I wasn’t exactly sure where on Bolton’s backcountry network today’s ski tour was going to take me, but my plan was to start with an ascent up to the start of the C Bear Woods, and then go from there. I haven’t toured in that part of the Network yet this season, but the ridgeline there tops out around 2,400’, so starting in the lower Village, it would give me a good sampling of the snowpack in the 2,000’ to 2,400’ elevation range.
For my tour back on Monday on some of the lower sections of the Network I topped out around 1,800’ and generally found 6 to 12 inches of powder, and the tenor of the powder skiing was that something with a bit more pitch would be appropriate for the snow depth. With continued rounds of snow accumulation over the past couple of days (and an additional 2 to 3 inches reported in the past 24 hours at Bolton as of this morning’s update), I figured the powder might even be a notch up from where it had been at that point.
It was midmorning by the time I arrived at the Village, and temperatures were very comfortable in the lower 30s F. Being the big holiday week, the resort was really humming, and they were already parking folks in the lower Nordic Center parking lot. That worked out well for me though, since it’s right on the Broadway Trail that links in nicely with the heart of the Backcountry Network.
Around 2,000’ in the open areas of the Village, the depth of the surface snow was quite variable between the effects of the wind and sun, but in general I found 5 to 6 inches of powder over a consolidated base. There wasn’t any obvious rain crust, but there was a denser layer below the powder. That layer generally wasn’t present in the trees, so I assume it was from wind and sun. Up at 2,400’ I’d say powder depths were about the same as what I found in the 1,500’ to 1,800’ elevation range on Monday, so between additional accumulations and settling, I guess things roughly held pat at that level. The pitches near the top of the ridge there are up in the black diamond range, and I think the uppermost parts of the ridgeline were a bit windswept because the snowpack wasn’t sufficient for confident turns in that area. Noticing that, I headed southward to the right of the main C Bear Woods entrance into some other areas of glades to shallow out my overall run. Intermediate pitches offered nice turns, and the snowpack easily supported that type of skiing. The best turns of that descent were in the lower slopes among the moderate and lower angle pitches as I got back toward Brook Run.
I’d left the option open to extend my tour up toward some of the Bryant Trail terrain, but it was approaching midday and the powder was already started to get denser and a bit sticky as the temperatures pushed above freezing. As I headed to the main base area, it was turning into a fantastic day with breaks of sun and temperatures moving into the 30s F. That’s a pretty nice combination for the holiday visitors to have comfortable temperatures and some decent snowpack, and it will be interesting to see how this holiday week plays out overall for visitation at the local resorts. It’s been pretty sweet to have some daily refresher snowfalls recently to bolster the snowpack, and the snow reports I’ve seen from the resorts around here have indicated that it’s been allowing them to continue to open new terrain and expand the trail count. Visitors to the slopes should generally be treated to some comfortable temperatures for the remained of the holiday week, which I think many would take over the subzero spells that can often occur around the start of the new year. It looks like anyone going out on Sunday might have to dodge a bit of rain though based on the current forecast.
This may be one of the nicer holiday week’s we’ve had recently in terms of the quality of the skiing. Looking at my notes, I’ve had a half dozen backcountry ski tours in about the past ten days, and that’s pretty decent because sometimes the backcountry doesn’t even get rolling until January or February. On average, it should get going (at least on low and moderate angle terrain) in mid-December here in the Northern Greens, but the past three seasons haven’t hit 24 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake until January. Technically, the stake only hit the 24-inch mark for the first time this season on Tuesday, but it’s been hovering in the 20-inch range since mid-month when Winter Storm Diaz hit, and the snowpack came together in such a way that those 20-ish inches were sufficient to put a lot of the local backcountry terrain in play for quality turns.
I hadn’t been out to the mountain since Winter Storm Elliot finished up, and although it was a mixed system in terms of precipitation, I was encouraged by how it played out for the local snowpack. The storm brought roughly 8 inches of snow to our place down in the valley, and represented a net gain in both snowpack depth and snowpack liquid equivalent. Bolton Valley was reporting 12 inches of new snow from the system, so the mountains must have fared at least as well as the valleys.
