Bolton Valley, VT 10DEC2010

An image of ski tracks in powder
Some nice powder turns were made at Bolton Valley this morning.

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.

Stowe, VT 05DEC2010

Image of the boys skinning up through powder
Dylan works hard to keep pace with Ty as we skin up Spruce Peak.

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.

Stowe, VT 16OCT2010

Image of Ty skiing
Ty skiing some October snow on Perry Merrill at Stowe Mountain Resort

Even before the storm existed, the formation of the season’s first Nor’easter had appeared likely for several days, and with it, the appearance of at least a few flakes in the higher elevations of the Northeast seemed like a good bet.  However, the question of the whether or not we’d see our first decent dump of skiable snow took a few more days to settle out.  Eventually, the mountain forecasts came into focus, and it looked like the Greens were going to get good elevation snows up and down the spine.  The Northern Greens seemed to be in a good spot for precipitation, but the Central and Southern Greens were likely to be closest to the core of cold air that would support the most early season snow.  On Wednesday the 13th, Scott Braaten did a nice job of alerting everyone about the setup through SkiVT-L and Lionel Hutz was all over it at the FIS website.

On Friday, October 15th, the storm was underway, and morning reports were already coming in about snow falling in the Southern and Central Greens.  The pictures from the Killington web cam were looking quite wintry even at the lower elevations, and when Paul Terwilliger sent in his Friday Killington trip report to SkiVT-L and said he’d already found 18 inches at the summit, it was clear that the area was getting a good shot of snow.  By that point the temperatures indicated that the Northern Greens were getting plenty of snow as well, but if they weren’t going to catch up to the Killington area, I was thinking that it might be a good time to mix things up and head a bit south for turns.

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.

Mt. Washington, NH 29MAY2010

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on the Snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend 2010
We found lots of options for great turns on Mt. Washington’s snowfield’s this weekend.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Click through temporarily for integrated images in the report at SkiVT-L.

Bolton Valley, VT 10MAY2010

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.

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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.

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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.

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Jay Peak, VT 09MAY2010

Thanks to some of our local forecasters, we had about a week’s notice that a potential Mother’s Day Snowstorm was on the way, so there was plenty of time to get ready for it.  The cold air was expected to be pulled into the storm system by Saturday evening, and that would get the snow going.  It looked like the snow line was going to be around 1,000’ for the event, although by Thursday morning the Burlington NWS mentioned the potential for a bit of accumulation even in the lower valleys.  Roger Hill also gave SkiVT-L a heads up on Thursday, indicating that there was going to be new snow for skiing over the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday were a bit of a weather roller coaster in Waterbury.  On Saturday afternoon a summery thunderstorm passed overhead, and we even got a bit of hail from it.  By Saturday evening though, I checked the real time temperatures atop Mt. Mansfield, and saw that they had already gone below freezing.  With precipitation in the area, the mountains were probably well into the snow by that point.

I wasn’t sure what to expect down at our elevation the next morning, but when I looked outside at around 6:00 A.M., it was snowing and we had a coating of white accumulation on the elevated surfaces.  By that point we’d picked up a couple tenths of an inch accumulation and it continued to snow.  The snow waned for a bit and the temperatures edged up, but at some point after 8:00 A.M., there was a big resurgence in snowfall and we started to get more substantial accumulation.  I checked the local radar and could see an ominous-looking mass of moisture heading our way from the north-northwest.

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We hung out, had some Mother’s Day breakfast, watched the snow fall, and generally took it easy for much of the morning.  I had initially thought that we might need to get out early to get some good powder before the day warmed up, but with the way the storm was raging in the mountains, being an early bird wasn’t necessary.

In the late morning we drove northward to Jay Peak.  By that point, only minimal accumulations of snow remained in the relatively low valleys from Waterbury through Morrisville, but once we got near the Northeast Kingdom in the North Hyde Park/Eden area, the accumulations really shot up.  Snow was even accumulating on the road as we passed through Belvidere, and up on Route 242 in the final leg of our trip, there was so much snow on the road that plowing was necessary.

