I suspected that the most recent storm wasn’t going to be quite enough to get the backcountry into perfect shape, but the forecast called for chilly temperatures topping out in the 10-15 F range, so earning some powder turns in the new snow seemed like the way to go. Dylan joined me in my plan to head up and take a quick tour on some moderate terrain on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network.
“Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so.”
The idea for today’s tour was to head partway up the Bryant Trail, connect over to Gotham City, catch some turns in the Gun Sight area, and then finish off the run with some lower glades. Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so. There were some nice powder turns in that snow, but the base depths are very inconsistent. In some spots the base snow was sufficiently deep, but in others there was little to no base, and obstacles like rocks and logs definitely needed to be avoided. Dylan’s most memorable quote of the day came after he had an altercation with some sort of obstacle under the snow and took a tumble. He was on Erica’s fat skis, and we were really hoping it wasn’t a rock. D quickly reassured me… “It was a log”.
We’ve actually got our next significant weather system, Winter Storm Jacob, starting to affect the area this afternoon. I’m not sure exactly when the snow from the storm first started to appear, but around 4:00 P.M. we were in Gotham City finishing our ascent, and I realized it was snowing. It’s kind of fun when you’re touring in the forest like that with limited views and protection from the elements, and before you know it you’re getting covered with fresh snow. The density of snow from this next storm will probably be on the high side, so it should make a solid contribution to the base to cover some of the obstacles we’ve been encountering.
Temperatures have been warming up over the past several days, and snow has just about melted out in most of the lower valleys, but there’s still feet upon feet of snow in the mountains. After a fairly dreary Saturday, today was looking warm and pleasant, so the whole family headed off to Stowe in the afternoon for some spring turns.
The tailgating scene was in full force in the Mansfield Parking Lot, and the smell of burgers cooking on portable grills seemed to be everywhere. Today was definitely the day to be out there with the glorious spring weather, and as the last official day of lift-served skiing, I’m sure the Stowe faithful were all happy to be going out on a high note.
The four of us had our ski packs with us as we boarded the Fourrunner Quad, since one goal I’d had today was to check out the Rock Garden. With the ample snowfall and overall pattern of storm cycles the Northern Greens have seen this season, it just seemed to fill in even better than usual, so this was certainly a spring to pay the area a visit. As we’ve done before on other tours, the plan was to use the Fourrunner Quad for lift access, ski across through the Nosedive Glades, and then hike up Cliff Trail to get to the Gondola/Chin area. We’d initially been excited to see that the Gondola was running when we arrived, which would make for even easier access to the alpine terrain near The Chin, but we soon saw that they were just clearing off the cabins from the Easter sunrise service. As we took in the views of the Rock Garden from the Fourrunner Quad, I could see that it was no longer the large continuous snowfield that it had been just a few of weeks ago. There were still plenty of skiable lines, but I wasn’t sure if the effort was going to be worth it for E and the boys. So after an initial run all together, I split off to check it out on my own while they skied the Fourrunner terrain together.
My trip over toward the Gondola/Cliff House went smoothly, and I caught a good traverse through the Nosedive Glades over to Cliff Trail, even if the snow was a bit sticky in there at times. I’d initially planned to hike up the Cliff Trail Gully and take the Mansfield ridgeline across to the top of the Rock Garden, but as I approached the last pitch of Perry Merrill, I could see that the Rock Garden was right above me after just a short jaunt through some trees. It seemed silly to head up another route with such easy access.
The toughest part of ascending the Rock Garden was catching the occasional post hole in the snow. For the most part, the snow was consolidated, but every so often I’d hit that spot where my foot would punch through and I’d be up to my thigh. Thankfully, once I got into the open areas of the Rock Garden, I found a boot pack that someone had made, and that made things substantially easier. There was still the occasional post hole, but having pre-made, consolidated footholds really took care of most of it.
