Stowe, VT 28FEB2016

An image of Dylan skiing the Kitchen Wall area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan drops into one of the Kitchen Wall snowfields today to enjoy some of the snow delivered to Mt. Mansfield from the past couple storms.

On our ski outing yesterday we got a taste of the current backcountry conditions at Bolton Valley, and today we got to see how the lift-served terrain at Stowe has been fairing since the snows from Winter Storm Petros. With additional snows falling overnight from another moderate system skirting the northern border of Vermont, conditions were improving dramatically the farther north one went. We had students in our group from Wolcott and Hyde Park that had picked up 4 inches of snow at their houses, and Jay Peak saw another 7 to 10 inches overnight.

An image of Ty skiing the Kitchen Wall area of Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontKen and I had a fairly large group with 7 students today, and based on the way the snow had played out yesterday at Bolton, we immediately took everyone to the top of the Gondola and into the lower reaches of the Kitchen Wall terrain to get a feel for how the powder was skiing. The snow was excellent, with a good 6 to 8 inches of midwinter powder for everyone to enjoy. The students commented on numerous occasions how good the snow was. The best powder lasted down to about the 3,000’ mark before it began to get thinner and a bit wetter. At that point we’d stick to the trails, where conditions varied from midwinter snow to spring like, to ice, depending on elevation and aspect.

An image of Jonah skiing the Kitchen Wall area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Jonah attacking a line on the Kitchen Wall

The kids had liked the first run so much that on our next one we took the high Kitchen Wall traverse and dropped into the untracked powder in one of the snowfields. There was a good 8-12” of snow up there, so bottomless turns were the norm. Even down below in the evergreens we found plenty of untracked lines and the kids’ overall energy was very positive. One line that we found ended up taking us basically through a cave, and you had to do some major body contortions to pull that line off smoothly.

Ken was thinking of paying a visit to Ravine, and I told him that we’d likely be able to ski the top ¼ at least based on what we found last week. We were all amazed to find the top entrance absolutely untracked at 3:00 P.M. on a Sunday afternoon, so some of the boys dropped in, and we eventually found out why it was being left alone. There was nice powder on top, but presumably some of the rain from Winter Storm Petros had wrecked the subsurface. It was a moonscape under there, so after skiing the available powder for a few hundred yards, we switched out to Gondolier for the rest of the run.

Unfortunately for Ken, he really brought the wrong pair of skis today. He was at Sugarbush yesterday where he found bulletproof conditions and struggled on skis with no edges. Anticipating the same thing today, he brought his freshly-sharpened, skinny, 195 cm old-school cruising skis. He couldn’t believe that we were skiing almost a foot of powder up high, and his long, skinny skis were essentially the exact opposite of what he would have liked to have in tight, powder-filled trees. We joked about how we used to ski everything on such skis, no matter how tight, but the new shorter, fatter, rockered, twin-tipped boards are so superior, and one can forget how much work it takes to push around those long sticks.

An image of the West Slope trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont with large snowmaking whales
Huge snow whales made for fun times on West Slope today

We finished off the day over at Spruce Peak, where areas in the sun were already turning to spring corn snow. The resort had made some huge snow whales on West Slope, and everyone was lapping those, which held soft snow and some great contours and drops. It’s definitely starting to feel like spring with the lasting sunlight we’ve got, but apparently we’ve still got some winter storm to come – the forecast suggests we’ve got three potential storms this week, so it should be interesting to see where things stand next weekend. Right now the Mt. Mansfield Stake is at 34”, so if things break right perhaps we’ll hit that magic 40” mark that means that most of the off piste terrain is reasonably well covered.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 27FEB2016

An image of Dylan skiing powder on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan scoots off through one of Bolton Valley’s backcountry glades today as we take in some of the powder left by Winter Storm Petros.

I haven’t been on a backcountry ski outing since January 23rd, but the whole family got out to the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network today for a tour. Winter Storm Petros left up to 9 inches of new snow at the local resorts yesterday, and with a clear beautiful day today, it was a perfect chance to get out.

Temperatures at the house were in the low to mid 30s F when we headed up to the mountain in the midafternoon timeframe, and it was just a bit below freezing up at the Village (~2,100’). It’s not quite spring weather yet, but the sun is certainly getting stronger, and it was pleasant as we put our ski boots on down along Broadway in one of the tennis court parking areas.

