Category Archives: Stowe

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 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

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.

Stowe, VT 03FEB2013

An image of a ski track in powder in the Tombo Woods area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Mt. Mansfield somehow still delivering that good snow

Since the roughly half foot of snow that the mountains picked up at the start of the midweek period, there really hasn’t been much in the way of additional snow.  Temperatures aren’t nearly as cold as they were when that arctic air was here a week or so back, but we’re in a similar dry, zonal flow weather pattern.  We’ve had just an inch of new snow at the house this past week, and the mountains haven’t had much more.  There certainly hasn’t been enough moisture for a full resurfacing of the slopes since the warm temperatures that came through midweek, so there wasn’t a lot of incentive to head out yesterday for turns.  I did get a lot of stuff done around the house though, and that’s a typical benefit of these snowfall lulls.  Today was a different story though – we had our BJAMS ski program at Stowe in the afternoon, and with temperatures predicted to be near 20 F at the base elevations with minimal winds, there was no reason to cancel like we had to do last weekend.  I wasn’t too optimistic about the snow conditions though – I actually pulled out my diamond stone and ran it along the edges of my Salomon Scream Hots just to make sure they were ready to hold an edge on firm surfaces.  I can’t remember the last time I was tempted to do a mid season sharpening of my edges, but today definitely had me worried.

“To my amazement, it was
far more than just good, it
was great. It was again that
2-3 inches of powder over a
fairly spongy base.”

It was partly cloudy and looked quite pleasant as we arrived at the mountain around midday.  The Spruce Peak parking lot was rather full as usual, and there was a race going on, but it certainly didn’t seem too busy.  We were able to grab one of those parking spots just a stone’s throw from the old Day Lodge, as there seemed to be a lot of people leaving midday.  I suspect anyone from Southern New England that wanted to get home to catch the Super Bowl would probably want to leave around that time.  I know that the resort has been making snow this week, so I figured trails that had seen some snowmaking might be the best bets for some reasonably soft ski surfaces.  I inquired about snowmaking at the guest services desk, and they knew that Perry Merrill had seen some, but they gave me the number for the snow phone and suggested that I call it to get the rest of the snowmaking information.  I can’t remember the last time I called the snow phone, but I dialed it up and I got to hear all the details.  It was a noontime update, and snowmaking had most recently been done on Upper Perry Merrill, Gondolier, and Centerline last night.  I think it may have even been Powderfreak on the other end that was giving the message.  Anyway, that was just the information I was looking for, so I put those trails on our hit list for the day.

“…it marked a big change
in our ski plans. I’d been
thinking it was going to
be an on piste day prior
to that, but clearly the
off piste was in play.”

Our ski group was large today, with the addition of Sam, Ethan, Luke, Julia, Joanna, Ken, and Joe, we had eight students and four coaches.  With the snowmaking information in hand, we headed right over to the Gondola for a run on Perry Merrill.  Conditions turned out to be far better than I’d imagined.  Up at the top of the Gondola I did a quick check on the depth of the unconsolidated powder snow, and found roughly three inches over the old base.  On top of that, the subsurface wasn’t even that firm; it had that spongy character that I’ve been finding at times lately, possibly due to assistance from the dry air.  The top steep pitch of Perry Merrill did have some good snow, but there was certainly a lot of ice as well.  Down below it was much better though, there was plenty of packed powder, although certainly some granular snow in areas as well.  That seemed to be most prevalent in the center of the trail where traffic was high.  However, the minimal natural snow that has come down in the past few days, plus whatever snowmaking had been done, plus the snow that people had pushed to the sides of the trails after a morning of traffic, made for some really nice turns overall.  Short radius turns along the skier’s right tree line of Perry Merrill were generally excellent – far, far better than I’d expected.

