiing Glades Right at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after nearly two feet of snow from winter storm "Pax"
E and Dylan enjoying the great snow out in the glades today

Since the boys had really earned some lunch after the morning’s adventures, especially the off piste venturing around in the deep powder in the Snow Hole area, we got a pie from Fireside Flatbread and some appetizers from the downstairs cafeteria.  The lodge was definitely packed, and that’s not surprising on a Saturday of a holiday weekend.

An image of Ty skiing Dynamite run at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
The fat skis were out today, doing their thing in the almost two feet of new snow at Bolton Valley.

The afternoon started with a run through the “trifecta” of Buena Vista, Dynamite, and Sleepy Hollow.  The snow was excellent, and traffic had been fairly light.  Dylan requested a run through the Progression Park, and then we headed back toward Timberline to finish off the day.  I was amazed that we’d seen Upper Tattle Tale open, and from below it looked somewhat scoured, but Lower Tattle Tale was really good.  The Twice as Nice Glades were OK, but still a bit bony, and I’d actually say that they are due for a round of brush clearing.  I took everyone down Quintessential, but it definitely needs a couple more storms to really be ready.

You really couldn’t ask for a much better day today, with such great fresh snow and weather.  The only complaint I’d add about the snow is that it was bit upside down, with some dry stuff underneath a layer of denser snow on top.  At some point there was some dry fluff in there, and then some snow with smaller flake fell on top.  You’d sometimes find areas of untracked powder where you could drop right through that middle layer.  The fat skis were definitely the tools to help with that though, doing a great job of keeping you floating vs. sinking under the topmost layers of dense snow.  In terms of base, essentially everything is skiable, but I’d like to see a couple more synoptic storms to get the base wall to wall on all the steepest and most rugged natural terrain.  Being mid February, that should really be expected by this point, but when snowfall is somewhere south of 80% relative to average, and January has multiple warm storms, that steep, natural terrain in the lower elevations just isn’t going to be flawless yet.  We’ve actually got some nice fluffy upslope snow falling tonight in association with the next winter storm called “Quintus”; we’ll have to see how much the mountains can pull of the sky to top off what’s out there.

Stowe, VT 09FEB2014

An image of Dylan between two pillows of powder snow on trees below the Kitchen Wall area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan exploring Mansfield’s deep deposits of powder today

We had a storm last weekend that produced a powder day on Sunday, so we headed out early and spent the entire day at Stowe, but with no fresh snow today, it was back to our more typical afternoon session spent with the BJAMS ski program.  We actually arrived a bit earlier than usual so that E could have a special ski instruction session with one of the students on the carpet surface lift, so parking at the base of Spruce Peak was somewhat less hectic than usual.  Skies were gray with clouds ahead of a storm coming in tonight, and temperatures were reasonable at around 20 F.

An image of Ty skiing powder in the trees near the West Run trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Out and about in the powder today

Luc and Jack were away at a martial arts event, so it looked like it would just be Ty, Dylan, and Kenny with me for our session.  Kenny still had to eat lunch when we first arrived, so Ty, Dylan, and I headed up Sunny Spruce for an early run.  We decided to do a bit of exploring in the trees off West Run, and found the powder there to be right around a foot, just like we’d encountered in many areas at Bolton Valley yesterday.  Although the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is still around the 40-inch mark, we didn’t find any serious issues with coverage in that area of mixed hardwoods and evergreens.

We hooked up with Kenny and stuck to Spruce Peak for our next run – E wanted us to check in with everyone gathering for the program at 1:00 P.M. to see if anyone else would be joining our group.  Kenny was interested in West Smugglers because of the moguls, and he took them on with no problems.  I was initially worried about the coverage on West Smugglers due to the fact that it’s all natural snow, somewhat south facing, and relatively low in elevation, but the coverage really was decent.  If West Smugglers is doing OK, I had to think that Stowe was close to 100% open, and indeed I see that that’s the case when I check the snow report.

