Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 06APR2013

An image looking down Profanity Chute above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Looking down from the top of Profanity Chute at some nice winter snow

Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield.  Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling.  There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F.  That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’.  I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse.  It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.

“The snow was
definitely all
winter up there…”

I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing.  There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today.  If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen.  Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring.  As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road.  The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.

I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off.  I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”.  There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles.  However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow.  That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there.  On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear.  Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’.  Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow.  I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.

An image looking down the Cliff Trail Gully in the alpine terrain of Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The Cliff Trail Gully today offering some winter snow

I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns.  The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds.  I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me.  The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over.  I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully.  I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully.  By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.

I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them.  I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing.  The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent.  Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before.  It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel.  The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there.  I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff.  The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’.  It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick.  Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations.  I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier.  Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around.  I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was.  The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions.  We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures.  It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.

A Google Earth/GPS plot showing the route of my tour in the Chin Area of Mt. Mansfield
A close up view of the Google Earth/GPS map of today’s tour – click for the full size image.

Stowe, VT 31MAR2013

An image of Jay skiing on the Bruce trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Out enjoying the great snow on the Bruce again today

With the Easter holiday, we didn’t have BJAMS ski program today, but we decided to head to Stowe anyway for a bit of lift-served skiing and another run down the Bruce Trail.  E wasn’t able to join us for the Bruce run with the kids last week because she was coaching her younger, intermediate-level students, but she had no such obligations today.  Coverage on the Bruce was excellent last week, and this week has seen fairly typical spring weather for the Northern Greens, with some snowfall and some warmer days, so it didn’t look like there would be any major changes in that department.  Not surprisingly, the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is still sitting right around that 80-inch mark, so there were clearly no issues with loss of snow in the higher elevations.  However, the lower mountain valleys certainly lost snow this week, brining into question the lower elevation snowpack.  And, the Bruce Trail has a good deal of southern exposure, so that means that those areas are going to lose snow more quickly than other aspects at similar elevations.  In fact, I was more concerned about snow coverage on those higher-elevation, south-facing pitches in the 2,000 to 3,600’ elevation range than even the lowest elevations down near 1,000’; the snow in lowest elevations of the route is well protected by the forest and well packed, so I suspect it persists quite well in the spring.

“…I’d say the Bruce
will probably still
be good to go next
weekend as well…”

Today we planned to flip our Bruce Trail tour setup from what we’ve done in the past; we’d park the car down at The Matterhorn, ride the Mountain Road Shuttle up to Mt. Mansfield, ski the mountain for a while, and then finish off with a run down the Bruce and a meal at The Matterhorn.  We timed things pretty well with knowledge of the Mountain Road Shuttle schedule, and arrived at The Matterhorn in the early afternoon with time to get into our gear and head across the street to the shuttle stop.  The plan was for everyone to Telemark since the boys could get in some lift-served practice runs and it’s generally a good fit for a trip down the Bruce, although Ty opted for alpine gear at the last minute because that’s what he felt like skiing.

“On piste coverage
at Stowe remains
excellent, with
100% of trails
open today…”

We started off the afternoon as planned with some lift-served runs, and found some marginally sticky conditions in places.  None of the surfaces were too bad in that regard, but there was definitely some snow that has not transitioned all the way to corn with the rounds of snowfall earlier this week.  Temperatures were a bit warmer than yesterday, sitting in the upper 40s F down in the lower elevations, and somewhere in the 30s F at the summit elevations.  On piste coverage at Stowe remains excellent, with 100% of trails open today – it’s much more typical this season, and nothing like last season when that huge March heat wave really sapped the snowpack.  Dylan worked on his Telemark turns and was making strides on his bad side turn, and Ty on his alpines was throwing himself off all the airs he encountered.

An image of Erica Telemark skiing on the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
E working those Telemark turns on the Bruce today

Around mid afternoon we decided to head down the Bruce for our final run, and the snow was nice and soft right from the top.  The only notable coverage issues were in the usual spots – those steeper pitches with southern exposure.  Those areas had opened up a bit since last week, but the differences in the skiing are fairly marginal; you’ve just got to navigate those areas cautiously.  As expected, the lowest elevations in the Nordic areas in the 1,500’ – 1,000’ range had perfect coverage.  The only potential break in the snow cover down there is the last hundred yards or so where you use the road the leads to the Bruce House.  The road has been plowed, but you can ski on the snow banks along the edge of the road and they’ll take you right out to Route 108 as usual.  The whole trip down the Bruce was extremely quiet today – we didn’t see a single soul on the Bruce itself, and we only saw one family touring on the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center.  Perhaps the holiday kept the numbers of visitors down relative to a typical Sunday, but the resort looked pretty busy overall.  I didn’t track today’s travels by GPS, but for a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the general route of the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.

An image of Jay, Ty, and Dylan giving each other a "high five" near the Matterhorn in Stowe, Vermont after finishing off a run of the Bruce backcountry ski trail
Dad, Ty, and Dylan celebrate finishing off another fun trip down the Bruce.

It was fun to get E’s impressions of the trail since this was her first trip down the Bruce.  She found, and I entirely agree, that on today’s outing the combination of the relatively narrow nature of the trail, the areas where the formation of moguls tended to dictate specific locations for turns, and the concave sculpting of the snow due to skier traffic, all come together to create quite a challenging ascent on Telemark gear.  I noticed those aspects as well, and indeed in this case what is really pretty standard intermediate or advanced fare on alpine equipment, is much more technically demanding on Teles… or at least it is if you’re trying to make Telemark turns.  Trying to navigate those concave edges while snaking down a narrow line (and even feeling narrower in a Telemark stance) among moguls on terrain with decent pitch will certainly push your skills.  Fortunately one can use alpine turns as a fall back, and those are certainly a lot of fun too, but of course trying to be strict with those Tele turns keeps the bar up.  Even with the great spring snow, E favored alpine turns heavily in the steep, upper sections of the trail, but there were plenty of areas where her Telemark turns would flow.  I threw in good doses of alpine turns myself in spots, because sometimes it’s just too hard to plot a solution with Tele turns through certain areas.  But, every run gets more turns under your belt.  Dylan threw in a few Telemark turns here and there, but he already knew going in that he was going to mostly alpine and just enjoy the ride in that fashion.

TAn image of the sign on the side of the Matterhorn bar and restaurant in Stowe, Vermonthe final part of today’s outing was an early dinner at The Matterhorn.  I’ve actually never eaten at The Matterhorn, since I’ve thought of it generally as an après ski bar.  As it turns out though, they’re a restaurant as well, and to my amazement, they’re pretty well known for their sushi.  I tried for a visit to get some sushi back on Bruce Trail trip on January 21st, but the sushi bar is closed on Mondays, so I decided to wait until my next visit.  Well, today was that day, and I’ve got to say that indeed the sushi was quite good.  I went with a Salmon Maki Roll and one of their specialty rolls, the Crab Rangoon Roll, and both were great.  E and the boys didn’t get sushi, but everything we had was good.  Sitting out back by the river is also a nice perk – there was a feel of early spring watching the water roll by amidst the snow.