For our next run we did the same start and then moved over to Gondolier.  The skier’s right there was even better than Perry Merrill, with lots of loose snow and shots holding a couple inches of powder when one would dive in and out of the trees along the edge.  About halfway down the trail, Ken’s son Luke inquired about heading into some of the Gondolier Trees at an obvious line he noticed.  I was definitely leery of going in there; I couldn’t imagine that it would be that good with a fairly steep pitch and not much new snow.  I agreed that I’d check it out though, we could pop in briefly and any students that wanted to go could go with me.  Well, almost everyone came in because they wanted to see what it would be like.  To my amazement, it was far more than just good, it was great.  It was again that 2-3 inches of powder over a fairly spongy base.  Based on the weather we had during the middle of the week it’s hard to say how it was so well preserved, but as is often the case, Mansfield delivered again.  Dylan took his own line high along the skier’s left wall and got into some great powder.  All the boys twisted and turned their way down through the gulley, until I finally called for an exit back onto Gondolier.  The gulley did continue on, but I knew it got narrower down there and the exit more difficult, and I didn’t want to push our luck.  Everyone was excited by that run though – Sam commented how he loved going up and down the steep walls of the gully, and I told him it was one of nature’s half pipes.

“Based on the weather we had
during the middle of the week
it’s hard to say how it was
so well preserved, but as is
often the case, Mansfield
delivered again.”

I have to credit that snow discovery to Luke, and it marked a big change in our ski plans.  I’d been thinking it was going to be an on piste day prior to that, but clearly the off piste was in play.  The goal was to next head over to the Fourrunner Quad from the top of the Gondola, and I said that we could check out the north part of the Nosedive Glades (a.k.a “The Middle of Nowhere”) en route.  The snow wasn’t quite as good in there as it had been over by Gondolier, but it was certainly decent and easily held an edge.  There was the occasional icy patch in there, presumably where skiers had pushed away the new snow in higher traffic areas, but some of those lines were pretty steep, so the fact that they weren’t simply hard park was impressive.  Connecting onto Lower Nosedive we found the snow in the middle of the trail horribly hard packed, but fortunately the skier’s left held a good amount of soft snow that had been pushed there by the day’s skiers.

After flying down to the base of the Fourrunner Quad, Dylan said that he was just too cold for a ride there, so Ken headed up with the rest of the group, and I took Dylan back toward the Gondola base.  We warmed up by poling our way over, and he was in good spirits at that point and wanted to take a run on the tow to hit the Midway Terrain Park.  He was still feeling good after that, and was keen to do a Gondola run, where the ride would be warmer than sitting out on the quad.  I also asked if he’d show me all that powder he’d found in the Gondolier Trees, and he was excited to get back to that.  On our way down Perry Merrill, we stuck to the skier’s left and explored a lot of off piste shots at the bottom of the Tombo Woods area.  There was certainly some nice snow in there – just those 2-3 inches over the base, but that base was quite soft.  Back down in the gulley along Gondolier Dylan took me though his powder stash, and indeed we had some good turns.  We both stuck our poles into the snow and beyond the powder, you could push right through the spongy subsurface and get to softer snow below.  There really is a lot of good snow down there that doesn’t seem like it was affected by the recent warm temperatures, so that’s probably helping keep the quality of the off piste skiing reasonably good if people do get down and start busting up the subsurface.  Another nice aspect of the current conditions is that the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, while certainly below average, is still right around that 40-inch mark.  That means that coverage is quite good in most off piste areas.  I’m sure some areas that are more exposed to the elements could have an icier subsurface that what we experienced, but with the off piste in decent, skiable shape already, it’s primed to be really good as soon as we get a decent storm in here.

