Bolton Valley, VT 27APR2014

An image of the Alta Vista trail with a ski track in late April at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
We got a bit of fresh snow and some fun turns in the higher elevations from our latest April storm.

Our latest April storm brought with it the potential for some mountain snow, and as the forecast from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington suggested, snow levels came down last night, and the snow started to accumulate.  Precipitation was just a mix of rain and snow at our house down here at 500’ this morning as I checked on some of the local mountain web cams, but I began to get a sense for how the snow had accumulated up high.  There was no accumulation visible at Stowe’s base elevations, and it looked like the snow line was up above 2,000’ on the east slope of Mt. Mansfield based on the accumulations seen on the trees.  Bolton Valley appeared to have picked up a reasonable accumulation of snow at roughly 2,000’, and when Powderfreak showed accumulations down to roughly the 800’ elevation along the western slopes, that sealed the deal on Bolton Valley as my tour destination.

“The skiing was actually far
better than I’d expected – it
was three inches of dense
snow atop what, even up at
that elevation, was a soft
spring base.”

Temperatures were in the upper 30s F down in the Winooski Valley with light rain/mist, and as I headed westward through Bolton Flats, the intensity of the precipitation picked up.  The rain changed over to snow at ~1,200’ on the Bolton Valley Access Road, and first signs of new snow accumulation were at the Timberline Base at 1,500’.  I suspect that accumulations had reached lower based on that image that PF showed earlier from 800’ in Nashville, but it seemed like the snow line had already risen a bit by the time I was up there.  As I continued to ascend the road beyond the Timberline Base, the deciduous trees took on a picturesque coating of white, and gradually the ground began to fill in with white as well.

The Village was quiet as is typical for late April, and as I pulled into the upper lot near the base lodge, I saw a skier just returning to his car after a run.  We chatted for a bit, and he said that he’d just come down Cobrass and that the skiing was great.  I looked around and saw what looked to be about an inch of fresh snow atop all surfaces, and even the base snow appeared to be soft.  Unsure of exactly what I was going to find, I’d brought both fat and mid fat Tele skis, and after finding out how soft the subsurfaces were, I felt confident that going with the fatter AMPerages was the call.  I strapped on skins and headed upward, just as another car with three skiers arrived to take the place of the lone skier that had just left.

An image of one of the snowmaking pump houses with fresh April snow at the mid mountain elevation of the main mountain at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontLight snow continued to fall as I began skinning up above the lodge, and I could see that skier traffic had been very light.  There were signs of just a couple of skiers that had skinned up in the new snow, and a couple of addition sets of footprints from people that had hiked.  As I was ascending near the top of Beech Seal, a skier passed me on his descent, and I definitely liked the sound of his turns… or more appropriately, the lack of sound as he came by.  That quiet schuss was a good sign regarding the subsurface below the new snow, and I with the good coverage I saw, I made a note to consider Beech Seal on that part of the descent.  At Mid Mountain the depth of the new snow was about 2”, and I continued over toward Cobrass on my ascent to see what that other skier had experienced.  I don’t think I’ve ascended Cobrass yet this spring, so it also gave me a chance to use that route.  I could see the other skier’s descent track, and pretty quickly I knew that descending Cobrass was not going to be the call for me.  With its southern and western exposures, there was just too little base in various spots.  I suspected things would be much better on a trail with northern exposure.  I could see that the Cobrass Café picnic table had reappeared from its winter burial; it’s been looking a bit worse for wear over the past couple of seasons, but it’s hanging in there.

An image of evergreen boughs covered with snow from a late April, snowstorm up at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Snow accumulations increased gradually with elevation today, eventually revealing more substantial accumulations.

At the Vista Summit, I checked the depth of new snow again, and it was right around 3”.  There were actually no tracks of any kind over near the patrol house or the top of the Vista Quad, and it was just pristine snow, so I suspected that whatever trail I chose, I’d be able to get first tracks.  I downed a GU and some water, switched over to descent mode, and headed down Alta Vista.  Aside from the wind scoured section along the skier’s right at the top, the base coverage was wall to wall, and the new snow on top was wholly untracked.  The skiing was actually far better than I’d expected – it was three inches of dense snow atop what, even up at that elevation, was a soft spring base.  I was very happy with my ski choice, as the AMPerages were in their element – I was planing pretty quickly atop the dense snow, and had a lot of fun drifting some of my turns.  The new snow was only partially bonded to the subsurface, so you could easily let it slide as much as you wanted as you sloughed the snow away.

I thought about a number of options once I was down to Sherman’s Pass, but stuck with Sherman’s because I was sure of the base snow.  It also meant that I could catch Beech Seal, which I knew was a sure thing.  The turns on the lower half of the mountain were good, and certainly soft, but the upper half of the mountain took the prize for conditions.  The temperature had risen at the base since I’d started my tour, and I could see that much of the snow had melted out of the deciduous trees down at the Village elevations as I departed.   The snow line had risen another few hundred feet as I was heading back down the mountain, so it was definitely one of those days to get at it sooner rather than later.  It’s actually continued to be a slow April in terms of snowfall, but the forecast does show the potential for additional shots of snow in the midweek period and then next weekend, so we’ll see if we get anything like this event in the next several days.

