Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 19FEB2012

An image of Jay skiing powder in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail past Bolton Valley Ski Resort's Nordic & Backcountry terrain
Enjoying some turns in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail

During yesterday’s outing at Bolton, we found decent powder above roughly the 2,000’ level, and ended up skiing several laps off Wilderness to take advantage of the good snow.  With that in mind, we decided to head out onto the backcountry network today to get in some additional powder skiing.  The plan was to begin by riding the Wilderness Lift for a quick elevation assist, then transit on Heavenly Highway to a glade along the Catamount Trail that I’d last skied on January 22nd, 2011I’ve brought Ty out on Heavenly Highway before, but this would be the first opportunity to get out there with the whole family at once, so that aspect was very exciting.  Dylan’s touring range has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of seasons, and it seemed like he was ready for a tour this size.  With a planned route that would encompass 4 to 5 miles, it would likely be the longest ski tour that either of the boys had done, but with a mile of distance and 1,000’ of vertical coming from the Wilderness Lift, it seemed manageable.  The boys each got two packs of GU energy gel, which were stashed in the side pockets of their ski pants to quickly mitigate any concerns about bonking out on the tour.  The boys both like the GU (at least the vanilla bean) a lot; we’ve found it helpful for mountain biking in the off season, and it worked quite well for Dylan on our ski tour at Pico in October.

Although not quite as warm as yesterday’s highs in the 30s F, the forecast was for temperatures in the upper 20s F and generally clear skies, so weather wasn’t expected to be an issue on the tour.  The Wilderness Lift wasn’t opening until 10:00 A.M., so we had plenty of preparation time in the morning.  I cooked up a typical ski day big breakfast to ensure the boys would be maxed out on energy, and we loaded up all the gear.  Arriving up in the Village in the mid morning period, we found that the resort was hopping with holiday visitors.  I dropped E and the boys off at the ski patrol building at the base of Wilderness, and parked in the tennis court lot down along the Broadway trail.  The village lots were filling up fast, but they hadn’t overflowed into the tennis court lot yet; it was just me and a couple other cars parking for Nordic/backcountry activities.

I got my gear on and headed up to find E getting the skis ready and helping out the boys with theirs.  The boys’ Telemark skis are still in the three pin format, so getting them on can be a little tricky.  That process combined with having to negotiate a lift ride with a backcountry pack plus a child, makes it E’s least favorite part of one of these types of outings, but everyone got loaded, had a good ride, and disembarked at the Wilderness Summit without incident.  Once off the lift, E was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the tour.

We skied over to the Heavenly Highway entrance, and strapped on everyone’s skins for the undulating trip across to the Catamount Trail.  As we started along, E commented that it seemed like we could do this part without skins if we wanted, but having done parts of that myself before, I assured her that it was much more fun having the skins on.  There are enough dips and rolls that you appreciate not having to herring bone up every rise.  Dylan took point on our travels across Heavenly Highway, and actually kept a decent pace.  It wasn’t long before he decided that he wanted to remove his helmet to cool down a bit.

An image of Ty reaching up and putting his pole through a thick stack of powder atop a log on Heavenly Highway at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking out some of the thick snow formations created by the powder along Heavenly Highway

We found tremendous snow formations in the usual sheltered spots along the Heavenly Highway – some stacks of snow on the trees were two to three feet high, revealing just how much snow had built up from recent storms.  Ty probed one stack by punching his pole way up through it, and then Ty and Dylan had fun with another thick stack by knocking it off the tree to which it was attached.  Even though it’s been a low snow year, elevations up around 3,000’ have still taken on a lot of snow this season, and E was very impressed with how the snowy corridors through the trees made one feel like they were entering some sort of magical world.  It was the first time E had been up there, but I’m sure similar experiences by those in the past played a part in how the Heavenly Highway got its name.  We’d negotiated a few moderate drops in all the ups and downs of Heavenly Highway, and Ty was very proud that he’d been able to make some Telemark turns on those pitches – it’s certainly tough with the narrow confines and skins on the skis.