An image of Dylan skiing a steep line in the Gondolier Woods at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan drops in on his stash.
An image of Apres Ski time in front of the fire at the Spruce Camp Bar at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Spruce Camp Bar

Dylan and I called it a day after that, and headed back to Spruce Peak for s’mores and hot chocolate at the fire pit.  Dylan loved the late day atmosphere and the fact that he and I were getting gondolas to ourselves.  I think those rides in the cabins really helped him to ward off the chill that he’d been building.  We caught up with Ken and the other boys outside the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, and I found out that Ken had been working with Ty and the others on tip stands.  Ken has done some freestyle/ballet in the past, and he said Ty was quite taken with working on the tip stand.  That sort of stuff is indeed right up his alley, so we’ll have to work on that some more with Ken.  We had a good Après session by the fire at the Spruce Camp Bar with Claire and Sue, as E and Claire debriefed each other on the logistics of the day.  We actually had the entire place to ourselves today; I bet it was because most folks were heading home to check out the Super Bowl.  I’m more optimistic for snow this coming week, it seems like we’ve got a shot at snow tonight into tomorrow, another one midweek, and then a potentially larger one at the end of the week.  With conditions as decent as they already are, even a half foot of snow this week will elevate the off piste a lot.  It would be great if that system at the end of the week could do a bit of magic in the Greens and produce something a bit more substantial as some models are hinting at, but we’ll just have to watch and see how the models develop it throughout the week.

Stowe sidecountry & Bruce Trail, VT 21JAN2013

An image of a ski track in powder along the edge of the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Powder along the Bruce

Some of the Northern Vermont ski areas have picked up close to (or in the case of Jay Peak, substantially more than) a foot of snow in the past seven days, and while that’s actually a fairly modest pace for snow accrual in the mountains this time of year, it’s helped to get surfaces back to packed powder since they hardened up last week.  The snow has generally been dry and fluffy, so even with all that accumulation it hasn’t been a thorough resurfacing for all slopes.  However, my explorations Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network revealed that the powder is building and there are some nice turns to be had.  Temperatures were expected to be in the single digits in the highest elevations today, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some sidecountry exploration instead of riding lifts.  And, since Claire and I have been talking about bringing our Stowe ski group for a trip on the Bruce Trail one of these days, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for some reconnaissance.  There’s no doubt that everyone in the group is ready for the skiing on the Bruce, but I still wanted to familiarize myself with the route to ensure that the trip would go smoothly with all the boys in tow.

“In general, I found 6 to 7
inches of powder down to
the 2,000’ elevation, and
at some point below there
it dropped down more
toward the 5-inch range.”

Temperatures hovered right around 10 F all the way to the base of the resort, and there was sun and no wind, so it wasn’t feeling too frigid at the point.  The resort had snow guns going on various trails, no doubt taking advantage of the temperatures to bolster base depths that were probably brought down a bit by the warmth earlier in the month.  I rode the Fourrunner Quad with a guy who had already been out for some runs, and he said the conditions were quite good.  Listening to the turns of the skiers below us, it did sound pretty quiet.  I could see the occasional icy spot, but the surface seemed to be mostly packed powder just as the snow report had indicated.  The snow over the past week has definitely been having an effect in terms of softening up surfaces.

“While I’m sure the steeper
top sections of the Bruce are
great with a good dump of
snow, the skiing today was far
superior once I got down out
of the evergreens and into the
hardwood forest.”

From the quad summit I headed over to the top of the Bruce Trail – a few tracks indicated that some skiers had already skied it today, but I dropped in via an alternate entrance to get an untracked line.  The line was pretty steep and I was definitely touching down on the subsurface, but I could tell that I’d be able to get in some good powder turns on some lower angle terrain.  The top part of the Bruce wasn’t really all that inspiring today – it’s pretty steep, a lot of pitches face southward, and it’s narrower than I’d thought it would be.  I’d say it’s only 10 to 12 feet wide on average in the upper sections, which means that in reality it’s going to be tracked out and packed down after just a few skiers hit it.  With its somewhat southern aspect making for spots of poor coverage here and there, it skied even narrower today.  The snow was generally skier packed, so my fat Telemark skis were indeed feeling slow edge to edge, and I had to throw in a good number of alpine turns to fit in some of those small spaces dictated by the trail width and coverage.

