Bolton Valley, VT 30DEC2015

An image of rime on spruce needles at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The higher elevations took on a coating of rime as Winter Storm Goliath pulled away.

There was another inch or two of snow from Winter Storm Goliath overnight, and after finding some decent turns yesterday up at Bolton Valley, I contemplated another visit to see what the new snow had done to the overall conditions. It was a fairly nice day in the valley today – temperatures edged a bit above freezing and the stormy conditions of yesterday had moved out. It was cloudy, and we had occasion bouts of snow giving the area that snow globe atmosphere that is more typical of the Northern Greens in winter.

I finally got around to heading up to the mountain in the midafternoon period, and the weather in the Bolton Valley Village was quite a contrast to what we experienced yesterday. The air was calm, the temperature was just below freezing, and I was quickly dropping layers as I began my ascent of the skin track on Lower Turnpike. There appeared to be about an inch of new snow at Village elevation, and there was also some rime on the trees as I ascended that gave everything quite a wintry look.

An image of the some chairs on the Wilderness lift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontTo explore something a bit different than yesterday, I got off Lower Turnpike at the junction with Wilderness Lift Line, and made my way over toward Work Road, Lower Crossover, and eventually Fanny Hill. Testing snow depths revealed a general 6 to 9 inches of snow in most areas, and it had set up a bit in the higher elevations where it was colder. As was the case yesterday, the best turns were in those sheltered areas along the edges of trails. The upper part of Fanny Hill had seen very little traffic, so I had my pick of lines and got in some nice turns. I quickly got into more tracks lower down, but still managed to get some untouched snow off to the skier’s left. That area conveniently held some of the best powder as well. I peeked into the trees here and there, but they’re really not ready yet aside from a few of the milder pitches – another inch of liquid equivalent will get a good chunk of the lower angle trees going. The lower half of the mountain actually offered the best overall snow since it was just a bit warmer and the snow hadn’t set up as much. I talked with some other folks in the parking lot who had been ski touring and they agreed. I could actually see groomed terrain offering some very nice turns today where this dense snow had been tilled.

Like we’d experienced in the valley, there were some pleasant bouts of snow on my tour today as part of the next system affecting the area. We’ve actually got a series of small systems expected to hit the area over the next several days, so hopefully the mountains will work their magic with the snow showers and enhance the ski conditions even more.

Bolton Valley, VT 29DEC2015

An image of Erica skiing on some fresh snow during the holidays at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E enjoys a bit of fresh snow for the holiday week.

We’ve had a decent buildup to Winter Storm Goliath over the past several days because it was expected to be the first widespread winter storm to hit the Northeast this season. The forecasts were spot on with an initial burst of heavy snow in the wee hours of Monday night, as snow began to fall not too long after midnight, and by the time I made my 6:00 A.M. weather observations there were 4.3 inches on the boards here at the house. Early morning reports from the mountains weren’t actually all that much greater than our total in the valley, topping out around a half a foot, but the snow was certainly going to do a decent job of resurfacing the slopes – my liquid analysis showed the snow coming in at a hefty 13.0% H2O. That’s actually a great way to start building a natural base of snow.

“I could tell that in the appropriate areas the snow was going to offer those surfy, buttery powder turns that you get atop a good dense snowfall.”

We were getting set to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns around noontime when we hit a very unexpected snag – Ty put on one of his Telemark boots and immediately let out a boisterous “Whoa, that’s tight!” Apparently kids his age grow. Ty likes his boots really tight, so for him to say that was a bad sign, there was no way he was going to be able to ski in those boots. E quickly offered him one of her new boots, and it was a great fit. Ty was of course elated to have the chance to try out E’s sweet ski boots, but of course that left her without a pair. Let’s just say that it’s fortunate for us that trash day is Thursday. E’s old Telemark boots had been sitting around for a couple of years, and after finally bringing them to OGE last week for consignment and finding out that they were just too beat up for them to even accept them, it seemed like it was time to give them the heave-ho. Desperate times call for certain types of measures, so into the trash I went this afternoon, and the old Garmonts came back into service. Ty actually tried them on and found that even those were too tight, so “conveniently” he somehow still wound up with E’s nice new boots and E donned her old ones. Needless to say, a trip to OGE is going to be in order to see what we can find for Ty in the Tele boot department.

The precipitation we encountered was generally sleet as we headed up to the resort, and we got a pretty good sandblasting with pellets driven by a strong wind in the Bolton Valley parking lot. There generally seemed to be 3 to 4 inches of new snow at Village elevation, but there was also plenty of drifting due to the strong winds, so it was hard to get a good estimate. The process of being blasted by sleet pellets tamed down as we began skinning up the sheltered slopes of Lower Turnpike, and after gaining a couple hundred feet of elevation, depth checks revealed 5 to 7 inches of dense snow along the sheltered areas on the climber’s right of the trail. Even on Lower Turnpike, there were still some areas that were wind packed and or showed reduced snow depths due to stripped snow, but I could tell that in the appropriate areas the snow was going to offer those surfy, buttery powder turns that you get atop a good dense snowfall. The boys stopped their ascent at the junction with Wilderness Lift Line and jumped into the woods to play in the snow, but E and I continued on up to the base of the headwall on Cougar to get into some of the typically good snow that sits there. As we neared the top of our ascent I was finding pockets of 8 to 10 inches of snow in the best spots, but even half that amount was plenty to keep you well off the subsurface with the density of this storm’s snow.