At the junction with Devil’s Drop we had to make a decision, whether to finish off our trip to the Catamount Trail on Heavenly Highway, or take on the quicker, but more challenging descent of Devil’s Drop trail.  I gave everyone an idea of what the two routes were like, and we all joked about the nearly polar opposite names of our two choices.  I pointed out that Heavenly Highway would finish off with terrain much like we’d seen up to that point, while Devil’s Drop was, true to its Machiavellian name, a fairly precipitous and tricky drop to negotiate on skis.  I figured that everyone would be able to handle it though, and the momentum quickly seemed to shift that way.  Before we knew it, Dylan was on his way down toward Devil’s Drop with the rest of the family in tow.  We didn’t take off our skins, which actually made the descent kind of fun as the extra friction combined to make it both difficult, sort of like day with sticky snow on the slopes, and easier, almost like having your car holding you back in low gear on a descent.  There were a couple of icy patches, and indeed the necessity of fitting skins so that one’s edges are left exposed was never demonstrated so well.  I’d say that some pitches on Devil’s Drop are easily in the range of 30 degrees or so, but fortunately the trail has switchbacks to avoid having to ski it at that pitch.  Ty did some impressive switchback short-cutting though, working his way through a steep slot that was much more challenging than I would want to take.  There are actually some nice options for skiing Devil’s Drop and getting some great powder turns, but with the time for transitioning the boys out of their skins and them back into them for the return to the ascent didn’t quite seem worth it.  Perhaps on a future trip we’ll add that feature into the tour.  At the bottom of Devil’s Drop, after what had seemed like a surprisingly challenging descent to me, I realized that I’d left my Telemark bindings in free pivot touring mode.  There’s much less stability in that mode than with the toes locked down – it explained why the drop felt extra challenging today, but I wished I’d realized it before the bottom!

Below Devil’s Drop we took a short snack break at the junction with the Catamount Trail, and I told the boys not to eat too much because we weren’t too far from our final destination where we planned to have lunch.  With our snack complete, Dylan continued on point, and led us on the Catamount Trail through the wide, flat col between the height of land containing the Devils’ Drop area to the east and the 3,300’ spur of Bolton Mountain to the west.  We cruised along through the flats thanks to Dylan’s abiding pace, entering back into the thicker trees in about 5 to 10 minutes and quickly coming to the north intersection with the Cotton Brook Trail.  There were lots of people out in that junction area today, and everyone seemed excited to see Ty and Dylan out there.  They got lots of encouragement from folks for undertaking such a substantial backcountry tour.

An image of Erica and Ty skinning up the Catamount Trail along the edge of a glade
E and Ty approach the top of our ascent along the Catamount Trail.

We came to the final leg of our ascent, and I was able to show E and the boys the glade that I was thinking of skiing with them.  Dylan continued in the lead, pushing up through the switchbacks along the glade.  I could tell that he was getting a little impatient and/or tired, but we let him know we were just minutes away from our stopping point, and he pushed on.  Ty was actually more impatient than Dylan at that point, and he clearly needed to be done with the ascent.  At the top of the glade we found a beautiful powdery spot overlooking the ski terrain and the Catamount Trail, and set everything down to have lunch.

An image of Jay having soup during lunch along the Catamount Trail
Dad finally gets that chance to sit down and enjoy lunch along the trail.

We’d packed a thermos full of tomato soup, and another full of hot chocolate, and I was really anxious to get some food and an energy recharge.  Before I could relax though, I wanted to finish putting away all the skins and preparing all the gear for the descent.  Ty and Dylan had clearly been more anxious for the end of the ascent than they were tired, because they were running around like animals having a big snowball fight, and E actually had to work on calming them down so that they weren’t too disruptive to other folks traveling on the trail.  The boys played on, but finally I’d taken care of the gear; I fashioned myself a nice soft seat in the powder, and kicked back with some hot soup.  I’d been waiting for that for quite a while.  To sweeten the scene, just as we’d arrived, it had begun to snow.  We had expected mostly clear skies earlier, but clouds moved in quickly, and before we knew it, big fat flakes were swirling all around us.  One never knows what Mother Nature will throw at them up at 3,000’ in the Northern Greens, but the beauty of the falling snow was certainly appreciated.  Sitting up there overlooking the glade with the fresh snow falling was quite a treat, and one of the folks passing by on the trail commented on what a great lunch spot it seemed to be.