An image of ski tracks in powder among trees along the Bruce Trail in the sidecountry of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Catching turns down in the lower elevations among the hardwoods

While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest.  The trail is notably wider in that area, and there are a lot more glade options for venturing off the sides of the main route.  In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range.  All those depths were definitely enough for some nice powder turns on moderate angle terrain though.  With the narrow nature of the Bruce Trail in the top sections, it’s really not a trail that’s going to offer up much in terms of fresh powder, so those looking for a sidecountry experience with real untracked snow would probably be best served by using the Bruce as a jumping off point for explorations of the Ranch Valley.  The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now (right around the 40” mark), but I could see a multitude of ski options all around during my descent.  I noted a couple of potential areas for exploration up in the evergreen areas, but choices really exploded once down in the hardwoods.  It would be easy to make a day of it out there, or, ski the resort in the morning and then tour out in the Ranch Valley in the afternoon and finish off the day by skiing out to Route 108.

An image of the trail map for  the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center
Stowe XC Map – Click for full size image

At around the 1,500’ elevation, I entered the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center.  This is the part I’d been concerned about in terms of making the correct choices to get out to Route 108 and the Matterhorn.  It turns out that it’s much easier than I’d thought; you simply stay on the Bruce, and Burt Trails, following the signs that say “Ski Lift”.  Even though you may not be planning to head back to the Toll House Lift, those “Ski Lift” signs are the way to go.  Eventually you’ll get to a junction where following the “Ski Lift” route is a very obvious (and somewhat arduous looking) uphill, so you won’t want to go that way.  By that point there are signs that indicate “Route 108”, and those will get you right out to the Matterhorn area.  At every intersection you essentially go straight through, so in a worst case scenario, go with that.  The trek through Stowe’s Nordic trails, and a small portion of the trails that belong to the Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center, is slightly downhill, but there’s plenty of poling and skating to be done.  I was happy to have my Telemark gear, even if I looked funny with my skis being three times the width of the other Nordic skiers ambling around on the trails.  I generally took it slow and enjoyed the scenery, which included some marvelous views of the Ranch Brook.  The brook had that winter look with some flowing water, but also lots of ice, and snow pillows covering the rocks.

A Google Earth GPS elevation profile showing a ski tour on the Bruce trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Elevation profile of today’s tour – click for full size image

The final leg of the descent on Ranch Brook Road brings your right out on the “Ski Inn” driveway, next door to the Matterhorn, and across the street from The Notchbrook Convenience Store.  I had time before the next uphill Mountain Road Shuttle arrived, so I stopped into the Matterhorn to get some sushi… only to discover that they don’t have sushi on Mondays.  Clearly I’m going to have to hit the Bruce again with the boys on a different day so that we can finish that part of the adventure.  So instead, I popped across the street to the store and got a snack before catching the shuttle back up to my car in the Mt. Mansfield lot.  One thing I should note about the shuttle – the ski slots on the outside are still fairly old school, so if you’ve got fat and/or twin tip skis, you might have to bring them on the bus with you.  Apparently that happens a lot, because the driver immediately knew what my issue was when I inquired.  Missing out on the sushi, I did stop off at Harvest Market for a couple of samosas on the way home, and that definitely filled the void.  So, today’s outing offered up some good turns in the powder, and was certainly a successful reconnaissance.  The route down to the Matterhorn is easy, and I can tell that the biggest hurdle is going to be getting the boys through the flatter terrain at the end of the run.  If that’s the toughest part we have to deal with though, it should be a lot of fun.

An image of bread on racks with firewood and bricks in the background at Harvest Market in Stowe, Vermont
Harvest Market

Weather-wise, the day turned out much warmer than the forecast seemed to suggest – it was 20 F once I was back down in the valley, and before I’d realized that, I couldn’t figure out why it felt so comfortable.  The sunny skies from earlier in the day had clouded over ahead of another small snowfall event that’s supposed to hit us tonight into tomorrow – these are the sorts of storms we’ve got for now until something bigger comes along, but at least we’re getting something.