An image showing some snow crystals that had formed on a frozen stream on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in VermontDepth checks at the start of the tour revealed that the new powder had settled to about 2-3” down at the Village elevations, and up at Bryant Cabin it was in the 4-5” range. The Bryant Trail was pretty quiet and we didn’t see anyone else, but you could tell by the various descent tracks and a well-established skin track in spots that people had certainly been out. Up at the cabin we stopped to have hot chocolate that E had made (with a special thermos of dark hot chocolate for Dylan that he was very excited about).

An image of Dylan removing his skins from his skis on a backcountry ski outing on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Everybody had a fun time working on skin removal without taking off their skis today.

I took everyone on one of my usual routes along Gardiner’s Lane, North Slope, and then down via Grizzwald through Gotham City. We skinned a bit past the cabin, and at the top of our descent everyone worked on removing their skins without taking off their skis. Everyone was ultimately successful, although I’d say Ty spent a good amount of time on the ground after things went a bit awry. We caught first tracks in some areas, and on the upper half of the terrain the powder turns were quite nice. I kept everyone off south facing terrain since I could see that it was pretty thin, but in fact I’d say this has to be the lowest snowpack that I can remember around here for the end of February. Fortunately that amount of snow is still enough to cover a lot of the glades well. Below Gotham City the snowpack and powder were notably thinner, so you had less line selection, but we still had some good turns down there. No doubt the way to go for the best turns is to stay above ~2,400’ if possible right now, but you can get some very nice powder if you know your terrain and aspects. It was really great to get the whole family out for some exercise today, since we haven’t had quite as many ski outings as usual with the low snowfall this season. The boys were in good spirits for the whole tour, I’d say probably the most positive backcountry attitude from them in quite some time!

An image of Erica sking powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E Teles through the powder today as we drop through one of the glades below North Slope

We’ve got another system in the area tonight giving us a bit of snow right now even here at the house, but it sounds like Jay Peak might really get the best shot out of this one.

Stowe, VT 21FEB2016

An image of Dylan skiing in the Cliff Trail Trees at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Stowe’s reporting up to 9 inches from our latest storm, and the BJAMS boys were out in force today doing their best to get into that fresh powder.

The Alberta Clipper system in our area had already dropped 4 to 6 inches of snow yesterday, and as of this morning the totals were passing a foot up at Jay Peak, and Stowe wasn’t too far behind. Heading northward was definitely the way to go today. It was generally just cloudy at our house, but right as we were passing north out of Waterbury into Stowe, the precipitation started to come down more vigorously, and the precipitation was snow, or a mix of rain/snow even down in the valley. That’s a good sign for even better things going on up high, and indeed precipitation changed over to all snow just as we hit The Matterhorn at around 1,000’.

Anticipating a day with fairly standard February light, I had my all around Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM on my 7D II, and although the snowfall was generally tapering off, I saw the clouds sitting on Mansfield up high and quickly switched out to my F/1.2 Storm Day Lens before I went out to meet my group. Based on everything I was hearing from Powderfreak, the powder was really sweet up in those clouds, and that was where we’d want to be getting today’s photos.

An image of Mt. Mansfied with clouds on the upper mountain at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
With this view I knew we’d be shooting up in the clouds today, so I opted for the F/1.2 lens to get the most light under those conditions.

After a couple of sessions away, I was back with my regular group of BJAMS students today, which featured Luc, Ty, Wiley, Jonah, and Dylan. Our decision on where to go was easy based on my most recent beta, so we immediately high-tailed it over to the Gondi and headed up into the clouds. Our initial foray onto Gondolier revealed some very sweet snow – worlds better than what we’d encountered on the very same route just two weeks ago. I let the boys warm up on Gondolier for that first run before we thought about heading off piste, but boy was it tempting; short forays into the snow along the sides of the trail revealed a healthy 8-10” of medium-weight powder that skied like a dream – especially in this nightmare of a ski season. By the last third of the vertical, we found that the on piste snow got a bit firmer, and the powder got a bit thinner, but we’d already seen what we needed to see up top – it was definitely time to hit the trees.

“…short forays into the snow along the sides of the trail revealed a healthy 8-10” of medium-weight powder that skied like a dream – especially in this nightmare of a ski season.”

We worked the Gondola the whole afternoon, enjoying that great snow up top whenever possible and hitting lines in the Cliff Trail Trees, High Road Trees, Perry Merrill Trees, and Nosedive Glades. We even skied the top third of Ravine before we cut back to the piste to be on the safe side. It’s not an issue of rocks in there so much as we need just a bit more snow to put a deeper later above the ice – it is a streambed after all. We could see some great lines dropping into the top of the Hazelton Zone, and I’m sure they would have delivered for a few hundred vertical, but we knew that the turns would be tough by the bottom.

