Jack had inquired about a hike to The Chin during our BJAMS ski program last Sunday, so while getting my ski group up into Stowe’s alpine terrain has been on my mind over the past couple of weeks, that really got me thinking about a hike for today. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake has been sitting at roughly 60 inches for the past three weeks, so I’m satisfied with base depths, and the only other concern that would affect the quality of the skiing would be the usual suspects up there in the alpine like wind and sun crusts, etc. Temperatures also looked reasonable for today, with highs in the 10s and 20s F, and with no strong winds expected and lots of sunshine, it seemed like we were on for a trip above tree line.
“I shot a few pictures
of the accomplishment,
and then came the
highlight of the trip…
Although I’d like to get them up onto The Chin into Profanity Chute at some point, with no direct knowledge of the current snow conditions in the alpine, and this being the boys’ first hike above tree line this season, something a little less aggressive was in order. So, just like we did for our alpine outing on April 7th last season, I decided to go with a hike up Cliff Trail Gully, followed by skiing in that general vicinity. With that plan in place, I met up with today’s group, which consisted of Kenny, Ty, Jack, and Luc, and informed them of the plan. While Dylan is feeling quite chipper after his recent bout of illness, we want to make sure that his physician says he at 100% before we subject him to anything overly rambunctious. So, after grabbing the feature photo on our last trip up Cliff Trail Gully, unfortunately he had to hold out in the base area today.
After a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor while we waited for Jack, everyone was finally ready to go, so we headed to lockers to prepare the gear. The guys got any water and snacks together, I did some fitting of their packs, and we were off to the Gondola. Up at the Cliff House, I helped everyone attach their skis to packs, and in general after working with Kenny’s setup a bit, the arrangements were pretty good without too many skis hitting heads or legs. Luc was carrying his skis, and I talked with him about switching arm positions as need and trying to let his shoulders do as much work as possible so that his arms wouldn’t get too tired. Kenny was very excited, because he said it was the first time he’d ever hiked for skiing.
There was a decent boot ladder in place, so Ty took the lead, the other boys followed, and I brought up the rear. Ty was off like a shot, and within minutes it seemed like he was ¼ of the way up the gully and I had to reel him in a bit and tell him to hold so that the group could catch up. He was good about that, and hung out on one of the obvious stopping plateaus created by the massive room-sized boulders that fill the gully. Kenny was taking his time while he figured out what this whole “hiking with skis” process is all about, and I while I hung out with him, I gave him lots of tips on how to move efficiently in the terrain. He was floored by how fast Ty flew up the gully, and I let him know that Ty had done an awful lot of this kind of hiking and that he’d be much faster as he got used to it. The boot ladder wasn’t too bad, but in some spots you could tell that it was made by someone with fairly long legs. That set the boys at a disadvantage, but they worked it out, and I’m sure Ty was putting in plenty of shorter steps that they got to use. I did get to express to them how if they’re ever the first to set the boot ladder, shorter spaces between steps are the way to go, as they work for everyone.
As we climbed higher in the gully, Kenny was very impressed by the views, and I told him how they would just keep getting better with every step. Kenny really started to catch his groove with the hiking when we got into the upper, less steep half of the gully, and he commented on how much easier it was getting. Once into the upper half of the gully, Ty and Luc quickly gained the ridge line, and it wasn’t long before the rest of us caught up and we were there. The wind was minimal and the sun was warm, so the boys immediately started to explore the immediate area above the gully. I shot a few pictures of the accomplishment, and then came the highlight of the trip… the jumping.
There hasn’t been much snow to set up a big cornice along the ridge, but there was at least a little bit of one, and more importantly, plenty of snow deposited just below on the leeward side of the ridge. I can’t recall who suggested it first, but the boys quickly got into a session of leaps, slides, tumbles, and bomb holing, all thanks to the deep snow deposited below the ridge. I’d say they had a good half hour session of jumping before I reminded them of the time and pointed out that we weren’t going to get in much additional skiing today if we didn’t get going. The boys were able to pull themselves away, and after a few snacks, we started our descent of the gully.
The snow conditions were actually somewhat challenging, with a few pockets of soft snow, but a lot of wind slab, dense snow, and even pockets of leftover rain crust. The boys really showed their technical abilities, applying a range of techniques to take on some impressively steep, tight, and scratchy lines down the gully. I kept my eyes peeled for other options off to the skiers left, but with the current snowpack, nothing immediately jumped out that was worth pursuing. So, the boys finished their run right down through the Cliff Trail Gully itself, and it was quite impressive.
Of course, one great part about a run down from Mansfield’s alpine areas is that you have an entire run of 2,000+ vertical feet still to go. The boys chose Mac and Cheese, which actually seemed sort of tame after what they’d just done. We followed that up with some trees and bumps on Lower National. We also had time for one more run over at Spruce Peak once we got back. Actually, despite the time taken up by the hike and the run down the gully, I’m glad the boys spent a lot of time up there, because in general, the conditions on piste were pretty unimpressive. The off piste snow in places such as the Nosedive Glades was reasonable packed powder, even if well packed after this past week with minimal new snow, but trails with snowmaking and high traffic are really quite icy. There’s powder in the trees, but naturally it’s getting harder to come by at this point, and the boys weren’t really missing out on too much down below. Luc even commented on how he didn’t like the snow when we were down on Lower National, so he’s definitely refining his preference for good snow. Fortunately, it looks like we might get some storms this week, so hopefully we’ll have some softer conditions next weekend. Hopefully we’ll be back at Stowe for more fun in the snow.