We’d skied at Stowe Thursday in the midst of the big storm cycle, but today was our first chance to see how things had shaken out for the snow surfaces once things had settled down. The slopes looked gorgeous as we approached the mountain, with lots of sun among some fair weather clouds. I was initially encouraged by the snow surfaces when we took an early run on Spruce Peak a bit before 1:00 P.M; the sun had warmed up the snow and there had seen enough cycling to produce some corn. Gone was the wet surface that had persisted in the lower elevations during the storms, and it was really fun slicing smooth arcs into the open terrain of the NASTAR Hill area.
I was hoping that the skiing would be soft like that all around, but that certainly wasn’t the case over on Mt. Mansfield. Unlike Thursday, where the middle elevations of Mansfield seemed to offer the best skiing in terms of balancing visibility with reasonably dry snow, the middle elevations had some of the most difficult snow today. The top third to perhaps half of the mountain had fairly nice mid winter snow, but below that there had been enough warming that the surfaces had become hard. Off piste was also pretty messy around there. The saving grace in the very lowest elevations was that they had started to corn up a bit, but the middle elevations just stayed hard and high traffic areas on piste were well on their way to the icy disposition they’d had before the big resurfacing. Our final run of the day down North Slope was a great example of that phenomenon, and I’m not sure I can say that the surface was actually any better than what one would have seen back during the snow drought before the big storms.
It really would have been nice to have some upper mountain lifts to use under those conditions, or if I wasn’t with the kids in our group it probably would have been fun to do some laps up in the Alpine. When the stake is in the 100” range as it is now, the top of Mansfield does start to turn into one huge snowfield. With these recent sunny days I’ve been staring at the east side of Mansfield from UVM and seeing how white it is in the alpine areas. Some more substantial clouds did come in later in the day today, and at about 3:00 P.M. when we were up at the Octagon, it started to flurry a bit. Nothing seemed to come of that however. We’re planning to be up at Stowe again next Sunday afternoon, so we’ll see how the conditions are. There doesn’t appear to be any significant snowfall coming this week though, so with additional traffic and some spring temperature cycling in the lower elevations I’d be surprised if snow surfaces were improved at all. I’m sure the coverage will be outstanding though. I bet surfaces will still be nice in the highest elevations, but we might spend a good deal of time over at Spruce if the sun gets things corned up there.
I did get one picture from today as we approached the mountain; it really was a gorgeous day for the most part, even if snow surfaces weren’t great at all elevations, and you can see where some parts of the Mansfield alpine are really loaded with snow:
Today was our first chance to see how Bolton had fared from the big midweek storm. Numbers wise, they’d picked up almost four feet of snow from the initial round of precipitation, but as we’d seen at Stowe on Thursday, the snow was fairly dense and more difficult to ski in the lower elevations. The mountain had reported another 5 inches overnight to top of the previous snow, so that was quite encouraging in terms of setting up some fresh powder skiing.
We parked at Timberline (~1,500’), but immediately worked our way up toward the Vista Summit (~3,150’) to see how the snow was skiing in the highest elevations. Up at the Timberline Summit (~2,500’) the snow was skiing well and the new powder was fairly dry, but it quickly began to get thicker as we descended to the village area (~2,150’). Once we reached the Vista Summit, we certainly found the best conditions of the morning – even the headwall of Cobrass was skiing pretty well. There were some clouds around, but we’d broken out into the sun at the top of Vista and it was quite a sight. The cumulus clouds off in the distance looked much more like something one would see in summer vs. winter, and presumably spoke to the interesting weather pattern that had recently brought about the big snows. We made a long descent back to the Timberline Base to have an early lunch, and skied some of the Villager Trees along the way. We hiked for some extra turns in there with the boys, and the powder was OK at first, but after a few hundred vertical we were getting down into the elevations where the new powder wasn’t as dry, and the subsurface became harder since it was derived from wetter snow.
We had a good lunch down at Timberline, which was rather deserted at first due to the early hour, then headed back up toward the main mountain. Based on what we’d found in our travels up to that point, there was no need to ski anything at Timberline since the snow on the upper mountain was so clearly superior. We got a call from Stephen that he was cycling the Vista Glades, and with the huge amounts of snow and colder temperatures up there, that seemed like a perfect choice. The Vista Glades were in excellent shape, with all the ledgy areas well covered thanks to the copious dense snow. E and the boys weren’t all that familiar with the Vista Glades since we don’t often ski them, but once they were in there and saw how much fun the skiing was, they agreed that it had been a great choice.