An image of snow falling among the mountains and trees as viewed from the Catamount Trail beyond Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the snowy scene during lunch along the trail as big flakes of snow fall all around us

After a few rounds of soup, we were finally able to pull ourselves away from the superlative location for a descent of the glade.  We found several inches of powder atop the base, but I was surprised that the snow wasn’t quite up to the standards that I thought it was going to be.  There appeared to have been just enough traffic and or sun exposure that there was a bit of a crusty layer below the powder.  That made the skiing challenging in those spots, but I was able to sneak in some nice turns in areas of untracked snow.  Clearly I’m going to have to bring E and the boys back for another trip to experience the primo conditions that are often found there.

An image of Jay skiing powder in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail past Bolton Valley Ski Resort's Nordic & Backcountry terrain
Enjoying some turns in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail

Once back on the Catamount Trail, Dylan took the lead again, and I told him that he could cruise as fast as he wanted down the trail.  We came rocketing through the flats in the col, and Dylan continued to move along at a marvelous pace.  While it’s generally a gentle downhill glide, there are a few short rises and I couldn’t believe how fast we covered the ground.  The snow must have been a lot slower the last time I’d been out in that area, but before we knew it we were back at the intersection with Devil’s Drop where we’d had our first snack.  We cruised further down the trail, and as soon as Ty and Dylan saw the Bryant Cabin, they headed right toward it like a shot.  E and I hadn’t really planned to stop in there unless we needed to, but it was quickly obvious there was no way we were getting past it without a stop.  Getting a chance to play around in the cabin is clearly one of the favorite parts of these trips for Ty and Dylan.

An image of icicles outside one of the windows of the Bryant Cabin on the Nordic & backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A window scene from up at the Bryant Cabin today

We pulled into the cabin, which was unoccupied and had no fire going in the woodstove, but with the fairly moderate outside temperature it was comfortable enough that the boys shed some layers.  We got into the hot chocolate and snacks for a while, and the boys played around in the upstairs area that they like so much.  We saw a couple of groups ascend the Bryant Trail and reach the cabin, but they congregated outside.  Eventually the hot chocolate was spent, and we geared up for the final descent leg of the trip to the car.

We headed out on Gardiner’s Lane and onto North Slope, and my intent was to take E and the boys down through the North Slope and Gardiner’s Lane glade combination that I’d visited a lot last season.  There hasn’t been a lot of traffic at the glade entrance though, so we sailed right past it and continued on North Slope.  We ran into Kurt Ries, who was part of a large group collecting at the top of one of the drops on North Slope.  Clearly they had a similar idea to us on this fine winter day.  Having missed the glade I’d initially planned to visit, we cut off North Slope and simply explored the woods below.  The snow was quite good, with 6+ inches of powder in many spots, and while we found a few good shots, there was nothing too outrageous in terms of providing an extensive amount of turns in open terrain.  We connected onto Gardiner’s Lane, and recounted the last time we’d skied it where Dylan had had some binding issues and I’d needed to carry him.  He talked about how much fun that had been, but I liked it better with him skiing.  We finished off with a run through the Telemark Practice Slope and the associated glades, and cruised down Broadway to the car.

A Google Earth image containing the GPS track from our ski tour on Bolton Valley's Nordic & Backcountry terrain - 19FEB2012
Today's 4.35-mile backcountry tour plotted on Google Earth, with the ascent tracks marked in red, descent tracks marked in green, and the Wilderness Lift assist marked in yellow

Checking the GPS at the car, it reported a tour length of 4.35 miles, with an overall elevation difference of 1,112’.  It was certainly the boys’ biggest tour to date, and they continued to have energy at the end because they were quickly playing on top of the snowbanks in the parking lot while E and I packed up the gear.  E said that she had a great time with her first trip on Heavenly Highway and the Catamount Trail beyond Bryant Cabin, and we saw plenty of opportunities for more exploration.  Hopefully next time we can get even softer conditions and nail the route through those lower glades.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21JAN2012

An image of Ty skiing a glade below the Heavenly Highway trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty glides through some Champlain Powder today in a glade below Heavenly Highway.