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A bit after noon, we pulled into Jay Peak’s Stateside lot at an elevation of roughly 2,000’ and were confronted with a veritable blizzard.  It was snowing hard, and winds were gusting to 40 MPH.  We saw a snowboarder who had just come down from a run, and he said conditions were great – except that it seemed like you were hiking directly into the wind.  E suited up, and helped get Dylan into his gear, but Ty apparently wasn’t in the mood to ski.  While we talked about options for a bit, Dylan eventually lost his momentum as well, and decided that he didn’t want to hit the snow either.  I guess I can understand how the boys might have been put off from heading out into the maelstrom – going almost directly from spring to an all out blizzard must have been pretty strange for them.  I offered to hang out with the boys and let E head out for turns, but she said she’d rather hang out with them than head up by herself, and said that I could go do a run.

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I finished getting my gear together and skinned up for a quick run in the Chalet Meadows area.  Aside from some wind-scoured spots, I measured anywhere from 4 to 18 inches of new snow on my ascent, although I guess I’d put the average accumulation at somewhere around 6 inches plus.  The snow was dense, but not wet except for in the water bars or other low spots.  It certainly skied like dense snow, and was a bit tricky, but a lot of that was due to the variability of some spots having wind crust and other being softer.  There was so much dense snow there was no need for rock skis; I wished I’d brought some newer, fatter skis because they may have made things even a little easier.

Our plan had always been to do a bit of skiing and then drive around in the car and find a new place for some lunch/brunch.  E reminded me that we wanted to take a look at Jay Peak’s new Tram Haus Lodge before we left the resort, so we headed over to the tram side of the resort to check it out.  While there, we wondered if there might be a new restaurant in the lodge, so I ran inside to take a look.  In fact there’s quite a nice restaurant in there called Alice’s Table.  It was pretty busy with Mother’s Day brunch, but after a bit of searching through her notes, the hostess said she’d be able to seat us.  I told her I’d go grab the family and be right back.  E was a bit concerned that we weren’t appropriately dressed for the restaurant, and while there were folks dressed nicely for Mother’s Day outings, there were also numerous folks wearing ski gear and more casual attire.  It is Jay Peak after all.  The brunch buffet had some excellent food, it was reasonably priced, and the boys even ate free because of a Mother’s Day special.

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After bunch we hurried back to the car through the storm.  We were all set to head home, but brunch had given Ty renewed energy and he wanted to ski.  Dylan was still a bit under the weather and wasn’t quite eager to ski, so E decided that she’d stay in the car with him while Ty and I headed up for some turns.  I let Ty choose the path of ascent, and he chose an area over near the Boulevard Trial.  I set the skin track, and we went as far as Ty wanted to go before we stopped and prepared for the descent.  With less wind over in that area, there was a pretty even coating of snow that suggested good skiing.  Ty mostly paramarked on the descent, with some heel lifting, and I could see him trying to figure out the best approach to the dense snow.  With this run longer than my first one, I had more time to diagnose the best technique for the skiing, which was a lot of fun.  I found that staying in the top couple inches of lighter powder above any wind crusts made for silky smooth turns.  That wasn’t always possible depending on the snow and the level of pressuring, and it was obvious that some additional girth in the skis would have favored turns higher on the snow.  It was mid may after all though, and I did get in some great turns and had fun experimenting.  Ty actually floated better with his lower weight, although he ultimately said he was personally unimpressed by the snow.  I don’t think he got quite the enjoyment out of experimenting with technique for the conditions the way I did.  We both agreed that we’d try to go a bit wider with his next pair of Telemark skis.  While he does use them on piste, they are definitely the tool of choice when he’s earning turns, and that often means powder snow or something of that flavor.

