The boys opened up some early Christmas presents today, so there was no way I was getting them up to the hill, but I was able to join up with Stephen and his kids for some turns. In the past we’ve had some great Bolton outings on Christmas Eve, with some nice natural snow terrain available and the mountain almost to ourselves. However, due to the sizeable amount of visitors we’d seen yesterday, we were wondering what today would bring. Would more people have the day off, or would that be counteracted by more holiday obligations? Well, the visitors were back in a big way, apparently even bigger than what we’d seen yesterday. On the way up to the main base, I stopped in for a look at Timberline, and it looked quite ready for the planned Sunday opening.
Conditions were very similar to yesterday, and a bit of wind had actually reset some of the powder to provide repeat fresh tracks. The wind also put down some wind crust, but it was pretty weak and didn’t change the snow too much. The weather and snow were both great, but with the lines and afternoon holiday obligations were all left around noontime. On the way down the road I saw that two Timberline lots were being used for additional parking, so business was certainly good. To check out all the pictures with the text, head to the complete Bolton Valley report from today.
We joined up with Stephen, Helena, and Johannes and hit our usual favorite areas for powder. With the composition of the group we didn’t spend too much time in the trees, but occasional jaunts I’d make into the woods revealed that there was awesome tree skiing to be had. Since many places were already skiing pretty well over the weekend, the bolus of new denser snow definitely bumped it up another notch. Overall the snow was awesome as usual, and the sides of the lesser used trails were holding enough powder that heading into the trees wasn’t really necessary to get great turns. To see all the pictures and get the rest of the details, head to the full report from Bolton Valley today.
We had a busy day of holiday-related activities planned today, so I headed out early to earn some powder turns up at Bolton Valley before things got going. Although I’d been hearing great things about the snow at Timberline, and I’d driven by and seen the tracks there a number of times, I decided it was finally time to check out just what all the fuss was about. Indeed, as I found out, the quality of the powder there is in fact worthy of a fuss. To see all the powdery details and images, go to the full Bolton Valley trip report from today.
We had one of those weeks where it snowed almost continuously at the house and in the local mountains, but there haven’t been any huge synoptic storms to make people really stand up and take notice. We’ve actually had over a foot of snow this week at our location in the Winooski Valley, and 1.5 to 2 feet in the local mountains, but when it comes in doses of just a few inches a day and it’s very light and dry, it’s hard to know if it’s really adding up on the slopes. Well, after heading up to Bolton yesterday we can definitely say that it’s been adding up in a big way.
Since it wasn’t an obvious powder day, we didn’t rush and headed up for a mid morning start. After dropping E and the boys off at the village circle, I parked in the bottom row of the main lot, right above the sports center. That lot was still mostly empty at that point, so I had the sense that the number of visitors wasn’t going to be quite as big as it was last Saturday for opening weekend.
I hadn’t looked at the snow report for the day, so we just played it by ear and discovered all the new ropes that had been dropped during the day. Patrol has opened routes like Cobrass, Glades, The Enchanted Forest area, Vista Glades, Alta Vista, Vermont 200, Schuss, Beech Seal, etc., most of them just on the natural snow that has fallen. I’m not sure exactly when all those trails opened, but most of them were not open when we were at the mountain last weekend. According to SnoCountry Mountain Reports, Bolton was 45% open yesterday, and based on the snow we saw, I bet they could be 80% open if they wanted to. They haven’t even fired up the Wilderness, Timberline, or Snowflake lifts yet, so while some of the Wilderness and Snowflake terrain can be accessed from Vista, there is a lot of potential terrain that’s just not open due to lack of lift access. I did notice that snow was being blown down at the bottom of Timberline, and have heard that plans are to open it after Christmas. I also noticed work being done at the bottom of the Wilderness lift yesterday, perhaps it was some preparation to get it going.