With some rain during the middle part of the system, I was wondering about the condition of the snow surfaces, so today I decided on a relatively low angle tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network to get a feel for how the new snow had settled in. I started at the Catamount Trail access point on the Bolton Valley Access Road, which is down around 1,200’, and toured up to around the 1,800’ elevation a bit above Caribou Corner. Those are relatively low elevations overall, and 1,200’ is below even the Timberline Base, so it would certainly be a challenging stress test to speak to the quality and utility of the snowpack.
At 1,200’ at the parking area I found about 4 to 5 inches of powder above the base snow, and most notably, I couldn’t really find a rain crust. There was a clear demarcation between the consolidated base and the surface snow, at least around the parking area where the snowpack is a bit more exposed to snow maintenance and sunshine. The depth of the powder quickly increased as I ascended, and by about 1,500’ I was easily finding 6 to 12 inches of powder. It became hard to judge the depth of the surface snow though, because I typically couldn’t even find an interface between the new snow and the underlying snowpack; the wetter precipitation from the storm must have either drained well or transitioned smoothly to snow. I’d say total snowpack depth was probably around 10 to 12 inches at 1,200’ and 12 to 16 inches at 1,800’, but there’s plenty of substance to it, so it’s quite skiable up to moderate angles in maintained areas, and obviously it’s going to be notably deeper up above 2,000’.
In terms of the skiing, the powder was actually too deep for the lowest angle sections on the tour, and I’d have to use existing skin tracks or other skier tracks to maintain or pick up speed. The next tier of pitches skied great with the snow though. I typically like that tour up to Caribou Corner when there’s about 4 to 6 inches of powder over a consolidated base, so this really was a bit deeper than that, and I’d say folks should move on up to moderate angle terrain for the best backcountry turns, especially with additional snow falling over the next couple of days. There was light snow falling during my tour in the form of those big fluffy flakes, and I see that the resort reported an inch of new this morning.
The season snowfall seems roughly on track at our house observations site as of Christmas. Snowfall to date on the 25th was 40.1” vs. a mean of 40.4”, and snowpack depth at 10.5” was a few inches above average. The SDD for the season were a little behind average pace at 146.5 SDD vs. the 162.2 SDD average. I can see in the data that the SDD deficiency is largely due to that slow first half of December, because we were still ahead of average SDD as of the end of November, and then the pace started to fall off before picking up again in the second half of the month.
Today I went for another solo tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, and I decided to check out the Gotham City area since I hadn’t been there yet this season. Prior to this point we’ve been pretty spoiled with fresh snow every day since the start of Winter Storm Diaz, so you could detect just the subtlest bit of settling/aging to the powder and snowpack in general. That’s splitting hairs of course because the powder was still deep and bottomless, and you’d probably only notice if you’d been paying very close attention to the feel of the snowpack over the preceding days. There were also a few more tracks around since there hadn’t been that fresh dose of powder to cover them up.
It’s continued to snow over the past couple of days, and we’ve had another 3 to 4 inches of snow down here at the house that’s come in with an average density of around 4% H2O. The back end of Winter Storm Diaz had already topped off the snowpack with some dry upslope, so we expected that these additional rounds of snow should just represent more quality stuff that’s topping off the upper layers of powder that are already present. Ty and I headed out for a tour this afternoon that took us a bit above Bryant Cabin, and we skied a good variety of different glades that really solidified just how good the skiing was. The shallowest slopes are still a bit slow with the depth of the powder, but very nice if you want a gentler pace that lets you work in and out among tighter trees. As we’d already experienced back on Saturday at Wilderness though, the steep and moderate slopes are skiing great.
It’s amazing how one storm simply brought the backcountry conditions from very early season stuff that I hadn’t even contemplated skiing, to something that skis like a top notch midwinter snowpack. And it’s not as if this last storm cycle was a 3 to 4 foot monster. The snowpack we were skiing today is only in the range of about 20 inches, but apparently it’s just laid down so well that it does the job. I’m sure there are steep slopes out there with lots of big obstacles that are nowhere near ready, but the typical glades we skied on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network today were in great shape.