A Google Earth GPS track showing a ski tour on the Bruce trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today’s Tour viewed in Google Earth – Click for full size image

Stowe, VT 13JAN2013

An image of interesting clouds from Mt. Mansfield and Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The clouds put on quite a show today throughout the mountains.

With a generally cloudy forecast, I wasn’t sure if today’s skiing at Stowe was going to match up to the quality we experienced yesterday at Bolton, but boy did Mt. Mansfield deliver.  Temperatures did get down to the freezing point overnight, but the morning clouds in the valley were an undercast that meant sunny skies in the mountains.  Any snow that might have cooled down and tightened up was certainly soft by the time we arrived around midday.  There was some exciting weather out there as well.  Higher clouds had built in from the south, and screaming winds in the higher elevations of the atmosphere had them cruising along at impressive speeds not to far above the summits.  Temperatures were schizophrenic too, with hot and cold pockets all over the place.  On my first run of the day on the Sunny Spruce Quad, after we’d risen about 1,000’ vertical or so, we suddenly got to a warm layer of the atmosphere – the temperature felt like it changed 10 F instantaneously.

“You could attack anything,
as steep as you wanted, and
that snow would just peel
away beautifully and let
you hold those turns.”

We kicked off the day on Spruce Peak, and Luke had a little trouble with the RFID on his season’s pass that required the lift operator to call in some technical help.  That gave us time to meet up with Claire though, once she’d taken care of her duties and gotten the program coordinators their passes.  Conditions on Spruce Peak were generally nice, but there were certainly some bare spots opening up on natural snow terrain since it’s generally south-facing.  Everything was soft, with the best surfaces being those that had seen various combinations grooming, skier traffic, or manmade snow.  Natural snow terrain that hadn’t seen any packing was skiable, but typically mushy or sticky.  I found turns down West Slope this afternoon particularly invigorating, as you could lay your skis over as far as you wanted on that steep pitch and have that snow just peel away as you carved it up.

An image of Ty with a handkerchief mask outside the Octagon at the top of the Fourrunner Quad at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
“Hanky style”

After a few runs on Spruce, we took a quick pit stop at Spruce Camp where Claire and Luke gabbed some bagels that they hadn’t had a chance to eat earlier, folks got drinks if they needed them, and then we shifted over to Mt. Mansfield.  With back to back gondola rides to get up to the Cliff House, there was plenty of time to take in snacks, but since not everyone had food, we decided that we’d also go for some food at the Octagon.  From the top of the Gondola we headed down toward the Fourrunner Quad via Cliff Trail, and with all natural snow, there were some sticky spots, especially where traffic was lowest.  You could really feel the difference in the snow surfaces when we arrived at Nosedive though, since it has a good amount of manmade snow and sees a lot more traffic; there were no issues with sticky snow there.  At the Octagon we got some food, hung out for while, and everyone had a good recharge.  As it turned out, we were all going to need that recharge, because we were going to work ourselves hard for the rest of the afternoon.

An image of Dylan skiing the Hayride trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Working on those poles today on Hayride

Luke had originally requested a trip to Nosedive Bypass, since it’s one of the mountain’s areas that he’d yet to ski, but we were unsure of how much traffic it had seen, and how easy the skiing would be.  Instead, Claire and I decided that it would be a perfect time for the boys to work on their bump skiing.  The snow was just so good on that type of terrain that we didn’t want to pass up the chance, so we headed to the top of Hayride and Centerline.  We could see that both were loaded with tons of soft, fantastic looking bump lines, so it was a difficult decision, but we ultimately went with Hayride.  It turned out to be a good choice because there were also those extra steep pitches that let the boys work on steep skiing technique.  The bumps were excellent, and the snow quality was fantastic even on the steepest pitches.  You could attack anything, as steep as you wanted, and that snow would just peel away beautifully and let you hold those turns.