An image of Ty skiing powder snow in the High Road Trees at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty finding great snow in the High Road Trees on the upper elevation terrain of Mansfield

On the group dynamic side of things, I have to say I was very impressed with Jonah and Wiley. They were the most eager in the group when it came to hiking around a bit and they were definitely setting a tone for getting to the highest quality snow vs. easier access to the more typical surfaces. They have definitely figure out our group’s mindset and the current makeup of the team is really starting to mesh.

An image of Jonah on the Stowe Ice Slide at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The boys hit the Stowe Ice Slide after s;mores for a good session of tricks and snowball bombardment.

We finished off the day hitting the s’mores session and watching the ice skaters in the Spruce Peak Village, followed up by a lot of time on the Stowe Ice Slide with slide tricks and simultaneous bombardment by snowballs. All in all this latest little storm resulted in a great step up in conditions at the mountain. We’ve still got a long way to go to get anywhere near a normal base depth, but the snowpack depth at the Mansfield stake hit 30” for the first time this season so some ground is being gained. A couple more storms are in the pipeline this coming week, so we hope they can play out reasonably well the way these last couple did, and keep that snowpack growing.

Bolton Valley, VT 20FEB2016

An image of Erica skiing powder on the Wilderness Liftline trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Mother Nature delivered a bit of powder to hungry Bolton Valley skiers today

Temperatures hovered below zero Fahrenheit for highs in the mountains last weekend, and without any major storms or ski program obligations due to the President’s Day holiday, there wasn’t much incentive to get out and ski; so we didn’t. This weekend though, things have been a bit more hospitable. An Alberta Clipper system has been moving along north of the international border since yesterday, and it dropped 4 to 6 inches of new snow for the Northern Vermont resorts overnight. Fresh snow and comfortable temperatures up in the 30s F certainly sounded appealing, so Dylan, E, and I headed up to Bolton Valley for some midday runs today.

A quick check of the Bolton Valley snow report revealed that even the Timberline area was open, and it would be our first chance to visit it for lift-served turns this season. We even thought of basing ourselves out of there, but ultimately decided to head all the way up to the main base to facilitate picking up some lunch at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery afterwards. Parking was fairly easy; even though it was 11:00 A.M. we only had to go down to the third tier in the main Village lot because there was only a moderate number of skiers at the resort.

An image of Dylan skiing the Showtime trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Showtime was one of the highlights today with some excellent soft snow.

We decided to check out as many sections of the mountain as possible to assess conditions, so we started with a quick trip up Snowflake to make our way toward Timberline. Timberline Lane and Timberline Run didn’t really inspire us with regard to conditions – it wasn’t great either on or off piste. Despite the mild weather, the groomed terrain was strangely hard, sort of that like that hard but wet surface that you can encounter on the lower slopes of Whistler Blackcomb. There was fresh powder off piste, but unfortunately below ~2,000’ it was just a bit too sticky to be fun. I was hoping that the surface conditions we’d encountered there were not going to be all the mountain had to offer today, and fortunately what we’d experienced was the worst we were going to see. We did a Timberline Mid Station run on Showtime because we could immediately tell as we rode the lift that the conditions looked nice. Indeed the turns were awesome on Showtime, because if featured soft packed snow that wasn’t at all sticky. I’m not sure what combination of grooming, timing, or skier traffic led to such disparate conditions on routes at equivalent elevations, but whatever the case, Showtime was great fun.

“Indeed Wilderness Lift Line held several inches of fresh powder in spots protected from the wind, and there were perhaps a dozen tracks on Lower Turnpike.”

We continued our tour by heading back to the main base and riding up the Vista Quad. Temperatures were below freezing up high and the powder was very much in midwinter form up there. We headed toward Alta Vista, and Dylan and I jumped into some of the dense trees off to the skier’s left to explore some lines. There’s not really much there because the evergreens are really dense, but with E spotting from the trail we found a couple of open spots to catch a few turns and there were 4 to 5 inches of protected powder in there that made the experience quite fun. Back on piste, skier’s left of Alta Vista before the first turn was filled in with 8 to 10 inches of soft snow, so we all enjoyed that.

We made our way over to Wilderness after that, figuring that traffic would be fairly light over there. Indeed Wilderness Lift Line held several inches of fresh powder in spots protected from the wind, and there were perhaps a dozen tracks on Lower Turnpike. The powder turns on Lower Turnpike were smooth and creamy, until about the last couple hundred feet above the Village where the temperature had risen enough to cause the powder to become sticky.