Gaining the Mansfield ridgeline at the top of the Rock Garden, I found three other skiers who were just getting ready for their descent. As they headed down, I recharged myself with a snack, and took in the views. Although it’s not as obvious as some of the others, the Rock Garden really is a lot like the various other southeastern-facing gullies on this part of Mt. Mansfield. Similar to those, it gets filled by the prevailing northwesterly winds, and it’s protected from the late day sun, so it preserves snow well. The west face of the gully isn’t quite as sheer as some of the others though, so it’s able to hold snow and take on that snowfield appearance that’s different that the narrower gullies.
“The lines were certainly more limited than they were a few weeks ago, but there were still a variety of choices through the buried and emerging trees… and of course rocks as well.”
For my descent through the Rock Garden, I started out in the main throat of the gully, and then cut right as the snowpack would allow, to take in some steeper turns along the headwall below the Mansfield ridgeline. The lines were certainly more limited than they were a few weeks ago, but there were still a variety of choices through the buried and emerging trees… and of course rocks as well. The snow was definitely corn, and I didn’t have to worry about any post-holing on my skis, but the surface was irregular due to the natural melting patterns up there. The best snow surfaces and smoothest turns of my descent were actually once I got down into the upper parts of Perry Merrill. The snow was evenly packed and there’s been little skier traffic of late. I was able to open it up and use the entire trail to arc some big wide turns as I often like to do in those wide sections of Perry Merrill when I have it to myself.
I’d kept in touch with E and the boys by updating them on my progress with a few text messages indicating my tour mileage and location. And, just as I was reaching Perry Merrill on my descent they let me know that they were at the car, so I gave them an update and told them that I’d be down soon.
The tailgating was rolling right along as I got back to the car, and I took in more of the sights while packing up my gear. That’s a wrap on the lift-served ski season at Stowe, but there’s still a ton of snow left, so now it’s time to move on to 100% human-powered ascents of Mt. Mansfield. There even appear to be some snow chances coming up over the next week or so, and we’ll be watching to see if Mother Nature decides to send along any more April powder for us.
It’s March, and the snowpack is deep here in Northern Vermont, so we planned to take a trip down the Bruce Trail today during our BJAMS ski session. E had recently been chatting with Brian and Joe in the program, and they were both interested in taking their kids on the Bruce, so we all joined together as a group for the run.
Knowing the round trip would take most of the afternoon, we started right off heading over to Mansfield and up the Fourrunner Quad. I brought everyone up for the requisite visit to Old Nosedive to enjoy the views and add a bit of bonus vertical to the run. Old Nosedive was packed with snow from our recent storm. It was dense powder similar to what we experienced yesterday at Bolton, but it skied quite nicely.
“The Bruce is in simply fantastic shape. That’s not surprising with over 10 feet of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, so even the Bruce’s steep, south-facing slopes that lose coverage first are covered with literally feet of snow.”
The Bruce is in simply fantastic shape. That’s not surprising with over 10 feet of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, so even the Bruce’s steep, south-facing slopes that lose coverage first are covered with literally feet of snow. The snow consistency varied from dense powder and skier-packed powder up high, to thick creamy snow in the middle elevation trees, to more spring-like snow in the lower elevations. The powder in the lower-elevation hardwoods was definitely getting a bit sticky with sun and warming temperatures, but it still skied quite well in all but the very sunniest spots. Even in the lowest elevations down near 1,000’ on the Nordic area terrain, the snowpack is substantial. Crossing over the bridges along the Nordic trails we found the snowpack to be at or above the level of the bridges’ railings – which are four to five feet tall! You can literally stand on the railings simply by moving to the edges of the snowpack.
The spring snow made the final part of the Bruce descent through the Nordic areas a bit slower than when the snow is more winter-like, but we all simply took our time and enjoyed the casual pace along the meanderings of the Ranch Brook on such a glorious late winter/early spring day. We had plenty of time for snacks while we waited for the Mountain Road Shuttle, so we made ourselves some seats in the snowbanks near the Notchbrook General Store and soaked in some rays as we waited for the bus and discussed our day’s adventure.
