Stowe, VT 16MAY2016

An image of ski tracks in powder from a mid May snowstorm on the slopes of Mt Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
It may be May… but the powder turns on the upper slopes of Mt. Mansfield today would be considered fantastic in any month!

It’s not every May that we get great powder to ski, but this May will certainly go down as one in which we did.  The potential for snow from this current storm cycle has been on people’s minds since last week, so it certainly wasn’t a surprise, but of course you never know exactly how things will play out until they actually get going.  For me, it was pretty obvious that things were going OK when we were picking up frozen precipitation all the way down in the valley during the day yesterday.  Reports of accumulating snow were already coming in from the mountains as well.   Then, late last night we began to get some legitimate snow at our house, and it was obvious that the local mountains were going to continue with accumulations.

An image showing an antique truck with some May snow on it in Waterbury Center, VermontSnow was still falling at the house this morning, and if anything it was becoming drier as time went on, so that was encouraging.  I decided to head out to Stowe as planned, and I brought along a bunch of camera gear because I expected there would be some fun photo ops along the way.  As I traveled to Mt. Mansfield, it was clear that the lower mountain valleys in the 500’ to 1,000’ elevation range were right around the snow line, and that produced a fantastic amalgam of snow accumulations and touches of spring greenery.  Aspect wasn’t too critical in determining accumulations since it was quite cloudy, but the type of surface and whether or not it was elevated really played a big role.  Also, you could travel just a few hundred yards and see quite a variety of accumulations depending on which areas had been hit with heavier snow showers.  Some yards had snow on the grass, some had accumulations only on elevated surfaces, and some had neither.  In some spots only the rooves, or just sections of the rooves, held accumulations.  The precipitation I encountered was all snow, but temperatures were generally in the mid 30s F, so that contributed to the variable accumulations.

An image showing tracks from various methods of snow travel on one of the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Choose your highway!

Fairly continuous coverage on the ground really started once you got above 1,000’ in elevation, and up around 1,600’ at the Midway Lodge I found roughly an inch of accumulation.  My initial plans were to skin up Nosedive, since it’s always a good late-season bet, but from what I could see, the snow depth really didn’t jump up that quickly with respect to elevation.  With that in mind, I headed along Crossover toward the main North Slope route to hopefully find solid base coverage down to lower elevations.  The coverage on Crossover wasn’t quite enough to make skinning worth it, so I hiked along until I caught North Slope at around 1,800’ or so, where I was able to start skinning.  Indeed the snow depth was building slowly, as even at roughly the 2,000’ mark there was still only 1”-2” of new snow.

I was starting to think that I was going to be out for more of a hike than a real quality powder skiing session, when suddenly I got up around 2,500’ and the snow depth really began to jump up.  Here’s my best estimates of new snow depth based on measurement pole probing along my route:

1,600’: 1”
2,000’: 1”-2”
2,500’: 4”-6”
3,000’: 7”-8”
3,600’: 8”?

I didn’t really detect any notable gains in snow depth between 3,000’ and 3,600’, and the stronger winds made the measurements more challenging anyway, but my best guess was around 8” up at the Octagon.

An image showing the depth of snow just outside the Octagon at Stowe Mountain Resort after a May snowstormI stuck my pole right in the snow by the main Octagon doorway and found 14” – this was clearly due to some drifting, but that’s a decent idea of what you could find if you were hitting the deeper spots along the trails in the upper elevations.  The winds were nice in some respects though – they had erased most tracks from previous skiers without really hammering the powder.  For the most part it was a gentle sifting in of new snow without any formation of wind crust.  You could certainly see signs of old tracks in various locations, but in many cases the trails had been wiped clean, wall to wall.

“…those turns above 2,500’ would have held up as high quality in any season.”

Anyway, that top ~1,000’ of vertical offered up simply fabulous turns – the powder was mid to heavy weight, but not sticky at all and it had plenty of buoyancy to keep things bottomless right down to 2,500’ as long as you followed the deposition patterns along the trails appropriately.  I had decent turns back down to 1,800’ at Crossover, but they generally weren’t bottomless down there – laps above 2,500’ were the way to go depending on one’s time and how they set up their tour.  You’d have consistently very high quality turns with that approach.  The turns for me were clearly some of the highest quality I encountered this season, and certainly some of the most consistent at such a high level.  Granted, we know how this season went with regard to blowing away the record books on the low end, but those turns above 2,500’ would have held up as high quality in any season.  I had debated bringing my mid-fats today since I was unsure of how the accumulations were going to play out, but there was no question after my run – the fat skis were totally in their element and delivering just like they should.