With upper elevation terrain in mind, we headed over to the Wilderness are next so we could check out Bolton Outlaw. As a testament to just how much snow, or likely how much dense snow and liquid equivalent had fallen, the top pitch of the Wilderness Lift Line actually had pretty decent coverage. That’s saying a lot. I’m not sure if it was actually open at that point, but it had been well traveled by plenty of skiers. Bolton Outlaw was excellent, and there wasn’t even a need to venture off into the powder on the sides because the trail itself was just so soft. We were definitely up in the elevations where the drier snow had fallen and the temperatures had never gone above freezing. Below Bolton Outlaw, we skied the steep pitch of Cougar, which provided one of the best scenes from the day. Ty was skiing very fast due to the extra reliability of the snow surface, and he dropped into Cougar and skied the bumps at full tilt, followed by a huge hand in the air at the bottom. E said he’d clearly been watching plenty of Olympic ski action.
Below the level of the Wilderness mid station, we played around in the various glades and found good powder down to a point. It was a gradual change in snow quality with elevation of course, but once we got down to around the 2,300’ elevation, the untracked snow had reached a stage of density/wetness that it was getting tough to ski. Fortunately, in the Wilderness area we were just about down to the base elevations and back on piste by that point, so it worked out pretty well. The snow quality and skier traffic were so good over at Wilderness that I would have been happy to simply stay there for the rest of the afternoon. However, Ty eventually started to get tired (probably because he had been skiing pretty hard) and wanted to head home.
In terms of the overall weather for the day, it was quite an eclectic mix: one minute we’d have bright sunshine, and then ten minutes later it would be snowing at a decent clip. As the afternoon wore on, the snowfall won out, and in the middle afternoon it was snowing at about an inch per hour for a while; I’d say it put down a quick half inch or so. The temperatures were excellent, being a few degrees above freezing down at the Timberline base elevations, and several degrees below freezing up at the summit areas. Even though I didn’t have a chance to get many pictures from that part of the day, the time spent over at Wilderness today was so good that it will probably end up being one of the highlights of the season.
Today Stephen and Johannes joined us for some turns at “Stowequalmie” as it seemed. Down at the base elevations (~1,500’), the temperature was a couple of degrees above freezing, and the precipitation was mixed rain and snow, but not too far up in elevation it was all snow falling. The uppermost elevations were in the clouds, so visibility was low up there, but those areas also had the driest snow. The middle elevations were sort of that sweet spot where visibility was up, and the snow was still nice. The lower ½ to ¼ of the mountain had great visibility, but the snow was fairly wet, so off piste skiing wasn’t quite as easy as it is with our more typical Vermont fluff. Some groomed areas on piste on the lower mountain had that wet pack snow that I’ve experienced on the lower elevations of Whistler Blackcomb.
In terms of the powder in the middle and upper elevations, it was fairly dense, and boy was it deep! As others have mentioned, there were feet of it. The snowpack up there also seemed a bit upside down however. I think some denser snow had fallen on top of some drier snow from Wednesday, so it created that phenomenon. Off piste, it reminded me very much of a trip E and I had to Schweitzer back in 2001, where four feet of Cascade Concrete had fallen on the mountain and many people simply found themselves drowning in it because it was so difficult to ski.
With our crew and the conditions, we didn’t spend much time off piste aside from playing in the snow off the edges of the trails, but we had a good time on the trials. Any issues of iciness or coverage were long buried, and it was great to see the mountain looking better as we approach March. Freddie’s Chute under the Sunny Spruce Quad is finally all covered, so we had a fun run down there. Ty really loved blasting the moguls on West Smuggler’s, since with the weather pattern we’d been in previously, it had probably been a couple of months since he’d skied moguls without at least some concern for hard snow or low coverage. Stephen spied all the untracked snow sitting in the meadows area and wanted to try a run there. He didn’t initially know why E decline the chance to check it out, but she know what the untracked snow would be like down at that elevation. I brought them over and we had a lot of fun, but I think they learned how difficult it can be to ski deep, wet snow.