There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly.  And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further.  This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™.  With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns.  It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.

“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
water-content Champlain
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”

Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south.  The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning.  The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes.  My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers.  While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff.  Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled.  We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air.  Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are.   One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.

An image of Ty sledding in extremely dry, 2% water content powder at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
Champlain Powder comprised of just 2% water explodes around Ty this morning as he takes a run on one of the sledding hills at the house.

It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M.  We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent.  The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow.  Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots.  As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.

An image of an evergreen branch coated with super-dry, 2% water-content "Champlain Powder" along the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Branches along the Bryant trail coated with some of that 2% H2O “see-through” Champlain Powder

Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside.  They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there.  Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin.  I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse.  While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.

An image of the Bryant Cabin with smoke coming from the chimney on the Nordic/backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Smoke from the chimney foretold a warm welcome at the Bryant Cabin today

After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent.  We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane.  While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior.  The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed).  Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight.  The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.

 

An image of Ty skiing a glade near the World Cup trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing off the day in the backcountry glades with the golden light of the afternoon sun.

That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times.  Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch.  We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area.  We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side.  The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there.  We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup.  The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun.  It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.

Mount Washington, NH 04JUN2011

Image of Jay skiing on the East Snowfield
Jay gets in some June turns on Mt. Washington’s East Snowfield

The Mt. Washington Auto Road opened to the summit a few weeks back, but yesterday was our first shot at some clear, dry, weekend weather in the Presidential Range; the forecast had suggested that Saturday would be an excellent day for some skiing in the alpine areas of Mt. Washington, and we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.  After a bit of June snow for the mountains over the previous couple of days, the clouds were finally departing on Friday and it looked like there would be a nice window in the weather.

 

Since I’d read an East Snowfield trip report on the Time for Tuckerman Forum last weekend, I had a decent idea of how much snow was left in that area, but I still wanted to see where it was now that an additional week had passed.  On Friday I checked on the Ravines Webcam from Mt. Washington, and as the clouds cleared out in the afternoon I was finally able to see where the snow was located.  The bulk of the remaining snow could be seen in Tuckerman Ravine, but there were still areas with coverage up in the snowfields.  While the broad snowfield that we’d skied at the end of last season was essentially gone, vestiges of the main East Snowfield were visible.  The layout and extent of the snow around the Mt. Washington summit was quite different from what it often is at this time of year, because although it had been a fairly cool spring, snowfall on the mountain was roughly 70 inches below average.

04JUN11E.jpg – Ravines Image

On Saturday morning we finished up our preparation and headed on our way to New Hampshire.  As we traveled on Route 2 east of Montpelier, we could see all the washouts that had come down with the heavy rains a couple of weeks earlier; some places had picked up 4 to 6 inches of rain practically overnight.  Fortunately it was the weekend, so most of the construction vehicles were parked and travel was unimpeded, but the construction sites were everywhere.  As we approached the Danville area, Ty suddenly noticed a spider below his feet where we had placed our firewood.  That left him somewhat freaked out and reluctant to put his feet anywhere in the area, so once we had the chance we stopped at a viewpoint to see if we could clear it away.  I had to pull all the logs out of the back, but we eventually found the spider and took care of it.  Ty was much happier after that.  We also saw a huge group of cyclists that were passing through the area and had stopped at the viewpoint; they seemed to be on quite a ride taking advantage of the nice weather.  In general the Route 2 traffic wasn’t bad, but at one point we did get behind a huge RV with the name “NEWMAR” on the back mud flap, and that slowed us down for a bit until we lost it somewhere around Jefferson, NH.  We joked about getting behind “NEWMARs” for the rest of the trip.  As we closed in on Mt. Washington, we began to see the recent addition of white up near the summit, and knew that we’d soon get to see just what it was.