After discovering such impressive snow coverage when touring at Wilderness yesterday, today I actually headed out onto the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. Part of the afternoon was spent clearing out a tree that had come down in our yard during Winter Storm Diaz, and after that was done I had just enough time to hit the backcountry network for a quick exploratory tour. I wasn’t absolutely sure what to expect, but I was going to be touring entirely above 2,000’, and unless the conditions over at Wilderness were a fluke or something due to aspect, the adjoining backcountry was likely in similar shape. The backcountry snow report didn’t even have any notifications about poor coverage or closures, it just indicated that coverage was variable.
I was still planning to be conservative in my initial explorations, and my time was limited with dusk approaching, so I opted for a quick tour with a descent of the Telemark Practice Slope. On my ascent though, it was immediately obvious how good the coverage was in the surrounding glades, and with just a few tracks here and there in the relatively deep powder, it was too good to pass up. I ended up skiing some of the glades to the skier’s right of the Telemark Practice Slope, and they skied beautifully. I was initially not expecting such a sublime ride, since we’d really needed at least black diamond pitches yesterday to avoid getting bogged down, but there must have been a bit more settling of the snowpack, and the addition of the upslope fluff that’s been falling was really just icing on the cake that added a little cushioning with minimal resistance. The resulting snowpack came together to provide just the right speed for the glades, and it was obvious at that point that a lot more of the gentle and moderate terrain is going to be in play for some excellent powder turns.
We had comfortable temperatures in the 20s F, and found about 3 inches of new snow starting at the 1,200’ elevation. My initial plan was to head up to at least the Caribou Corner intersection, and then see how we felt at that point in terms of snow conditions and timing. Even at a casual, conversational pace, Ty and I were quickly at Caribou Corner, and I figured we could go on past to see what the snow looked like beyond the beaver ponds. Surface snow depths were generally in the 3-4” range, but we did find a few spots of up to 7” by the beaver ponds. We finally stopped our ascent around the Moose-ski trail on a local rise that set us up with an initial descent of relatively low angle pitches.
Even on low-angle terrain, we were still touching down to the base with any substantial edging, and only occasionally would be find just the right combination of snow depth and pitch where we could get in some bottomless turns. Those spots where you could make a gentle turn without much angulation were the ones that delivered.
A fun aspect of the day was interacting with the Husky that seems to live at that house/cabin that’s about 10 minutes up the hill along the Catamount Trail. It’s a really well-behaved dog that seems to interact nicely with most people who are out on that area of the network. On our ascent, we parted company with the Husky a few minutes after passing the house, when it joined a group of children who were sledding in a spot just below the Catamount Trail. On our descent, the Husky was right at the Bolton Lodge, and joined us for the rest of the descent back to the cabin, where we met the owner. What a great back yard that Husky has! With the Catamount Trail and Bolton’s Nordic and Backcountry Network right there, I bet there’s hardly even a shortage of people to play with.
With today’s high temperatures expected to be in the single digits F at elevation, touring seemed like the far better ski option, so I paid a visit to the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network. Overall ski conditions remain excellent thanks to the 1½ to 2 feet of snow that the local mountains just picked up from Winter Storm Landon, so despite the chilly temperatures, it’s time to get out there and make use of that great snow.
Today I toured over in the Holden’s Hollow area of the network, approaching from the back side of the ridge using the Telemark trail, and then sampling some descents on both the west and east sides. Today’s tour had me in the 2,000’ – 2,500’ elevation band, and I’d say total snowpack depths at those elevations are in the 2 to 3 foot range. In terms of surface snow, we’ve got enough different layers in the snowpack now, and they’re blending together enough, that it’s getting a bit tricky to actually decide what constitutes surface and subsurface snow/base. If you’re very delicate with your measuring, you can find a bit of a dense layer about 16 inches down. I think it’s safe to say that top section of the snowpack is the settled powder from Winter Storm Landon. The dense layer below that is presumably some denser precipitation, perhaps from the start of the storm when temperatures were coming down and there was a mix of rain and snow. Based on Powderfreak’s observations from Thursday, it doesn’t sound like there was too much rain at elevation, and since that layer is rather subtle, that would argue for that and/or a very good transition/blending with the drier snow above.