We found out that Ethan was going to join our group for the day, as I was told that he jumped at the chance when offered, so that brought us to four and we headed over to the Gondola for some runs.  Dylan’s request was for some “Mac and Cheese” so we headed right there.  I filled Ethan in on some of the usual off piste tips that I gave Kenny last week, stay together, get up and out of the way when you stop in choke points, etc.  I also let him know how things would go with me as the only coach – we’d have Ty lead since he’s confident enough in his abilities and knowledge of the terrain to do so, and I’d take up the rear.  The run was great, and Kenny exorcised some of the demons from last week by conquering some of those tricky spots in the main line we’d been working.  Ethan had no problems, and I hadn’t suspected that he would based on his previous trips with our group.  Once out onto Nosedive, I worked with the boys on short-radius turns and holding tight, controlled lines along the edge of the trail where there was some quality snow.  For the most part, Nosedive was its usually icy self due to manmade snow and skier traffic, so there wasn’t anything different to note there.

An image of Kenny, Ethan, Ty, and Dylan out among powdery trees below the Kitchen Wall at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The boys pose for a shot out in the powder below the Kitchen Wall

Kenny’s request was also for Mac and Cheese, so we took it again, but this time with a variation.  I’d seen lots of untracked powder above our usual main route, so I took the boys on an exploratory session with a higher traverse through the area.  I set the track, which turned out to be through a lot of powder.  Depth checks typically revealed 20+ inches around there, and if our feet hadn’t been able to inform us of the depth, our eyes could have.  Massive balls of fluffy powder sat on all the evergreens, and it was really starting to look like Mt. Mansfield in winter.  Even with me setting the traverse track through the forest and multiple people behind me packing it down, Kenny struggled at times getting through the powder.  I can see that we’ll have to work with him on that – there are certainly things that you learn about traversing through deep powder in the forest, and ultimately it makes your travel so much more efficient.  I can remember when Luc struggled with that at times as well, but after a couple of seasons of exposure, he’s really starting to get it down.  We did manage to find some nice untracked and lightly tracked lines with our added traverse, but I could see that we’d be able to get much more if we went farther.  We’d worked Kenny hard enough by the time of our descent though, so that was enough deep powder practice for the time being.

Kenny was getting hungry after that excursion, not that he needs any special reason to get hungry to begin with, but we stopped in for some waffles at the Cliff House to take the edge off.  Ty’s trail selection was next, and in the same vein as what we’d been doing, he chose straight up Cliff Trail because he loves all the little chutes along the skier’s right.  What we’d ended up doing to finish off our runs was to skip past Lower Nosedive and head over to Lower National to work on the bumps.  The boys worked on slowing down and staying in control, and I showed them how to avoid any icy patches between the bumps by making tighter, earlier turns that let you stay on the back side of the bump in the good snow.

Ethan called for a run to the Spruce Village fire pit for s’mores and hot chocolate, so we ended our Mansfield day after that run.  After some fire pit time and some good snacks, we got a couple more runs on Sunny Spruce, including last chair.  Ty and Kenny raced to the bottom by different routes in an exciting finish to the day.  Snowfall was actually just starting to appear as we were leaving the mountain, and we’ve had light snow here at the house this evening, so it looks like the mountains will have a light refresher for tomorrow.

Bolton Valley, VT 08FEB2014

An image of E skiing some powder among ski tracks in the Wilderness are at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Conditions are still below average for this time of year around here, but Wilderness delivered great snow today as it often does.

With over half an inch of liquid equivalent delivered, our midweek winter storm, “Nika”, was certainly a mini boon for the local slopes.  I checked out the fresh snow on Wednesday and Thursday, but today was our chance to see how conditions fared now that things have settled a bit, and traffic and grooming have worked the new snow into the base.  There’s no question that the recent shot of moisture from Nika provided a bump in snowpack for Bolton Valley – many additional trails have come on line, and as of this morning, the only areas that patrol haven’t opened are upper Wilderness and the natural snow trails of Timberline.