An image from a table along the Ranch Brook at the Matterhorn Restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Riverside at the Matterhorn this afternoon

Based on forecast for the coming week, I’d say the Bruce will probably still be good to go next weekend as well, so keep it in mind if you’re looking for something to do as we move on to April skiing in the Northern Greens.

Stowe, VT 24MAR2013

An image of Ken jumping off a rock on skis into the powder above Green Acres at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ken tests out the powder landings above Green Acres.

I made a Bruce Trail reconnaissance run back in January, and since then we’ve been waiting for the right combination of snowpack, weather, and coach availability to bring our BJAMS group for a trip down the Bruce.  A couple weeks ago, the forecast began to suggest that the snowpack was just going to continue to build through March, so we decided to bide our time.  Indeed as the forecast suggested, this “powder week”, with between 30 and 50 inches of snow at the Northern Vermont resorts along the Green Mountain spine, has bolstered base depths.  One result of all that snow has been the growth of the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake; it’s finally crept above average this week, reaching a depth of 82 inches as of yesterday.  With excellent snowpack now all the way down to the mountain valleys, a forecast for partly cloudy skies with temperatures around 30 F, and good availability of the BJAMS ski program coaches that wanted to ski the Bruce… today was the day for our trip.

“All in all that had
to be just about
perfect conditions
today for skiing
the Bruce…”

We had a little time before our group got together, so we did a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor and his dad.  As expected, the snow quality was excellent – it was packed powder on the trails and powder off piste, with just a few bare spots here and there on steeper south-facing terrain like Freddie’s Chute.  One of the highlights of that run was West Slope, where we rode the ridge along the skier’s left with big swooping drops into the chowder on the left side.  At one point I heard Luke screaming out behind me something like “That was so intense!” after launching a huge drop on one of his turns… intense indeed!

An image taken in the Spruce Peak Village area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontWe gathered up our group, which featured Claire, Ken, Julia, Luke, Ty, Dylan, and me.  Along with Joana and big Luke, we were missing Joe, Sam and Ethan today, and I suspect they would have loved to make a run down the Bruce, but hopefully they’ll get to do it next time.  Apparently Joe did have a great day out on the mountain on Friday with Ken though, so he’s had a good dose of all this new snow.  We debated briefly about whether we should do our Bruce run at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, but with some folks having obligations preventing them from lingering at the mountain too long at the end, we decided that we’d better start with the Bruce and fill extra time in with some other runs at the end of the day.  Based on my reconnaissance day, I was going with a fairly conservative estimate of two hours for us to complete the run to the base of the Bruce.  I knew there wouldn’t be any problems for anyone in terms of the skiing, I was just unsure about what our pace would be through the flatter terrain in the Nordic areas.  If the kids found it tiring it might take longer than what I’d experience on my own, so I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

An image of Ty skiing powder at the top of the Bruce Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dropping into the Bruce Trail for an afternoon run
An image of Luke, Julia, and Dylan making their way down the Bruce backcountry ski trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Luke, Julia, and Dylan make their way down a narrow section of the Bruce Trail.

We didn’t waste any time getting to the top of the Bruce, we crossed on the Over Easy and went right up the Fourrunner Quad.  Unlike down in the base elevations, there was a brisk wind up there around 3,600’.  Some of the boys dropped in the alternate entrance to the Bruce for a bit of powder and I grabbed a few pictures there and some more as they dropped below me on the trail.  It was packed snow on the trail, but the quality was excellent, far better than what I’d experienced on my January trip, which was after a thaw the previous week.  The skiing in the upper sections went pretty much as expected, the boys were having a blast with the bumps and jumps, and one could explore the powder off to the sides when areas opened up in the trees.  A few of the steepest pitches were a little scraped down in spots, but that was pretty minimal because of the deep base and recent snow.  As we got down into the hardwoods and the forest began to open up even more, I started venturing father off the trail into powder lines based on my previous knowledge.  The powder was generally a foot plus in most places, and that worked well on most pitches – enough to slow you down on the steeper stuff, but not bog you down too much in the mellower areas.  Down on the Nordic trails, the final, flatter part of the descent went very smoothly.  Ty noticed one of those wavy green lines one of the trail signs, indicating beginner Nordic terrain, and with regard to the perceived flatness he said, “Oh no, that type of sign is never good!”  I’d say he found out that it really wasn’t that bad.  The kids did a nice job of keeping their pace on the flatter areas, and I’d give Ty and Dylan occasional boosts to keep their pace up.  They started to play around and get tangled up with each other as they skated and poled their way down the trail, so that kept them entertained even on the flats.  As a bonus we got those beautiful views of the snowy Ranch Brook, and the snow stayed quite powdery all the way down to 1,000’. All in all that had to be just about perfect conditions today for skiing the Bruce, comfortable temperatures, partly cloudy skies, and dry snow all the way to the base.  I’m not sure what more one could ask for aside from getting first tracks!

An image of skiers riding the Mountain Road Shuttle Bus in Stowe
Riding the Mountain Road Shuttle – it’s almost worth doing the Bruce Trail just for that!

From leaving the Spruce Peak Base to reaching the bottom of the Bruce at Route 108, it had taken a bit under 90 minutes, so we made it well under my two-hour conservative estimate, even with the large group.  We were about 20 minutes ahead of the next Mountain Road Shuttle when we reached the end of the trail, so we popped into Notchbrook Convenience Store for some snacks, and enjoyed the early spring weather while we waited.  The March sun is quite nice right now, and it’s the beautiful sort of weather that is keeping the snow dry instead of sticky, even with relatively warm air.  Ty and Dylan loved the ride on the shuttle, and Ty only half jokingly insisted that “The Bruce was nice, but it’s the bus ride that’s really my favorite part of the trip.”  He certainly does like to ride buses.  For a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the travel circuit we used to ski the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.

An image of Luke completing a jump turn at the top of the Green Acres area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Luke comes out of a jump turn in the Green Acres area.