Past that denser band, you’re into another 6 to 8 inches of powder before you hit something more solid that can really serve as a potential base. That’s typically where I’d find that my poles could finally gain purchase, and it sounds like that’s similar over at Bretton Woods based on Alex’s comment yesterday here in the thread. Having backcountry baskets would probably help a little bit in that regard.
There are a couple of other dense bands down in the snow there that I could detect when probing carefully, but I’d say the solid base is down there in the 22 to 24-inch range for those low to mid elevations, and I’ve got an image of my pole hitting that approximate depth with this report. So if you’re first on an ascent and breaking in the skin track, plan on a good workout. Thankfully, most of the route for my tour had seen some previous traffic, and I only had to break one section with perhaps 100’ of vertical, but it was a good deal of extra work.
Right now in terms of the backcountry skiing around here, I’d argue that you really need black pitches or greater to have a reasonable descent without getting too bogged down or simply having to straight-line it too much. I was on 115 mm skis that I’d just waxed, and I still had to seek out those pitches if the snow was untracked. As long as you get the right pitch though, the powder skiing is excellent as one would imagine.
Today is Ty’s birthday, and the whole family was around with time to do something together. Ty’s broken collarbone has healed to the point where he doesn’t have to wear a sling, and light activities that don’t put stress on it are fine. On Sunday, Ty and E and I went for a snowshoe tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network, and after some discussion today, we decided that some ski touring on mellow terrain would be fine.
D is still trying to find some new Telemark boots that fit better, so he just hiked in with his snowboard – most of the approach is either road, or packed trails, so it didn’t turn out to be a problem. Ty did give D a ride on the backs of his skis at times, which was sort of neat. Ty said it was a lot of work, but D could help out the process a lot by using his poles.
I’d found total snowpack depths of ~18” at the 1,500’ elevation when I toured in the Timberline area on Tuesday, and even starting down at an elevation of 1,200’ today there were no major issues with the base. The powder out there in the backcountry is still in excellent shape – depth checks I did today in the 1,200’ – 1,700’ elevation range revealed powder depths of 12-13”. That’s actually a bit deep for some of the lower angle spots on today’s tour, but the descent was still nice. We also hit some of those slightly steeper shots around the Bolton Lodge, and those pitches offered up some great powder turns.
The weather was quite a contrast between yesterday and today – yesterday was relatively low visibility with constant snowfall, but today there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The basin area had definitely picked up more snow since I’d left yesterday, but it was most notable above the road elevation (~1,500’). Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today. If one considers how dry that snow was, and whatever settling occurred, that was obviously another impressive shot of snow overnight.
Based on my adventures yesterday, I had no plans to bring E and the boys way up toward the east face of Big Jay; the terrain is really too steep for efficient skinning, and there’s so much great ski terrain in Big Jay Basin itself, that there was little point anyway. As I mentioned in yesterday’s report, during the approach, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the main skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. It was interesting guiding the family around today though, as the situation with visible routes was quite different. There had been a lot more skier traffic, so there were skin tracks and descent tracks all over the place, and the obvious distinction of those skin track routes had been obliterated. There were so many ski tracks and descent tracks around that the most efficient one’s I’d taken yesterday got missed in a couple of places, but they were all generally leading to where we wanted to go.
“Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today”
The skiing, as expected, was excellent. We topped out at an elevation of roughly 2,700’ in the basin, and worked our way generally back toward the parking area following the typical routes. There was plenty of powder, although since the area had seen additional skier traffic, we didn’t quite have the run of the place like I did yesterday, and we had to move around a bit more for fresh lines. I brought up the idea of just skiing straight down the basin to Route 242 and making the short walk back to the car on the road, because I saw some people that seemed to have taken that approach on my outing yesterday. E and the boys wanted to hit some of that open terrain that’s available near the bottom of the approach though, so we headed that way. Heading straight down out of the basin will be something I’ll have to try on a future trip, but it could be a nice way to avoid having to traverse to the right as much during the ascent and get a more direct fall line run.