As the afternoon wore on, the mix of precipitation at the base elevations changed over to mostly wet snow and picked up in intensity. We hung out for some après ski in the Great Room Grill and it was a bit tough to pull ourselves away as we watched the snow continue to fall. A few pictures from today are available below:
We were up at Stowe this afternoon, and thanks to the foot or so of snow that they’d received in the previous few days, on piste conditions were certainly improved over what we’d experienced the prior couple of Sundays. I wouldn’t say it was a huge improvement though. I had a combined group of students with another parent, and we split for one run where I took the more advanced guys down the lower part of Hayride. It was a great challenge for them, steep with big bumps, but it was also still horribly icy. I had one student who is thinking of bumping up to the young advanced group, and based on his eagerness and ability to manage that nastiness with nice control, it looks like he should move up. The quad was still down, so the line at the gondola was very long, but lines were minimal at the double and triple. When we rode the Lookout Double, the Lookout trail seemed like it had decent snow quality, although there were still some areas of low coverage. I haven’t been on the double in a long time and I’d forgotten just how awesome the Lookout Trail actually is.
Tuesday, 2/23/2012 Update: E and the boys were up at Stowe yesterday and conditions sounded similar, although they did enjoy the lack of weekend crowds. Perhaps this current system will really be the one to get the conditions back on track for those heavily used trials, since it sounds like there could be a good shot of liquid equivalent in it.
This morning we woke up to find that 4.9 inches of 2-3% H2O Champlain Powder™ had fallen at the house overnight. I’d expected the more typical inch or so that we’d been receiving with the impulses of moisture that were supported by the upslope flow, but conditions for snow growth had clearly improved and we were happy with the surprise. The Bolton-Stowe area was reporting 6-7 inches of new snow, so Ty and I headed up to Bolton to catch some of the morning freshies. It seemed like the skiing was going to be great with another half foot on to of the 10 inches of dense snow they’d picked up in the previous couple of days.
Up at the Timberline base (~1,500’), I checked in a couple of spots and found 7 to 9 inches of new snow, which was a bit more than I’d expected based on the morning report. Ty played in the new snow for a bit while we hung out and waited for the lift to open. A few more people showed up, but the lineup was still only about 10 people when they started loading around 9:30 A.M.
We mixed up the skiing between on and off piste, and conditions were good, but not perfect. The main wrinkle was that there had been a little bit of icing later yesterday before the overnight fluff, so that sat atop the previous snow. The crust was thin and pretty inconsequential in terms of the actual skiing, but you could still hear it and the overall feel of the turns was therefore not as smooth as it might have been. Some places, such as areas in the trees that had some protection, were totally devoid of the crust, so those spots were especially sweet.
I brought E’s camera for Ty to use, but we had to get home to get ready for afternoon ski program at Stowe, so we didn’t really have time to get set up for him to get any pictures. So, the subjects for the day were just Ty and the surroundings, but I added some shots from this morning’s session below:
Today we headed up to Bolton to get in on some of the 10 inches of snow that they’d picked up in the past couple of days, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The snow was derived from the typical northwest upslope flow that has been supplying just about all the precipitation we’ve received in the past several weeks, but for once it wasn’t ultra fluffy Champlain Powder™. This snow actually had some substance to it. Unfortunately I don’t have any information on the amount of liquid contained in Bolton’s recent snowfall, but I do know that the past few days have dropped 0.42 inches of liquid equivalent at our house (495’), and 1.23 inches of liquid equivalent up at the stake on Mt. Mansfield (~3,700’). Since the Bolton Valley area has actually picked up more snow than Mt. Mansfield so far in this event, I’d estimate their liquid to be somewhere up around the number from the stake. So, even though we still haven’t been in on any big synoptic snowstorms in quite a while, I’d say that Bolton finally managed to sneak in a moderate resurfacing with 1”+ liquid equivalent.
I noticed the effect of the new snow immediately in the morning when we hit Twice as Nice, which had been suffering with coverage a bit since it’s been allowed to bump up. You could just fly right through the bump lines without having to worry about whether or not there was a rock or patch of ice on the back side of a mogul. We were able to meet up with Stephen, Johannes, and Helena right after our first run, and everyone that hit Twice as Nice found it to be a blast. There are a few black pitches on the trail, but for the most part it’s a blue square trail so the moguls are great for learning. People seemed to know how nice it was because it was well skied, and a few of the icy spots started to reappear later in the day.
Yesterday was presumably the bigger fresh powder morning on the trails, but traffic may have been light with some of the wind holds, because there were fresh lines left on the sides of the trails and we found hardly any tracks in the trees. We probably split the day about 50/50 in terms of time on and off piste, and had fun in the Showtime Glades, Enchanted Forest area, KP Glades, Villager Trees etc. Our last run of the day in the Villager Trees required some uphill traversing though the deep powder left from the past several weeks, and that was tough on Helena and Dylan since it was the end of the day. We got them though it though and they made some great turns once things were under way. The fact that Stephen promised hot chocolate down at the lodge was a good motivator as well.