Bolton Valley, VT 17APR2014

An image of ski tracks in the Mid Mountain area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after an April snowstorm
Although the lifts have stopped running for the season, the powder skiing rolls on at Bolton Valley thanks to a recent April storm.

Yesterday was quite a cold April day, cold enough that the temperature in the Bolton Valley Village never got anywhere near the freezing mark – it never even reached 25 F.  Anticipating that the cold temperatures would mean maintenance of the dry, wintry powder that the area received from the recent snowstorm, I grabbed the fat skis and headed up to Bolton Valley this morning to see how the snow was faring.  Based on the fact that we’d picked up over four inches of new snow down at the house from the storm, I figured that Bolton must have done at least that well.

“Indeed the sun or warmth
had not appeared to be
issues of any sort for snow
– the real enemy in terms
of  snow quality was the
wind.”

The temperature was still in the low 20s F when I rolled into the Bolton Valley Village this morning, and it looked like midwinter as much as it did mid April.  I began skinning right up the well established skin track on Beech Seal, and as one might expect from a well consolidated skin track, it meant that the surrounding slopes had seen plenty of ski traffic.  There were some nice looking turns out there though – I saw some beautiful, smooth looking powder turns in the low-angle terrain coming out of the Jungle Jib terrain park.  New snow depths and ski conditions were fairly similar to what we found yesterday at Stowe – I found 3 to 5 inches of new snow on the lower half of the mountain, and around a half foot up top near Vista Peak.  Indeed the sun or warmth had not appeared to be issues of any sort for snow – the real enemy in terms of snow quality was the wind.  In the usual spots, the new powder was scoured down to the crusty surface below, so I could see that it was going to be one of those days where choosing aspect, trail, and trail side, was going to be extremely important in seeking out the best powder turns.

An image of a ski track in the Jungle Jib terrain park at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A picturesque track in the powder coming out of the Jungle Jib terrain park

“Turnpike delivered as usual,
with just a few spots that
had been affected by the
wind, but a lot of smooth,
silky turns in the slightly
settled powder.”

The skin track took me up Sherman’s, Schuss, and finally Alta Vista, to where I stopped just below the top of the Vista Quad beneath where the snow was all scoured away.  The skier’s left of Alta Vista offered up some nice powder turns, although I still encountered some areas of wind-packed snow.  I ventured off into the lower reaches of Vista Glades, and found some smooth turns there, since the snow was generally protected.  Having seen so many tracks and plenty of wind affecting the trails above the base lodge, I headed over toward Wilderness for the bottom part of my run.  Turnpike delivered as usual, with just a few spots that had been affected by the wind, but a lot of smooth, silky turns in the slightly settled powder.  Like yesterday, the turns weren’t completely bottomless, but there were still a lot of them, and I was happy to have the AMPerages and their floatation to help out.  The Village was still incredibly quiet as I was heading back to my car, but I did run into Josh as he was heading into the office.  He’s already getting ready for next season, enjoying a quieter scene now that the lifts have stopped.  Based on the snow that’s up there though, there’s still plenty of skiing to be done this season.

An image of a ski track in the bottom of the Vista Glades area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Some protected snow at the bottom of Vista Glades

Stowe, VT 16APR2014

An image of Erica skiing the Duck Walk trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Some late season powder today at Stowe

It’s continued to be a fairly slow April for snowfall, even in the mountains, and through the first half of the month there haven’t been any major spring snowstorms.  The mountains received a few inches in the middle of last week, but at that point the models also started to suggest something a bit more substantial for the middle of this week.  Folks kept an eye on it in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather, and the signal continued to be there – it was a slow moving cold front, with a sharp drop in temperatures and snow falling after the frontal passage.  It still wasn’t guaranteed to be a huge dump of snow, but it did look like it had the chance to produce moderate accumulations in the half foot range, as of the early part of this week.

“I’d say there was
generally 5-6” of
snow up high, and it
was enough for some
great turns where it
had been left alone…”

Rain changed over to snow here at the house yesterday evening, as temperatures fell toward the freezing mark, and we’d accumulated over 4 inches of new snow as of this morning.  It was falling at over an inch per hour at times, and it made one wonder what was going in the mountains.  It was a cold, wintry snow, coming in at 10% H2O through midnight, and falling to 6.4% H2O by this morning with temperatures around 20 F.  I was surprised to see that Stowe wasn’t reporting too much more than we picked up here in their morning snow report, but since E and the boys are off from school this week, it seemed like it was worth heading up to the mountain for at least a few runs.