When we arrived back at the Spruce Peak Base Area, we had another hour or so before the lifts stopped running, and we decided to use our remaining time for a trip over to the Sensation Quad.  With the relatively deep March snowpack, it seemed like a good time to ski as much of Spruce Line as we could.  The strengthening sun is only going to start beating on that south-facing terrain more and more.  I was surprised to find that the steep terrain above Green Acres was fairly wind scoured, but we found a line through and the boys did some great steep turns and jumps off one of the rocks there.  Dylan led the charge with an impressive jump turn off the rock, landing in a sea of deep powder.  He was followed up by the other boys, including Luke who was totally jazzed at how high he went.  That steep pitch used to intimidate him, and now he’s launching huge jump turns off boulders into powder.  It’s great to see him expanding his skiing literally by leaps and bounds.  Ken launched a beautiful air off the rock as well, although he had to deal with sloppy fourth or fifths in terms of the powder on the landing.  The snow in Green Acres was excellent – powder of well over a foot in depth, which was plenty to slow you down in some of those tighter tree lines.  We couldn’t ski all of Spruce Line because parts were closed, but we did get the middle section that was fairly lightly tracked with some beautiful snow.  The group also enjoyed the chance to ski Main Street since there weren’t any races taking place – having Main Street open up for general traffic is one of those great things about approaching the spring season at Stowe.

“The Bruce was nice,
but it’s the bus ride
that’s really my
favorite part of
the trip.”

While most of the group had to leave a bit early, Ty, Dylan, and I found time to squeeze in one more run on Sunny Spruce.  We dropped into Freddie’s Chute, and Dylan worked his way to the woods on the skier’s right for some powder.  He ended making an impressive drop off a log, which had to be 8 to 10 feet high.  He did manage to hit his chin with his knee on the landing, and it wasn’t of any consequence, but I did stress the point of being aware that that can happen and making sure that your tongue is not anywhere near your teeth.  That was really an aggressive drop that he made, and between Bolton yesterday and Stowe today, he’s really been on fire with the airs this weekend.  With deep bases and deep powder though, ‘tis the season for such things.  We followed that up with some exploration of the trees off to the skier’s left of Lower Smuggler’s – a section that none of us have ever explored before.  We found some good lines, with just a bit of a slow exit on flat terrain.  We finished off with a final descent down West Slope, making use of that ridge and flying off the edge into the powder.

I just checked the forecast, and we’ve apparent got more snow on the way this week.  Nothing too big is expected, but the mountains often seem to do a lot with just a little moisture in the forecast.  Indeed this is turning out to be quite a March for skiing in the Northern Greens as we make up for the rather paltry snowfall of January and February.

Stowe, VT 19MAR2013

An image of Erica Telemark skiing in powder on the Lower Tyro trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a nor'easter
The latest nor’easter had delivered about a foot of fresh powder to Stowe by the end of the day today.

This morning I awoke to the first accumulation of snow from our current nor’easter.  My early estimation was that there were 3 to 4 inches of snow on the snowboard, and that was pretty close, with 3.8 inches measured for my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS observations.  Once reports from the Vermont ski areas started coming in, the trend was ~6 inches in the northern resorts, and 8 to 9 inches at the southern resorts.  E and the boys eventually got the word that school was cancelled for the day, which meant it was time to decide where to ski.  E was initially leaning toward Bolton for the shorter drive in the snow, but we found out that Claire, Luke, Jack, and Madeleine were going to be at Stowe, and that shifted the balance.

After the initial overnight snowfall, precipitation slowed down for the first half of the morning, and then resumed with greater intensity around mid morning.  It was starting to coat the roads again as we made our way to Stowe, but the driving conditions were still decent.  Based on the day’s ski plans, we parked over by the Mansfield Base Lodge for the first time this season.  The scene had that retro flair, complete with a train of classic, bluesy rock playing on the audio system.

An image from the base of the Fourrunner Quad Chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont showing a sign indicating that it was going to be a powder week
It’s Powder Week!

Stowe had indicated about 5 inches of new snow in their morning report, so I decided that we’d focus on some moderate angle terrain for a bit and see where that led us.  We’d had such success with areas like the Chapel Glades and various surrounding trees, that it seemed like a good place to start.  From the summit of the Fourrunner Quad we made our way down some of my favorite mellow routes in the Toll Road and some of the Upper Sunrise Glades.  We explored a new route and found that there has been a LOT of off season work done in those areas.  We followed that up with a trip through the Chapel Glades, where E was having a lot of fun on here Teles.  E’s favorite part of the run was probably when we dropped into Lower Tyro and found very few tracks, just vast areas of fresh powder at a nice pitch for powder skiing.  As an added bonus, the sky was just unloading snow on us at that point with some of the heaviest snowfall of the day.  We followed that up with a run from the Mountain Triple, where we traversed even farther before dropping into the Chapel Glades and found that there had been a lot less traffic.

Dylan was ready for lunch at the bottom of the next run, so we hit the Mansfield Base Lodge, and we were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of food that they had available.  Once you get used to the plethora of great options at the Great Room Grill, other dining spots might seem limited, but there was a good selection at the ‘ol Mansfield Base Lodge.  I got the soup of the day, which was corn chowder, in a bread bowl, and E and I were able to share it.  Claire called while we were eating, and by the time we were finishing up, she and her crew had arrived.

An image of Dylan skiing in powder snow above his waist in the Hayride Trees at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Deep Dylan

We decided to show everyone what we’d been skiing in the morning, and varied it by pushing even farther into the Upper Sunrise Glades toward a line we’d seen from below.  It was quite steep at the top, which got some of the boys like Ty excited, but meant a bit slower going for Madeleine.  In subsequent runs we hit some of the Hayride Woods that we’d wanted to try and finished off the day visiting Duck Walk and the half pipe.  We actually had to start picking up the pitch of untracked terrain as the day wore on, because the powder was getting deep enough that the gentler terrain wasn’t quite cutting it.  It’s a good sign that the subsurface is getting covered.  It’s been quite fun exploring the far southern side of the resort after so many days earlier this season in the northern areas.

Overall it was a sensational powder day, since temperatures were comfortable and there was little if any wind away from the highest elevations.  There were numerous times today where we enjoyed the silence that comes from heavy snow in the air.  It looks like this snowfall could continue for quite a good period this week, and Stowe actually had a sign at the bottom of the Fourrunner Quad indicating not just a “powder day”, but a “powder week”.  That’s a good way to run a week.  The Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 70 inches today, which is the highest it’s been this season.  It’s still a little bit below average, but the mountain is skiing really well and should be in really great shape if the snow keeps up this week.

Stowe, VT 17MAR2013

An image of Dylan skiing powder in the trees above the Chapel Glades at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan enjoys some of the powder today at Stowe

The temperatures are staying cold, the powder is staying dry, and we were off to Stowe this afternoon to check it out.  Stowe reported similar snowfall numbers to Bolton Valley for the past couple of storms, and based on what we experienced yesterday, I knew that there was going to be some great powder skiing out there on parts of the mountain.  The current conditions are just excellent for powder skiing on moderate angle terrain; the warmth from earlier in the week set up a smoothed subsurface to support the new snow that fell later in the week.  As I tossed around ideas of where to bring our BJAMS ski group today, I eventually realized that the Chapel Glades and the other woods surrounding that area were going to be just what we needed.  I haven’t brought any of the kids there that I can remember, nor had I been there much myself in the past few seasons, but it looked like it was time to change that.