Anyway, as far as the skiing went yesterday, we rotated run choice among the family, so we managed to mix it up among the terrain options fairly well. On the announcement board at the bottom of Vista they had a sign that said “LOTS OF FLUFFY SNOW”, and they weren’t kidding. We found that most areas, even those with some manmade underneath were really nice packed powder due to all the natural snow that has fallen on top of the base, and on the sides there was plenty of untracked powder. Areas where we did find icy snow were the top half of Alta Vista, where it was pretty horrible at the end of the day, and a few smaller spots on Beech Seal where there were snowmaking whales that hadn’t been covered with enough natural snow. I didn’t ski it, but it also sounded like Hard Luck Lane was in similar shape to Alta Vista, which is not surprising with the way they are exposed to summit winds and the amount of traffic they get. We didn’t ski Cobrass, since we only realized that it was open toward the end of the day, so I don’t know how much snow they blew and what it was like. Coverage was clearly not perfect on steep, natural snow runs like Vermont 200, and patrol has thin cover signs up, but the coverage seemed quite manageable on what they had open. On that note, we did ski Glades, which is on all natural snow, and it was very easy to avoid any thin areas even in the steep sections. There were still some pockets of powder on Glades in areas that are awkward to access, but for the most part it was packed powder. I’d forgotten how much fun even packed powder can be on a trial with lots of natural terrain features on which to play. To read the rest of the details and see all the pictures from the outing, continue on to the Bolton Valley trip report from today.
The morning’s outdoor adventures got started right on the ascent of the Bolton Valley access road. Once we got up to the big steep S-curve pitch at around 1,200’, we could see that traffic was stopped. It turned out that a couple of cars were struggling with the ascent. The road didn’t seem that bad from our perspective, but I later heard some comments suggesting that it wasn’t prepared as well as usual. In any event, the benefits of 4WD/AWD were obvious, not just for getting up the slick road, but having the ability to start right back up and get going from a dead stop on a steep slope. I met Stephen right in the parking lot as he was getting out of his car, and we made plans to meet up later.
While I was parking the car, the boys had warmed up on the Mighty Mite, and then I brought E and the boys right over to Wilderness based on my experiences from the previous day. I knew that the fresh snow and moderate pitch over there would be great for E to work on here Telemark turns off the groomed. In places that had seen some traffic, we found about 4 inches of new, but there were still spots that hadn’t been touched on Friday and had a good foot of powder. To check out the rest of the story and see the pictures, click through to the full report from today at Bolton Valley.
This morning I headed up to Bolton to catch some opening day turns and check out the four feet of new snow they’d picked up over the week. On the way up I could see that Timberline was just loaded with tracks from all the folks that had been earning turns there. We’d had our coldest temperatures of the season this morning, and although it was still somewhere in the single digits when I arrived at the mountain, the wind was calm and it turned out to be very comfortable.
They had the usual early season options going, but also some natural snow terrain such as the lower part of Wilderness. I saw that VT 200 was open at the top, but it still looked somewhat bony. I found that Wilderness and the routes over there were the places to be though, one could get some nice steeper turns in about a foot or so of powder in the junction areas of Swing, Lower Crossover, and Work Road, and then down on the Wilderness lift line it was mellow powder cruising. To check out the rest of the details and see all the pictures from the day, head to the full Bolton Valley Trip Report from today.
By this morning, enough snow had accumulated that we decided to head up to the higher elevations and check it out. Without much of a base, we didn’t expect the skiing to be too great, but it would be a good chance for Dylan to get on his skins and see how everything was working for him.
We first stopped in up at Bolton Valley, where accumulations appeared to be in the 2-3 inch range at the main base (~2,100’). I took a look around to see if any manmade snow had been put down outside the areas of current snowmaking operations, but didn’t see any on the lower mountain. A good amount of snow had been made in the Mighty Mite learning area, a fan gun was blowing snow above the lodge, and I could see at least one other gun going underneath the Mid Mountain Chair. The snow was certainly light and dry, and the powder had accumulated up to a foot in some areas. We hung out for a bit and let the boys play in the snow, then we headed off to Stowe to see if any ski options were available atop manmade base snow at Spruce Peak.