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on some fresh powder from Winter Storm Goliath at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontAfter a quick break, E and I began our descent, sampling the snow along the skier’s left of Cougar and finding some reasonably soft lines in the dense accumulations. As E descended I took the opportunity to get in a first test of ski action photography using the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. I’ve been looking for a really bright lens to supplement my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM workhorse – especially for dark storm days like this near the solstice. Although it’s a prime lens, 50 mm on an APS-C camera is in a pretty nice spot with respect to focal length for my type of ski action photos. And, it’s hard to argue about the monstrous light-gathering ability of an f/1.2 lens – wide open it’s more than an 11-fold increase over my f/4 lens, so it should be able to handle even the darkest of storm days. Obviously shooting action photos wide open at f/1.2 with its razor thin depth of field isn’t necessarily going to be practical, but even stopping down to a respectable f/2 is going give me a four-fold increase in brightness and the ability to hit action-stopping shutter speeds in lower light without having to crank up the ISO too high. Today I started off with a reasonable f/2.8 and a locked shutter speed of 1/1000 sec, and an ISO of only 250 was required. After looking at the images, I’ve got nothing to complain about so far; the focal length is looking like it’s going to be great, and the lens has got that beautiful color retention and contrast you’d expect from one of Canon’s L-series lenses.

“Dylan was back on his game of trying to one-up me with his Telemark turns, but I had my fat skis today, and boy were they the right tool for the dense snow.”

There was certainly some variability in the snow due to areas affected by the wind and dense precipitation types, but the sheltered spots yielded some very nice turns. When we’d made it down to the boy’s elevation we found that they had already put away their skins and were just about ready to go – that was a pleasant surprise. Dylan was back on his game of trying to one-up me with his Telemark turns, but I had my fat skis today, and boy were they the right tool for the dense snow. They made that beautifully stable platform that kept you up in the upper reaches of the powder, but still let you slice your way into it. I’d say the most consistently good powder turns were in the upper reaches where E and I began our descent, but there were some nice turns to be had lower down as well. Ty was unfortunately off his game a bit due to a sore leg, but Dylan had some beautiful carves and was working hard on fast transitions from turn to turn as he followed me into some of the best lines along the skier’s left of the trail.

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing on fresh snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan in one of his smooth Telemark carves today

I’d heard that the James Moore Tavern was going to be open for business this weekend, but I guess they changed that plan because we found it closed, and instead headed for some food at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery. The resort was pretty quiet in general, with just a few skiers around hitting the slopes and enjoying the new snow with a bit of extra solitude. There was plenty of snow being made on the slopes of the main mountain today, and combined with this natural accumulation (which added up to over an inch of liquid even down at our place in the valley) they should be in good shape to handle lift-served levels of traffic on the terrain they open. We’re getting into a much more wintry weather pattern now, so this storm should serve as a good base for the start of the season’s snowpack.

Stowe, VT 13DEC2015

An image showing low clouds with mountains sticking out as viewed from Mt. Mansfield and Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont
Low clouds produced some stellar views on Mt. Mansfield today

Today’s first run on Stowe’s Perry Merrill had our training group thinking of old adages such as “Life’s too short to ski bad snow.”, or perhaps “Any day at work is better than the worst days of skiing.” Yesterday featured very spring-like temperatures, and this morning’s cold weather and undercast left the snow on Mansfield locked up like one of those ice blocks on the cooling unit of a mini fridge. All of us questioned why anyone would pay for such conditions, but people were out there, and along with race training groups and other school ski program training groups such as ours it made for an incredibly crowded trail. What we had was essentially a perfect combination of dangerous snow and tons of skiers in the same place; it’s exactly where you wouldn’t want to be. We were all amazed when about 100 vertical feet above the Midway Lodge, the snow suddenly softened into something reasonable. Everyone exchanged thoughts of joy as they were actually able to carve turns; apparently we’d hit the freezing line.

Fortunately our instructor Steve knew that there was no point in going back up the Gondola, and instead led us over to Spruce Peak. The sunny slopes of lower Spruce were soft and good to go, and all of us were more than happy to stay over there and work through the progression of techniques for beginning skiers. As the low clouds broke away and the sun hit in the second half of the morning, it became a beautiful day to be out on the slopes. Spruce softened up to as high as we were skiing, which was up to the top of the Meadows Quad. I suspect that even the Mansfield side softened up, but I’m not sure how high that went since we never headed back over there until we hit the Midway Lodge on our way out.

In any event, good snow and comfortable temperatures made for a great annual training day over at Spruce Peak, and if we hadn’t had other things to do in the afternoon, it definitely would have been worth staying for some additional runs. The new construction at the base is certainly coming along, and the outdoor ice rink is already in place. It looks like that area is going to be a great core to the Spruce Peak Village when everything’s complete.