The depth of powder around on the mountain ranges somewhat depending on aspect, winds affects, traffic, etc. but the kids were constantly requesting that I check the depth of the snow as we made our travels through the trees, so I got a lot of sampling. The values ranged anywhere from about nine inches up to almost four feet, so there is plenty of deep snow out there. With this denser accumulation from this event though, it doesn’t actually take much to make it bottomless, so even higher traffic areas with depths on the lower end of that range were skiing beautifully. I found a few random spots of crust around, but they were extremely scattered so I’m not sure exactly what caused them. There had been talk of a bit of freezing drizzle on the mountain, but the way these crusty spots were so isolated makes me think it was the sun or something like that. Weather wise today, it was simply excellent down at Timberline; the temperature was right around freezing, there was no wind, and the day featured a bit of sun and then a bunch of light snow. Up at the Vista Summit though, things were socked in with clouds, the wind was pretty strong, and it was a much different scene. That was really just the top few hundred feet of the main mountain as far as we could tell, but we only went up there once. Some pictures from the day have been added below:
Today I had some time to ski, and since I’d found such good snow in most of my excursions yesterday, I decided to put together a similar sort of session comprised of easy sidecountry/incountry. The bit of icing on the cake was that our snowfall from yesterday had kept up and we’d received 2.9 inches of new snow down at the house. The accumulations didn’t seem to be too elevation-dependent for that event; the local mountains picked up in the range of 2 to 4 inches, with Bolton reporting 3 inches new in their morning report.
Our region was in between weather systems today, so there were some breaks of sunshine when I arrived up at Timberline around mid morning. Fresh tracks were visible on the lower reaches of the Timberline terrain and things were looking good. Boarding the Timberline lift, my pass was checked by Josh from the marketing department; he recognized my name and said he’d be on the lookout for my pictures. I was skiing alone, but hopefully I’d be able to find a few nice images to capture during my travels. I planned to finish off my day at Timberline, so I headed over toward the main base area to start things off there.
Combined with the snow from yesterday, the few inches of new powder that fell last night really gave the snow conditions an invigorating shot. Heading down the side of Villager, I was immediately floating on the new snow, even in areas that had previously seen traffic. The snow was light and dry, but not quite the pixie dust that we sometimes get, so it really provided some substance. I saw plenty of untracked snow on the side of Lower Foxy, and couldn’t resist heading in that direction. That trip turned into a few Snowflake laps because I just couldn’t pull away. It took me a couple of rounds, but I was eventually able to home in on some shots in the Foxy trees that I’d wanted to try for a while. The powder was well protected and as bottomless as anything I’d found on the mountain throughout the weekend.
Finally I pulled away from Snowflake and headed up Wilderness. From the top, I decided to catch some turns off the west face of Ricker Mountain, so I took the boot pack up the north side. Once I got farther up, I could see that the west side snow had experienced some effects from the wind (and sculpted some neat drifts as well). This was visually appealing, but looked like it would make for slabby skiing, so I skied the undisturbed powder on the north side. The turns were deep and the snow quality excellent. There were no tracks leading off the main access trail to the back side either, but that level of commitment wasn’t really in the plans for today’s outing. I got onto Upper Crossover and found excellent snow below the initial pitch – the wind had loaded it in there really well and provided more than just the few inches that had been reported. Along the way, I eventually found some good undisturbed terrain on the west face of Ricker Mountain, so I strapped on the skins and headed up for a run. The turns in that run set a new bar for steep and deep on the weekend, so deep that they actually threw me off for a minute and I messed up my line. Action shots up there would likely have produced some gems. I explored some of the thicker trees below Upper Crossover, and after roaming around for a while, I found one nice line that took me to the exit. I’d be hard pressed to find that one again though.
Back down at Vista, I boarded the lift with Ed, a gentleman that works in the biology department at UVM. We skied a run on Cobrass, and while the steep headwall section was actually better than it often is, the rest of the trail was worse than usual. I found hard snow, ice, and bare patches, so I’d argue our extended dry spell is even catching up with Bolton’s level of traffic. The signs really do point to traffic being the issue, because once we were down below the Cobrass Lane junction, the base became soft and the fresh powder quite plentiful. Cobrass Lane was awesome, and Ed commented that all the trails should be like that.