An image of Erica skiing powder snow along the edge of the Liftline Trail in the Wilderness are of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Fresh powder along the edge of the Wilderness Lift Line

Our run led us right down to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery where we picked up some sandwiches to bring home for lunch. With temperatures above freezing down in the Village, it felt more like a March or April day vs. February, but it was really nice to be able to change out of our ski boots at the car in comfort – unlike what it would have been last weekend (or the way things were much of last season). It looks like there are a couple more potential storms in the pipeline for this coming week, so we’ll see how they play out with respect to snow.

Stowe, VT 07FEB2016

An image of a snowy evergreen by the Cliff House on Mt. Mansfield at the top of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Although it hasn’t been especially wintry by any stretch of the imagination in Northern Vermont this week – the area below The Chin of Mt. Mansfield still seems to produce when it comes to snow.

I typically start off my daily ski trip reports with some discussion of the recent winter storms and how they played out with respect to the local powder and snowpack. This week though, there’s really not much to cover in that regard. Our most recent storm of note was last Saturday, which definitely offered up some powder for my visit to Bolton Valley, and then Sunday featured slightly milder temperatures that produced some nice soft snow on piste at Spruce Peak. Since then though, snowfall has really been flat.

We’ve cooled down somewhat since earlier last week, but that’s not a great recipe for good conditions without some new snow to soften things up. Nonetheless, today was a BJAMS ski program day at Stowe, so we headed off for our usual Sunday afternoon session. Today E decided to promote “service with a smile”, one of the themes from Catholic Schools Week, by assembling the student groups according to grade level instead of ability. The goal was to let the more advanced students in each group help the others work on their skiing. I was with Dave today coaching the fifth graders, which included Dylan, Molly, Calvin, and Ryan. I went with my Telemark skis since I figured I’d be able to handle everything at Molly’s pace, and it was my only outing for the weekend so I wanted to maximize my workout.

An image of the ice rink in the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking out some of the facilities surrounding the new ice rink in the Spruce Peak Village while the kids take an early run before our ski program

There’s really not much one can do to sugarcoat a description of the general on-piste conditions though; although not quite at the level of “we just had a massive rainstorm and moonscape-generating flash freeze”, 80-90% of the trails were still heinously icy. I’d say some of the worst culprits we visited were Cliff Trail, Upper Nosedive, and Perry Merrill. Cliff Trail was insanely bad, simply due to its narrowness combined with the fact that its snow settles in like a half pipe and there are very few spots along the edges of trail to actually ski – in most spots trying to ski the edge means attempting to ride a huge double fall line.

An image showing four inches of snow near the Cliff House on Mt. Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont.Fortunately there were some bright spots out there with decent, and at times even excellent, snow. The lower half of Spruce Peak had some nice spots, presumably due to being low enough in elevation and south facing to get the snow softening a bit. I’d say the very best snow of the day was from 3,000’ on up at the Gondola. Roughly 4 inches of recent snow had accumulated up there, and the powder along the edges of the trails and even the snow that people had pushed there was just so superior to most of what was available on the mountain. I will say that even in the worst of weather patterns, it’s hard to keep those upper elevations below The Chin down when it comes to snow. That area is an absolute snow magnet and skiing there definitely reminds one of what good snow is like. There were also plenty of areas with excellent snow along the edges of trails that had built up over the course of the day. In some cases you could go for dozens and dozens of turns and not even have to think about hitting any ice, but those accumulations along the trail edges can be hit or miss – sometimes they just disappear and you’re left dealing with the regular trail surface

“I’d say the very best snow of the day was from 3,000’ on up at the Gondola. Roughly 4 inches of recent snow had accumulated up there, and the powder along the edges of the trails and even the snow that people had pushed there was just so superior to most of what was available on the mountain.”

In any event, the kids did really well in terms of working on their short radius turns to ride the trail edges and stay in the good snow. Ryan had an especially good section on Lower Nosedive that left me very impressed. One goal was for the students who were more advanced in their skiing to help their peers by simply serving as models for those who were learning. Dylan did a great job in that regard by showing everyone just how tight turns can be when skiing those trail edges.

Fortunately we don’t have to ski next weekend because there’s no ski program due to the holiday, so perhaps Mother Nature will get her act together over the next couple of weeks to bring the conditions up to par for the second half of February. We do have some days of snow coming this week based on the forecast. There aren’t any big storms on the horizon, so we’ll have to see what the mountains do with the more modest events that are currently in the pipeline.