Although the boys were all ripping up the terrain, and it was hard to nitpick on instruction, I could see that they needed some pole work.  The combination of bumps and steeps was perfect ground for demonstrating how proper pole technique can really bring you to that next level of skiing in that terrain.  Reaching for those pole plants on steep terrain can really keep that upper body facing downhill, so we kept pushing that upper/lower body disconnect because I could see that some of the boys couldn’t manage turns in the tighter lines like they’d want to.  It’s really difficult to make rapid transitions back and forth and perform those especially tight turns if you upper body is constantly turning out of the fall line.  I’d say Ty has got that down the smoothest of all the boys, and for some reason it’s just something he picked up when he was very young, but as a group I think it’s a process that will really reap rewards for the boys this season.  They’ve all definitely reached a level of skiing where they can handle whatever terrain you throw at them, and it’s time to work on the finer points of body positioning.

An image of Claire skiing the Hayride trial at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Claire showing the boys how it’s done

After a couple of trips on Hayride, we finally mixed it up and visited Centerline, which of course yielded more fantastic bump lines.  That let us head south to pick up the rail park, since Dylan was really looking to get into some park terrain.  They had some long rails and boxes in there, and the funniest moment by far was when Dylan was skiing along a double box, and near the end of the second one, which was probably a couple feet wide, he ended up with a ski on the ground on each side.  He continued to ride it, in classic “crotch grind” fashion, and held on right through.  It was as impressive as it was funny, and the “crotch grind” definitely hung with us for the rest of the day.  We met up with Connor’s group right at the end of the park, and we had a good collective run down Tyro.  We didn’t want to do it, but the boys convinced us to drop below the Crossover back to the Gondola to catch a trip through the Half Pipe.  It was a heck of a lot of fun though, and those massive vertical walls felt bigger than ever, so it was worth the extra work to get back to the Over Easy.  We had really cooked ourselves pretty good with all those bumps, and I know that most everyone was enjoying that well earned tiredness at the end of the day.

South winds were screaming along at the top of the Fourrunner Quad at the end of the day, and we’re rapidly approaching the end of the warm weather as a cold front nears the area.  Snow is expected by overnight tonight in the higher elevations, and by midday tomorrow in the valleys.  The biggest question going forward is about how much snow Mother Nature will put down by the upcoming MLK weekend.  It doesn’t look like there’s a big enough storm coming this week to put down a real resurfacing to support lift-served skiing, so it may be time to hit the sidecountry/backcountry.  But, there are a number of snow chances in the upcoming pattern, and you never know when the Northern Greens will pull 6 to 12 inches out of small passing systems.  I was talking with E on the ride home about how, even though we had tons of good powder skiing days in the previous couple of weeks, it’s hard to think back to it when you’re out there on spring snow.  It was a good break, but it will be nice to get the fat skis back out soon.

Stowe, VT 06JAN2013

An image of Dylan skiing some powder at the Bottom of the Upper Smugglers trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan swishes through some of that Spruce Peak powder today.

Ski program started up today at Stowe, and it was our first time back since our training day on December 15th.  With all the snowfall over the past three weeks, and about a foot and a half in the past seven days, we were expecting great conditions.  I found a couple inches of new snow on the snowboard at the house this morning, and light snow was continuing, so that was going to add an extra freshening to the surfaces.  With temperatures in the 20s F, the mountain was set up for an excellent day for the kids. As we approached the mountain we got a special view as among the clouds we saw the slopes of Spruce Peak lit up with sunshine.

Dylan initially forgot his ski jacket, so after dropping E off to take care of her coordinator duties, we popped back to the house to get it.  On the drive we could see that there were all sorts of folks coming and going throughout the Stowe area, and it had the feel of a busy ski weekend.  Our timing on the return was good though, as I grabbed a parking spot right near the drop off area.  I think there’s something about arriving closer to that 1:00 P.M. period where you can catch those earliest skiers leaving, because another car was leaving from a great spot just a few spots down. From the parking lot I could see lots of fresh tracks in the area above Meadows, a classic sign of good snow at the resort.