The roads weren’t too bad in terms of driving, although Route 100 seemed to get the most attention and the driving was very smooth with minimal snow.  Areas like Waterbury Center and the town of Stowe seemed to have received a bit less than we did right along the spine, but by the time we got up to Stowe’s base elevations, the snow seemed to be in the 3-4” range similar to what we’d received at the house.  The morning report from the mountain had indicated single digits F for temperatures on the upper mountain, with teens below.  It was expected to warm up, but it definitely felt like mid winter as we arrived at the Mansfield Base Lodge, grabbed our gear, and headed inside.  It was an absolute switch from the warm spring temperatures we’d experienced on Sunday, and it meant making sure that we’re returned out passes to our cold weather gear after switching some of them over to lighter clothing.  Everyone also had to re-expand their chin straps for their helmets to accommodate balaclavas after they weren’t needed over the weekend.  The lodge was very quiet, with just a few people around, much like you’d expect it to be on a midweek day during the middle of April.

Riding the Fourrunner Quad was cold and windy, and we were definitely happy with our decision to dress for those midwinter temperatures, even if it was expected to warm up later.  With the moderate accumulations of new snow reported atop what was a refrozen base, we immediately headed over toward the Mountain Triple via some of the gentler slopes to assess the conditions.  I’d say there was generally 5-6” of snow up high, and it was enough for some great turns where it had been left alone, but many of the trails had been groomed, and unfortunately this just seemed to pack the new snow down into the hard spring base.  In some areas the grooming came together with the right accumulations of snow to make areas of nice carving, but the untracked snow was far superior, and that’s what we ended up seeking out.  It was those trails that hadn’t been groomed that would up being the biggest hits, and Lower Tyro delivered for us as usual.  E and the boys did some synchronous skiing for the camera in the powder, with nice results.  Turns certainly weren’t bottomless all the time, but you could definitely get plenty of floaty turns by paying attention to where the wind had made those deeper deposits of snow.

An image of Dylan skiing powder snow on the Duck Walk trail in April at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan tosses up some of today’s powder.

We rode the Mountain Triple, and caught some turns on Duck Walk, since we’d seen that it hadn’t been groomed.  After that, there was no doubt that we wanted to seek out terrain that hadn’t seen a groomer; the turns were just so good.  With that in mind, we headed back up the Fourrunner Quad and headed for the Nosedive Glades.  We didn’t think Nosedive Bypass was going to be very good with it steeper pitches, but we did catch the very bottom of Bypass and tested out the snow on some of that steeper terrain.  It was fun to try to connect the areas of deepest snow, and I got into some shots of over a foot.  The Nosedive Glades themselves were a lot of fun – the snow wasn’t bottomless on all turns, but there was plenty of floating.  And, with so few people out on the slopes today, there were a lot of fresh lines to be had.  Right in line with my ski testing from Sunday, I was wishing I had some wider alpine skis after watching the boys scoot around through the powder and get more float out of their equipment.  Nosedive had been groomed, but there were areas in the middle elevations that weren’t scoured and offered up some nice packed powder carving.  We finished the run on the lower part of Lookout, which had not been groomed and offered a lot of powder turns.

It was still on and off snow as we headed home in the late morning period, although areas in the lower valleys that had seen sun had already melted back with respect to the new snow.  It’s been so cold today that I suspect many areas in the mountains will be holding powder tomorrow morning as well.

Stowe, VT 12APR2014

An image of Ty skiing the Nosedive Bypass Chutes at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty out in the Bypass Chutes during today’s spring adventures at Stowe.

Based on the forecast, it looked like today was the pick of the weekend for spring skiing, offering sunshine and mountain temperatures in the 40s and 50s F depending on elevation.  There was also a good freeze overnight last night, with temperatures down in the 20s F here at the house, so that bode well with respect to continued corn cycling.  Our thermometer out back struggled to get out of the 30s F for the first part of the morning, but once we got past 9:00 A.M. it was moving into the 40s F, and a check on the temperatures at Stowe revealed that they were hitting similar levels.  The snow had likely softened at all elevations by that point, so we headed off to the mountain.

“…holy cow could
those Sin 7s carve!”

The lower mountain valleys around here in Northern Vermont have fairly patchy snow coverage now, and you have to get up into that 1,000’ to 1,500’ foot elevation range for really solid snow cover.  But once you get up into those elevations, the coverage is great; there’s about a foot and a half of natural snow down at Stowe’s base elevations, and the depth simply explodes upward the higher you go.  Up around 3,700’ at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, the snowpack is in the six to seven foot range.  You can tell that coverage is great if you pan around at Stowe’s base area – even south-facing Spruce Peak is doing well.  The morning snow report indicated that the Alpine Double would be running over at Spruce, but with the other lifts there closed down for the season, and the Gondola not running either, the Mansfield Base Lodge was really the most practice place to base yourself.

An image of the Over Easy Gondola at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont with some of the Mt. Mansfield ski trails in the background
From top to bottom, snow coverage is really great out there on the hill right now.

