As with most ski areas in Northern Vermont, I’ve always found Bolton Valley to be very accommodating of skiers and riders hiking, skinning, or snowshoeing up their slopes under their own power in order to ski down. Although there wasn’t necessary a formal policy in place, the practice was at least tolerated as long as the individuals were respectful of operating hours, mountain operations, and other factors involving skier safety. So, as a Bolton Valley season’s pass holder who frequently visits the resort for both lift-served and self-powered ascents, I was very intrigued last month when I found out that they had initiated an official uphill travel policy. There are two designated uphill routes: one on Wilderness, and one on Timberline, and although I haven’t seen them yet, Stephen and one of my students told me the resort even has signs marking the uphill route on Wilderness.
“In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches.”
I’ve visited the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network over the past couple of weeks, but today was the first time I’ve made an ascent on the alpine trail network since the announcement of the uphill travel policy. The impetus for my ski tour in this case was that Winter Storm Juno just hit the area yesterday, and it meant that this morning would be a good time to check out the new snow. While the Green Mountains certainly didn’t get the storm totals of up the three feet that were seen down in the Boston area, the Vermont ski areas did pick up general accumulations of 3 to 8 inches throughout the state. Even without a huge snowfall in the area, it seemed like it would be worth getting out for some turns; the ski conditions have just been so darned good over the past few weeks that even a modest dump makes for some excellent skiing.
I headed out the door early this morning, and decided to go with an efficient Timberline outing to leave me plenty of time to get to work. Temperatures were in the middle single digits F at the house, and low single digits at the Timberline Base. So indeed it was cold, no doubt about that, but the air was fairly calm and that helped keep it manageable. There were about a half dozen cars parked in the usual spot off to the right in the main lot, and I could see a couple people either prepping their skins for a run, or packing up their gear as they got ready to depart. There were just a few flurries in the air, but there was a healthy coating of snow all around, and I was able to start my skinning ascent right from the car.
I was a little surprised that the skin track started on the hiker’s right of Twice as Nice, since it’s typically on the left in line with the uphill travel policy, but I wasn’t going to eschew a track that was already there. I was measuring surface snow depths in the 4″ range, and it was medium-weight powder. As is often the case with big storms, there had been some wind, so some of the powder was pushed around in spots. But, it really hadn’t been hammered or packed too hard, and it looked like turns would be nice. Up ahead of me on the skin track I saw a snowboarder, and behind him a skier. After a few minutes I noticed that the skier was struggling to get up one of those short steep pitches that roll over – he finally managed to get past it with a little herring boning and/or side-stepping. When a similar pitch came up a little while later, he was struggling again and eventually let me pass. He said that it was actually his first time ever trying out skins, and he’d come to Bolton Valley after reading online about the uphill travel policy. As I seemed to have no trouble with those slick spots, he said that wanted to watch how I managed them. After we were both past that spot, I first asked if he had full-width skins, since I know that not having full width has given me trouble in those types of areas in the past, and he said he did. We then chatted about the balance between getting up on your ski edges or staying the skins, and finding out what worked best when you began to slip. He said that what I seemed to do was just keep my momentum really going through those tough spots. I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I do. I also let him know that I keep a lot of pressure on my poles, and ensure that I’ve got a very good plant so that if I do slip, my arms can help pull me through. After a couple of pitches, the skin track switched to the more typical left side, and there were actually a couple of skin tracks there, so we were able to skin alongside each other and chat for a bit. Eventually I stopped to get a few pictures, and he headed on ahead. Like me, he said his goal was the Timberline Mid Station, and he thought that he might like to do that instead of the Timberline Summit and do a couple of laps.
“As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns…”
When I reached the Timberline Mid Station, the skier I’d ascended with was just taking off his skins. We chatted for a few moments, I wished him well on his first descent, and then I headed across toward the top of Spell Binder. I switched over for the descent, did a quick survey of the snow on the headwall, and opted for the skier’s right. There were a couple of old tracks in there that looked like they’d been made yesterday, and the snow had been pushed around a bit by the wind, but the overall conditions were quite good. I worked my way toward the middle of the headwall and found even smoother snow, although the powder was perhaps a bit shallower there. On the steep pitch of the headwall, the new powder certainly wasn’t bottomless, even on my 115 mm AMPerages; I was touching down to the base at least a bit on most turns, but I’d say the snow delivered a pretty smooth ride. As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns, and if the wind had played with the snow a little up on the headwall, it definitely hadn’t done much to the powder lower down. In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches. The skiing did feel a bit slow with temperatures around zero F, but I didn’t find any issues with movement, even on the shallowest pitches. When I got to the bottom of Spell Binder, I made a few turns on the corduroy, and boy, that was some sweet groomed snow. The snow from this storm is really just topping off what are already fantastic conditions, so folks who were coming out for a day at the resort were really going to be in for a treat.
On the way into Burlington, I stopped off at the Williston rest area, and one of my former students was there. He said he thought he’d seen me up at the mountain, and now he was sure of it. After hearing about the uphill travel policy, he’d actually been up skinning on the main mountain using the Wilderness route this morning, and he’d had a great time. He said that he and a friend often went out ice climbing in the early morning, but they think they’ll be mixing in some ski touring as well. I had first heard about Bolton’s uphill travel policy in a post on the Vermont Backcountry Alliance Facebook Page, and it wasn’t too surprising based on Bolton’s history in that area. What was surprising though was finding out that Sugarbush now has a hiking/skinning policy in place. That’s exciting news, because they have not generally allowed uphill travel in recent years. I also just saw that Bolton Valley will be having an uphill ski demo day on February 7th, where people can try out alpine touring, Telemark, and split boarding equipment. Hopefully that will serve for a great introduction for people that have been curious about trying ascents on their own power on that type of equipment.
It looks like our next winter storm could be coming into the area tomorrow night; it’s expected to be an Alberta Clipper type of system with the potential for 6 to 8 inches in the local mountains.