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Back at the car, I had left the ski rack open while Ty and I were out, and E said that the winds had been so strong there that they’d blow her skis right off the roof.  Ty and I had hardly noticed the wind up where we’d been, but Ty had chosen a good option in terms of wind protection.  We geared down and got back in the car, and the winds just continued to rage with steady snowfall.  It was getting close to 4:00 P.M. by that point and the storm showed no signs of caring about any sort of afternoon sun or warming.  The Jay Cloud was clearly in charge of the weather.

We headed down to the village of Jay on our trip back home, and in the course of about three miles and an elevation drop of a thousand feet or so, heavy winter changed over to spring.  In Jay it was still snowing, but the trees were green and lush, and the ground was devoid of snow.  It continued to snow all the way back to Waterbury, even with temperatures approaching 40 F in spots, but none of the lower valleys were supporting any accumulation.  It had been quite a unique Mother’s Day overall, hopefully one that the boys will remember for a while.  Getting snow in May isn’t all that uncommon, especially for the mountains, but getting a snowstorm to fall right on Mother’s Day is lucky… or I guess unlucky as most people might have seen it.  Additional weather details from Sunday can be found in my report to EasternUSwx.com.

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Bolton Valley, VT 29APR2010

This morning I was back up at Bolton to see how the powder was doing.  The freezing line had certainly crept upwards from where it had been yesterday, and even up at the main base (2,100’) there was a thick melt crust on the snow.  I could see that there had been a lot of activity on the slopes yesterday, and everyone’s tracks were frozen up.  The resort had run a groomer right up Beech Seal, which was probably very helpful yesterday with the deep snow, but it wasn’t much help this morning.  It was still the most attractive ascent option, but anyone who has skinned on frozen cat tracks knows how the hold of skins can be tenuous.  My arms got a good workout on some of the steeper pitches as I struggled to hold ground.

When I found that the crust was still present even up above mid mountain, I was getting ready to just descend and call it a workout, but I had some time and decided to keep going to the big Sherman’s Pass switchback at 2,800’.  Right around there I saw the first traces of more decent snow, so I pushed on to the Vista Summit.  The melt crust was certainly decreasing by that elevation, although now that I was up near the ridge line, a wind crust was taking its place in exposed areas.  I finished my ascent via Sherman’s and Hard Luck Chute, wrapped around above the Vista Quad summit station, and de-skinned near the top of Alta Vista.  The wind was ripping through there pretty nicely, maybe 20-30 MPH from what I could tell.  I found a spot out of the wind, and there actually was some nice medium weight powder in protected spots at that elevation.

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I headed down Alta Vista, which had a couple of tracks in the steeper section up top, but those folks had retreated to Sherman’s before the more moderate grade.  Presumably they wouldn’t have been moving well without the steeper pitch yesterday.  Now that the snow had consolidated a bit, I was able to ski out the rest of the untracked Alta Vista.  The snow wasn’t billowy and light like it had been yesterday morning, but it was still decent.

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I was glad I’d had those turns though, because below the Sherman’s Pass switchback it was pretty much survival skiing with the return of the crust.  Staying in my skin track was too fast without the option to bleed speed by wedging, and staying out of the track was just really tough with a semi-breakable crust – even skiing in alpine mode.  When possible, I actually worked out an interesting solution for that part of the descent.  I kept one ski in my skin track, and one ski out in the crust, and regulated speed by shifting my weight between the two.  Below mid mountain, I took the Bear Run route as the easiest/safest option.

Back down near the base, there were the very faintest first signs of the snow softening, so with that change there was hope for better skiing later in the crusty areas.  I saw what looked like a father and son just starting up for a hike, and hoped they knew what they were in for.  So overall it was a good quick workout, with a bonus leg workout on that difficult descent, and at least some nice turns up high… but nothing in the league of yesterday.