As we drove toward Stowe, we could see that the valley snow accumulations were quite variable. We had an inch or two at our house on the Waterbury/Bolton line, and there was a bit less in the center of Waterbury. North of Colbyville however, the ground was bare, and between there and the Stowe’s Lower Village, there was only the occasional dusting visible on the ground. As Powderfreak had mentioned in one of his reports to Americanwx.com, we saw a sharp increase in snowfall amounts as one entered the center of Stowe, where they had picked up a fluffy few inches earlier in the morning.
Up at the mountain base, accumulations were similar to what we’d seen at Bolton, with roughly 2 to 3 inches on the ground at the Mt. Mansfield Ski Club building. We were surprised to see that lift-served skiing was going on over at Spruce (Easy Street area), so we decided to skin up above that elevation and check out the options. We headed up toward the Sunny Spruce Quad, and found about 4 to 5 inches of fluff as we approached the top of East Run. The snow was definitely fluffy, so good turns could be had on grassy slopes, but beyond that it was sketchy. It was definitely rock ski/junkboard territory, although with all of the extra snow we’ve had in the past couple of days, that will be changing. To continue with the rest of the text and see all the pictures, click through to the Stowe trip report from today.
My thoughts of heading south to Killington were suppressed somewhat around 8:30 P.M. that evening. After checking on our rain gauge a couple of hours earlier, I hadn’t looked outside at all, as a massive sword and ball battle had kept me busy in the basement with the boys. When I finally did look out back, I was very surprised to see that it was snowing… all the way down at our elevation of roughly 500 feet. The air temperature had dropped to 33.3 F and the precipitation was big flakes of snow, without even any rain mixed in. The snowfall lasted for a couple of hours, long enough to put down 0.3 inches of slushy accumulation on the snowboard and coat the ground white. Eventually as the precipitation slowed down, the temperature began to warm up and it all changed back over to rain. I knew that if we were getting snow all the way down to the lower valleys though, then the local mountains must have been getting pounded, so I suspected that Mt. Mansfield would come through with sufficient snow to make it worth skiing.
The next morning we had steady rain at the house, and valley temperatures in the low 40s F as Ty and I headed off to Stowe. The snow level had clearly risen up overnight, as we didn’t see any signs of snow at all until the slopes of Spruce Peak came into view. We headed to the base of the Gondola (~1,600’) which seemed to have the best accumulations of snow at low elevations. The temperature was in the upper 30 s F, and there was a gusty wind in the parking lot. Although a little thin, coverage was still enough that one could start skinning from the lot if they wanted, but we decided to hike for a bit to get some variety in the ascent. Snow depth at the bottom of Perry Merrill was 2-3 inches, but with the warming temperatures any disruptions in the snow were seeding its melting. The footprints of earlier hikers were already holes in the snow with colorful foliage showing through. To continue with the full text and all of the pictures, click through to the full trip report from today at Stowe.
The Mount Washington Auto Road was finally open for business by the weekend of May 22nd – 23rd, but since E was out of town, Memorial Day weekend was our first opportunity for a ski trip. As always, weather was an important determinant in whether or not we would try to take the boys up the mountain, but as the weekend grew closer, the good forecasts continued to hold. None of the days looked like a total washout, but Saturday looked like the best bet since the NWS point forecast indicated the chance for gusts as high as 100 MPH in the higher elevations of the Presidential Range on Sunday, and Monday had higher potential for precipitation. On Friday evening we put ice packs in the freezer, charged batteries, and planned to make a final check on the forecast in the morning.
Saturday morning’s forecast still looked decent; there was a chance of precipitation in the afternoon, but winds were expected to be low with comfortable temperatures. I reserved a campsite for Saturday night, and we spent most of the morning getting things together for the trip and taking care of other stuff around the house. We finally headed out in the late morning under mostly cloudy skies, but no signs of precipitation.
Once we’d reached the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, we stopped in at the Great Glen Lodge to hit the restrooms and check on the summit weather. We were excited to see that the summit weather board indicated winds of just 4 to 12 MPH and a temperature of 50 F. Even better though, was being able to look up toward the higher elevations to the west to see blue skies. Last year’s trip featured 50 MPH winds and fog, conditions that were more amenable to playing in the strong gusts on the deck of the observatory than skiing with the boys. From our views along Routes 2 and 16, the snow up high looked less plentiful than we’ve often seen at this time of year. The level of the snowpack was potentially due to at least a couple of factors. Although there were some nice snowy storms in April and May, too many of the midwinter storms skirted off to the south of Northern New England this season, and more recently we’d seen warm, or even hot, dry weather with lots of sun. One never really knows quite what the snow situation is going to be until they get up on the mountain though, and based on the Mt. Washington web cam images, we knew there was going to be plenty of terrain to ski.