“I’m looking for something
nimble and flexible that is
going to carve tight arcs,
fit into tight spaces, and
surf on soft snow.”

We suited up in the lodge and then I headed right up to the Stowe Toys Demo Center at the base of the Fourrunner Quad – I had a big day of checking out demo skis planned.  It’s hard to find a day to spend demoing skis, since many Sundays during the season we’re out at Stowe with the BJAMS ski program, we’ve got plans with other people on the mountain, or we’re hoping to head into the alpine terrain or out into the sidecountry for powder.  Our typical days with those types of focused runs aren’t conducive to swapping out skis every couple of laps on the lift.  Today with E and the boys though, it going to be one of those casual spring outings with no real plans, and it looked demoing some pairs of skis would work.

I’ve actually needed to do an alpine ski demo day for quite a while, but it really hit me a couple of seasons ago on February 26th, 2012 at Stowe.  It was a bluebird day after they’d just picked up three feet of snow, so I pulled out my alpine fat skis for the day – my Volkl CMH Explosivs.  They’re a fully-cambered, 120/95/112 ski from the early 2000s, and like many Volkl skis, they really like to go straight and fast.  These Explosivs have always felt that way to me, especially with the length – I’d gotten them in the 180 cm length, since E had gone with the 165 cm version, and it seemed like a reasonable choice for me at the time.  I hadn’t minded that they weren’t overly nimble, since powder can give you a lot of leeway, but it was always frustrating to have to deal with them in tighter trees, and they were essentially making that type of terrain undesirable and far less fun than it should be.  That powder day in February 2012 marked the first time I’d used the Explosivs in quite a while, and after spending so much time on shorter, much nimbler skis, their girth, length, and stiffness were oh so exceedingly apparent.  While skiing Spruce Line that day, I went over a rise and dropped rather unexpectedly at high speed into the steepest pitch of the run.  I wanted to check my speed, but the Explosivs just wouldn’t turn.  I eventually had to bail into the snow to check my momentum, and the end result was happily unremarkable thanks to the slope being powdery and forgiving, but the skis had been feeling like heavy dogs on my feet all day, and that was definitely the last straw.  I could easily see an accident arising due to the way those skis were handling.  After that experience, I don’t think I’ve used them since, and my only alpine skis currently in use are my 108/70/101 Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots.  They’re actually my on piste/carving skis, and they’re a joy to carve on, but that’s not really the type of skiing we spend much time doing.  I’ve focused on my Telemark gear of the past few seasons, getting the cambered 127/86/113 Atomic RT-86 as my mid fat, and the more rockered 139/115/123 Black Diamond AMPerage as my powder/backcountry/fat ski.  But, I’ve got nothing like either of those skis in my alpine gear, and alpine gear is what I’m typically on each Sunday when I’m coaching my BJAMS ski groups.  Most of our ski days each season feature some form of powder, whether it’s on or off piste, and as I watch the boys drift and smear turns in the soft snow with their fat, rockered skis, I’m realizing that relative to the types of ski that are out there now, my Salomons are aren’t optimal for the kind of skiing we typically do.

Based on my experiences with a wide range of ski widths in the past few seasons, and thinking about a typical everyday ski for the type of skiing that we actually do, something with a waist in the 95-100 mm range was my target.  After seeing many of the latest gear reviews, it sounded like the Rossignol Soul 7 was really taking a lot of the top spots.  It appeared to be my kind of ski with its light weight and ability to make short turns, so it definitely piqued my interest.  At 136/106/126, it was a little on the wider side of what I’d been thinking, but it was close enough, and I don’t mind going a bit on the wider side for the type of skiing we typically do, especially if the ski was as versatile as everyone seems to feel it is.  With that said, I also planned to check out the Rossignol Sin 7, since it was the next width down in the series at 128/98/118.  Between those two, and a comparison to similar models from other manufacturers, I figured I’d have a good idea of what I liked.

An image of the Stowe Toys Demo Center Sign at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontThere’s a thing about demo gear though – the demo shops tend to sell it off.  And this late in the season, that was a huge issue.  It turned out that the demo shop had already sold all their Soul 7s, so those were entirely gone, and the only Sin 7 they had on hand was in a 180 cm length.  I had really wanted the 172 cm or 164 cm (I’ve got little interest in long skis at this point for the type of skiing we typically do), but if the 180 cm was the only option, it would at least let me get a feel for them.  According to everything I’ve read, the Sin 7 does run short with all that rocker, so I was intrigued to see how they performed at 180 cm.  I also inquired about the next wider ski above the Soul 7 in Rossignol’s Freeride 7 series, the Rossignol Super 7.  At 140/116/130, the profile is something more similar to my Black Diamond AMPerages that I have mounted Tele.  Since I’ve already got my Salomons for carving, I’m leaning a bit on the wider side for the all around soft day ski that I’m seeking, and while the Super 7 is almost certainly wider than I want, I still wanted to try them out.  I wanted to have a feel for all their skis in that 95-115 mm range of width.  I was surprised to find out that they shop didn’t even carry them, and the guy that was helping me out in the demo shop said it’s too wide a ski if you ski on the “East Coast”.  I’m not sure if he’s just supposed to say that, whether he actually believes it, or if there’s some other reason he’s supposed to go with that philosophy, but it was probably the first sign that we weren’t going to be quite on the same page with respect to our viewpoints on skiing.  I’d expect someone from Stowe of all places to know that selecting ski width doesn’t work by drawing some arbitrary line down the middle of the country.  Some of the ski magazines try to preach that sort of approach, and maybe it’s practical for a typical low snowfall resort run on manmade snow in the eastern U.S., but we’re talking about Northern Vermont, where snowfall is as much or more than many resorts in the Rockies.  In any event, I was happy that they at least had a pair of the Sin 7s to try, so I got those set and headed for a run with E and the boys.