Peering out from the car as we arrived at the mountain, it looked cold and windy at the Spruce Peak Base Area, and indeed it was.  It wasn’t January cold, but it was on the cold side for March, with midday temperatures around 20 F and plenty of wind to add some extra bite.  While we waited for the entire group to assemble, we did a quick run off the Alpine Double Chair, and as a prelude to the day, I brought Ty, Dylan, Luke, and Jack into some of the Upper Meadows Trees.  It was a test to see just how good the powder skiing was going to be, and it was a perfect introduction.  The pitch in there is somewhere in the light blue range, which was just right for the 6 to 8 inches of settled powder lying on the ground.  There hadn’t been a single track in there before we entered, but after everyone in the group dove in after us to try their hand at the powder, it looked quite different.  The whoops and shouts as people passed through made it pretty clear that we were going to have a lot of fun finding more of that terrain throughout the day.  That section of trees has a tight exit, and you could certainly tell the more veteran tree skiers from those that were still learning the ropes, but everyone eventually made it out successfully.  Farther below, on the open terrain above Meadows, we found very good chopped up powder with some fresh snow thrown in by the winds, so that was also encouraging with regard to overall conditions.

With Claire, Joe and Ethan, Ken and his family, and some additional family and friends of Ken’s,, our group numbered 16 as we headed over to Mt. Mansfield.  There was no way we were going to hold that large a posse together, but we set our meeting point as the bottom of the Fourrunner Quad and knew that we’d all get there.  The trip down Cliff Trail was OK, even if it felt a bit cramped with such a large group, but conditions really became icy once we got to Nosedive.  I’m not sure if it’s the manmade snow or the traffic levels there, but if we hadn’t already been set on our course toward better snow, that experience would have done it.  The highlight of that run was discovering the Liftline Trees that brought us all the way from Midway down to almost the base.  I can’t believe how open those trees are, or that we haven’t been skiing them all season.  They are going way up on our hit list as an alternative to skiing Lower Liftline.  We hopped on the Fourrunner Quad, and at the summit I showed the group the top of the Bruce Trail since we’re contemplating a sidecountry trip in that area next week if conditions cooperate.  We proceeded toward Ridge View and Sunrise, and I showed the group some of the Sunrise Trees above Toll Road.  The powder was really good in there, especially as we worked our way over toward some of the less tracked areas.  Dylan and I found lines with 8-12” inches of accumulation in there as we worked our way farthest to the skier’s right for a pit stop, and the turns were very impressive.

Below Toll Road we all dropped into the Chapel Glades and, they delivered just the kind of skiing that I’d expected.  The main lines were fairly tracked, which is not surprising since they are an official glade on the map, but just a little venturing off to the sides revealed lots of untracked lines with a consistent 6-8” of powder.  The pitches were just perfect for the snow we had.  We regrouped at the Chapel, and as we passed along some of the Toll Road trees, we ogled the acres and acres of untracked snow that sat below us.  We decided that we’d do another lap on the Mountain Triple, and we set our sights on a big run all the way down to the Toll House.  As a bonus, we caught a lap through the half pipe and the terrain features on Standard – although a great part for some of us was the powder off to the sides more than the terrain features. Joe was having a blast with the skiing, and he commented on how he was quickly gaining confidence and an understanding of what was possible among the trees.  It really is an eye opening experience for skiers that get past that tree skiing threshold, because they start to appreciate that they’ve got thousands of acres between the in bounds and sidecountry terrain of Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak.  I started pointing out lines to Joe and Claire on our next lift ride, and it seemed like everywhere we looked, large expanses of open tree skiing terrain were just sitting there.  Even though base depths haven’t really gone up too substantially over this past week, it’s as if a switch was flipped and lines hit some sort of threshold.  That warming and base consolidation must have locked up some obstacles the previously might have been lurking in the soft snow.

We’d temporarily lost Ken and his family, but with a bit of cell phone help we managed to get back together for our next run.  We traveled farther along Toll Road before dropping into the Chapel Glades, and I regained a perspective on just how large that complex of glades actually is.  This time, we continued down into the Toll House Woods, and really got a long run through the powder.  It’s over a mile down to the Toll House, and we couldn’t ski the woods the whole way, but I bet we were in there for close to half of it, with the Tollhouse trail also got us some great fresh snow.  When folks asked me why nobody ever skied down there, I said it was because of the long, slow return back to the rest of the resort, but on days like this when the conditions fit the terrain just right, it’s certainly worth it.

After our long trip on the Toll House Lift, we collectively decided to call it a day, but a few of us hit one more glade in the Lullaby Lane Trees, and that was a fun discovery.  This was definitely one of those days where you really start to gain an appreciation for the vastness and seemingly limitless ski options available at Stowe.  Despite years of skiing there, I just keep finding entirely new areas to ski.

E and the boys and I went to the Whip for dinner on the way home, and met up with Claire and Luke in the dining room.  The Whip is one of our favorite places because they’re open all day, and you can get great food there while other places are in between lunch and dinner.  So if you have an early ski day at Stowe and finish in the mid afternoon, you can stop in at The Whip and get a great meal.  It’s going to be interesting to see how things work out next weekend in terms of conditions, because we could be in for quite a snowy week if the forecast is correct.

 

Stowe, VT 10MAR2013

An image of Joe dropping into the steep headwall of the National Trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Soft snow for the steep terrain today at Stowe

Today’s weather was a lot like yesterday’s – the morning started out quite cold, but bright March sunshine quickly brought temperatures well up into the 40s F even in the mountains.  We were back at Stowe for our BJAMS ski program today, and people seemed really excited to get right out and taste the skiing on soft snow under sunny skies.  With no notable snowstorms affecting Northern Vermont over the past week, base depths have stagnated and the snowpack at the stake remains at 64 inches.  That’s within an inch of where it was a week ago at this time, and while the dearth of storms is keeping the snowpack below average, it’s still deep enough for ample base on just about every slope.

“…although the surface wasn’t
quite corn, it was a beautiful,
soft concoction of softened
snow that just peeled away
as you dropped in…”

Today we joined up with Joe’s group to form a large aggregate of 11 skiers, and our first goal was to get Ken out for a run on Angel Food.  We’re approaching the time of year when people start to switch up their ski clothing to accommodate the warmer temperatures, and there’s always the danger of leaving your season’s pass in an article of clothing that you’re not wearing.  Indeed that’s exactly what happened to Luke today – as he got in line for the Gondola he realized that his pass was in his other jacket.  While he headed back over to Spruce to grab it, the rest of us decided to put Angel Food plans on hold for a run on Gondolier, allowing us to quickly meet him back at the bottom.  I’d say this change in plans was probably for the best, because the early afternoon sun was creating some sticky snow, and it was best to go for areas with skier traffic for a firmer surface.  The snow was beautifully pliable and soft, and certainly not overly slushy on the groomed runs, but you would still encounter some stickiness.  Off piste areas without any traffic indeed had mushy snow, and not knowing the traffic levels out at Angel Food, we decided it was best to hold off until surfaces were either fully converted to corn, or we got back into some winter snow.