I joined Ed for part of another run before breaking off into the trees while he headed home for lunch. Instead of skinning up in the Villager Woods, I took the back side boot pack route. Whoever found that slot up through the ledges did a really nice job. The new snow and a little wind had reset much of the terrain, and the few added inches made the previously untouched terrain all the better.
For my final run, I followed some of the new higher traverses out into the Twice as Nice Glades. I found some very steep ledgy areas that would be very cool in deep snow, but for now they are suffering from southern exposure combined with low elevation – there’s a crusty base below 6-12 inches of snow, and it’s just not enough for the pitch and tree spacing in that spot. I eventually wrapped around toward the west and found much better snow.
It will be interesting to see what the upslope snowfall does over the next few days. Ideally some of Bolton’s trails could use a nice resurfacing storm with a good shot of liquid, but we’ll have to take what Mother Nature delivers. Even with fluffy upslope snow, if enough comes down and the wind isn’t too rough to let it sit, it could help out the spots that need it.
“The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun.”
With the snowfall thoughts in mind, the plan was to do some skiing off the west side of the Camel’s Hump/Mt. Ethan Allen area. Unfortunately, on Friday we found out that Tom had tweaked his knee and ankle at soccer, so the ski group for the day was going to be just James, Ty, and myself. We met up with James in Huntington Center a bit after 9:00 A.M., and decided on an initial plan of heading up the Forest City Trail to do some skiing on the lower flanks of Mt. Ethan Allen (3,674’), the next prominent peak south of Camel’s Hump. We headed up Camel’s Hump Road, finding that the access to the Forest City trailhead was going to be difficult because the road there wasn’t plowed in the winter. There was a little room along the snowbank to potentially park a couple of cars, but a more important factor in our case was the added distance to get to the trailhead. Ty’s backcountry range is not that great yet, so we weren’t looking for a big approach. There was the option to connect over to the Forest City Trail from the Burrows Trailhead area, but we decided to just do something simple off the Burrows Trail. James had commented to me earlier that there was going to be a temperature inversion in effect, and that was indeed what we saw on our ascent of Camel’s Hump Road. From down in Huntington Center (690’) where the temperature was somewhere in the middle single digits, the temperature was up around 10-11 F at the trailhead parking area (~1,900’). The lot was about half full, and while we geared up, we could see that several parties of people were heading out for hikes on snowshoes.
Starting up on the Burrows Trail, I checked the snowpack and found a couple inches of fluff on top of a generally thin crust, atop a lot more settled powder. A few of the lower elevation stream crossings on the trail were open with small gaps, and that represented a bit of a challenge for Ty, but he managed well. We didn’t have any lofty goals in mind other than getting in a little skiing, since our ultimate destination would likely be affected by Ty’s mood and stamina. Our pace was pretty slow with Ty taking his time, but it was an easy go, and everyone’s skins were working well on the packed trail. There were lots of dogs, lots of people on snowshoes (including a bigger group that seemed to be from the UVM Outing Club), and we also saw a party of about four skiers that passed us on their way up the trail. One of the more interesting sights was a woman coming down trail at breakneck speed on a sled that looked like a booster seat. We made sure to move out of her way, but she seemed to be very conscious of the uphill traffic and stopped easily. James inquired about how her sled worked, and she demonstrated that for braking, you just lean back. I know that people like to use those Mad River Rocket-style sleds on the trail and elsewhere, but this was the first time I’d seen what this woman had.
Up to about the 2,300’ elevation mark the surrounding vegetation was on the brushy side, but above that point it began to thin out and the potential for skiable lines looked a little better. Off to our right, we could see some open, moderate angle slopes across the big gully that had begun to parallel the trail, and off to the left we could see the more obvious lines that steepened on the way up to Bald Hill (3,041’). Ty had some good bursts of skinning speed when we kept him motivated, but as inquiries about how far we were going and when we would get to ski became more frequent, we decided it was time to think about our descent route. Heading off to the left for the lower slopes of Bald Hill was going to make things easiest for getting back to the trailhead for Ty, so a bit above 2,500’ when we hit one of the skin tracks breaking off the Burrows Trail and going in that direction, we took it. The change of scene was enough to keep Ty motivated for a little bit longer, since we were able to tell him that we’d be able to descend soon.