An image of the Sin 7 skis from RossignolFrom the top of the Fourrunner Quad, we headed out along Ridge View, and holy cow could those Sin 7s carve!  I’m not talking about carving well for a wider ski; I’m talking about carving as well as my Salomon carving skis.  I was flabbergasted.  Although awesome in powder, I’m fairly unimpressed with the way my 115 mm wide AMPerages carve when they’re out on hard snow.  They’re really what I’m used to for skis above the width of my RT-86s in that 80-90 mm range, so that’s what I had to go with in terms of fatter skis’ ability to get out of the powder and onto firmer surfaces.  Frankly, as much as I like my AMPerages for powder, even shallower accumulations of powder where their girth keeps you nicely off the subsurface, I can’t even believe that the concept of using them as an all around ski is even brought up – unless your home mountain is Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, or something equivalent, it just doesn’t seem practical based on the harder snow performance I’ve experienced.  Granted, the Sin 7 is almost 20 mm narrower at the waist, but it literally felt like you weren’t giving up anything with them on the carving front, at least in the relatively soft corn snow we had today.  I’m still smiling right now thinking about how much fun it was carving up that snow on the Sin 7.   Next up on our run was a trip down Hayride, and they handled it nicely, carving smoothly as needed in the terrain that hadn’t bumped up, or slipping and sliding through the bumps with that soft shovel.  In the bumps was where I could tell that I’d be happy to lose the extra length and come down to one of the shorter sizes, but I can only imagine how quick those 164 cm and 172 cm versions must be.  On the next run I wanted to try them off piste, so we went through the Bypass Chutes and down into the Nosedive Glades.  Even though we were heading off piste, the snow was great, not sticky like it can sometimes be on these spring days; areas that had already received a few turns were definitely the best, but even places without traffic were often decent.  It was especially fun introducing E to the Nosedive Bypass area – I’m not sure if we’ve ever brought here out there before.  We had a blast exploring the different chute options and routes down in the Nosedive Glades; I knew we’d be back there multiple times during the day.  Again, the Sin 7 was a joy to ride, and my only thought was about what they would be like if they were even shorter.  People can say all they want about how skis “run” short because of the rocker, and indeed they do, but that rocker is still never going to make a 180 cm ski fit sideways through a gap that is only 170 cm wide.

An image of the Cham 97 Skis from DynastarI popped back into the shop, told the guys about my very favorable impressions of the Sin 7, and inquired about what else I could try that would be similar to those.  After some hemming and hawing about not having much available in the 170 cm range because that seemed to be what everyone wanted and had purchased, I got the Dynastar Cham 97 (133/97/113) in a 172 cm length.  The guy in the demo shop said that he actually liked these better than the Sin 7, so based on our initial interactions, perhaps I should have been suspicious about how they’d appeal to me.  I could tell as soon as I clicked my boots into them that they were stiffer than the Sin 7.  For some people that might be a plus, but it’s not something I find to be a necessity in my skis, and I’m finding now that if often detracts from their versatility for my purposes.  I wasn’t immediately excited by the stiffness, but I still had to see how the Cham 97 was going to behave in action, so we headed up for another run.

An image from the Octagon building at the top of Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont - looking southward at a ski slope and some of the Green Mountains
Looking out at one of today’s views from the Octagon atop Stowe

The boys were anxious for some lunch, and wanted to eat up at the Octagon, so we stopped in there for a midday meal.  I didn’t think they’d have the selection of food that we’d get down in the main lodge, but they really have some excellent options up there now.  I got a nice seared tuna wrap that seemed to have some sort of tzatziki sauce, and it really hit the spot, while E got a turkey wrap with turkey, bacon, apple butter, green apples, arugula, and probably more, but that’s all that she could remember.  We order the wraps at the register along with some hot dogs for the boys, and they brought them right over to us at our table once they were prepared.  The Octagon was definitely hoppin’ today with the beautiful weather, but we got a nice window seat near the deck and it was a great time.  It was little breezy outside at times, but a lot of people chose to sit out there as well.