2 Replies to “Stowe, VT 16MAY2016”

  1. You’ve mentioned you like your BD Amperage skies. Have you tried the Boundary? If you were buying skies today for lift access soft snow and backcountry at Bolton would to get the Amperage? Anything else you’d recommend? Length? I’m 200 lbs, now have BD Verdicts 190 and Line 130’s 186 with tele bindings. Looking for something in-between. Verdicts great for harder faster, 130’s are a little heavy for backcountry and a little slow edge to edge on steeps and tight trees. I’ll mount with tele bindings. Thanks.

    1. Hi Scott, I haven’t tried the Boundary, but it looks like they have some 100 mm, 107 mm and 115 mm models out there. When I got the Amperages, I was obviously looking for some something to really excel in powder. I wanted them short (~165 cm) to better enable short-radius turns and tree skiing, quite wide since I already had midfats, and with some rocker. The Amperages were actually the widest BD ski that came in that short a length because the Megawatts (125 mm waist) and Gigawatts (135 mm waist) at the time were only available in ~180 cm and up from what I recall. There was no way I wanted something really wide with that amount of length, as my experience suggested they would be far more unwieldy in the trees.

      When I got the Amperages, they were definitely meant to be my powder-specific ski, most importantly for the backcountry and dawn patrol/earned turns at the resorts, but also potentially for lift-served if it was a deep enough/soft enough day. I didn’t know exactly how far they would penetrate into lift-served usage. Of course BD marketed them as a very versatile “all around” ski that were great at everything, but that’s probably what they have to do as part of the marketing. In reality, and now speaking from direct experience, they’re nothing I’d want to use on groomed slopes, especially mounted Tele as I have them. Tele is already challenging enough relative to alpine, and getting these things on edge on groomed slopes with Tele equipment is just so, so, so inferior to doing it with something narrower. I’m sure they’re much more manageable when mounted alpine or AT, so they might be a bit more viable there, but mounted Tele I’d say they’re utility for lift-served is far less than I would have thought. My wife has the women’s version (BD Element) with the same dimensions, and she absolutely HATES them for Tele on the groomed. They’re actually painful for her to get up on edge on groomed snow, and for her, they’re not even on the table now when it comes to any lift-served skiing.

      With that said, they really are awesome in the powder, just as they are supposed to be. Compared to my first Tele skis (Rossignol Hellgates), which have standard camber, with waists of 67 mm, the Amperages in powder are literally incomparable. Using the Hellgates in powder (which was EXTRAORDINARILY challenging if the powder wasn’t perfect) was what initially got me interested in trying a really fat, rockered Tele ski for that environment. Even my everyday Teles (Atomic RT-86) with an 86 mm waist are nothing compared to the Amperages. After a few years of use, all I can say is that they make Tele powder skiing, which is already really fun, even more fun.

      So, with regard to your question – if I was going to buy a ski today for both backcountry and lift-served soft snow at Bolton, I would probably go a bit narrower – probably in that 100-107 mm range? If I was going to go for just a backcountry and dawn patrol-focused ski again, I would absolutely go with the 115 mm range again – as long as I could get them as short as I have them now. My weight is only ~140 lbs. or so, so I don’t need a lot of ski to float, and it’s essentially the shorter the better as far as I’m concerned in the trees and for the short radius turns that I love. The type of turns you like can make a difference, and I’d also say how strong of a Tele skier you are can matter. I have no problem taking the Amperages from turn to turn like lightning in the trees as long as the powder is sufficient, but my wife, who is not quite as strong a Tele skier, does find them slower than her narrow skis. If we’re going to be on open powder slopes (such as Timberline sidecountry/shuttle before/after it’s lift-served) she definitely benefits from the Elements, but she will sometimes go with a narrower ski if she knows we’ll be in tighter trees. Her Elements feel like “boats” to her in that environment, while the identical Amperages are generally perfect for me, so preference obviously varies.

      I haven’t looked into any other skis recently, but for my all around alpines I recently got some Rossignol Sin 7 skis that are in the 96-98 mm waist range for our typical days at Stowe with our school ski program. I demoed them ahead of time and was extremely impressed with them for my typical assortment of skiing. We spend most of our time off piste in the powder, but obviously one has to hit the trails at times as well, and I find the Sin 7s are really quick edge to edge on the groomed surfaces. I don’t really even notice any drop off in quickness relative to my “groomer” skis at 75 mm waist width, probably because of the newer design and rocker in the Sin 7. That 95-100 mm waist range would probably be where I’d stay for a lift-served powder-focused skis if I had to do it again.

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