Of course the fact that we’re approaching mid February and even having to talk about those areas not being open speaks to just how poor a January the area had to endure.  The snowfall data that I monitor at our house parallels the local mountains quite nicely, especially in mid winter, so my numbers provide a very good sense of how it went for the ski areas of the Northern Greens.  With just 15.8 inches of snow, this past January was the lowest in my records by a notable margin.  Granted, I only have eight seasons worth of data, but this past January wasn’t just lower than any January in my records, it was lower than any December, January, or February in my records.  Looking at all those months puts a lot more into the data set, so for January to come in well below all of the other months is quite notable.  And, the statistics back that up, with this January being a whopping 1.86 standard deviations below the midwinter monthly mean of 39.4 inches, putting this January in THE BOTTOM 3% OF ALL MIDWINTER MONTHS according to my data set.  So if you felt that January was horrendously low with respect to snowfall in the Northern Greens, you were correct.

Fortunately we’re on to February now and the past week was at least somewhat average with respect to snowfall.  E took a look at the Bolton Valley Web Cam and noted that there wasn’t much of a line at the Vista Quad, so after a quick lunch, we headed up to the mountain.  Timberline had a good number of cars, and the Village lots were near capacity, so clearly the resort had a lot of visitors – I dropped E and the boys off at the Village Circle and had to park in the bottom tier of parking down near the recreation center.

After they’d taken a couple runs on Snowflake, in which Ty really seemed to be getting some nice air in the terrain park, I met up with E and the boys and we headed up the Vista Quad for a run on Spillway.  That was Dylan’s choice, and I was optimistic that the ridge on the skier’s right would yield some good snow, but it was definitely underwhelming.  I found soft snow in a few spots, but in general there wasn’t much of it and the hard, manmade snow predominated on the left side of the ridge and even made its presence known on the right side of the ridge.  It wasn’t until we neared the connection onto Sherman’s Pass that we were able to get into some good powder on the edges, and then the Vista Quad Liftline below held soft natural snow as well.  The snow we’d experienced up on Spillway had him calling for some trees, which was timely, because that was the plan.

An image of Ty skiing powder in Maria's Woods at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Although the trees are still a bit lean for this time of year, there are lots of good areas to be found

The next run was my choice, and with the recent opening of the Cobrass suite of trails, I decided we should check out Cobrass and head to Maria’s for some soft snow in the trees.  The snow on Cobrass was just horribly icy, and we couldn’t get down it fast enough.  Even the skier’s right, where soft snow often holds, was meager like we’d found on Spillway.  Either the trails with snowmaking have seen too many skiers or not enough natural snow, or perhaps a combination of both.  Fortunately, the snow off piste was blissfully soft, with generally about a foot of powder on Maria’s.  The only problem is that the base is still lean – we need another big synoptic storm, this time with an inch or two of liquid equivalent to really get the off piste terrain into prime, midwinter form.  The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake is just above that 40” mark, so as one might expect, the off piste skiing is in play, but you can’t rely on everything to be covered yet.  You still need to take it cautiously in general.  Maria’s did offer up some nice shots of powder, and we found some nice deep shots, but until we get another storm or two you just won’t be able to go top to bottom with full confidence.

With the snowmaking terrain generally too firm, and the off piste terrain passable but not ready for prime time in all areas, our next course of action was obvious.  It was time for a run over at Wilderness.  Before we could do that though, Dylan needed to warm up his toes, so we took a break for a bit in the lodge.  The boys got some snacks, and everyone warmed up for what we planned to be our last run.  From the top of the Vista Quad we took Alta Vista, and I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot more soft snow available on the side there than what we’d experienced on Spillway or Cobrass.  I’d say it was simply due to lower skier traffic, because it seemed like very few people had skied there.  We connected over to Wilderness and got some nice powder on the Wilderness Lift Line, which was followed up with an excellent run down Turnpike.  Boy that Turnpike just always seems to deliver.

So, there’s certainly some decent skiing out there thanks to the recent storm “Nika”, but overall things are certainly subpar for February in Northern Vermont.  We’re definitely keeping our eyes peeled for that next big synoptic storm that could get things closer to average – based on the current depth at the stake we need about a foot to a foot and a half of base depth increase to get there.