We headed up into the glades a little farther, reaching an elevation of about 2,700’ before Ty seemed to be getting just a bit too antsy. There were plenty of good lines available with untracked snow, but we could see that taking them would mean dropping right back down to the Burrows Trail almost immediately. So, we continued to contour westward to get something that might drop a little more directly to the trailhead. We could only traverse so far though, since Ty knew we were close to skiing and his inquiries started up again. When we finally called it on the traverse, James and I skinned up a little farther to catch a nice looking line, while Ty waited just below us.
The skiing was good, and definitely worth the hike, but certainly not perfect or quite up to what I’d found off the Monroe Trail the previous weekend. The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun. Ty stuck with just alpine turns, but had a lot of fun catching air and working on his jumping technique. Our extra traversing had bought us a little longer descent, but we still dropped back to the Burrows Trail pretty quickly. Instead of trying to ski on and near the trail, we took a traverse out to the west with the aim of eventually dropping back down to the parking lot to finish our run. I used the GPS for route finding, and as is often the case, James went by his natural sense of direction. The biggest issue with the traverse was that like on the Burrows Trail itself, a few streams were still open from the previous warm weather. They weren’t too hard to cross since there were still snow bridges around, but Ty’s smaller skis definitely set him at a disadvantage for spanning some gaps. We helped him across when needed. Even with the aid of the GPS, I overshot the parking area by about 100 feet or so and had to swing back during my final descent, while James nailed it right on.
From what I’d been hearing, ski conditions were generally decent around the area this week, but new snowfall was sparse. Subsequent to the 9 inches of snow that Bolton picked up last weekend, they’d only reported 2 to 3 inches of additional accumulation. Down at the house in Waterbury (495’), we picked up 4.8 inches of snow from that weekend event, and then smaller events on Monday and Wednesday dropped 1.2 inches each. It was enough to keep things fresh, but it was rather dry snow that probably didn’t add too much new substance to the snowpack.
The end of the week also saw an increase in temperatures, with our location in the valley getting up to around 40 F at times. It was a little hard to get a sense of what had gone on with the weather in the mountains, since I heard talk of a crust in the Mt. Mansfield area, but Paul Terwilliger’s report from Central Vermont suggested that the powder was great down there. Unsure of whether I was going to encounter, powder, crust, mush, or who knows what, I chose to keep it simple and earn some turns close to home. I decided to check out some terrain right across the Winooski in North Duxbury below Camel’s Hump. From the Winooski Valley, at an elevation of about 400’ or so, the Camel’s Hump Road heads southward up into the mountains for several miles to an elevation of about 1,500’ where there is access to Camel’s Hump State Park and various hiking trails. My friend Weston used to live right up near the top of the road, and told me that there were plenty of glades up above him along the route to Camel’s Hump. I took a peek at my copy of David Goodman’s backcountry skiing book for Vermont, and he also speaks of the various glade skiing options along the Monroe Trail.
This was actually my first time driving up Camel’s Hump Road in the winter, so it was neat to get the perspective with the snow. The drive offered great views of Ridley Brook, which flows near the road throughout the drive. I always get a kick out of some of the funky houses along the road: some that seem to be accessed by unique bridges, and others with their own quirks, like one that seems to be some sort of partially underground structure with a flat roof. At this time of the year, the very top part of the road is closed, so I had to park in the winter parking area at ~1,200’. From a temperature of ~38-39 F down at the house, the temperature dropped to ~36 F at the parking area, and in terms of snow conditions, I hoped that the temperature would continue to drop as I ascended.
With skins on, I quickly made it up the rest of the snow-covered road to the main parking area and trailhead at around 1,500’. I checked out the plaque near the trailhead commemorating the 1944 bomber crash on the mountain, and then I was on my way up the trail. I began checking the consistency of the snow, and it seemed like the powder was dense, but not really wet, and there was no detectable crust. Within a few minutes of being on the Monroe Trail, I began to see obvious glades up above me as Weston had suggested. The Monroe Trail didn’t really attack the fall line, instead it seemed to gradually contour up and to the left in a southwesterly direction. I figured that one approach to skiing the glades would be to see if I could gain some elevation on the Monroe Trail and eventually traverse back in a northeasterly direction for a fall-line style descent back to the trail, but I wanted to see where the Monroe Trail would take me on its own before I started breaking snow on a new route. The trail was well packed, and plenty wide as David Goodman suggests in his book, so it’s really easy to cruise along with skins. I was happy to have full-width skins in a few spots where the trail gets steep, but one could certainly make due with less as long as the snow consistency supported good grip. There were a few ski tracks where skiers had come out of some of the glades, and tracks suggested that a few more folks seemed to have skied on and around the trail, but I didn’t see any skiers during my tour. I did see a lot of people on snowshoes: one group of 6 to 8 people, a few couples, and a couple of other groups.