Today was another one of those days where I really hadn’t expected to ski. We had a great lift-served family ski day on Saturday, and then I went on a backcountry reconnaissance tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail and Woodward Mountain yesterday, so I’d already had a decent dose of weekend skiing. Today was going to be a bit chillier, and I was happy to simply catch up on some work at home, but Mother Nature seemed to have other plans. It snowed all morning at our house in Waterbury, with big, fluffy, champagne flakes, and we’d picked up 3 to 4 inches of new snow by noontime. If it was snowing like that down at our house, I could only imagine what might be going on 2,000’ higher up at the mountain, so I decided that I should do a quick ski tour and find out.
“I ripped off my skins and cruised through some of the back side glades in 10 to 12 inches of pristine powder.”
It was still snowing rather vigorously when I got up to the mountain, and it was hard to tell exactly how much new snow had fallen over the previous layers of powder, but it seemed to be at least as much as we’d picked up down at the house. The approach section of the tour along Broadway went smoothly, and I’d quickly wrapped around on the Telemark trail and reached the ridgeline in the Holden’s Hollow area. I ripped off my skins and cruised through some of the back side glades in 10 to 12 inches of pristine powder. That snow was very high quality, similar to what I’d found on the west side glades on Woodward Mountain during yesterday’s tour, and the run was over way too quickly.
I skinned back up to the ridge, and headed northward a bit more to gain some additional elevation for a front side descent. The front side Holden’s Hollow Glades had definitely seen some traffic, and I found that I was touching down to the subsurface in areas that been previously packed out by skier traffic. I ended up heading a bit to the skiers right of the glades there to catch the best snow.
This time, for my return trip to the car, I put my skins back on to cross the flats in the Pond Loop area, instead of just managing the traverse on skis alone. It’s hard to say if it made the trip back to the car faster overall with the time required to stop and reapply skins, but it was definitely nice to make the trek without ever sliding backwards.
When snow conditions are good, and the snowpack is like this from top to bottom, it’s a great time to consider some of those longer backcountry descents that really make use of all the vertical around here. The trip that came to mind today was the Woodward Mountain Trail. E was feeling a bit under the weather, but I figured I could take the boys on the tour, and E said she could still help out with the car shuttling. We didn’t have a full day to spend, so I wasn’t going to initiate the tour unless we could get it done fairly expeditiously. I’d scoped out the bottom of the trail and found the most efficient exit on a tour last March, but my touring in the Goose Pond area had only gotten me mildly familiar with the start of the trail up on the ridge line. I decided to check my copy of David Goodman’s classing backcountry guidebook “Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont and New York” to get a better feel for the ridgeline part of the trail. After the initial descent from the Vista Peak Fire Tower the guidebook mentions that the trail “climbs gently, but steadily up a ridge”. That was enough to convince me that I needed to do a bit more reconnaissance before bringing the boys, so I set my sights for today on an exploratory tour along the ridge line.
“The snow there was spectacular bottomless powder with no tracks.”
Arriving at Bolton Valley, my tour kicked off with a ride on the Vista Quad, which whisked me right up to the Vista Summit. I stopped in to check on the views from the Vista Peak Fire Tower, and then continued on the Woodward Mountain Trail. The first few minutes were on terrain that I’d been on before – the descent from Vista Peak down to the col that separates it from Woodward Mountain. As advertised, the trail rose gradually after that point. I opted to go without skins for a few minutes, but eventually decided that putting on my skins would be the way to go. I’d say that was the right choice, because there was at least another 10 minutes of climbing before the trail began to level off. I followed the trail out to the point where it began to descend through some of the route’s open glades, then turned around and headed back up to the Woodward Mountain summit area.
I still had a bit of time to explore, so I decided to check out some of the glades on the west side of Woodward Mountain as well. I followed a prominent spur trail the headed west off the Woodward Mountain Trail, and it eventually led down to some nice open glades dropping into the prominent valley that drains Goose Pond and is surrounded by Bone Mountain, Woodward Mountain, Vista Peak, and the Timberline Summit. The snow there was spectacular bottomless powder with no tracks. It was hard to pull myself away, but with the time I had available I had to skin back up to the Woodward Mountain Trail after only a partial descent of the glades. An excellent tour option would be to continue skiing on down the valley and hook back up with the resort by connecting to the Timberline Base the way we did on our Bone Mountain tour. That potential tour will have to wait for some time in the future though, so I’ll just have to add it to the ever growing list along with the Woodward Mountain Trail.