Today warmed up somewhat and the snow was melting quickly in the valleys, but the mountains were still looking nice.  I grabbed a shot of the Mansfield Chin area as I was leaving Burlington:

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Bolton Valley, VT 28APR2010

We’d had a good run of four small powder days during the April 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th stretch that had gradually resupplied the area’s ski slopes, and in some cases made for wall to wall snow coverage right back down to the base elevations.  However, spring warmth and sunshine returned during the midweek, and the lower slopes quickly lost the new coverage.  At the end of the week I’d casually glanced at the forecast and saw that there was eventually another round of moisture coming in with valley temperatures around 40 – hinting at another potential round of elevation snows.  Still, it was nothing obvious in terms of snow production, and another round of powder was far from our minds as we were back to spring skiing on Saturday at Killington.

It really wasn’t until I was listening to the morning radio weather forecasts the following Monday morning that I caught wind of a real potential for additional snow.  Bob Minsenberger, who usually seems to lean more toward the Champlain Valley in his Point FM forecasts, was already talking about accumulating snow getting down to relatively low elevations, and Roger Hill’s thoughts were very similar.  I checked out the discussion at the Burlington NWS, and of course they were talking about it too:

AREA FORECAST DISCUSSION
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BURLINGTON VT
750 AM EDT MON APR 26 2010

.SHORT TERM /6 PM THIS EVENING THROUGH WEDNESDAY/… PERSISTENT WRAP AROUND MOISTURE AND COLD AIR WILL PROVIDE THE INGREDIENTS FOR A LATE SEASON UPSLOPE SNOWFALL ABOVE 1000 FEET IN THE DACKS AND NORTHERN GREENS. LOOKS LIKE JACKPOT SPOT WILL BE JAY PEAK WITH FAVORABLE NORTHWEST FLOW OVER MORE THAN 24 HOURS. HAVE HOISTED WINTER STORM WATCH FROM 12Z TUE THROUGH 20Z WED. PRECIPITATION WILL BEGIN AS A RAIN AND SNOW MIX ON TUESDAY…CHANGING TO ALL SNOW AS COLD AIR FILTERS INTO THE REGION. HEAVIEST SNOW WILL LIKELY FALL TUESDAY NIGHT AS TEMPERATURES DROP BELOW FREEZING ACROSS THE FORECAST AREA…MAINLY ABOVE 1000 FEET…AS PERSISTENT NORTHWEST FLOW CONTINUES. SNOW WILL CONTINUE INTO WEDNESDAY ACROSS THE HIGHER TERRAIN AS COLD AIR ADVECTION KEEPS TEMPERATURES BELOW FREEZING AND PRECIPITATION WILL STAY MAINLY ALL SNOW…THEN MIX WITH RAIN BEFORE ENDING DURING THE AFTERNOON. BY WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON SNOW ACCUMULATIONS MAY EXCEED 9 INCHES ABOVE 1000 FEET…WITH MORE THAN A FOOT POSSIBLE IN THE JAY PEAK AREA.

On Monday evening, Powderfreak weighed in with a few weather thoughts, and he said that things were looking very good for an “absolutely classic Northwest-flow upslope event along the Green Mountains”.  For those that like plenty of snow in the Northern Greens, that’s music to the ears.

By the time we got to Tuesday, everything seemed to be trending in the direction of increased snowfall.  The northern tier of Vermont had generally been the expected hot spot for the snow, but as we got closer to the event, Winter Storm warnings and advisories continued to creep southward, forecast snow levels dropped down to the floors of even the lowest valleys, and snowfall projections pushed toward two feet for the higher elevations of the Northern Green Mountains.  Even the Champlain Valley was expected to get in on the act.  Unlike the previous round of snow that had dropped a few inches each day, it looked like this dump was going to come in the form of one mighty wallop in the Tuesday-Wednesday Period:

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The updated forecasts were generally on the mark, although I think some people were surprised by how quickly the rain changed over to snow down in the Champlain Valley.  At my UVM location (elevation 380’) in Burlington, the precipitation had already changed over to snow by 7:45 A.M. on Tuesday, and Powderfreak started to send in pictures from his place in Jeffersonville showing the onset of snowfall.  The snow continued throughout the day, and back in Waterbury at the house (495’) we’d picked up 3.0 inches by 6:00 P.M.  The west slopes of the Northern Greens were getting quite a pounding, and once he got his power back on, Powderfreak sent in some pictures of the area from Tuesday evening.