With the new assessment of snow conditions, we decided to head over to ski some terrain off the Fourrunner Quad.  Slopes with snowmaking often have that denser snow that provides a bit of resistance to that stickiness, so we headed over on Cliff Trail to check out Nosedive.  Lower Nosedive was OK, but even with its manmade snow it really didn’t offer that much of a difference from what we’d experienced on the natural snow terrain, so while checking out Upper Nosedive was on our list, we were certainly open to other options.  A definite highlight of Nosedive was that due to the soft snow, every little terrain feature and jump is getting that extra bit of sculpting, and the kids were chomping at the bit to hit one of their favorite kickers at the Nosedive/Cliff Trail intersection.  Soft snow for landings meant that going a bit bigger was the call, and even the adults joined in and threw out some air of their own, including a classic spread from Ken.  As we remained on the lookout for other trail options, some quickly presented themselves as we made our next ascent on the Quad and looked down at Liftline and National.  They looked like they were in prime form, the skiers we saw seemed to be having a blast, and we know that this was the perfect kind of snow for skiing them.

An image of Ken in a spread eagle jump on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ken shows the kids how it’s done on Nosedive today.

We quickly changed our plans to a descent of National – the top of that National Headwall is very steep, and this was the perfect time for the students to practice those steep turns without any ice.  We found the headwall in nearly perfect form – although the surface wasn’t quite corn, it was a beautiful, soft concoction of softened snow that just peeled away as you dropped in, and the high elevation and steep aspect meant that the sun wasn’t provoking any sticky melting in the snow.  A lot of positive vibes came out of the descent of the headwall, as some initial trepidation dissolved when people realized that dropping into something so steep was well within their means, and that it wasn’t only manageable but downright fun.  Luke T was extremely impressed with how well he skied his entry, and he looked great as he cut well controlled turns down the steep face.  Joe was immediately calling for another go at the headwall because he’d had so much fun.  Below the headwall sat the never ending land of steep bump lines, and I think everyone got a workout and then some as we worked out way down Liftline.  While Ken worked with Joanna on some of the finer points of tackling that sort of terrain, the rest of the gang gathered farther down the trail… and naturally a snowball fight broke out.

Ty wanted to ski the same run again, just so that we could have another snowball fight, but the general consensus was that the headwall was just so much fun that we had to do it again.  On the second lap I shot some pictures of people dropping into the headwall, and managed some decent ones even though I only had E’s Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS point and shoot on me.  It’s got a decent high speed burst mode capturing 3 megapixel images at ~8 FPS, but it locks the focus on the first image and you can’t really zoom while shooting, so there are certainly some limitations relative to using a DSLR.  But, it gets some good pictures in a pinch.  To mix things up we continued on down to Lower National instead of Liftline, and I’d say everyone’s legs were getting pretty cooked by the end of that one.

We finished off the day with some Lord Trees and a run on Hackett’s Highway, which the boys have really been enjoying lately.  Coverage is still great there, which speaks well about the natural snow depths, even on the lower half of the mountain.  The cliff bands have got some patchy spots with poor coverage, although that is somewhat typical even when the snow depths are above average.  Clouds came in as the afternoon wore on, and those surfaces that had gotten a bit sticky actually sped up without the direct sun.  It looks like we’ve got a couple more warn days coming up to start the week, but then we’ve got some midweek snow and winter temperatures for the foreseeable future.  Hopefully we can get sufficient new snow this week to cover up the snow surfaces, because the return to winter temperatures will probably set them up firmly and they’ll be scratchy without some powder.

Stowe, VT 03MAR2013

An image of Ken on skis dropping into the Gondolier Woods at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Conditions are outstanding right now at Stowe – Ken demonstrates as he drops into the Gondolier Woods.

We’ve been under the continued influence of an upper level low pressure system off to our northeast for the past couple of days, and it’s brought persistent light snows to the mountains and even the valleys in Northern Vermont.  As of this morning we’d picked up a couple of inches of snow here at the house, and the mountains had received up to 7 inches of powder.  The snowfall was fairly robust up around 3,000’ yesterday when I was out in the Bolton Valley backcountry, and although it had tapered off somewhat today, we knew that conditions were going to be good with the consistently wintry temperature regime we’ve had.  Today was BJAMS ski program day at Stowe, and based on the latest report from Powderfreak yesterday, we knew the skiing was going to be excellent.

“It’s almost hard to get
a handle on just how good
much of the mountain is
skiing right now – each new
line we try seems to deliver.”

Claire recently returned from her trip to Africa, so we headed off to Stowe a bit early to make some initial “face time” ski runs that E and Claire could use to catch up on program coordination.  We did a couple of laps off Sunny Spruce with the boys, and the conditions were fantastic as expected.  The groomed surfaces were all packed powder, and the edges of the trails and the off piste areas were providing ample powder.  I did encounter a bit of firmer snow beneath the powder on the open slopes above Meadows.  Signs of that melt layer from last week’s bits of low-elevation warmth are certainly getting buried with the continued rounds of light snow, but low elevation and south facing areas still have some of that underneath.

An image of Ken doing a tip stand on his skis outside the Spruce Camp Lodge at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ken keeps the boys on their toes as we get ready for the day’s ski session.

When it was time for our session, we gathered up our main group, which consisted of me, Ty, Dylan, Luke, and Ken.  We chatted with Joe and his group about joining up for some runs – we heard about how much fun they’d had in the Chin Clip Streambed, and figured that they would love Angel Food.  We were anxious to get Ken a run out there, so it was high on our hit list for the day.  Our first run up on the docket though, was Spruce Line; that was Ty’s request, and we figured that we should get it in before we headed over to Mansfield.  We teamed up with Joe and his group right away, since they wanted to ski that area as well.  We were even able to take Horse Barn Chute on our way over; since coverage is really good right now, and that area has filled in well.  From the top of Sensation we dropped into Green Acres, and Luke was very excited to be making turns down that first steep face that has intimidated him in the past.  The snow in the trees there was outstanding, with a few inches of untouched powder on the main lines, and bottomless powder off to the sides.  It seems like there’s been very little traffic in there as of late.  In order to attempt the lower areas of Spruce Line, we connected back to Main Street, but we found the entrances to those lower areas closed (possibly because of the race taking place on Main Street) and took it as our cue to head over to Mansfield.