Since the trip is an hour or so from home, we used it as an opportunity to get Dylan some of his required driving hours, and that was a win-win. There was still some snow to navigate on the roads so that he could work on dealing with slushy areas, but it was probably good that he wasn’t dealing with the heavy snowfall and low visibility that I had frequently encountered yesterday.
My drive up toward the Jay Peak area gave me a chance to see what had happened with respect to accumulations from Winter Storm Viola thus far. The Froude Numbers have been forecast to be relatively low, meaning that the western slopes were more likely to pick up accumulations than areas east of the spine, and indeed my travels showed that there have definitely been some notable differences in snowfall around the area. The rounds of fluff we’ve been getting here along the spine at our house have covered up the old snow pretty well, and monitoring that aesthetic during my travels today turned out to be a decent way to see who’d recently gotten snow. Heading east from our place, accumulations definitely dropped off toward the Waterbury Village area, and indeed, all along through the east slope towns of Waterbury Center, Stowe, and Morrisville, there really hadn’t been much new snow that I could see. Either that, or what’s fallen had sublimated and disappeared quickly off the snow banks. I’m sure accumulations increase as one heads westward up the mountain road and Mt. Mansfield, but down in Stowe Village, I could see that they need a refresher. There was still light snow falling in all those east side towns, but once I left Morrisville and rose up into the Hyde Park area, the increase in snowfall intensity was obvious. That continued right on through Eden. The snowfall was squally, and quite heavy at times, and I was continually having to turn on my headlights and fogs when I’d get into those more intense areas of snowfall. That increased snowfall definitely showed itself with accumulations – up in that area, all the roadside snowbanks were covered up with a solid coating of new snow. I’d say the snow was in general a bit less through Belvidere and Montgomery Center, but once I headed toward the pass on Route 242… well, we know what happens up there. Even from just a quick glance at the side of the road, it was obvious that even down at the roadside elevations, a lot more snow had fallen than I’d seen anywhere else on my drive.
As we’d done on our last backcountry ski trip in the area, I parked at the lower access lot on the east side of the pass to start my tour. The elevation there is about 1,500’ and right from the start of the tour, I was finding 8-12” of new champagne atop the older snow. Above 2,000’ there was 12-16” of accumulation.
I was also checking snowpack depths along my tour, and I was already getting 40” snowpack readings at just 2,000’. On top of that, it snowed the whole time I was there – most of the time it was what I’d call moderate, probably in the 0.5”/hr range, but there were also stints where it bumped up to the 1”/hr range. The snowfall was typically large, upslope-style flakes, which can make it a little tough to gauge the snowfall rate because they just stack up so fast.
It’s firsthand experiences like this though that have me rolling my eyes every time somebody gets going with the smack talk about Jay Peak and their snow reporting. My actual experiences reveal again, and again, and again that they really get a ridiculous amount of snow in that area.
My ski tour had me on Big Jay itself, and in the Big Jay Basin area today, and that southeast side of Jay Peak really seemed to be the epicenter for this shot of continuing snowfall. I can’t say when all of it fell, and I believe I only saw 3” new on the snow report for the resort this morning when I checked. Reports I heard about said that the resort side of the peak didn’t pick up nearly what the east side did, so the Jay Peak cloud was dropping its bounty there. Whatever the setup has been in terms of wind direction and Froude, etc., that Big Jay Basin area today was definitely getting hit. Something similar was going on with Hyde Park and Eden as well, to a lesser degree of course.
Indeed, my numerous checks on the snowpack today revealed that the area definitely avoided any real crust from Winter Storm Uri, so obviously that’s going to help a lot with respect to the quality of the subsurface. The resort reported 6-8” from that storm, and although there wasn’t a crust, that snow was still dense. The skiing was indeed fantastic with as much as 16” of that champagne powder in that area, but compared to last weekend, one can definitely nitpick a bit on the quality of the powder skiing. This most recent snow is so ridiculously light that it’s easy to get down to the dense Winter Storm Uri snow if you’re on more than moderate/blue pitch. Then you get to that region of dense snow, and if you pressure hard enough, you’ll collapse that layer a bit because the powder below it is less dense. Essentially, the snowpack’s got an upside down issue with respect to those second and third layers down. We’re very much talking first-world powder problems here of course, but I figured it would be good to get the beta out there for anyone else thinking of heading out. Naturally, going as fat as you can will help with respect to staying up in the champagne layer, and heck, if it dumps more tonight, that surface layer of powder will be bolstered to make it even better.