We picked up another 3.1 inches of snow at the house as of 6:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, and more pictures of the new snow started to flow in at EasternUswx.com.  It started with some early morning pictures from klw in Peacham, although by that point I’d already headed off to the higher elevations to make some turns in the new snow.;

Driving up the Bolton Valley Access Road, there was no real snow line to report on like the previous events, since substantial accumulating snow had fallen all the way to the valley.  Instead of a snow line, there was a dramatic increase in snowfall amounts resulting from relatively minor increases in elevation.  The 3 to 4 inches of snow at the base of the access road (340’) had more than doubled by the time I got up to the Bolton Valley welcome sign at around 1,000’.  Those trees in the lower elevations that had decided to partially leaf out were a little worse for wear.  Many were bent under the heavy snow, and in a couple of spots there were broken limbs on the road that required some negotiation.  As I ascended higher, the trend of bent trees gradually decreased as the trees had fewer leaves.  I couldn’t get a sense for how much snow was on the ground at the base of Timberline (1,500’) but there appeared to be plenty of snow for skiing right there.  I continued on upward to the main base of the resort however, figuring I might as well maximize the available snow, get to the driest snow, and make use of the old base that was available on the upper mountain in case it was needed.

The Bolton Valley Village (2,100’) had a temperature of about 30 F, and it was really in the midst of winter’s fury; there wasn’t too much wind, but big flakes of snow were coming down in the 1 to 2 inch/hour range.  I was early enough that only minimal plowing had been done, so my first priority was to find a place to park without getting myself stuck.  I opted for the little parking lot just below the lodge.  It wasn’t plowed and had about a foot of snow in it, but it’s flat and generally well drained.  The Subaru did a nice job of plowing through that untracked snow.

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I geared up and started getting some better measurements of the new snow; I found 12 inches on the ground, and 15 inches on elevated surfaces at the base area.  Boy was that snow pounding down!  It made me wonder just how deep the snow accumulations were ultimately going to get.  I saw not a single track of any sort of vehicle or skier anywhere on the slopes, and it was quickly obvious that I was going to be breaking trail.  The snow was reasonably light, perhaps 8% H2O or so, but there wasn’t any notable density gradient that I could find in the accumulation, so I was sinking way down into it.  There’s something to be said for smaller snowfall events and those days that the resort puts down a nice groomed surface for travel.  I opted to skin up the Bear Run route, not wanting to tackle the steeper pitch of Beech Seal in such deep snow.  I trudged upward, creating a skin track at what felt like and excruciatingly slow pace.  I meandered a bit with my ascent route, using any sort of moose track, deer track, or other imperfections in the snow to gain an edge on breaking trail through the deep.  It was amazing, but even just a little compaction left by an animal trail made quite a difference in the ascension effort.

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The slow ascent meant my time was running shorter than I’d expected, but I could also tell from the snow that I was going to need to hit the steepest slopes I could find to get moving.  I opted to ascend in the New Sherman’s Pass area, shooting for a descent of Upper Glades/Glades.  I stopped at ~2,600’ atop Upper Glades, measured the depth of snow at around 18 inches, and prepared for the descent.

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Anything without pitch was almost as slow as skinning up hill, but fortunately I could make turns on the steeper pitches.  The skiing on the steeper pitches was just as one might expect – a deep, full on powder wake-building experience.  I opted for the Chute on the left side of Glades, and got some pretty decent turns out of that.  Returning back to the base through flat terrain was another experience in trudging, one of the slowest returns to Beech Seal I can recall.