Today the family headed to Brandon Gap for some backcountry skiing. Dylan’s friend Ivan is visiting, and he joined us as well for his very first backcountry skiing experience. He doesn’t actually have any backcountry ski gear, but we were able to set him up with some Alpine Trekkers and a pair of Erica’s older skins that fit his skis almost perfectly. We also had the advantage of nicely warming temperatures today, so we waited until the afternoon, and arrived at the Bear Brook Bowl Access and Trailhead on Vermont Route 73 to cloudy skies and temperatures around 20 F.
There are multiple trail pods at Brandon Gap, but for this tour I chose to stick with the same No Name Backcountry Area that I’d visited last March. It’s an efficient touring area that heads right up from the parking lot with almost zero approach, and I didn’t expect we’d have too many curves thrown at us since I had a good idea of the lay of the land.
“The powder we found was beautifully light and dry, and generally 12 to 24 inches in depth, with the highest reading I obtained at 26 inches.”
The skin track was well established as usual, and in this case it was almost a bit too well packed because there was some occasional slipping on the steeper pitches. We quickly found that all you had to do was slide a bit to the left or right into the untracked snow and you’d find sufficient purchase. Ivan had to get used to using the Alpine Trekkers, but by the end of the ascent he was really getting it down. There had been about a dozen other vehicles in the parking area, but we only saw one other group out in the No Name pod.
For our descent we headed far to the skier’s left, father than I’d traversed on my previous visit, and we got to ski one of the leftmost glades that had perhaps three or four previous tracks. The terrain is generally in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ elevation range or so, and the snowpack is quite prodigious. It was too deep for me to easily estimate based on any pole measurements, but there really aren’t any deficiencies and everything you could possibly want to be covered certainly is. The powder we found was beautifully light and dry, and generally 12 to 24 inches in depth, with the highest reading I obtained at 26 inches. The composition of the subsurface was pretty inconsequential because you just weren’t having to get anywhere near it, but from what we could tell it didn’t seem overly crusty. Temperatures stayed very comfortable, and the skies were just cloudy until about midafternoon when it started to snow in association the new small system that’s coming into the area.
We stopped off in the Mad River Valley for some Mad Taco on the way home, and business appeared to be booming based on how packed it was. I’m sure resorts throughout the state were loaded with visitors today thanks to the great conditions and moderate temperatures.
While the snowy weather at Stowe today was just what we’d all expected, the makeup of my ski day turned out to be dramatically different. I was scheduled to work on the Magic Carpet with Harrison this afternoon, but he ended up being a bit under the weather and we were informed that he wouldn’t be coming to the BJAMS ski program. Ty was supposed to be working with another group, but two out of the four student there didn’t show, and one of the remaining students was the son of the chaperone, so they were all set without Ty. When all was said and done, and we’d waited for any late arrivals, Erica said that Ty and I should just head off and ski together.
Wind holds were rampant today, with the Fourrunner Quad, the Gondola, and the Sensation Quad down at a minimum. Winds actually weren’t bad at all down low, but the Sunny Spruce had quite a lift queue with so many other lifts on hold. After a warm up run on the Meadows Quad, Ty and I decided to wait in the Sunny Spruce queue once, then go adventuring and take an exorbitantly long run to avoid dealing with any lift lines.
“As we finished up and headed back toward our car in the Mansfield Parking Lot, snowfall was in the 1 to 2 inch per hour range and slowed traffic leaving the resort, but it sure was impressive and will no doubt be freshening the slopes even further.”