The trail continued it’s mostly gradual, southwesterly ascent, and at around 1,800’ I noticed that the trees seemed to have more brush in them than I’d seen in the earlier part of the climb. At 2,300’ in elevation, I reached the junction of the Monroe and Dean Trails, and direction-wise, continuing on the Monroe Trail was the obvious choice for what I wanted to ski. The Monroe Trail had been starting to wrap around toward a more northwesterly direction, getting more in line with my efforts to eventually head to the northeast, while the Dean Trail headed southwest. Not far above the junction, the forest began to turn into a beautiful combination of birches and evergreens, and I could see some nice ski lines for folks that opted for the skiing in the trail area. Then, a little above the 2,500’ elevation mark, I hit the frost line and everything began to turn white, changing the look of things again. Ascending farther, the forest transformed back into more hardwoods again with some decent open ski lines paralleling the trail, and I could see that a few people had used them. Finally, as I approached the 2,800’ level, the trail was actually starting to almost make a north/northeasterly jog and far above I could see huge cliffs on the eastern face of Camel’s Hump directly ahead of me. The forest quickly transformed yet again into an area of almost exclusively evergreens.
It was after 3:00 P.M. by that point, and as I didn’t want to push the available daylight, I began to look for the best route to traverse northeastward for my descent. I followed the Monroe Trail for as far as it seemed to jive with my plan, and when it really seemed to head southward I had to begin my traverse. I traversed north/northeastward among the evergreens, and down below the cliffs the trees were often quite open. If the snow was elevation-dependent, or if one wanted to simply stick in this terrain, I could easily see this area being used for some great laps of skiing. Indeed, I saw various tracks of previous skiers scattered around, suggest that folks had had some fun. As I made my traverse through the evergreen forest, I came across various tracks of people that had either been descending or ascending, but I eventually picked up a skin track that seemed to be very much in line with my plan. I followed the track through the evergreens until it broke back out into a lot of birches, crossing what looked like an interesting trail marked with blue flagging tape. That blue-flagged route looked intriguing, but it ran literally perpendicular to where I wanted to go, so I had to pass it by and chock it up to future exploration. I checked several times with my GPS compass to ensure that the track I was following was legitimate, and not something left over by somebody that had simply been lost, but it stayed on course.
After another couple of minutes of traveling through some flat, very open terrain, I noticed that the skier/rider before me had started to make a couple of turns, so I decided it was time to take of my skins and focus on the descent. I was excited about the skiing prospects, even if only due to the snow depths and consistency I’d see on the ascent. I had little idea about what I might find for slope continuity or vegetation below. In terms of snow quality, there had been no sign of a crust aside from a couple of isolated spots that had a thin coating that must have been from the sun. And, throughout the trip I’d been checking on snow depths, finding anywhere from 14 to 26 inches of settled powder atop the base snow.
You don’t always know quite how snow is going to ski until you actually get on it, but as soon as I dropped that first knee into a turn all questions were answered. The powder was dense as expected, and I was only sinking in about 4 to 5 inches, but the density made the turns really smooth. I continued on with turns, checking my GPS every couple hundred vertical or so to ensure that I was on track to hit the glades near the start of the Monroe Trail. There were some steeper options off to my left (north) but with the tree spacing they would be best for deeper/lighter powder. I found the conditions perfect for the moderate and low angle slopes that I encountered. Ultimately, my descent was not as fall line as I was initially hoping for, and I really had to keep pulling left throughout the descent to stay on target, but I was pretty happy with it for a first shot. I occasionally saw a couple of other tracks in the area as our paths crisscrossed, so obviously some others (presumably at least that track I’d followed) had done something similar. As far as tree spacing went, it wasn’t a brush-fest, and there were a few more open areas, but nothing extraordinary relative to what I’ve seen around here for what appears to be nature taking its typical course. If one didn’t have to check on or correct their route, most competent tree skiers could enjoy a fairly continuous ride without having to constantly hit the brakes for brush. A couple more feet of base would help a little on the bush front, but not too much from what I could see, and it’s certainly not needed in terms of coverage. With the base snow plus all the settled powder, coverage was absolutely bomber on everything I found on my ascent. I was able to pop off small boulders etc. and never heard a thing from my skis. The most consistently open glades on my descent were the terrain I’d seen down near the Monroe Trail, and I actually still came up just shy of one of the shots I’d been aiming for. Looking at my GPS/Google Earth plot, I can see that a longer traverse up high would be needed for a more direct fall line descent, but that’s something to strive for in a future trip. It does remind me of a quote from David Goodman’s chapter on the Monroe Trail, where he says “The quest for the perfect glade run will keep you coming back to Camel’s Hump time and again…”
So, both the base and ski conditions in the Monroe Trail section of Camel’s Hump State Park were great as of yesterday at all elevations I skied off piste (1,500’ – 2,800’). We picked up 1.4 inches of snow from last night’s activity, so that area should have picked up something in the 1 to 3 inch range as well, and I can’t imagine that would be anything but a positive on top of the conditions I experienced.