Bolton Valley, VT 06FEB2014

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley
Some of the great powder out there today at Bolton Valley

Yesterday’s snowstorm finished up with a few more inches overnight, bringing the local ski area storm totals to the 9-12” range.  Just as important though, was the amount of liquid that the snow held, and based on the fact that we received 0.56” of liquid equivalent at our house, and Mt. Mansfield picked up at least 0.60”, Bolton Valley should have been well above the half inch mark.  An inch or two of liquid equivalent would have been even better, but even a half inch is more than we’ve had in recent storms.

The amount of liquid in the snow seemed substantial enough that I decided to see how Timberline was skiing this morning.  The last time I’d looked, it wasn’t quite there, but after our past couple of storms, plus somewhere near 9 inches of additional snow from this latest one, it was worth a look.  As I parked at the Timberline Base, I met another couple of skiers who had just come down from a run, and were preparing to go back up for another one after a quick break.  When I asked about the snow, one of them said, “It’s @#$%(#$%^ awesome!”  I took that as a good sign.

I followed an excellent skin track up Twice as Nice, and generally found 9 to 10 inches of settled powder.  However, in the lowest elevations there was often little to no base below that snow.  I hate to say it, but rolling the trail with a snow cat would probably be the best thing to do in terms of preserving the snow, turning it into a base, and getting it ready to support lift-served skiing.  The tracks of previous skiers definitely spoke to the quality of the powder though – it was classing Timberline fluff that had settled nicely with no wind.

I ended up making my descent on Spell Binder, and indeed the snow was awesome, just as that skier had indicated.  The main detractor from the experience was that there just isn’t enough base snow yet to take the steep terrain with reckless abandon.  I found 15 inches of snow atop the Spell Binder headwall, but I had to play it safe on that steep terrain since there are rocks lurking.  So, even with the great snow, that offered champagne on top and a very nice “right side up” density gradient, I have to give the skiing a middle of the road sort of score because of the base.  One more big storm and some settling of what’s out there now, and Timberline will probably be ready for some lift served skiing.  Actually, the resort was planning to open at least the main snowmaking routes over there today, so a lot of the area should be ready to go if more snow comes.

Bolton Valley, VT 05FEB2014

An image of the Vista Beast at the base of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The Vista Beast was out showing everyone what they should be doing today.

Our largest snowstorm of the year has been affecting Northern Vermont today, and while snow totals are generally under a foot, the event still represents a huge, sorely needed addition to the mountain snowpack.  The snow was just starting up early this morning, and there was only 1.1” on at the house when I made my 6:00 A.M. observations for CoCoRaHS.  What was very interesting was the density of the snow – it came in at a surprisingly dense 13.6% H20.  That’s great snow to start out a storm and provide a cushion above the subsurface.  The timing of the storm didn’t really lend itself to a powder morning, so I decided to try for some turns later in the afternoon on the way home from Burlington.  Indeed it snowed all day, with snowfall rates up to 1 to 2 inches an hour at times.  Winds had been pretty minimal with this storm, so as the snow fell, the ski conditions were just getting better and better.

“Indeed it snowed all
day, with snowfall
rates up to 1 to 2
inches an hour at
times.”

I arrived up at Bolton Valley in the mid afternoon timeframe, and quick estimates from the parking lot at ~2,100’ suggested roughly a half foot of new snow had fallen.  I’d brought both mid fats and full fats, but decided it was enough to go with the fat boards, so I stowed the appropriate skins in my fanny pack with my camera, and headed up the Vista Quad.  Since people had been skiing the snow all day, you had to head to the edges for powder, but it was a good combination of denser snow and some dry snow on top, and that let you float.  I skied Hard Luck up top, and on the bottom of the mountain I got to pay a visit to Glades for the first time this season.  Coverage was definitely sufficient, but you will still contact icy surfaces below if you went in heavy traffic areas.