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I didn’t have time to recheck any snow depths, but my car already had another inch plus of snow on it when I got back after my short tour.  I was hardly prepared for that, and had to dig out my snow scraper to clear it all off.  On the descent of the access road, I saw two utility trucks that were presumably working on lines affected by the storm, and there were still a couple of trees/branches down in the road.  Even back in Burlington, the snow was still coming down like a blizzard.  Although the snow wasn’t accumulating like it was up on the mountain, it was dumping with fury and plenty of wind as I walked from my car.

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There was actually a rather interesting snowfall situation going on in Burlington on Wednesday morning.  One of our graduate students lives down in the hill section of town, probably at an elevation a bit under 200’, and at his apartment that morning there was no snow.  He’d seen the snow on campus the previous day, but based on what he observed at his place that morning, he figured it was all rain in the area.  He started heading up the hill to campus, totally unprepared for what he was going to run into.  About halfway up the hill he started seeing slush accumulations on the ground, and by the time he got to our part of campus at around 380’, he was into that raging blizzard with strong winds, heavy snowfall, and the ground covered with a few inches of wet snow.  I’m not sure if it the lake had any part in it, or if it was simply elevation, but that was quite a sharp gradient in terms of accumulations.

Later in the day on Wednesday, the snow in Burlington changed over to a bit of rain before tapering off.  I had contemplated heading back up to the hill for another run in the late afternoon, but just ended up having too much to do.  Another student I know did head up for some afternoon turns at Bolton and said that conditions were nice.  The resort had actually run a groomer up part of the mountain which made travel much easier, and he got some steep turns up on Hard Luck and Spillway.  Powderfreak sent out another couple rounds of pictures from the event, some from the higher elevations of Mt. Mansfield, and another round from the valley.  Many thanks Powderfreak for doing such a thorough job of documenting the snowfall in his corner of the western slopes of the Greens.

By the time I was leaving UVM, skies were starting to clear and the sun was lighting up areas of the mountains.  It was easy to see the substantial coating of white that had been put down on the mountains and higher foothills, while the trees in the lower hills in the Champlain Valley weren’t really covered.  I grabbed a quick shot of Camel’s Hump before heading home.

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Killington, VT 24APR2010

It seems that as of this season, Dylan has finally reached the point where he could handle a day of spring bumps at Killington, so we headed down for some skiing on Saturday.  We were actually hoping to bring the boys out for some Superstar mogul bashing in May, but rumor had it Killington’s lifts might be done after the weekend.  With nice sunny weather available, we decided we’d better get down there.

Although the drive down is only about an hour, it was replete with unexpected scenery that was in places, rather amazing.  I’m not sure if it was because of the very early onset of warmth we had at the end of winter, but something has conspired to make this spring’s foliage some of the more colorful I’ve seen.  Because of the way that the various yellows, greens, oranges, reds, purples, pinks, and even white are coming out, it’s acting like a second round of fall in terms of foliage.  I’ve not noticed it much around Waterbury and Burlington, but we started to see frequent foliage displays in the Randolph area along I-89, enough that I had to actually pull out my camera as we approached the White River Valley.  We found impressive views of color through Bethel and Stockbridge, and even down to the Pittsfield area.  The White River certainly wasn’t raging, but it was looking as beautiful as ever and we saw lots of people out in Canoes and Kayaks.  South of Pittsfield, the foliage colors seemed to taper off as we got into the higher peaks of the Killington area, where few if any leaves were out.

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Views of the snow on Killington’s slopes were visible from way back on I-89, and we pointed out the views to the boys.  The boys have been down to Killington in the fall, but it would be a new area for them in terms of skiing.  In fact, it was the first time that any of us have been skiing at Killington since returning from Montana, and the first time we’ve headed south of Waterbury for lift-served skiing this season.  We told the boys that between the bump skiing and party scene that is Killington in the spring, they would be in for quite an experience.