Relative to Big Jay, I could definitely see the convenience of hitting Little Jay when coming from that lower parking lot on Route 242. Last time I was up there with the family in the general Big Jay Basin area, we actually did head more toward Little Jay, and we were in that drainage between Big Jay and Little Jay. I specifically went out today with the intention of just making turns in Big Jay Basin, but I left the option open to head up toward the main lines from Big Jay (in that general Jailbird Chute area) depending on what skin tracks were in place. There turned out to be a well-established skin track that headed right to that area, so my plan was to continue on it until it either disappeared, or I felt that ascending on skins was getting pointless.
On today’s tour, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. I was heading to the right toward Big Jay Basin, but the left option would have been a good choice for the Little Jay area.
“…right from the start of the tour, I was finding 8-12” of new champagne atop the older snow. Above 2,000’ there was 12-16” of accumulation.”
As I approached the 3,000’ elevation mark on Big Jay today, the ascent was starting to get pretty silly on skins because progress was just so slow. It was around that point when I found myself sidestepping up a steep, narrow area between some trees where the person setting the skin track had essentially done the same. It was basically just a ski’s width area, so you really couldn’t even make any sort of switchback. That was the point where I knew I wasn’t going to push too much longer on the ascent. The skin track still continued a bit farther, and I stuck with it a little while longer until the track really just became hard to follow in the packed snow of the main chute area. I followed a skin track (perhaps the same one, perhaps not) off to climber’s right briefly before that seemed to disappear, and then I decided I would stop my ascent as soon as I found a reasonable spot for deskinning. I side-stepped up about an extra 30 feet or so through fairly deep powder to a nice sheltered spot where I deskinned and had a snack.
I’d been there for just a few minutes when a group of five skiers, ascending on skins, appeared below me. They said hi, and thanked me for setting the skin track. I let them know that I was just following an old one made by others and was stopping where I was. It seemed like they were just going to stop there as well, but they started breaking their own trail above me and continued pushing on. I actually debated putting my skins back on and following now that someone else was breaking trail, but after watching them get maybe another 50 feet or so over the course of 5 to 10 minutes, I knew I’d made the right choice. As a group, I think they were having fun together with respect to the challenge of trying it on skins, and that’s probably the way to approach it.
I wanted to get back down into the lower basin because the powder skiing was far better down there anyway, simply because it’s just so steep up on that face of Big Jay. You’re not getting bottomless turns up there unless there’s 2 to 3 feet of powder. The 12-16” of champagne was really nice up there, but you want even more for that upper terrain. Overall it’s some fantastic steep skiing of course, but I was on fat Tele gear and planning for undisturbed powder on more blueish and blackish pitches, not semi-tracked super steeps.
So where I topped out was in the 3,000’ – 3,100’ elevation range, and I’d argue that it was already boot pack territory. Boot packing up there would also be quite slow though because you’re pushing up very steep terrain with lots of powder. It would be a serious slog through the snow once you were off your skis if someone hadn’t already broken trail, although you could stick to the more packed snow in some of the main chutes and that might offer some efficiency. I don’t know how far that group of five went, but if they were going all the way to the summit at ~3,800’, it must have been a lot of work. I’m sure one can make it up to the Big Jay summit by skinning that route, but it’s probably something to do if you’ve got a lot of time and want the challenge, it’s certainly not the efficient way to go. I do wonder if there’s an approach from the Little Jay side that perhaps gets it done in a practical way.
One definite theme out there today was a lot of visages of the sun through moderate to heavy snow with big flakes. It was pounding snow a lot on both my tour and my drive, so it made for some nice, snowy scenes.