Since we had all afternoon, my plan was to explore the lines that dive off toward the notch from the top of Sunny Spruce. I’d seen the obvious lines many times before, but I’d never take my group down there without some reconnaissance first. With just Ty and I, today was the perfect day to get that done. The route starts off steeply, with some obvious trimmed lines through mixed evergreens and hardwoods. The pitch then moderates a bit, and you get into hardwoods where natural lines abound everywhere. The new powder was only about 6 inches deep, so Ty and I sought out some of the shallower lines, but there are countless steep lines in there that would support powder of any depth.
We generally kept to skier’s left, shallowing out our lines and knowing that we had to head that way eventually. There were several sets of tracks in there, so it was clearly a traveled area, but I was bit surprised as we approached the bottom and saw a river instead of Route 108. It turns out that we were on the near side of the valley away from the road, but we were easily able to cross the frozen river, then hook up with the boardwalks coming from near Barnes Camp, and get back to the resort. We headed to the Midway Lodge for a break and a snack, and with the wind holds the Lodge was nearly deserted.
We finished off the day with a few more runs on Spruce Peak, and any lift queues had essentially evaporated by that point. The snowfall continued to intensify though, and the skiing just kept improving every run. As we finished up and headed back toward our car in the Mansfield Parking Lot, snowfall was in the 1 to 2 inch per hour range and slowed traffic leaving the resort, but it sure was impressive and will no doubt be freshening the slopes even further.
I really hadn’t planned to ski today. During the midweek period we picked up some snow from Winter Storm Indra, but there was mixed precipitation with that system that would certainly require some resurfacing to softened up the slopes. Between the dense, backside snow from that storm cycle, as well as additional lake-effect snow from the past day or so, we’d picked up 2 to 3 inches of new accumulation at the house, but I really hadn’t thought the mountains would be quite ready for prime time. I was thinking the bit of snow we’re expected tomorrow would just about be enough, so I was happy to relax and spend the day inside getting some work done.
It was midafternoon by the time I’d figured out about all the snow, but just so Mother Nature could drive the point home about how much she’d been doing in the snow department, I arrived in the Village to find a steady light snow falling. A quick check on the powder depths at the 2,000’ Village elevations revealed 6 inches, and as I began my trip up the Bryant Trail I found that the trees all around me were loaded with snow. The recent snows had fallen with minimal wind, so evergreens and deciduous trees alike were just caked in fresh powder.
“The new snow depths continued to increase with elevation, and by the time I was getting up near the 3,000’ mark I was finding 8 to 9 inches of powder in many places.”
The new snow depths continued to increase with elevation, and by the time I was getting up near the 3,000’ mark I was finding 8 to 9 inches of powder in many places. I’d initially been thinking about a fairly low-angle tour like the one I’d done back on December 27th, but my plans quickly changed when I saw how deep the powder was getting. I continued on up past the Bryant Cabin to Heavenly Highway to extend my tour a bit more and incorporate some steeper terrain.
I put together a classic descent that brought me through Gotham City as well as a host of other glades, it definitely delivered some great powder turns. In terms of bottomless quality, there were certainly differences between those depths up around 3,000’ and the depths down around 2,000’ – there was a lot more flexibility with respect to slope angle up high, with moderate and even steeper angles easily in play. Another important factor that I discovered during my tour was that open areas and deciduous trees were the way to go for the deepest powder. The dense evergreen areas, which are often an excellent bet for snow protection when it comes to wind, offered much shallower powder today. Since the snow in the trees had been unloaded during the midweek storm, and the recent snows fell with minimal wind, the boughs had been reloaded with all the powder, keeping a lot of it off the ground. Open glades with substantial amounts of deciduous trees like Gun Sight were great examples of the effects of letting the new snow get down through the trees.
I did stop by the deli after the tour today, but we already had dinner planned so I decided to grab some of their maple lattes for the family. That’s definitely a fun offering that they have now, and the flavor is certainly very “Vermonty”. E described it as “homey” compared to some other maple lattes she’s had.
On the weather side of things, we’ve got a small system and associated cold front expected to come through the area tomorrow, and then a bit larger storm in the midweek period that should continue to improve the powder even further.