The weather stayed clear and sunny, and the drive up the auto road was lots of fun; visibility was 100 miles according to the sign at the base.  Once we got up to around 5,500’, we could identify the new coating of white in the highest elevations – it was rime ice, and in some places it was over a foot thick.  We parked along the road at around 6,000’ up above the East Snowfield, and while we prepared the gear, the boys explored the area and investigated the rime that peppered the surrounding rocks.  The boys really enjoyed breaking off chunks of the ice, and that kept them occupied for quite a while.  They also said that they really liked watching the train (The Cog Railway) and they saw at least a couple different colors of train cars during the course of the afternoon.

04JUN11A.jpg – Rime on sign

04JUN11F.jpg – Rime on sign with boys

04JUN11G.jpg – Rime below observatory

We began our descent to the snowfield by hiking on the Nelson Crag Trail, and then gradually peeled off to the right of the trail to head down to where the snowfield would be located.  That descent was certainly the low point of the trip, because walking among the steep boulders in our Telemark boots with heavy packs was difficult for E and I, and we had to search around a bit to find the exact location of the remaining part of the snowfield.  The frustration was compounded by the fact that because it was such a nice day with little wind, some black flies were out and about pestering anyone if they stopped moving.  Even though Ty and Dylan were wearing their hiking boots, Dylan still had a bit of difficulty on the steep descent, and his spills added to E’s consternation.  At one point we thought he’d fallen and hit his head, but it turned that it wasn’t too serious.  Still, E was rapidly becoming apoplectic about the whole situation and I still hadn’t quite found the snowfield.

04JUN11B.jpg – Rime at Nelson Crag Trail

04JUN11R.jpg – Hiking down toward snowfield

Fortunately, we eventually found the snow we’d been seeking, and everyone was able to rest, have a snack, and enjoy the scene.  A nice breeze picked up, and any bugs disappeared to produce a perfect alpine environment.  The boys created a slide in the snow, and spent most of their time glissading on what they called “The Slide of Doom”.  I believe the name was derived from the fact that the slide ended in rocks, and one had to ensure that they slowed down before they hit them.  Ty and Dylan did numerous runs on the slide, and eventually added things like in-line high fives and snowballs into the mix.

04JUN11S.jpg – boys looking off rock

04JUN11H.jpg – Dylan sliding

04JUN11C.jpg – Ty sliding

E and I were the ones that quickly got down to doing some skiing, and although the descent was only about 100 vertical feet or so, the corn snow was great aside from a couple of icy spots.  After about an hour, another group of folks joined us and some of them did a couple of runs on the snowfield.  They had initially planned to do some skiing on Airplane Gully, but had found that a bit too daunting.  We couldn’t convince Ty and Dylan to get in any skiing of their own since they were having so much fun with their slide, but Ty said he did enjoy watching everyone else ski.  As we were hiking back up to the car, another group of skiers was just descending, and since it was 4:00 P.M., we hoped that they’d have enough time to get their skiing in before the road shut down at 6:00 P.M.  Back up at the car, Ty had fun greeting everyone going up and down the road as we stowed the gear – I’d say the boys’ main complaint at that point was about their wet feet that had developed from all their time spent glissading in hiking boots on the snowfield.  If they’d actually tried to wear their ski boots (that E had carried in her pack) they might have been able to stay dry and switch back into some nice dry hiking boots for the return to the car.