An image of Dylan skiing one of the chutes in Nosedive Bypass at Stowe
Dylan working his way down one of the Nosedive Bypass chutes today

It was sort of strange to have the Cham 97s out there at the ski racks during lunch without even having ridden them yet, but it was nice to be able to jump right on them as soon as we were done eating.  We took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes so that I could put them through their paces.  It was nice to drop some length from the Sin 7 as we worked our way through those steep, narrow chutes, so that was a plus.  However, even in the shorter length and essentially the same width (dropping to 97 mm vs. the 98 mm on the Sin 7s), the Cham 97s were slower edge to edge and just not as nimble all around.  Once we got out onto Nosedive and I did some carving on groomed corn snow, I could certainly see that they carved much better than my more tradition CMH Explosivs which have a similar 95 mm underfoot, but they were nowhere near being on the same snappy level as the Sin 7.  One fun aspect of the Cham 97 that was noted by Dylan, was the fact that the shovels of the skis looked like chainsaws, so he was having fun trying to stay away from the fronts of my skis while we were in the tighter confines of some of the Bypass Chutes, lest he get cut in half.  One run on the Cham 97s was enough though, because it was simply no contest against the Sin 7, so I popped into the demo shop for my next pair.

An image of the Annex 98 Ski from K2The third ski I tried was the K2 Annex 98 (131/98/119) in a 170 length – these were lots of fun, and seemed very close to the Sin 7 in terms of what I was looking for.  I rode them for two runs, first a run that Dylan requested over toward the Mountain Triple via Ridge View and Sunrise, and then another through the Bypass Chutes.  Carving was very reminiscent of the Sin 7, easy and smooth, and they were also fun in the tighter confines of the Bypass Chutes and Nosedive Glades.  I still gave the personal preference edge to the Sin 7, especially considering that I’d tried it a 180 cm ski, but the K2 Annex 98 was certainly in the running.

An image of the Mantra Ski by VolklDylan said that he was starting to feel his legs getting tired after those runs, so he and E decided to hit the lodge, but I had time for a couple more runs, and I wanted to make the most of my ski demo day.  Ty said that his legs were feeling great, so he stuck with me for more turns.  When I inquired about the next ski in the demo shop that time, I let them know that it was OK to go a bit farther afield of the type of ski that I was focused on, and they decided to hook me up with a 170 cm Volkl Mantra (132/98/118).  I’ve definitely heard about the Mantra, since it’s been around for years, and the demo guys were saying that this would be one that would require a bit more muscling around relative to the others I’d been skiing.  Imagine that, a Volkl ski with stiffness and such – I think we’ve seen that before!  I took a run over by the Mountain Triple with a more cruising theme as we’d done before, and just opened up the Mantras.  Well, those things just flew!  They were an impressively fast, powerful ski.  That was a lot of fun, even if I pushed it a bit into the scary zone at times with the high speeds.  Fortunately, the trails were getting pretty empty as we approached the end of the day, so it was easy to let it rip from edge to edge on the runs.  Ty was happy that I was going Mach 5 down the trails, because he likes to do that sometimes… or more like all the time if we give him the chance.  Anyway, those Mantras were a lot of fun, in a stiffer, less forgiving, take charge, longer turn sort of way.  I knew going in that they were not what I was looking for in new skis, but they’ll be great if that’s the sort of skiing you like.

An image of the RTM81 ski by VolklI’d mentioned to the demo guys that I wanted to try something with full rocker, and the ski that they had on hand that I could try was a 170 cm Volkl RTM 81 (126/81/108).  For me, a fully rockered ski with no camber is about smearing turns, drifting, and all that, so it seemed weird to think of it in a Volkl.  The RTM 81 also has a narrower, 81 mm waist that what I’d been skiing.  That seems more like a waist for carving, so I was flummoxed as to what the ski was actually meant to do.  Ty and I took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes and the Nosedive Glades to see if the full rocker would help with drifting and sliding through those tight spaces.  It was fine, but it didn’t really seem as though that was what it was meant to do.  I want to float on top of the snow if I’m going to be smearing turns and sliding sideways, and in a relative sense, these skis didn’t really have the width to excel at that.  I did find that they were awesomely fun to carve when we got out on Nosedive.  Talking with the guy in the demo shop later, I asked him what the target audience was for such a ski, and he said something to the effect of “Oh, only about 50% of the people that walk in here and ski at this mountain.”  I couldn’t figure that out – people want a relatively skinny, fully rockered ski – for what?  Based on my conversations throughout the day, I certainly didn’t get the impression that the shop guy and the typical clientele he spoke of are out there on rockered boards so that they can smear and drift turns in the soft snow more easily, but I guess you never know.  Later, after looking online for some info on the ski, it appears as though the Volkl RTM 81 is more of a front side carver.  I guess it was once again that theme of me not really being on the same wavelength as the guy in the shop.  I always thought that camber was what one wanted for carving, so I’m not sure why full rocker is put into a carving ski, and a Volkl to boot.  Anyway, they were fun to carve, that sort of ski would be interesting to try in firm conditions to see what they do.