For quite a while, the local weather gurus had been talking about the potential for local snow at the end of September/beginning of October. Yesterday, reports started coming in of white in the mountains, and from UVM I could see the tendrils of snowfall crashing out along the Green Mountain spine. It was looking like this morning would feature some real accumulations of snow, but yesterday evening the snowfall seemed to come to a halt. I started to reconsider my thoughts of taking a morning trip up to Mt. Mansfield, but sometime after dark I checked the local radar and it looked like snowfall was blooming again. I awoke this morning to see that there were still echoes on the radar, the temperature at the house was ~41 F, and our back deck was wet. I suspected there had been some additional snow on Mansfield, so I hopped in the car and decided that I’d at least go for a hike before work.
While I couldn’t see much white at all on my drive to the mountain, as I finally got close to Mt. Mansfield, I could see that there was a good covering of snow from about the middle elevations of Spruce Peak on up. I parked in the upper lot of the gondola (~1,600’) and there were a half dozen cars that looked like they could belong to other early morning folks checking out the snow. Snow was falling all around me, and while it wasn’t sticking at the base, I could see white on the ground not far above. At some point after 7:30 A.M., I strapped my skis on my pack and headed up Nosedive, hitting the snow line right around 1,800’. The depth of the snow didn’t increase too quickly, only up to maybe ½ to 1 inch in depth by the 2,000’ mark. I thought that the snow would probably be great for the junkboarders, but I wasn’t quite sure about those who were on regular skis. Not long after I had that thought though, I met three skiers coming down Nosedive, right around the intersection with National. They clearly seemed to be making due on regular skis and seemed to be enjoying it. During my ascent it snowed most of the time, and occasionally the snow came down with moderate to heavy intensity. Being starved for a bit of winter weather, I loved it.
Even by the top of Nosedive (~3,600’) the snow was only up to about 3 inches in depth, but I hiked on a bit farther to check out the Mt. Mansfield Stake. There was some vegetation in front of the stake (~3,700’) that hadn’t let the snow settle all the way to the ground, but the depth of the snow was clearly less than 6 inches. At least one vehicle had driven on the Toll Road, but I still popped on my old Telemark skis and did a little gliding in the untouched snow outside the tire tracks. That was quite pleasant, although due to the minimal snowfall, there was the occasional crunch of a piece of gravel. Not wanting to deal with the hassle of negotiating the steep terrain of Nosedive with somewhat minimal snow, I continued on the Toll Road and into the Ridge View area before deciding to take off my skis. I had even made a few Tele turns on the snowy grass, but by around the 3,000’ elevation, a combination of wanting to head back in the direction of the Gondola via steeper terrain, and not wanting to put any real damage into my skis saw me strapping them back on my pack. I’m not totally ready to commit the Hellgates to official rock ski status just yet.
Hiking up had been really enjoyable (I think it was the first time I’d hiked such a long distance in Tele boots without switching to skinning) but the vistas on the descent were spectacular. With the dramatic scenes of white surrounding me, and the brilliant colors in the valley, I stopped frequently to pull out the camera. My descent was somewhat meandering, taking me down through the Hayride and Lookout areas, before making it down to Crossover and down to the gondola lot. The snow level on Mansfield looked like it had crept up a few hundred feet since my ascent, so it was certainly warming up. Insofar as I can recall, I think today’s outing was the first time that things came together to allow me to ski on my birthday, so that made it even more of a treat that usual. To check out all the pictures from the day, head to the Stowe trip report from today.