I generally haven’t headed down to Killington for spring skiing until May, and there were certainly more people partying it up than I was used to, but also more trail options.  The mountain has usually been down to just Superstar when I’ve been there, but on Saturday they also had Skyelark and Bittersweet available.  There was also plenty of snow on the trails up near Killington Peak for those that wanted to traverse or earn some more secluded runs.

Ty was pretty funny at the start of the ski day.  I think he generally skis enough that he’s not bursting with anticipation to get on the snow, but as we first rode the Superstar Quad on Saturday and he saw what the skiing looked like, he blurted out something to the effect of, “I just want to jump off right now and ski!”  We got a kick out of his unexpected enthusiasm.

Coverage was generally wall to wall on Superstar with just a few spots of thin cover that warranted caution.  If the boys ever sat down to rest or wait for others in the group, they would disappear below the sea of bumps.  If just their heads were sticking out it looked a lot like they were swimming in a white sea.  Bittersweet was lots of fun, with some mellower bumps, and we did two round of follow the leader on there that the boys really enjoyed.  After Dylan was kaput, E took him to the car while Ty and I hit a final run on Skyelark.  Skyelark had a section near the bottom that was getting thin with the best tracks on the sides, and unless they moved any snow it would probably be the first route to become discontinuous.  I will say that after spending my first day riding Superstar and friends on Telemark skis, I have an even greater appreciation for Rossi at all those annual Broken Rib/Missing Tooth Tour days at Killington.

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On the way home we wanted to stop at the Peavine Restaurant/Pub in Stockbridge, but noticed that they weren’t opening until Sunday, so we continued on into Bethel and ate at Cockadoodle Pizza Café – everybody loved the name.  It feels like an old house, with some of the various rooms serving as seating areas with eclectic mixtures of tables and chairs.

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So after a weekend with a definite spring skiing feel, it sounds like we could be back into some powder for the midweek period.  At this point, Jay Peak appears to be the hot spot with roughly a foot or more of snow anticipated, but potential accumulations look nice right down the spine of the Northern Greens through the Mt. Mansfield/Bolton/Camel’s Hump area.  The predictions on the latest storm total snow forecast maps from the Burlington NWS even look like they have jumped up a bit from where they were this morning.  Powderfreak says it’s a classic northwest upslope flow setup, which is good news.  We didn’t seem to have quite the payload of upslope events this season compared to what we sometimes get, so hopefully it will be another nice reprise of winter with some powder days like we had a week ago.  We’ll see how it plays out.

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Bolton Valley, VT 19APR2010

Today I headed up to the mountain for the final round of snow from the weekend system.  The first traces of snow on the ground were again around the 1,800’ level along the access road, and the temperature was near freezing in the village (2,100’).  It was hard to tell with some of the older accumulations of snow still hanging around, but I don’t think there had been much new snow accumulation at the base elevations since I’d last been there yesterday morning.  There had definitely been some precipitation since that time, but I suspect the temperatures kept new snow from sticking in the village.

Thanks to what had fallen before, there was at least some snow coverage all the way to the base elevations, but my first encounter with the snow revealed a surface that wasn’t that inspiring.  The freezing line had gone up yesterday, and now that it had come back down, those areas with wet snow were crunchy and any impressions in the snow were locked up like hardened plaster.  I was confident that temperatures had stayed low enough in the higher elevations though, so I suspected there were going to be some good turns up there somewhere.