“At least based on the
skis I tried, it was fairly
easy to come away from
the day with the Sin 7 as
the clear front runner for
my purposes.”

At least based on the skis I tried, it was fairly easy to come away from the day with the Sin 7 as the clear front runner for my purposes.  I’m looking for something nimble and flexible that is going to carve tight arcs, fit into tight spaces, and surf on soft snow.  The 180 cm length I tried was fine, but I’d definitely go for the 172 cm, or even the 164 cm.  Officially I’m in the 172 cm range for my weight, but I’d certainly consider going with the 164 cm, even though everyone says to go longer.  I’ve yet to encounter a ski that is too short for what I want, but I can’t say the same for skis that are annoyingly long, and I’m happy to get rid of extra length.  I’ve encountered none of the disadvantages that people speak of with regard to shorter skis as my skis have gotten shorter and wider.  That’s the shape of the tool for the type of skiing we typically do – soft snow, with short-radius turns in smaller spaces.

Prior to this outing, I’d only tried out skis on demo days, and the one thing I did learn today was that if you want to try demo skis from a shop while having a full selection of models and sizes available, you should shoot for the first half of the season.  The guy at Stowe Toys said that they actually started selling off their gear in the middle of February.  I’m thankful that they had at least one Sin 7 pair left on hand, because that ski really seemed to best hit the sweet spot I was looking for.  Unfortunately, I still don’t know what the Soul 7 feels like, but I’m sold enough on the feel and fit of the Sin 7 that I think they would be a fantastic everyday ski for our typical soft conditions, and having another alpine pair of something wider like my AMPerages for bigger days might work.  Actually, at almost 100 mm underfoot, I’m sure the Sin 7 would work fine for everything if I was going to try to go with just one pair of alpine skis.  As much fun as fat skis are in powder, they’re far from mandatory.

“…the snowpack, snow surfaces,
temperatures, terrain… it all came
together to set up some primo
spring skiing.”

The overall ski experience today was simply great – the snowpack, snow surfaces, temperatures, terrain… it all came together to set up some primo spring skiing.  One complaint would be that there were lift queues for the Fourrunner Quad; it was weird to be waiting in a lift queue in mid April, but with great conditions and only a couple of lifts running, I guess that can happen.  For the boys, it was a chance to ski with both E and I on Mansfield without the time constraints and other obligations that happen on many ski program days.  On a number of runs, we used the great bumps on Lower National to work on those technical aspects of turns like timing, pole work, rotation, etc. that moguls really bring out.  Dylan showed us some impressive runs through there as he continued to refine his upper and lower body separation, and for Ty, who has always naturally had great technique with his poles, we kept him thinking about it as we’d noticed that he tends to let it laps at times.  Although they had their fat skis today for the soft snow, you could really see how the rocker in the skis let them slide right through the moguls with whatever amount of carve or slarve the immediate environment required.  We all took turns following each other, and I had a great time on Dylan’s Heels watching him make those little personal choices about which line or angle was the best fit as the run progressed.  One of Dylan’s favorite accomplishments of the day was actually up in the Nosedive Glades, where he laid down this beautiful drift of close to 180 degrees around one of the trees.  It was one of those spontaneous situations where he came upon the right snow and terrain, and it just happened so smoothly that it was a thing of beauty.  We actually kept looking for that spot on subsequent runs to recreate the drift, but never seemed to quite find it.  We could sort of tell though that it was one of those situations where the spontaneity of the first encounter played into the experience, and you can never quite recreate it anyway.  It was a great move though, and seeing him do it couldn’t have been more apt on a day when I was trying out all the sets of wider, rockered skis that give one the ability to put those types of moves into action more easily.

An image of the logo for the Sushi Yoshi Asian restaurant in Stowe, VermontWe capped off the afternoon with a trip to Sushi Yoshi, where Ty was able to get his sushi fix, or at least a partial fix, since it’s been hard to find the limit on his consumption.  I did get to eat a few pieces without losing my hands to the fray on the sushi board.  We’re now eyeing the potential for a winter storm around midweek, so we’ll see if we can get some powder infused into this April.  E and the boys have the week off, so we may be able to take advantage of the storm with some family skiing if it comes together.

An image of some sushi rolls on a platter at the Sushi Yoshi restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Catching the scene just before Ty went to town

Bolton Valley, VT 06APR2014

An image of Ty carving a turn with his had down on the spring snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Slicing up the corn snow at Bolton Valley today

This weekend’s storm brought some snow on its front end Friday night, with more than a half foot over at Sugarloaf in Maine.  Over here in the Green Mountains, it was mostly a mixed precipitation event, although it was cold enough that we even got some sleet accumulation at our house in Waterbury down at the 500’ elevation level.  Last night during the back side of the storm it was Vermont’s turn, with some upslope snowThe precipitation stayed mostly north of the Waterbury/Stowe area though, and Jay Peak was the only local resort reporting notable accumulation at around 3 inches.