“Joe was amazed at how
deep and plentiful the snow
was out there – he said it
reminded him of Lake Tahoe…”

We decided to get right on with our plan to ski Angel Food, since it wasn’t the sort of endeavor I wanted to tackle late in the day with a group of eleven, most of whom had never been out there.  As it turned out, we were going to appreciate that cushion of time.  Our first snafu took place just as we were finishing the traverse out to the top of Angel Food. Joanna dropped a bit too low on the traverse, and wound up being committed to a lower line.  Ken decided that he’d better accompany her to make sure everything went smoothly – it’s roughly a mile of distance that needs to be covered to get out of there, and the route is through forested terrain of varying densities that is typically filled with deep powder.  It’s important to have a sense for where you are going, so Ken’s choice was apt.  And then there were nine.  The general descent of Angel Food went fairly smoothly for the rest of the group, and Joe and everyone else experiencing the area for the first time were simply having a blast.  Joe was amazed at how deep and plentiful the snow was out there – he said it reminded him of Lake Tahoe, and I let him know that it’s one of the reasons people are so enamored with the skiing on that part of the mountain.  That area beneath The Chin gets perhaps the most snow at the resort, on a mountain already known for getting a lot of snow.  Indeed the conditions out there have just been getting better and better as the snow’s been piling up over the past month, and it was packed powder all around on the main line with virtually limitless options for powder off to the sides.  Our next snafu began when we just missed the main traverse back to the gondola base.  I quickly got the word out that we should start traversing hard on our own, but Ethan missed that announcement and was already a few dozen yards below us.  I started a fresh traverse through the powder, with the other folks following me, and we instructed Ethan to start his own traverse below.  I cut a pretty hard traverse that was doing a good job of getting us back on track, but Ethan’s traverse was not quite as strict, and before long he was a hundred yards below us.  There was no way he was going to get back up to us in a reasonable amount of time.  I decided that we needed to keep the entire group together, and if it meant taking one of the lines all the way down to the notch and lengthening our run, then that’s what we’d do.  It’s one of the reasons we made sure we had the extra time.  The bonus result of the situation of course was that we got to ski a fairly steep, very lightly tracked line.  It’s one of the multitude of fantastic lines that one might ogle when they’re out there, wondering where they go… and we got to find out.  As it turns out, it still has a traverse that gets one back onto the main line, and we had Ethan to thank for the discovery.  I’m sure it’s got a nice name given by someone that worked hard to create such an excellent piece of ski terrain, but “Ethan’s Chute” is going to be our name for now.  Honestly, today’s explorations only reinforced the fact that it could take years to really piece together the hundreds of acres of glades, chutes, and everything else that is out there.  Thanks to today’s explorations though, we were able to add another small piece to the puzzle.

Ken and Joanna had made good time on their descent, which was somewhere inside of ours and more proximal to the resort, and Ken said that although there was still some undergrowth on their route like we’d experienced a few weeks back in the Bench Woods, they encountered just ridiculous amounts of untracked powder.  Sam had battled just a little too much powder and a few too many trees on our Angel Food descent, so Joe brought him back over to Spruce for a break, and Joanna and Julia had some runs they wanted to do on their own, so we were down to a group of seven.  After the long Angel Food adventure we decided to slow it down a bit by taking a standard run on Waterfall and Gondolier, and then giving the boys a break in the Midway LodgeWaterfall had absolutely excellent snow after just a couple of windswept moguls at the top – it was soft packed powder with a few inches of new powder sifted in on top.  It’s almost hard to get a handle on just how good much of the mountain is skiing right now – each new line we try seems to deliver.  We generally stuck to Gondolier for most of that descent, but some of us couldn’t help but get sucked into the Gondolier Woods for at least part of the run.  That terrain was already in good shape a month ago, so it’s not hard to figure out how good it’s getting now.

As we sat in the Midway Lodge, taking our break by the fireplace (which I think is becoming a favorite spot for Ken as well as me) we threw around ideas for our end game.  We’d have time for just a run or two, and we ultimately decided to traverse over to the Fourrunner Quad and catch either Lookout or Hackett’s Highway.  Lookout was closed from the top, so we wound our way down to Hackett’s, again visiting some of those Lord Trees that we’d explored last time.  Ty had quite an exit there, dropping a six foot cliff back onto the trail area, and nearly landing on a rock, but he pulled it out.  Hackett’s was in nice shape, and we coupled it with some Hackett’s Highway Trees as we made our way to Crossover and back to the Spruce Peak Base Area.

On the way home, E and the boys and I stopped off for some dinner at Piecasso, and while we were there discussing the day’s exploits on the slopes, a gentleman sitting at the table next to us with his family, overhead us and asked about conditions.  He said that they had just arrived in town, and that they were concerned about the amount of snow that they were seeing, wondering if there was going to be enough on the slopes.  I was surprised, because Stowe actually has decent coverage in town – I’m sure it’s below normal for this time of year at a bit less than a foot (March 3rd is actually the peak for snowpack at our house, and that’s typically around two feet), but everything is well covered and white thanks to the recent light snows.  Depending on where he came from though, he may have seen some rather meager looking snowpack in places.  I assured him that the mountain was very well covered, and that there was over five feet of natural snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake.  I’m not sure where that family was from, perhaps Quebec based on the accents, but they should have a classic, fantastic Stowe experience this week.  We’ve got a couple more days of this light snow, then some clear days are expected at the end of the week, and there’s the potential for a larger snowstorm next weekend.  I’m looking forward to making turns next weekend already.

Stowe, VT 24FEB2013

An image of Ty skiing in soft snow on Angel Food at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont.
Ty on Angel Food today – conditions are simply fantastic at Stowe right now and it’s a great time to hit the slopes.

Today was back to ski program at Stowe, and with the recent snows we decided to make it an early day and get in some turns in the morning before our actual sessions started.  After charging the boys up with a good breakfast, we headed off to Stowe under cloudy skies and temperatures running a pretty consistent 35 F in the lower mountain valleys.  The temperatures slightly above freezing created a cascade of wet snow slowly slipping off trees, roofs, and most other objects as we traveled through those areas.  As we ascended to the resort base elevations, the temperatures finally cooled down to around the freezing mark, and we were greeted with light snow falling.

“…now is the time
to go if you’ve been
waiting to ride the
Northern Greens.”

After my reconnaissance run on Angel Food on the 14th, I was planning to bring my group out there today.  I figured it would be fun to give E a chance to ski the area since she’d never been out that far, and it would provide Ty and Dylan with a preview so that they could be helpful with guiding when we brought the other boys out there.  Descending from the top of the gondola on Upper Gondolier, it was immediately obvious just how good the snow surfaces were.  The combination of the past two storms has really done a great job of resurfacing the on piste areas.  Conditions out on Angel Food were quite good – we skied the standard route and mostly tracked snow, but it hardly mattered because the snow was so soft.  E hasn’t skied Stowe on alpine skis with the boys in quite a while, and she was very impressed with the pace at which they seemed to fly through the challenging terrain.  She’s definitely worried that the boys are starting to surpass her in aspects of their skiing – at least on alpines.  One of the interesting things we noticed while out on Angel Food today was the number of people using the route to skin up the mountain.  I guess it’s a convenient way to go so that one stays out of bounds for an ascent.  We made one more gondola run on Perry Merrill so that E could check out the potential for some of her intermediate students, and I noted that with conditions being so good, it could be a real confidence builder.  Ty and Dylan kept up their fast pace of ascent, even racing on the last pitch of Perry Merrill with E’s approval, but I assured her that we did not do things like that during our regular session time.