The fair weather made for an enjoyable drive up the Auto Road, and the views were stupendous as usual. We stopped in just briefly at the summit, and got an overview of the various eastern snowfields on the drive back down the road. We could see that there were plenty of options, and continued our drive down to the parking area below Ball Crag where we’d based ourselves before.
Consistent with the faster depletion of the snow this season, although potentially due to seasonal variability as well, the snowfield that we’d skied with the boys in May of 2008 was absent. But, based on the boy’s enthusiasm, along with their improved endurance and ski abilities, we were looking to hit some different snowfields this season anyway. The plan was to head up the Nelson Crag Trail for a bit as we’d done on our last ski trip to the area, and then traverse generally southward below Ball Crag to search out some snowfields that would work well for everyone.
Our equipment setup from our last Mount Washington ski trip had worked well, so we used a similar configuration with just a couple of changes. I carried the big SLR in my photo/ski pack, which is also set up well to carry multiple pairs of skis, so I carried mine as well as the boy’s. E and I simply hiked in our Telemark boots, but since the boys would be skiing in alpine ski boots, they wore their hiking boots to make their traveling much easier, and along with her skis, E carried their ski boots in her pack. The boys had their poles for hiking, and a new addition this time was that they carried their water, food, clothing, and helmets in/on their packs.
We hiked roughly two tenths of a mile up the Nelson Crag trail before breaking off and contouring southward. The boys were very mobile in their hiking boots and light packs, and they moved along at a great pace. Compared to our last ski outing on Mount Washington, Ty was much more comfortable traveling through the alpine setting; he was well ahead of the rest of the group and opted for a much higher traverse. I knew that we would eventually run into the main portion of the east snowfield if we didn’t run into any other snowfields first, but there turned out to be earlier options. Ty was the first to spot some of the bigger snowfields below us along the Upper portion of the Huntington Ravine Trail, and we planned to work our way toward those after seeing what we found ahead of us. After only about a tenth of a mile of traversing, we hit a small snowfield, and the group, which had become a bit scattered during the traverse, got back together to start the descent.
That first snowfield was moderately steep, perhaps in the 30 degree range or so. Since it was steep and rather short, the boys decided to wait until one of the bigger snowfields to start skiing. They opted to simply do some sliding on the snow. E and I mentioned that it was likely to be easier to ski than slide since they would have edges to control their descent, but they were having fun. E and I skied the snowfield, and then we all traversed over to a much larger snowfield off to the north. When we’d arrived at the initial snowfield, there had been a couple of people skiing laps on the edge of the larger snowfield below, but by the time we got there they were gone, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. In fact, they were the only people we’d seen on any of the snowfields in that area. We were surprised by the lack of people since it was Memorial Day weekend, but perhaps everyone had already done their skiing the previous weekend. The weather continued to feature interludes of sunny and cloudy periods, and although we’d seen what looked like thicker clouds and showers off to the Green Mountains in the west, no precipitation materialized in our area.
Ty and Dylan were the first to ski the larger snowfield, and it was fun to watch Dylan follow Ty through the terrain. The snowfield wasn’t quite as steep as the first one, and it was a fun experience for the boys to have the whole face to themselves with the ability to decide what route they wanted to take. The boys stopped about 2/3 of the way through the descent to wait for us, then E joined them, and I skied all the way to the bottom to get some pictures from below.
