After our morning session at Bolton working with Josh and Mike, we headed off to Stowe for BJAMS ski program. With the recent fresh snow in the past couple of days and the bright sun of late March, the alpine areas of Mansfield looked blindingly white as we approached from the south. The overall timing of the trip was actually quite good, and we were even able to grab some lunch at the Great Room Grill before the start of program. The line for the main grill area was long, and at first I thought it might be groups of ski racers from the races going on, but upon hearing all the British accents, I quickly realized that that’s who it was. They’re certainly getting some midwinter-like conditions on their ski vacations this weekend.
After lunch we suited up and headed to the base of the Spruce Peak lifts to gather our group for the day. There were some absences, so there were only six students (Ty, Dylan, Wiley, Elizabeth, Luc, and Jonah). I had Joe to help me as a second coach though, so we had a very good coach to student ratio for exploring whatever we wanted. Based on the snow conditions, and in the interest of expanding the student’s repertoire and keeping things fresh, I decided that we should take a trip to the Outer Planets area. I can’t recall the last time I’d been out there, and I didn’t really have a chance to make a recon trip this season, but I knew everyone could handle it.
I told the students that we’d be heading out past Angel Food on the traverse, and that we’d play it by ear as we scoped out the terrain. The traverse was in great shape, and the powder up there was midwinter light aside from areas exposed to significant sun. In those areas you could see that powder was just starting to take on some melt, so we knew that we might want to factor that into our skiing if we had options. Once past Angel Food, we continued on the traverse for a few more minutes and headed upward with some side stepping. I didn’t recall ever seeing any specific trail signs in the area, but I told the kids to keep their eyes peeled for anything they might see in that regard. I didn’t see any obvious trail signs, but I did see an interesting piece of artwork on a paper birch just above the traverse that presumably had some interesting meaning – it was a pair of eyes with almost mask-like surroundings. Not long after passing that image, I felt like we’d gone far enough and opted to take the next obvious line for the descent. I chose one with a couple of tracks, which in this case was good; we were doing a bit of exploring, but I didn’t want to take the kids on anything too exotic that might push things over the edge. Eventually as one gets farther and farther into the notch, things can get overly steep, and that’s not what we were looking for.
The line we got into, perhaps Yeranus but I can’t say for sure, was well defined, much like a mini Angel Food. As we pushed farther down the line, it got a bit less defined at times, but in general it didn’t matter because the hardwoods all around were eminently skiable and we could just fan out wherever we wanted. The snow quickly transitioned from somewhat settled midwinter powder to a wetter powder as we descended. Fortunately, it skied well, and the main issue arose when you’d stop. You’d melt enough snow to make it sticky, but as soon as you started skiing that went away. The snow continued to transition until we got down into what was becoming a very supportable spring-type snow. That really skied well with a few inches of dense proto-corn that shaved away nicely over a supportable base. A few minutes into the run, I could see that the terrain was going to be rolling over down below us, and it naturally got me wondering if we were going to have to deal with some sort of cliffs. When we finally arrived at the top of that section, I could see that a pair of very steep chutes lay below us. I was fairly committed to the right chute, which was the narrower of the two, and it did have a bit of ice in the throat that I could navigate with a bit of side-slipping. I let the kids know that the chute to the left was larger and offered a better entrance, so those who could, headed that way. Luc was committed to the chute I was in, and got hung up in there and lost a pole below that tumbled down to me. It took a couple minutes of strategic ski placement, and me tossing up his pole, but he managed his way through. Meanwhile, Dylan had circumvented the whole deal simply by skiing the snow just to the left of both chutes – the snow was great there and the trees were quite open. I love how he finds these great ways around obstacles.
Those two chutes quickly converged into a beautiful gully that must have been 30 plus degrees in pitch. I suspect it’s the pièce de résistance of that run, because it’s a few hundred vertical feet from there down to the notch road. The group skied most of it before cutting off to the right where a tree had fallen that required a bit of a limbo move to get past it. I later learned that Ty, or course, ducked under the tree and skied it anyway. On the notch road it was about 10 minutes of traversing before we were back to Stowe’s equipment barns and the Gondola area. There was some grumbling about the trek to get back to the lift, and everyone was dropping layers and getting warm in the sun. It was hard to complain when we were out there cruising along on the snow on such a great spring day, but as fun as it was, I knew I wasn’t going to push the kids to run another lap in there. We’ll have to get back there some time after a nice dump of snow and see how that gully skis.
We made another Gondola run on Gondolier and found the on piste conditions rather mixed – there was some winter snow, some areas of hard refrozen stuff, and some areas of nice soft snow lower down. We took a break at the Midway Lodge, and based on what we’d found for snow, Joe and I decided that it was best to head back to Spruce Peak and see if we could find some good spring snow on its south-facing slopes. The upper elevations of the Sensation Quad were still high enough to be generally a mix of midwinter snow and refrozen snow, and it really wasn’t until we got down to the Meadows elevations before the snow was consistently spring-like.
The day concluded with a BJAMS ski program tail-gating party in the parking lot of the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. Although temperatures were only in the low 30s F, there was no wind and that late Much sun was doing its work. It wasn’t the kind of day that you’d be stripping down to your shorts, but in ski gear it was very comfortable, and indeed we saw a lot of groups having similar parties today. It was a fun way to finish off the official ski program season, although I think many of us will be back in the coming weeks for some additional ski days, even if they aren’t official program days. The nice part about those days is that we can play it by ear with respect to the weather, and there’s no need to cancel if the weather is sour. The forecasts suggest we’ve got some additional storms coming as we head into April, so we’ll see how much extra snow we’ll have before the season finishes up.