An image of the depth of the powder over at the Wilderness area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont showing 16 inchesI decided to skin over to the top of Wilderness on my final run, and followed an ascent track that had just been made by another skier and a couple of snowboarders.  They were post-holing their way along, but even though it wasn’t a pristine skin track, it was still a huge help to have their track set for me – measurements I made along the way revealed 16” of powder resulting from these last few storms.  Breaking trail through that would have been significantly slower, even with the float of my fat skis.  The rewards of the trip over were good though, with tracks on Peggy Dow’s in the deep.  I was definitely glad that I had my fat skis for planing purposes, because the depth was getting to be too much for some of the lower angle slopes on the lower mountain.  It was a fairly short and sweet session this afternoon, but the quality of the turns was very high.  There’s been more snow falling this evening though, so there could be some great turns out there tomorrow.  I actually saw a snow cat working at the base of Timberline, so perhaps the resort is getting ready to open it for the first time this season.  This storm may not have been quite enough to get those lower slopes ready to support lift-served skiing, but it could be close.

An image of a ski track in powder on the Peggy Dow's trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Fun powder lines amidst today’s flakes

Stowe, VT 02FEB2014

An image of Ty skiing powder on the Lower Tyro trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Out at Stowe today enjoying some of the overnight snow

Our latest modest snowstorm delivered as expected overnight, with 5 inches reported in the upper elevations at Stowe this morning.  That was enough to get us to head out for a relatively early start today, so we met Jeff at the Children’s Adventure Center to get Kenny and Liana, who planned to join us for some skiing during the morning before our afternoon BJAMS ski program.  We had some breakfast at the Great Room Grill to fuel up (I got to try one of their highly talked about breakfast sandwiches), and by the time we were done eating, all the lifts on the mountain were open.

The snow from this storm was fairly standard in terms of density, but I’d heard that the driest and lightest snow would be found in the higher elevations. We therefore decided to head over to the Gondola instead of making runs on Spruce, where much of the terrain is at lower elevations.  Although it was Super Bowl Sunday, there were plenty of people out on the slopes in the morning, and the queue for the Gondola was several minutes long.

“Indeed the snow had plenty
of liquid in it and the mountain
 had seen a decent resurfacing,
at least outside the high traffic
 areas.”

From the Gondola summit we took a run that featured plenty of time on Switchback, and there was a lot of good snow.  Indeed the snow had plenty of liquid in it and the mountain had seen a decent resurfacing, at least outside the high traffic areas.  The sides of the trails held great snow, and E and I worked with everyone on short radius turns that could keep them in the good snow.  We followed up that first run by working our way over to the Fourrunner Quad, where we skied Hayride, got into the Chapel Woods, and got into plenty of other stuff.

An image of Kenny skiing soft snow on the Lower tyro trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Kenny getting after some of today’s fresh snow with gusto

What I quickly noticed in the morning was that Kenny and Liana had improved their skiing a lot since I’d last hit the slopes with them – they’re now skiing in one of Stowe’s programs on Saturdays as well as our usual Sunday program, and that’s meaning a lot of time on snow.  In Kenny’s case, it meant a dramatic enough improvement that he’d be comfortable skiing with our group on Sunday afternoon.  I spent much of the morning assessing what he would need to work on to really bring his skiing up to that next level, and that included slowing down and making both more and shorter-radius turns, separating his upper and lower body even more, and keeping his hands up for more centered balance.  By the end of the morning I was confident that he’d be able to ski with our group, especially since I knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere too crazy because the snowpack just isn’t quite ready yet.

An image of Erica skiing soft snow on the Lower Tyro trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Even E got to get out and enjoy some of the fresh snow before her ski program duties today.

The morning had already been quite a workout, so we headed back to the Great Room Grill for some lunch, and then jumped into afternoon ski program to continue tracking down good snow.  Luke joined out group with Ty, Dylan and Kenny, and we headed off for more fun on the Gondola, Quad, and Triple.  We had a couple of good runs through part of the Nosedive Glades, which are definitely ready for prime time.  Kenny definitely held up fine with today’s runs, and I think that he’s really going to have the opportunity to keep working on advanced techniques if he can keep following the other members and noting the techniques that they use to tackle steep and often tight terrain.

An image of Kenny drinking some hot chocolate after ski school program at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont Next up on the weather front is the potential for another modest system in the midweek timeframe.  We’ve still yet to have a really notable storm this far north this season, but these modest storms are definitely helping to build the snowpack, even if they do so at a slower pace.

Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry, VT 01FEB2014

An image of Ty making a Telemark turn in powder on the "Cup Runneth Over" glade in the backcountry skiing network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Out for a short tour on Bolton’s Backcountry Network today to get some powder turns with the boys

Down at the house, snow from our current storm was just starting to fall around 3:00 P.M. today when I headed up to Bolton Valley with the boys.  E had headed off to get some work done at school, so it was just the guys at home, and I figured that we should get out and enjoy the snow for a bit.  After getting a closer look at the Cup Runneth Over glade on Sunday, it seemed like a nice, short touring option to try with the boys.

“Skiing in the upper section
of the glade was pleasant.
Even though there were a
number of sets of tracks,
there was still untouched
powder around, and a good
6+ inches of it.”

The temperature was in the mid 30s F at the house, and the flakes that were falling here and there quickly began to intensify into a steady light snow as we headed down the Winooski Valley through Bolton Flats.  Looking out ahead of us toward the west, we could see that that more intense snow was heading our way.  With the marginal valley temperatures with this event, the mountains are expected to do notably better with the snowfall, and indeed that was borne out as we headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road and got into sub-freezing air.  Snow was already accumulating on the road above ~2,000’, and the snowfall was much more intense up in the Village.  The boys quickly covered up with their hoods as we got out of the car and into our gear, because the snowfall would quickly wet you down if you didn’t get yourself under something waterproof.

An image of Dylan holding up one of the Cheeze-It and snow sandwiches he made on our backcountry ski outing at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontLights were starting to come on for the alpine trails, and skier traffic was scant on the Nordic network as we skinned along World Cup and then Bryant.  The boys hardly believed me when I told them that we were in for just a few minutes of climbing before we’d reach the start of our descent.  Indeed that was the case, and we stopped along Bryant at the entry spot I’d seen for the upper section of Cup Runneth Over on Sunday.  We relaxed and hung out along the top of the Glade, enjoying the snowfall and the comfortable temperatures just below freezing.  Dylan immediately dove into his pack for some snacks, and ended up creating sandwiches comprised of Cheez-It® crackers with snow in the middle.  One lone skier passed by us as she made an ascent up Bryant, but, aside from her, all we saw were a couple other Nordic skiers and a guy on snowshoes.  With the fairly late hour, it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t see many people.

Skiing in the upper section of the glade was pleasant.  Even though there were a number of sets of tracks, there was still untouched powder around, and a good 6+ inches of it.  The boys practiced some Telemark turns and stopped down at the intersection with World Cup where the glade starts to dive down a steeper slope.  I began the steeper descent, but after I’d made a couple of turns, the boys asked if they could ski World Cup and work on their Telemark turns; they just weren’t feeling confident enough with their turns to take on the steeper part of the glade, and that was probably a good choice for them because I did find the coverage a bit bony.  They were definitely enamored with the clean, groomed look of World Cup, made all the more enticing with the coating of fresh snow that was approaching an inch by that point.  The boys certainly had a lot of fun on World Cup, trying different variations on their Telemark turns as they pushed around some of the fresh snow.

A GPS map on Google Earth showing data from a ski tour on the Bolton the Nordic & Backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s short tour with the boys plotted on Google Earth

Once we were back at the car, I decided that boys could get a snack at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery, and we ended up also grabbing a couple of pizzas at Fireside Flatbread to take home for dinner.  I’ve wanted to make use of having the pizza right there in the lodge for a while now at the end of one of these evening tours, and today it worked out perfectly.  We had it in hand in roughly 10 minutes, so the guys at the oven were right on top of it.

We headed down from the mountain around 5:30 P.M., and roughly an inch of new snow seemed to be the total at that point, with continued moderate snowfall.  This is a storm where areas farther north are expected to get more snow, so we’ll have to see how Stowe does overnight, but there could be some nice skiing tomorrow if the snow keeps up for a while.  And the pizza from Fireside Flatbread was excellent as usual – their crust is one of my favorites anywhere.