From the bottom of that snowfield we traversed north and slightly upward to another snowfield section that was connected to the first. At that point we were on the long collection of snowfields that sits above Huntington Ravine. The next section of snow didn’t provide quite as much vertical drop, but it didn’t seem like it had seen any skier traffic in quite a while, so it was extremely smooth. I made a boot ladder that was spaced well for the boys, and we hiked up to the top of that section. The boys had been happy with their earlier turns, and were most excited to play on the rocks and stairs of the Huntington Ravine Trail, so they switched back to their hiking boots and played around while E and I did a bit more skiing. Those turns were a lot of fun, and E got the time she’d been looking for that let her practice and dial in some smoother Telemark turns.
I hadn’t really been following the recent freeze thaw cycles up on Mt. Washington prior to our outing, but looking back at the Mount Washington summit weather archive, it says that the lows for the two nights before our trip were only down to 35 F, and the nights prior to that were even warmer. Apparently, once the corn is formed, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the temperatures go below freezing nightly or not in terms of maintaining quality conditions for spring skiing. We never encountered sticky, rotten, or mushy snow, just good corn with a peel away layer on the surface. I’m sure it would have been much less enjoyable for the boys if the snow had been difficult, but thinking back, I can’t recall any really tough snow in our Mount Washington outings at this time of year. Perhaps the snowpack is dense enough by this point in the season that freezing cycles aren’t as critical.
It was only a few minutes of hiking to get back to the car from there, and it really had been an efficient outing; for all the skiing we’d done, it had only required about ¾ of a mile worth of total travel. Although I’m sure Dylan was a bit tired, both boys were still bounding around on the final leg back to the car, so the distance had clearly been good for them. Just as we were about finished changing clothes and packing the gear back into the car, one of the Auto Road vans came by and let us know that he was the last one heading down. It was just about 6:00 P.M. by that point. We didn’t dawdle on the way down so that we wouldn’t hold up the final van, but there were plenty of people still out of their cars below us as we passed by, and even a pair of hikers just below our parking area that seemed to be making their final descent via the road.
After an enjoyable Auto Road descent with more fun views, we headed over to Shelburne, NH and checked in at White Birches Camping Park. We’d reserved a grassy site, and they’ve got some nice ones right on the edge of an evergreen forested area that contains access to the Shelburne Basin Trails. The evening’s burgers were some of the best in a while, and there were no complaints from me when Ty couldn’t quite polish his off burger or sausage.
In the morning, we had some breakfast and broke camp, then the boys went off with E for a while to go swimming and play on the campground’s equipment while I worked on repacking the gear. The weather was still nice, so we decided to take a circuitous route home and see some sights. We headed back to Gorham, then north along the Androscoggin through Berlin, past Umbagog Lake, and up to Lake Aziscohos. North of Berlin, we were certainly in the land of lakes, loons and logs; houses seemed just as likely to have a loaded logging truck in their yard as anything else. Between the abundance of big rivers, dams, and lakes, it’s quite a water paradise. We saw several groups of flat water and whitewater boats, and lots of fly fishing taking place. At Aziscohos we were getting close to the Saddleback/Sugarloaf zone, although we didn’t head quite that far into Maine.
After lunch at the picnic area on the south shore of Aziscohos, we headed west through Dixville Notch and got to take in its impressive craggy views. We also stopped in to check out The Balsams Resort Hotel and The Balsams Wilderness Ski Area, which we’d never visited before. The ski area isn’t huge, offering just over 1,000 feet of vertical, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s very much the type of ski area we enjoy. Akin to some of our favorite local ski areas like Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana and Bolton Valley in Vermont, it’s got low skier traffic, low speed lifts to keep it that way, and decent snowfall. Wilderness doesn’t quite get the 300+ inches of annual snowfall that Bolton and Lost Trail do, but knowing the snow trends for northernmost New Hampshire, I suspect they do decently on snow preservation like Saddleback and Sugarloaf. Based on an article I found by David Shedd on easternslopes.com[SJ2] , it sounds like minimal skier traffic helps out in maintaining the powder and general snow quality as well. The 1,000 feet of vertical at Wilderness is said to be nicely sustained, with no runouts, and that was definitely the impression we had when we drove to the bottom of the lifts and looked around. E and I have been thinking it would be nice to do a ski trip coupling Wilderness, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf together. Of the three areas, we’ve only been to Sugarloaf, and only in the spring. It’s usually hard to leave Northern Vermont’s snow during the middle of the ski season, but a good time to go east would be when one of those storm cycles comes through that focuses on Northern New Hampshire and Western Maine.