I hopped on my usual skin track at the bottom of Beech Seal, but eventually diverged to set a new track up Sprig O’ Pine and Cobrass Run to get to Cobrass itself.  After a few days of skinning across Cobrass Lane, I was feeling like this new route might be a more direct way to get to Cobrass.  As I was first skinning through the crusty snow at the base, I wondered how that stuff was going to transform into the quality snow that I suspected to find up high.  Watching the transformations in snow quality or depth as one ascends is always interesting to me, and yesterday revealed quite a diverse snow/elevation profile in just a thousand feet of elevation gain.  For the first couple hundred feet of the ascent, I didn’t notice much of a change in the snow consistency, and then with each plant of my pole I had the feeling that the crust was getting thinner.  Soon, with flicks of my pole I found what appeared to be powder sitting on top of the crust, almost unperceivable at first, but it was soon obvious.  It was eventually hard to say if the crusty snow was getting softer, or the powder on top was getting deeper, but by the time I’d reached mid mountain (-2,500’) I was skinning through some decent fresh snow.  The crustiness was gone, and the transformation from that point was just an increase in lighter powder atop a gradient of denser snow below.  It looked like the skiing was going to be very nice on the top half of the mountain.

As I ascended Cobrass, I encountered powdery drifts in the range of 6 to 12 inches on top of the previous rounds of snow, and with a bit of wind and temperatures below freezing, it was actually starting to feel a lot like winter again.  By the Cobrass picnic table at roughly 2,900’ I took the opportunity to get a settled snow measurement for the whole event, since it looked we’d seen our final round of snowfall.  I measured just shy of 8 inches of depth on the seat of the table, and the top of the stack actually featured some pretty dry snow.  I finished my ascent and checked on the snow plot I’d been monitoring to find that the depth of the overnight snowfall was right at three inches.  With that in the bank, it put the event snow totals at around 3 to 4 inches at 2,100’, and 11 to 13 inches at 3,100’ based on what I’ve seen over the four days of snowfall.  Down at the house this morning, I’d recorded my final precipitation from the system:  0.23 inches of liquid for the previous 24 hours.  That brought my valley precipitation total to 2.06 inches, so presumably the mountain picked up at least that much liquid, and in the higher elevations, most of that is still locked up in the snowpack.  For reference, measurements at the Mt. Mansfield stake recorded 11 inches of snow and 3.17 inches of liquid equivalent for the period, and on Mt. Washington, 15.2 inches of snow and 1.72 inches of liquid were recorded.  In any case, this event certainly gave a boost to the snowpack in the higher elevations; the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake went from 43 inches on 4/15 to 54 inches on 4/18.

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The sun started to come out while I was putting away my skins, so I grabbed a few more photos and then it was time to ski.  I could say that today was the crème de la crème in terms of skiing with this system, but it may not have been, and each day had its strengths.  Today won hands down in terms of snowpack of course.  The continued accumulations of dense snow really made skiing practical on all but the steepest/ledgy runs or those with substantial underlying debris.  Also, today the upper mountain was topped off with some of the driest snow accumulations that I’ve seen over these past few days.  But, wind definitely did some work up high, packing the powder down in some areas, and the skiing was crusty and not too fun below mid mountain.  After checking out Spillway and Hard Luck, I could see that the wind had worked them a little.  I didn’t have the time for multiple runs, so I opted to go with some turns down Sherman’s Pass because I could see it was a sure thing.  The turns on the upper half of Sherman’s were really nice.  While skiing, I still only sunk down into those first few inches of light powder, but below that layer was a gradient of denser snow that was really smooth and soft.  Turns were decent down to about 2,400’, a bit below mid mountain, and below there it was still crusty and I just skied it out.  Certainly lapping the upper half of the mountain was the way to go if one had the time.

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Just as I was approaching the base, I ran into Nile starting his ascent, and we chatted for a minute while I gave him the lowdown on the conditions I’d seen.  He said I’d be heading into more sun as I went into Burlington, and he was right.  The clouds gradually dissipated as I headed out of the mountains, and in Burlington it was getting really nice, even though there was still a bit of breeze.  The mountain has certainly been transformed with this event, brining nearly wall to wall coverage to most places above 2,000’.  I would expect the lower mountain areas to improve with the warming (although the lowest elevations will probably melt out quickly) and on the upper mountain, the quality of turns will probably drop a bit from where they were until the snow can be cycled into corn.