“There were occasional sticky
spots, but in general it was just
really nice corn snow that you
could slice right through with
each carve.”

Since yesterday was fairly gray and we didn’t expect the snow to soften the way it would with plentiful spring sun, we didn’t hit the slopes, and instead took the opportunity to get some things done around the house.  After many weeks of such great snow and commitments with the BJAMS ski program, it was really nice to have a break to catch up on other things.  I took the opportunity to get a bunch of low voltage media wiring done that I’ve been putting off for months, so it felt great to get that off my plate and get all the wall plates and electronics buttoned up.  Today’s weather was a different story though; as the storm system cleared out, it left brilliant blue skies in its wake, and we knew that was likely a recipe for some great spring skiing.  Today was also Bolton Valley’s last day of lift operations for the 2013-2014 ski season, so we didn’t want to miss out on that if Mother Nature cooperated.  We waited until the afternoon before heading out, as we often do on these days, to let the west-facing terrain of Timberline soak up that sun.  The mountains were definitely holding onto some chilly temperatures today though; I was a little worried that the Bolton Valley Weather Station at 2,100’ was still hovering around the 32 F mark at midday, but with sunshine and lower elevations, I was confident that Timberline would be sufficiently softened and ready to go.

“Despite the great snow
coverage today, it’s
interesting to note
that this is the third
year in a row that
Bolton will be coming
in well below average
with respect to snowfall.”

From roughly 50 F in the Winooski Valley, we headed up to a temperature around 40 F at the 1,500’ base of Timberline.  There were actually a fair number of cars parked in the lots with people taking advantage of the nice weather and final day of lift-served skiing.  One thing that we found immediately impressive was the snow coverage.  Although Bolton Valley has had quite the low snowfall season, and will be ending their season with just 206 inches of total snow (66% of average), there was impressive coverage with just a few bare spots starting to open up on the low-elevation trails of Timberline.  With the use of snowmaking, that isn’t actually too surprising on the trails that get it, but with the way this season went, snow was never even made on Showtime.  To have all those low elevation trails in play in April without the aid of snowmaking, really speaks to how well the snow was maintained this past March.  The mountain was essentially 100% open, and running all the lifts going into this last day of the season, so it was indeed a nice way to go out.

An image of Dylan jumping in the air on skis at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan loved getting into some of the moguls today.

For our first run, we headed to the Timberline Summit to check out Adam’s Solitude, but we found that ski patrol had already closed it off as they were preparing to shut down the lifts for the season.  That left us with the option of Sure Shot, which had some great corn snow.  On the lower part of the run, Ty started working on some 180s off available jumps, and seemed to be having a lot of fun landing switch.  We found ourselves alternating runs between the Sure Shot option and Twice as Nice, which we also found to have good snow.  There were occasional sticky spots, but in general it was just really nice corn snow that you could slice right through with each carve.  On one run, Ty left his poles at the base and enjoyed carving low and getting his hands down on the snow.  Dylan had a lot of fun playing in the bumps that were forming near the bottom of Timberline Run and top of Twice as Nice, continuing with his pole work and separation of the upper and lower body.  In one section of moguls he had a lot of fun making exaggerated movements as he worked on his technique, creating the semblance of a dancing skier.  It was classic Dylan.

An image of Ty doing a 180 jump in spring snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontIt was a great day on which to end Bolton’s lift-served season; we caught up with some of those Bolton Valley employees like Cam and Josh that we often see throughout the season, and got to enjoy the weather through a number of sunny rides on the Timberline Quad.  We hadn’t headed up to the main mountain at all, but when I asked Josh about how it was up there, he said that it was definitely softer down at Timberline, and that it was the place to be.  One interesting topic of conversation on the lift was the ski area that appears in Ty’s dreams.  Apparently it’s his own ski area, and all his ski dreams take place there – he regaled us with a detailed lift and trail layout, and I told him that he should make a map because it sounded like a great place.

Despite the great snow coverage today, it’s interesting to note that this is the third year in a row that Bolton will be coming in well below average with respect to snowfall.  Fortunately, we didn’t really feel it on the slopes in March, since the temperatures were cold and the snow kept coming, but the deficiencies were definitely there in December and January, and the downside of that type pattern is that snowfall in those months is most critical for building the base.  If those earlier months bring decent storms and then it doesn’t snow that much later in the season, at least the base is down, but if it’s not present at the beginning of the season, the natural terrain skiing during that period is simply lost.  We’ll have to see what next season brings, but a snowy holiday period like last season would be appreciated.  In any event, we’ve still got a lot of this season to go, and the snowpack in the mountains is deep, so we’ll hopefully have more opportunities to get out there and enjoy it.