Today’s temperatures were a few degrees warmer than yesterday’s, but earning turns in the backcountry still seemed like good way to fight off the chill. E and the boys were up for some skiing today, so with yesterday’s trip to Holden’s Hollow serving as reconnaissance, I set up what I hoped would be a fun ski tour for them.
The temperature was right around 10 F in the Village when we arrived in the midafternoon, and with afternoon sun and no wind it was actually quite comfortable as we headed up the Bryant Trail to begin the tour. It wasn’t long before we came to the top of Cup Runneth Over, and everyone was surprised that I had them taking off their skins for our first descent. The descent there was excellent, with about a foot of powder over a soft base. I was very impressed to find that even the steep final section of the glade was in excellent shape. E was really enjoying the quality of the snow, but also the peace and quiet of the trees and all the unique formations that the fluffy snow had built upon the vegetation.
“I was worried that they would be a bit steep for E and the boys on their Telemark gear, but the powder was deep and soft enough that they had no problems with the turns.”
Once we finished our descent down to the pump house, we put out skins back on and began our ascent on Telemark. This was a slightly different route than what I’d taken yesterday, but Telemark looked like a nice option to ascend to the top of the Holden’s Hollow Glades and I was interested in exploring that route. It turns out that Telemark takes a nice mellow grade as it wraps around the ridge with Holden’s Hollow. On the trip around we discovered that there are also more glades on the back side of Holden’s Hollow. They looked quite inviting, but we didn’t quite have time to incorporate those into our tour this time.
“E said that overall she had a really great time because the quality of the snow was just so good.”
We stopped on the ridge at the top our ascent for some hot chocolate, then headed down through the Holden’s Hollow Glades. I was worried that they would be a bit steep for E and the boys on their Telemark gear, but the powder was deep and soft enough that they had no problems with the turns. In the lower sections of the glade, Dylan said he wished it was even steeper to accommodate the amount of powder that was there. E said that overall she had a really great time because the quality of the snow was just so good. We’re often out on the backcountry network when the powder is more marginal and not quite enough to hold up on the lift served terrain, but this time everyone was getting top notch midwinter powder and loving it.
With our recent winter storm dropping 2½ to 3 feet of snow at the local resorts, the ski conditions are simply fantastic. However, the storm also brought some cold air with it, and that’s now in place over the area. Temperatures were expected to top out in the single digits F today, which isn’t horribly cold, but cold enough that I’d rather be skinning for turns than riding lifts.
Temperatures were indeed in the mid to upper single digits F when I arrived at the Village around midafternoon, and not surprisingly with the fantastic snow conditions, there were a ton of Nordic skiers out on the Network. I headed right over toward the Holden’s Hollow area via Pond Loop, and found myself on the Telemark Trail briefly before I cut right to Holden’s Hollow. My ascent on Holden’s Hollow made me realize just how expansive that area is – there are a lot more sections of maintained glades around there than I knew, not to mention the amount of natural terrain that is skiable on its own.
“In the lowest areas around Village elevation I would typically find at least 12 to 15 inches of powder, but as I ascended in elevation I quickly found that depths of 20 inches or more were common.”
Being well on the leeward side of Oxbow Ridge and North Ridge, the snow in the Holden’s Hollow area is well protected from winds, and boy is the quantity and quality of the powder impressive. In the lowest areas around Village elevation I would typically find at least 12 to 15 inches of powder, but as I ascended in elevation I quickly found that depths of 20 inches or more were common. I’m sure the powder has settled some since it initially fell (my analyses at the house were revealing densities in the 3% H2O range near the end of the storm) but all the snow out there is incredibly light and dry, with a fantastic soft base underneath it. The turns were essentially as you’d expect with snow like that – simply outstanding. I guess the only complaint I can muster would be that a few skiers had already been through the area so I had to hunt around off the main lines a bit for fresh tracks. However, this is the kind of powder that’s so deep and plentiful, it’s still amazingly good even after it’s seen a few passes from other skiers. That’s indeed what’s out there right now in the backcountry, so get out and enjoy it if you’ve got the chance!