We got back into Vermont in the far northeast part of the Kingdom, and took the northerly route to I-91 along the Canadian border past Wallace Pond. It’s not a huge body of water, and it was fun pointing out to the boys that the houses just a couple hundred yards away on the other side of it were actually in Canada. We also passed Great Averill Pond, Norton Pond, and finally Seymour Lake, where we stopped for a few minutes. We went through Derby, but didn’t quite get up to Derby Line to show the boys how the library/opera house is split by the international border. At some point we will have to get them up there. Once on I-91, we were pretty quickly back in our own neck of the woods, and I’d say one of the more surprising things that we discovered was how close Balsams Wilderness Ski Area is to our location. Being so far north in New Hampshire, and mentioned so infrequently, it seemed to be on another planet. But, barring horrible road conditions, it should only be two to three hours from Waterbury. After our visit to the area, it has certainly moved up higher on my hit list.
Below I’ve added a web cam image of the east side of Mt. Washington from last weekend, showing the various areas of snow that were present at the time. The longest runs up near the summit still seemed to be off the main east snowfield that we didn’t visit. We haven’t had any of the hot temperatures that we had the week before our visit, and things have been much more seasonable, so there should still be some decent easy access skiing up there at this point.
With the way it continued to snow into Sunday evening, along with the expected cold temperatures, it was likely that Monday was going to feature more powder skiing. I headed up to Bolton Valley in the morning, and while there was no snow at the house (495’), I was surprised at how quickly I saw the first traces of snow as I headed up the access road. The first coatings of snow appeared in the woods around the Bolton Valley welcome sign, even below 1,000’. The snow depth increased fairly quickly at first, and there was an even coating of perhaps a few inches up at the Timberline Base (1,500’). The increase in snow beyond that elevation was unimpressive though, and I was very surprised by the appearance of the slopes up above the village (2,100’). On initial inspection, it seemed like the mountain had picked up just a few inches of new snow, and what they had received had been scoured out in many places by the wind. The snow was certainly skiable, but it really looked more like junkboard territory, nothing like what we’d seen the previous day at Jay Peak.
The weather was inspiring in a ski sense though; it felt like November with a temperature of 28 F, very dry air carried on a light breeze, and a few remnant clouds between me and the skies to the west. I decided to take a quick walk around the base area and see if I could spot any inspiring areas of more respectable powder. I couldn’t convince myself that there was anything I wanted to hit over by the Mid Mountain Lift, but I finally saw some protected areas over by the Snowflake Lift that looked nice. I grabbed my gear and started skinning up Lower Foxy. Although certainly less than the 6”+ we’d seen at the Stateside base of Jay Peak, once on the snow I could see that Bolton had received some decent accumulations where the winds hadn’t completely had their way. With grass sticking out of the snow in most places, the view was less inspiring than what we’d seen on Sunday, but my checks revealed 3” – 6” of accumulation, which was generally dense and more than enough to keep me off the ground. In fact, there was an upper layer of lighter powder on top that seemed to be derived from some drying of the snow and/or the tail end of the snowfall. I skinned up to the top of the Snowflake area (2,400’), then connected over to Cobrass Run and continued up to the 2,600’ – 2,700’ range on Cobrass, where I found 6” – 8” of snow. Since the clouds had almost completely pulled away to the west, I enjoyed some excellent views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and Whiteface stood out clearly.
I had to think a little in choosing my descent lines, but managed some great powder turns on parts of Cobrass Run. There were some really smooth and dry areas of snow up there, enough that I would have stayed and gone for another run higher up on the mountain if I’d had the time. Down in the elevations of the Snowflake area it was harder to find that nice powder; the snow was generally on the denser side of the spectrum without the extra topping. Overall on Monday at Bolton there was some good powder, and lighter powder than some of the April/May shots of snow we’ve had this spring, but for the overall experience I’d put it near the bottom of the collection of days in the period simply due to the lower coverage.