Our next stop was lunch at the Great Room Grill – I tried the salmon burger for the first time and it was quite good.  It comes with an interesting side of coleslaw that has some unique raisins in it.  We wanted a good meal because we were expecting to push hard all afternoon with the great snow that was out there.  We’d already learned that Ken wasn’t going to be able attend our afternoon session, and in the end we found out that Jack was also out, so it was jump me, Ty, Dylan, and Luke.

Our first stop of the afternoon was the standard Angel Food run, and it was a huge success with Luke.  After difficulty in the Bench Woods, he was very impressed with how much better Angle Food was.  We continued on next with his selection of the Nosedive Glades from the Cliff Trail side, and then another selection he’d mentioned – Hackett’s Highway.  We sampled some great woods in various places off the Fourrunner Quad – the off piste is skiing really well right now and you can essentially jump into any line you want.  Back at the Gondola we had a long run through some of the Gondolier trees and the  finished off the day back at Spruce with some trees and most of the terrain above Meadows.  Even that terrain right down near the base was skiing stupendously.

We had dinner in Stowe on the way home, trying out Charlie B’s Pub and Restaurant.  It’s associated with the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa, and has a nice cozy atmosphere.  While we were there, we also got to watch footage from the Stowe Derby that had taken place today.  It’s fun to watch people try to negotiate those curves on the Toll Road on Nordic skis – that takes some serious skill.

As an overall comment on the day, I’ve got to say that the skiing is simply fantastic right now in both a qualitative and quantitative sense.  The snow from the current storm was denser than fluff, and even though it hasn’t been a huge storm, it’s contributed quite a resurfacing when combined with the midweek storm.  For me, today’s skiing at Stowe had a bit of a Whistler Blackcomb feel to it; the peaks were shrouded in clouds, snow was falling, and the snow underfoot was semi-dense with plenty of meat to it that covered up the subsurface.  I’d say the part where the experience differed was that you could head all the way down into the village elevations and you wouldn’t get into that sticky snow that can so often be an issue as you get down toward Whistler Village.  While dense, there wasn’t any stickiness from top to bottom – at least down to the 1,500’ elevation.  Part of the Whistler Blackcomb issue of course is that they’re covering 5,000’+ of vertical, but today’s snow was like a good slice of 2,000’+ from somewhere up in the higher elevations.  In terms of quantity, the stake is at 65”, so right around that average mark, and average for this time of year is pretty sweet.  These last two storms have clearly pushed things to another tier of coverage off piste; we were skiing and seeing lines that we’ve yet to this season, and the skiing in many areas has taken on an entirely new dimension.  Anyway, now is the time to go if you’ve been waiting to ride the Northern Greens.

Stowe, VT 14FEB2013

An image looking down at the top of the Angle Food run in the sidecountry ski terrain at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Taking in the view before dropping into Angel Food today

The winter storm that’s been affecting Vermont over the past couple of days is actually one that The Weather Channel name “Orko” based on its effects in the Midwest earlier in the week.  Snowfall from the system hasn’t been widespread, but it has dropped a foot and a half of snow on Jay Peak, and Stowe has done reasonably well with its own foot of fresh powderPowderfreak’s fluffy pictures from Tuesday told the story – it was another one of those midweek Mt. Mansfield powder days that fly right under the radar.  And, the snow wasn’t just fluff; it had enough substance that it represented a reasonable resurfacing of the slopes.  What made the new snow even better was that I wouldn’t say Stowe even needed it that badly based on the conditions we encountered Sunday.  With these thoughts in mind, I’d contemplated getting out to Mansfield for a few turns, but when Powderfreak commented in a post on Americanwx.com that “…it’s pretty unanimous in town here that the mountain is skiing the best of the season”, it seemed like it was time to pay the mountain a visit.  I’d been too busy to fit it in earlier in the week, but I finally found myself with enough time this morning to get out and make a few turns.

“…it’s pretty unanimous
in town here that the
mountain is skiing the
best of the season.”

The beckoning conditions were certainly enough to get me out to the hill, but I had another good reason to pay Mt. Mansfield a visit.  Our Sunday trip out to the Bench Woods with the boys during our BJAMS ski program got me thinking about bringing them out to Angel Food.  It’s been a while since I’ve been out that way though, so like I did for the Bruce Trail a few weeks back I wanted to get in some reconnaissance to ensure that the trip would go smoothly.  As of yesterday, the Mt. Mansfield Stake was showing a snowpack depth of 57 inches; it was still below average, but only by a couple of inches, and it was certainly enough to provide some decent turns even on steeper runs in the Stowe sidecountry.

An image of the sign for the Angel Food trail in the sidecountry ski terrain at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontWith the combination of new snow and relatively low, midweek skier traffic, the traverse out to Angel Food was in good shape.  I stopped in a few spots along the traverse to check the depth of the powder, and found anywhere from 12 to 20 inches in the high elevations.  The main route was certainly tracked up, but there are just so many acres and acres of terrain around it that fresh lines were everywhere for the taking.  Even though it was tracked and packed, the snow in the central areas was so good that I actually spent a lot of time there working on turns.  When I did venture off the sides of the main route into other trees, the powder turns were divine, but the depth of the powder definitely started to drop as I went down in elevation.  Down near the 2,000’ elevation there was also a thin layer of crust somewhere between the layers of powder.  It was often quite subtle, so I suspect it was simply a bit of melt crust from when temperatures in the lower elevations rose above freezing on one of these past few days.  I decided to take the traverses that got me back to the base of the resort instead of venturing down to Route 108, since that’s most likely what we’ll do with the boys at first, but we’ll work our way up to some of the other stuff.  There was just glade after glade after glade off the main Angel Food route with few if any tracks, so the resort is really set up well for the coming holiday weekend.

A close-up image of powder snow on a spruce branch out in the Angel Food sidecountry area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Out in the sidecountry – a little Champlain Powder settled on a spruce

“There was just glade after
glade after glade off the main
Angel Food route with few if
any tracks…”

After getting back to the base, I decided on one more run on Gondolier to really burn out my legs – I was on my Telemark skis so it really wasn’t going to take much.  On piste conditions were very good.  I’d still encounter the occasional firm spot, so I can’t quite put them down as top notch, but they were way up there.  As they have been much of the week, temperatures at the base were right around 30 F, and somewhere in the 20s F up top.  Between the fresh snow, midweek levels of visitors, and the perfect temperatures, people who chose this week for their vacation are really getting that quintessential Stowe experience.  I think a couple more feet of base snow would really get everything to that upper echelon of conditions, but it’s essentially powder and packed powder everywhere as far as I could tell, so it’s somewhat splitting hairs on the exact level of snow quality.  We’ve got some chances for snow going into the holiday weekend, and I’m leaning toward some backcountry turns barring a big storm, but front, side, or backcountry – the skiing is looking good in the Northern Greens right now.