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Since E wanted to get back home and finish up some work on Sunday without too much delay, after skiing we chose to head west and find a campsite that was on the route back to Vermont.  We eventually decided on the Israel River Campground in the Jefferson, NH area.  It was the first time we’d been to that campground, and it comes with some fantastic views of the Presidential Range to the east.  Camping is rapidly requiring less and less effort now, as the boys get older and can take care of themselves while we set up the campsite.  Ty and Dylan are becoming more helpful all the time when it comes to camping; they helped with tent setup, starting the fire, and even splitting some firewood into kindling.  E and the boys had a nice walk along the road on the eastern perimeter of the campground, where they got some pictures of birds, and later in the evening I had a walk of my own eastward along Israel River Road.  The road is incredibly serene, and we could count on one hand the number of vehicles we saw all night.  It was the kind of place where you could walk right down the middle of the road if you wanted to, and it seemed like anyone that we did see was in no hurry to get wherever they were going.  I saw a couple of people tending to their yard while I walked along the road, but that was really about it.  It’s actually quite an interesting out of the way area.  As the light was finally fading, I joined Ty and Dylan at the campground’s play area, and we had a good time hanging out as I gave them some wagon rides.

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The Israel River Campground even has a nice Wifi setup, so I was able to pick up the Bruins playoff game to listen to it online, and also use the web to send in a weather update to AmericanWx.com.  Ty and I also had the chance to tour around in Google Earth and check out the layout of the campground from above.  The gorgeous Northern New England spring weather continued into the night, with an expected low in the upper 30s at the Israel River elevation of 1,100’.  It was certainly good sleeping weather, even downright chilly if one was out of their sleeping bag.

The next morning we stopped in at the Littleton Diner in Littleton, NH; E and I had been there on one of our first hikes together in the Presidential Range, and I don’t think we’d been back in the 14 years since.  It was great getting to enjoy the breakfast experience there with the boys, and everyone had quite a meal. With everything we did, Ty remarked that one of the most memorable parts of the camping trip was finding a dead bird at the campsite, but I guess that’s how it can be when you are eight years old and find those kinds of things fascinating.

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Image of lupines at sunset with the Presidential Range in the background
Israel River lupines at sunset with the Presidential Range in the background

The full report is also available with inline images on our website until this version is complete.

Monroe’s Sugarin’, Barton, VT 19MAR2011

Steam rising from the sugarhouse
Steam rising from the Monroe's Sugarin' sugarhouse as boiling commenced

The visit to Steve’s sugarhouse was great today, with the usual assortment of food, snowmachines, skiing, sledding, sugar on snow, and many of the other things that go with spring in Vermont.  Temperatures were actually just below freezing, but with the sunshine and no wind, it was comfortable outside.   

Skiing in Barton Vermont
We found some nice turns in snow that had warmed from the sun.

Additional pictures and more details about the day are available in my full report.The snowpack was plentiful, and we even got to do some skiing during the afternoon.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21FEB2011

Image of Ty skinning on the Bryant Trail
Ty skins up the Bryant Trail and checks out the powder

Temperatures warmed up above freezing at all elevations in Northern Vermont at the end of last week, so we waited for the powder to build up over the long weekend before finally heading out this afternoon for turns.  We had three small systems that dropped snow over the holiday weekend; down at the house we picked up 3.7 inches of snow in the form of 0.21 inches of liquid, and Bolton was reporting 5 inches of snow in the higher elevations.  The new powder at the house had settled down to about 2 to 3 inches over the old base, so we knew there would be at least that much up on the mountain.  Temperatures wound up being colder than we thought, but the powder was nice – we found 3 to 4 inches of settled powder in the lower village portion of the network at around 2,000’, and up at the Bryant Cabin elevation (~2,700’) the depths of new snow were 4 to 5 inches.  It turned out to be plenty of fluff for the low and moderate angle pitches, so many nice powder turns were had, and it was also the first time that the boys had skinned all the way up to the cabin.  Dylan had some binding issues near the bottom of the run, so I had to help him through and he got quite a ride.  Read about the entire adventure in the full backcountry trip report from today.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network, Vermont 22JAN2011

An image of a track from powder skiing in the Bolton Valley backcountry
There was some fantastic powder out there in the Bolton Valley backcounty today.

After a great powdery outing with Dave up on Bolton’s Nordic/backcountry network on MLK Monday, our next snow event began the following day.  It was one of those low pressure systems in the Great Lakes that redevelops as a coastal, and as has been the trend this season, Northern New England was outside of the areas of heaviest precipitation.  However, we did manage to get some snow out of the event.  While there was no snow falling in Waterbury at the house when I left in the morning on Tuesday, a couple of hours later it had started up in Burlington.  When I got home that evening I found 4.2 inches of new snow on the snowboard, and it turned out to be some reasonably dense, base-building material.