One highlight from this morning was the fantastic view of the mountains above the low clouds, which we’ve apparently been experiencing a lot in the past few weeks with the fairly benign weather pattern. It does look like storms are going to pick up in the second half of the month, but we’ll have to see how much cold air they have to work with in terms of creating snow.

Bolton Valley, VT 05DEC2015

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in the powder at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after an early December snowstorm
Dylan working on some Telemark turns in the powder today

On Thursday, our first winter storm of December began to drop snow in the mountains. There was a fairly sharp snow line above the 1,000’ mark, and although we had plenty of snow mix in with the rain even down at our house at 500’, there was no accumulation in the lower valleys. Images from the Bolton Valley Web Cam showed the snow accumulating nicely at the 2,100’ base level, and by Friday morning, reports were coming in of up to a half foot of accumulation at the local resorts.

I had a really busy Friday, but the views of the mountains caked with snow suggested that accumulations were really holding well in those elevations that had received snow, and my plan was to head out for some turns at some point today. Ty and E had left the house early today for some volunteer work at a school function, but Dylan and I were able to head up to Bolton Valley by late morning. The lower valleys are bare in terms of snow, and it felt quite warm, so it was really hard to imagine that there was going to be decent snow for skiing just a few minutes away. We saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road in the 1,300’-1,400’ elevation range by the big S-curve below Timberline, and the accumulations really shot up quickly above that elevation. By the time we got above 2,000’ to the Village, it was an entirely different world. Within the span of 1,000’ in elevation we’d gone right from November into December. There was a good 2-3” of dense snow on the ground, and temperatures were holding in the 34-35 F range. The snow was wet so that it packed very well, and as I got the ski gear together Dylan had rolled a massive snowball within moments. After a good session of building and destroying some snowballs, we headed over to the base of Wilderness to start our ascent.

Dylan in the air jumping down to smash a snowbal he created in the snow up at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Bombs Away!

We were able to strap on our skins right away, as there was plenty of coverage, and checking the depth of snow on the climber’s right on Lower Turnpike at ~2,200’, I was already measuring 3-4” of snow. We continued on up the available skin track, and I was surprised to see only about 3 or 4 tracks on the trail from skiers descending. I would have thought there’d be more pent-up demand for turns since it hasn’t snowed in a couple of weeks, but I think a few of the other trails had served as descent routes as well. We continued up to around the 2,600’-2,700’ elevation range, where we stopped at the base of the steep headwall of Cougar. The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry. Dylan tried to build snowballs as he’d done at the base and had no success; the snow was just too dry and it all crumbled away like sand through an hourglass. I was hoping that the loss to snowball building was going to be our gain with regard to fluffy turns.

“The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry.”

I started off the descent and struggled with turns on my long, skinny, Tele rock skis, and of course Dylan made fun of me as he floated along on his more modern gear. I’d brought along my rock skis because I really hadn’t known how much coverage we’d have, but with the generally grassy slopes of Lower Turnpike and decent snow depths, a pair of fat skis would leave you with minimal concerns about damaging any bases. I got my Telemark turns flowing as we descended farther, and Dylan and I exchanged some smack talk about who was actually the better Telemark skier. Dylan said that “only in my dreams” was I actually better than him, but I countered by asking if he’d like to switch skis and see how things went. I think I’d get the much better end of that deal, even if his skis would be on the short side for me. By the time we’d descended to the 2,400’-2,500’ range the snow was starting to get a bit wet, so we’d presumably hit the freezing line. The turns actually remained fairly decent all the way down to within about 100’ of the base though, and we were still able to even make Telemark turns for most of it. There were a few water bars negotiate, but we had a lot of fun working with the different techniques for those – simply zooming across the gap allowed it, or taking the more conservative approach of stepping over if it didn’t. You could certainly lap the top half of the mountain if you wanted to stay in totally dry snow, and we actually saw one guy doing just that up near Peggy Dow’s.

An image of drops of water from melting snow in the village at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan doing some of the work behind the lens today.

We skied down to the landing at the northeast corner of the village hotel complex, and pulled out the cameras take a few more pictures. Dylan had actually asked to bring along one of the DSLRs to use today, so I gave him the Canon EOS 30D with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM on it, and I used the 7D Mark II with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. He was shooting in auto mode getting used to monitoring the focus lock indicator as today’s training, but we talked shutter speeds as we worked on imaging either droplets or streaks from the meltwater coming off the roof of the hotel complex, the hotel had recently  hired a roofing company to ensure the meltwater wouldn’t slip into the rooms. We stopped in to grab some lunch at the Deli & Grocery before heading home, and then it was back down to the valley and a return to more of a November environment. These mild temperatures are pretty nice though, and getting to ski in some dry powder snow out there on such a gorgeous day was somewhat of an unexpected treat. It looks like the temperatures stayed pretty cool at elevation, so I suspect the powder will still be up there tomorrow.

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