Stowe, VT 10FEB2013

An image of Ty skiing in soft snow in the Meadows area at Stowe Mountain Resort in vermont
Ripping it up on Spruce Peak today

Today was a continuation of riding Nemo’s bounty, and we got to check out how things went down at Stowe.  Like most of the Vermont ski areas, Stowe fell in that 1 to 1 ½ foot range for storm accumulation, reporting 14 inches from the event.  Yesterday’s cold had also cleared out today, with the forecast calling for sunshine and temperatures in the 20s F.

We kicked things off before program started, with a warm up run off the Sunny Spruce Quad.  Conditions last Sunday were certainly decent, but it was easy to see that they’d taken a significant step upward today.  On piste, the snow from Nemo had been worked into the groomed surfaces to make them quite soft, and off piste there was a good foot of fairly fresh powder everywhere.  The boys requested a descent along the Sunny Spruce lift line on Lower Smuggler’s and it was some fine cruising.  We had time for a second quick run since people were still assembling, so we checked out Nastar Hill and the open terrain above Meadows.  When we’d initially arrived at the resort today I hadn’t seen many tracks up in that area, so I figured it might be crusty or tough to ski, but it was anything but tough.  It was partially skier-packed snow that was gloriously soft.  After ripping his way down that face Ty proclaimed, presumably with some hyperbole, that it was his “best run ever”.  I get where he was going with that though, in that it was almost effortless.  That’s low elevation, south-facing terrain, and the conditions were extremely impressive.  After experiencing that, and having skied west-facing terrain at similar elevations at Bolton Valley yesterday, I’d say that Stowe currently has the edge in terms of conditions.

An image of Ty sitting in the powder in the Nosedive Glades at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Kickin’ back in the Nosedive Glades

We finally met up with Ken and Jack and made our way over to Mt. Mansfield.  With the new snow that has fallen thanks to Nemo, I decided that a Kitchen Wall run was in order, and the boys were fired up for that.  The snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake has jumped to 55 inches with the addition of the recent snow, so that’s getting it up not too far below average.  The Kitchen Wall traverse is in decent shape, although certainly not as soft and filled in as it could be.  The snow in there was nice, with plenty of areas of untracked powder remaining if you were willing to poke around.  Down below we found Nosedive a bit firm in the middle at times due to the manmade snow, but the edges were great and we worked those all the way back down to the Gondola.

“It was partially
skier-packed snow
that was gloriously
soft.”

Another big plan for the day was to bring the boys out to the Bench Woods, since only Dylan has been in there with me.  The first chutes bypassing Upper Gondolier were simply heinous – they’re cut overly tight for their very steep pitch to begin with, and with the traffic that has been in there, the coverage is worn down way too low.  Another couple feet of base are needed in there to make them respectable.  Even before we went in, I told the boys that I usually skip those chutes because they hardly ever ski well, but I wanted them to at least experience what they were like.  Well, one trip was enough for them to realize why those chutes just aren’t that great.  Down in the Bench Woods the powder was actually quite plentiful.  Ken and I had a blast gliding our way down the center of a small streambed that just kept going and going.  Luke and Jack definitely struggled in there though, since there are a lot of saplings that make many lines feel tight, and they don’t have a ton of experience in that terrain.  Ty and Dylan handled it well, although they did get a bit bored waiting for the other boys if they were getting stuck in the powder or having trouble navigating.  It’s a long run as it is, but between the struggles and boredom, Ken and I were probably the only ones really having an all out blast.  However, we had a lot of good teaching moments dealing with the nuances of skiing that sort of terrain.  The past couple of times I’ve been in there, it’s seemed like there’s a lot more underbrush compared to what I remember back in the 90s – I just think the whole place needs a good pruning and it will ski many, many times better.

An image of Luke having a snack in the Midway Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontComing back out of the Bench Woods felt like a never ending saga for the boys, so when we finally arrived, I decided that they’d earned a good snack break in the Midway Lodge, just like Dylan and I had done that last time we’d skied in there.  And, just like Dylan and I had done, we kicked back near the Fireplace in the near solitude of Midway in the late afternoon.  For a snack I grabbed what looked like some maple granola made by Mitzi’s, a local Stowe company also known as Fresh Mountain Foods.  That granola is fantastic, and when I shared it around among the group everyone was impressed.  I suspect they carry it in other parts of the resort, but it’s going to be an excuse to get me back to the Midway Lodge.

“Ken and I had a blast
gliding our way down
the center of a small
streambed that just
kept going and going.”

After the extended break to recover from our Bench Woods adventure, we had time for one more run.  We decided to keep it simple due to the late hour, so we just did a Perry Merrill to Gondolier run.  The snow was again quite good, and excellent along the edges.  About halfway down I heard the boys yelling about something they could see off in the distance, and the best we could tell, since it was way down in the base area, it looked like a car was on fire.  Black smoke was billowing hundreds of feet in the air, but it was hard to imagine that it could actually be a car on fire.  We rushed down to the base, and low and behold there was indeed an SUV on fire.  It was the weirdest thing, and not something you’d expect to see at the base of a ski resort (or I guess most places for that matter).  I’m not sure what caused it, but perhaps we’ll hear about it in the paper.

An image of a burning SUV in the Midway parking lot at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Strange sight in the Midway parking lot

The boys wanted to hang around for some food, so we had a mellow meal by one of the south windows in the mostly deserted Great Room Grill.  Claire is off to Africa for a couple of weeks, so she and Luke weren’t there, and Jack and his family were with some other folks over by the Spruce Camp Bar.  Jack and the boys played some sort of hide and go seek around the lodge though, and kept themselves amused until we finally had to reel them in.  At least E got them to eat most of their food – they often forget to eat and then they want more food when we get home.

We’ve got another winter storm coming into the area tomorrow.  It’s a low pressure system that will be working in nearly overhead out of the Midwest, and in The Weather Channel naming scheme this one is called “Orko”.  Down here in the valley it sounds like we’ll have a bit of rain with snow on the front and back ends of the storm, but it sounds like the higher elevations are going to be mostly snow with perhaps a little sleet.  You folks better get your space heaters in order, no one wants frozen toes. The current forecast calls for 5 to 9 inches in the Mt. Mansfield area, although the models are showing some good potential for upslope snow on the back side lingering into Tuesday night, so totals could ultimately be higher than that if the upslope really kicks in.