In the valley we wound up with 6.5 inches of snow comprised of 0.63 inches of liquid with that event, and then a similar system came in for yesterday.  We were even farther out of that one though, and would up with just 1.6 inches of total snow at the house.  As expected, the mountains did somewhat better, and Bolton had picked up over a foot of snow for the week.

The big weather event for this weekend isn’t snow however, it’s the cold.  Highs are expected to be around 10 F today, and then perhaps not even get above zero tomorrow.  E and the boys decided not to ski based on the cold forecast, but today’s temperatures seemed like they would be pretty nice for a backcountry tour.  I waited until about midday for the temperatures to warm, and warm they had!  Driving toward Bolton, the temperature was almost 20 F in the valley, and it seemed quite a bit warmer than initially thought.  Even up in the village above 2,000’, the temperature was already 10 F and rising.

Kicking off my tour, I headed up Bryant as usual, and was treated to blue skies and lots of white trees.  I could feel that the temperature was cooling down as I gained elevation, but I still had my hat off at times to keep cool.  Once I reached the Bryant Cabin I assessed some tour options.  Ty was having some friends over for a birthday party starting at 4:00 P.M., and I still had to do some grocery shopping on my trip home, but it looked like I had time for a longer tour that just a Bryant lap.  I decided to head out north for a bit along the Bolton-Trapp/Catamount Trail and catch some turns off there.

The trip through the flats to the North of the cabin was fairly quiet, with more white trees and lots of deep snow visible on the steep slopes to the east.  I saw one other skier in the flats on what looked like lighter touring gear, and then I saw another pair of skiers at the top of the drop in for the Cotton Brook trail.  I kept going and assessed some glade options on the high side of the trail.  There were a few tracks, but plenty of lines that hadn’t been visited, and the powder looked fantastic both above and below.  To read about the descent and see all the pictures from the day, head to the full report from the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network today.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 17JAN2011

An image of Dave in very deep powder in the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network, Vermont
Dave grabbing some of that beautiful Champlain Powder in the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network today

Dave stayed over through today, and the plan was to get in another day of skiing.  With the amazing powder conditions I’d encountered on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, combined with additional snowfall, it was a no brainer to try and make some turns on the holiday.  We had contemplated lift-served skiing at Bolton or Stowe, but with the forecast high of roughly 10 F in the valley, E and the boys decided to take the day off from skiing, and Dave and I ultimately decided that it was a day to avoid sitting on lifts.  The plan was set for another round of skiing on Bolton Valley’s Nordic/backcountry network.

I’d brought Dave for his first tour in the Bryant region of the trail network back on January 1st, and since the warm weather had turned the powder to mush at that point, the touring was actually the focus, and the ski descent was more peripheral.  The skiing at that point, while still fun, was really more useful as an efficient way to get around.  On that earlier outing though, I specifically told Dave to envision what the area would be like if it was filled with powder, because that’s that way it is most of the time.  With the efficient setup of trails, skin tracks, and glades, along with the incredibly convenient access from the village, it’s quite an amazing resource.  This time around, Dave was going to have the chance to see the area in top form.

Up at the village, we stopped in at the Nordic/Sports Center so Dave could grab a Nordic ticket.  Having a season’s pass, I only stop in the sports center occasionally, and hadn’t noticed what a nice place it is in terms of a day lodge.  There’s a snack bar, and lots of space to change.  I saw a mother and daughter changing in there, and they had the entire place to themselves.  Dave and I had already planned to gear up at the car, but it made me think about using the area in the future, especially with the boys.  E has been planning to bring the boys up there for swimming etc., but in a total coincidence in terms of my visit, Johannes was also up there today with his mom and sister doing just that.  Johannes wrote about his experience at the Sports Center on VTSkiReport.com in an article entitled “When it’s too cold to ski…”, so for those that are interested in learning more about the options at the sports center, check that out.  With the way Bolton’s season’s passes are including access to everything this season, it’s a great perk.

