We’ve had some good snows over the past several days courtesy of the Thanksgiving Nor’easter that dropped about a foot at the Vermont ski areas, and a smaller upper level system that came through a couple days later and delivered a few more inches to the Northern Vermont resorts. We were traveling a lot visiting family during the timeframe of the storms, but we had a chance to head up to Bolton Valley and check out the snow today. Temperatures began to push above freezing this morning, so I knew that the powder was going to be getting a bit heavier, but it still seemed like it would be worth a quick trip up to the mountain. Ty was anxious to try out his new Telemark setup, so he certainly wanted to go, but knowing that the powder was going to be on the heavy side, E and Dylan decided to hold off for better snow and get some other stuff done instead.
Temperatures were already a couple of degrees above freezing when we arrived up at the Bolton Valley Village and made our way over to the base of Wilderness where we found 6 to 7 inches of snow. There were a couple of nice skin tracks in the Turnpike area, and the ascent went smoothly. Ty really enjoyed the free pivot on his Voile Switchback bindings for the ascent – he’s been waiting for a while to have bindings with that feature. We stopped our ascent on Old Turnpike before the pitch got to steep to support decent skiing with the available snow – there was actually about 10 inches up there, but there’s not much base yet, so steep, rockier pitches would definitely be rough on the ski bases.
The descent was fun, but a bit slow at times with the snow density increasing. Ty did well working on his Telemark turns, and having handled this dense snow, we both agreed that he’s really going to have a blast on his new gear when we get some higher quality powder. He’s got the Switchbacks mounted on a pair of the 2014 Völkl Gotama Junior skis, and at 118-86-111, these are actually a bit wider than previous versions of the ski that he’s had, which were more in the range of 113-80-105. These later versions may even have a bit more rocker in them, but in any event, they look like they’ll be great skis for powder. We stopped in at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to grab a bit of food before heading back down into the valley, where the temperature had climbed into the upper 30s F. Although not great for the powder, these temperatures have really made clearing the snow from the driveway easy – it’s mostly gone simply from melting by warmth from above and below, so we haven’t had to shovel at all except for the berm left by the plow along the road.
With this new snow on top of the already decent snow I saw on my trip to the mountain Thursday, it sounded like ski conditions were going to be even better than what I’d experienced. E and Dylan and I headed north to BJAMS in Morrisville to help with the moving of some school library books and to pick up Ty from an overnighter at Kenny’s, so we got to see the changes in snowpack throughout the local mountain valleys. These last couple of storms that have targeted Mt. Mansfield have also targeted Stowe Village and points north, so from snow depths of an inch or two in Waterbury, the snowpack more than doubles in the Stowe/Morrisville area. After helping move some bins of books into the school’s new library area, we got Ty suited up, and he joined me and Dylan for a trip to Mt. Mansfield. Unfortunately E’s back has been a bit sore the past few days, so she decided not to stress it with skiing and stayed at school to work. Thus, it was just us boys for today’s ski tour.
Temperatures were a bit below freezing as we approached the Midway Lot at ~1,600′ near the base of the Gondola, and we could see plenty of activity over at the main Mansfield Base Area since it was Stowe’s opening day for lift-served skiing. The snow we found on the ground was definitely deeper than what I’d found at Midway on Thursday – a general 3 to 4 inches had turned into 5 to 6 inches. For today, I outfitted the boys with their alpine powder skis and Alpine Trekkers for skinning. We’ve still got to get skins for Ty’s new Telemark setup, but I’d prefer that they get a chance to ski on their alpines to get their season going anyway. The early season powder can be tricky, and I’d rather they just get the chance to have fun and not take on the added challenge of working on Telemark turns. I went with my fat Tele skis; they had worked quite well on Thursday, and the conditions were even more optimized for them today.
We followed a similar ascent route to the one I’d taken on Thursday – up Chin Clip Runout, onto Switchback and Gondolier, with some Perry Merrill thrown in as well. We finally stopped at around 3,500′ on Switchback because it didn’t look like there was much above that in the way of great snow. But, the boys had made the entire ascent, perhaps incentivized a bit by the fact that I told them they’d earn some sushi from Sushi Yoshi if they could manage it. That prize is sort of a win-win for everyone in the family, and they’re definitely at the stage that they can easily make that ascent now, but having that incentive there sure does keep everyone’s spirits high! While the snow surface contained a lot of wind slab where we stopped, just below that, the snow was deep and soft. The depth of the powder had increased by about an inch for every 500′ of vertical during most of our ascent, getting up to around the 8 to 9 inch range by 3,000′ or so, but above that it really jumped up. In areas out of the wind on the upper part of Switchback, we were finding 14 to 15 inches of settled snow, with pockets over two feet in depth. We knew that was the kind of snow where we’d really be able to lay into those powder turns and not worry about touching down on anything.
After a break at the top of our ascent, in which the boys took part in their nearly requisite play in the snow (this time in some deep stuff off in some nearby trees), we started down. That deep snow we’d seen up there on Switchback offered up some great powder turns as expected, and below that we just worked our way down the mountain choosing the best covered and least tracked routes we could find. We hit some nice powder on the skier’s left of Gondolier, and found a lot of good turns even lower down on Switchback. Coverage was indeed improved over what I’d seen Thursday, and the powder was staying fairly fluffy even though it was a day old. On the lift-served side of things, Stowe was offering 20 trails today, and it sounds like conditions were pretty decent due to the recent cold and snow. We’ve had some nice November conditions so far, and it looks like there may be some continued storminess this month – hopefully the snowpack can continue to grow.