For our part, Dave and I decided that it wasn’t too cold to ski, especially when powering our own ascents.  We headed over to the usual tennis court parking along the edge of the trail network at about 2,050’, prepped our gear, and got skinning.  Although my car thermometer was reading in the low single digits, there was no wind, and the sunshine was really doing its thing.  We hadn’t been long on the trail before we were heating up and removing clothing.  Dave even had to take his hat off.  We had a fairly quick and steady ascent up to the Bryant Cabin (2,690’) checking out some of the glades along the way.  We could see that there were descent tracks on some of the more popular runs, but plenty of fresh powder was waiting.  Check out all the text and deep powder pictures by clicking through to the full report from Bolton Valley today.

An image of Jay catching air while Telemark skiing in the powder today on Bolton Valley's Nordic & Backcountry Network in Vermont
Jay grabbing some air among the deep powder in Bolton Valley’s Nordic & Backcountry Network today – Dave was having a blast firing away with his Canon EOS 7D.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 08JAN2011

Image of Jay removing climbing skins
Jay gets set for the descent.

I checked out Bolton’s snow situation and alpine trail offerings in the middle of the day today, and after heading home, I filled E and the boys in on what I’d found.  Since there was plenty of powder, but not a ton of lift-served trail options were available, we decided to head up to get in some backcountry skiing for the end of the day.  Dave and I had found that the amount of base snow was excellent when we’d headed up to the Bryant Cabin the previous Saturday, so we were expecting great things with all the fresh stuff on top of it.  Our 3:00 P.M. start resulted in twilight turns through the powder in the areas below Bryant Cabin, so it was quite an adventure for everyone.  To see all the pictures and read the whole story, click through to the full backountry trip report from this evening.

Bolton Valley, VT Nordic & Backcountry 01JAN2011

An image of a spruce bough with beads of water
We caught some great pictures of the surrounding forest as we ascended the Bryant trail on our backcountry outing up at Bolton Valley today.

We’d found that temperatures had cooled down a bit yesterday afternoon at the end of our Bolton outing, and slopes that were not in the sun had begun to tighten up.  In general though, temperatures stayed relatively warm, and there was no new snowfall through this morning.  We hung out at the house in the A.M., and as skies brightened a bit in the afternoon, Dave and I headed up to Bolton.  Since there weren’t going to be any substantial changes in the spring-like snow conditions we’d experienced yesterday, and some of the natural snow trails were going to be closed due to the warmth, we decided to do a tour on the Nordic/backcountry trail network.  Dave had never been on Bolton’s backcountry network, so he needed to at least get a taste of the plentiful options for turns.

Up in the village, there was one other car in the corner of the tennis lot providing quickest access to the Broadway area, so I’m guessing they had the same idea as us.  In general though, things were quiet aside from a few Nordic skiers moving around the trails.  We skinned the skis and headed toward World Cup where we found a group of patrollers checking passes.  I can’t recall the last time I had my pass checked on the Nordic network, but I’ve heard the mountain is doing it more frequently this season so that’s nice to see.  We chatted with the patrollers for a bit – they were initially wondering if we were planning to stay at the cabin, but we let them know we were just out for a quick tour.

We headed up the Bryant trail and it was a really pleasant ascent.  Temperatures were in the 40s F so we stopped frequently for photography to capture the sights.  At one photography stop, a couple of patrollers stopped by and we talked for a while.  We chatted about skis, cameras, and some of the new glades, and then they headed on their way up to take care of a tree that had fallen onto one of the trails.  Coverage on Bryant and in the surrounding backcountry was excellent, with generally a couple feet of settled snow.  We did see a couple of small openings in streams along the side of the trail, but they were more an opportunity for photos than anything.  Any stream crossings on Bryant were in fine shape and there was no open water across the trail.  To check out the rest of the text, images, and GPS track, continue on to the full Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry report from today.