Today’s tour gave us the first chance to out the Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera that we’d brought along. The 7D Mark II is Canon’s new APS-C sports shooter, and it’s weather sealed extremely well, has a 65-point autofocus system that is among the best in the world, and is built like a tank… just the way you’d want a camera to be made for dealing with the elements. It’s got twice the frame rate, two and a half times the number of pixels, and usable ISO values roughly ten times higher than what my Canon EOS 30D has, which is not surprising considering it’s about five generations newer and a step up in Canon’s performance lineup. It really is built for just the type of shooting we do, and it certainly seemed to live up to its reputation today. Late afternoon light on a cloudy Vermont day in November will give the light sensitivity of any camera a challenge, but I was still able to shoot the boys at 1/1,600 of a second due to the high useable range of the ISO. And, the ability of that focusing system in the low light conditions was very impressive. I also got to test out the video with a short clip of the boys playing in the snow, and my Canon EOS 30D doesn’t even have the option of video. We’ll hopefully have many more chance to put the camera to use this season as we learn all of its nuances and find the settings that fit our needs.
I didn’t have time to check out the snow yesterday, so this morning I headed out for an early ski tour on Mansfield, and found 3 to 4 inches of snow at the Midway Lot near the base of the Gondola. I followed a well established skin track that headed up Chin Clip Runout, and then diverged to follow Switchback for the next part of the ascent. When I reached Gondolier I decided to just finish out the ascent to the base of the big Gondola waterfall on the skin track I saw there. I didn’t have time to travel any higher, but up at that ~3,200′ elevation there was roughly 6 to 7 inches of powder, which sat atop a few inches of dense base snow.
The snow depths I observed for the powder above the base today were as follows with respect to elevation:
I dropped in for the descent on Perry Merrill, and there were just a couple of additional tracks there, so plenty of fresh powder was available. I’d pulled out the fat skis, and they were the perfect tool for the occasion – they kept me floating and gave me some really great stability. I did have to watch out for a few rocks here and there, and at times I switched to alpine turns when it seemed like the base was a bit thinner or the rocks a bit bigger. I found that alpine stance kept me floating a bit higher, and today I really noticed how the AMPerages actually seemed to make it easier to ski alpine style in Telemark bindings. It’s not always easy to ski alpine with a loose heel, but I was very surprised at how stable it felt in today’s conditions. I think the stability and rocker of the fat skis were really playing their part. I eventually made my way back over toward Switchback and connected to Chin Clip Runout to finish off my run, and the grassy slopes down there were perfect for where the powder and base was a bit shallower. It was still fantastic skiing though, and some of my favorite turns of the outing were down there below the 2,100′ elevation. That terrain is so grassy with few rocks that it was easier to just let it ride without worrying about rocks. Rock skis would give you a bit more ease of line selection out there and more peace of mind, but you can certainly get by and have some fantastic turns with regular skis as well.
With the recent snow I headed up to Stowe this morning to check out the conditions and make some turns. The weather had cleared out since yesterday’s storminess, but it was still fairly cool, and much of the snow that had accumulated in the valleys was hanging around. There were skiffs of it on the shady rooftops in Stowe Village, but it wasn’t until up around the 1,000′ elevation that it really began to appear in traces on the ground.
Up at the resort there was an inch or two at the base of Mansfield, and there were a few dozen cars in the Mansfield Parking Lot from other folks who were out for some activity on the snow. The snow guns were blazing on the usual North Slope route, so when I saw a skin track heading up a much quieter Hayride, I decided to give it a shot. Right from the base there was plenty of snow for skinning, and as the depth increased with elevation, it held up fine even on Hayride’s steeper pitches. Whoever set that skin track was right on the money; they kept the pitch fairly consistent and made appropriate switchbacks instead of trying to scramble their way up those steep shots. There were even some nice alternative tracks to fit your preference – some a bit steeper and some a bit shallower.
At the top of Hayride I finally ran into the snow guns on Upper Lord, so I cut across to the top terminal of the Lookout Chair (3,325′) to get out of the noisy fray of spray. Looking upward toward Ridge View and Upper Lord, I could see that they were both being blasted by the guns, so I decided that it wasn’t worth pushing on through that and called it an ascent. Temperatures were somewhere in the mid to upper 20s F at that elevation, and I spent a few minutes during the ascent changeover poking around, getting some wintry photos, and checking out the snow quality. My depth checks along the my ascent were made challenging by the lack of base and plenty of fluffy grass beneath the new snow, but my best estimates for natural snow would be the following with respect to elevation:
There was some drifting, and I found depths of up to 15″ at some of the water bars.
I began my descent on some of the lesser used trails up there around the top of the Lookout Chair that weren’t getting hit by the guns, and managed some early season powder turns. In a few spots some of the overspray of snow from the main trails messed with the consistency of the powder, but in general there was plenty of space for good turns in natural snow. Once back onto the snowmaking terrain I found that the untracked snow from the guns was unfortunately a sticky mess, but decent turns could be had where other skiers had done a bit of their own grooming and churning up of the snow. It was a bit tough to resist the usual urge to go for the least tracked snow, but the turns were often quite good in those places with skier traffic. The very worst turns were on the periphery of the snowmaking where soft natural snow was covered with a layer of dense, artificial snow. That was almost like putting a manmade crust over the snow, and it was definitely Tele hell. I learned quickly to not even go near that stuff.
The snow stayed wintry all the way back to the base, although the temperatures were just starting to crack the freezing mark when I got down there. The snow along the Mountain Road was still hanging on though as I got back down around that 1,000′ mark. I did stop in to check on the construction in the Spruce Peak Base Area on my way home, and boy is that another big project. Parking is really going to be at a premium this season, as there’s essentially nothing for day parking over at Spruce with the construction taking place. The month of November looks like it’s going to be reasonably cool, so hopefully we’ll get some additional snow, but at least the snow guns should be able to keep running to put down base.