“…the fact that the snowpack depth
at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is at
50 inches, and the way the Chin
Clip Streambed is skiing well, can
attest to the sufficient base depths.”

I had our usual group of boys today, and it was great to be back together for the season.  Also helping out as a second coach was Ken, another BJAMS benefactor – it turns out that he enjoys bumps and trees and powder and all that, so we knew he’d fit right in with our young advanced group.  We let the boys take turns choosing the runs, and Luke was fine taking ownership of the first warm up run off Sunny Spruce.  For the rest of the Spruce Side, Jack took Whirlaway, and Ty took Green Acres and Spruce Line.  There are still areas on the Green Acres headwall that should be avoided due to coverage, but down below in the glades and on Spruce Line there are no issues.  Few people seemed to want to negotiate that headwall, so we essentially had all the terrain below to ourselves and there was plenty of fantastic untracked snow for us to ski.  Over on Mansfield, Ty somehow got another one in the form of the Chin Clip Streambed, and then Dylan finished things off with some Nosedive Glades, or as the boys like to call it, “the middle of nowhere”.  We started working on steep turns with the boys as we dropped into Green Acres, and I let them know that they could vary their turns anywhere from a continuous carve to a full blown jump turn.  On the jump turn theme, we also worked on airs as we navigated the various icefalls in the Chin Clip Streambed.  We talked about how one can take the airs straight if they feel that there is enough room to bleed that speed, or vary their landing angle with jump turns to the point where they have cut down the speed to where it’s reasonable.  In line with the jump turns, pole work and timing were also a focus since we had a chance to get into plenty of mogul terrain – Dylan still needs to get his timing down on steeper terrain, but he was working on poles on lower angle terrain to get there.  We had a really good group for après ski at the Spruce Camp Bar, and it was a really busy après session there because it actually wasn’t easy to find tables to get everyone together.

An image taken while skiing the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the good coverage in the Chin Clip Streambed today
An image of children and adults enjoying some apres ski time at the Spruce Camp Bar at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Après today at the Spruce Camp Bar

Conditions on the slopes are very good overall; the fact that the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is at 50 inches (roughly a foot above average), and the way the Chin Clip Streambed is skiing well, can attest to the sufficient base depths.  There are still a few spots on most steep trails we visited that could use a bit more cover, whether due to the fact that they need a slightly deeper base, or traffic has worn them down.  A notable spot would be the Green Acres Headwall, where some of those nasty, jagged rocks are almost covered, but not quite there.  Also, those tough to cover spots such as the south-facing terrain on the steep, lower spots of Spruce Line could use more snow.  Another foot or two of base would take care of those issues, but the mountain must be close to 100% open from what we saw.  Likewise we found some slick spots, typically in areas where snow was made, but the surfaces were almost exclusively packed powder and powder – we cut over to the area above Meadows whenever we could on our runs on Spruce Peak and there were still plenty of lines with powder in them for the boys to enjoy.  It looks like temperatures are going to be a bit warmer over the next week, but we seem to be staying in the storm track so the snowpack in the mountains should continue to build.

Stowe, VT 15DEC2012

An image of balconies of the Stowe Mountain Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont, with the Nose area of Mt. Mansfield in the background under blue skies
The weather today at Stowe was crystal clear with long views.

Today was our annual school program training day at Stowe, so we were out at the mountain very early to allow E to take care of her coordinator responsibilities.  Our instructor for the day was Arturo, who hails from Portillo, Chile.  Since our group indicated that we’d be instructing all levels of students, we kicked things off on Spruce Peak at the Magic Carpet, then advanced fairly methodically to the Adventure Triple, Easy Street Double, Alpine Double, and Sunny Spruce Quad before breaking for lunch.  The sky was crystal clear, the temperatures fairly chilly in the 20s F, and at Spruce Peak in the lower elevations where we skied, I’d call the snow conditions generally loose and frozen granular.  That wasn’t too surprising with the terrain there getting the most sun and warmth.  It was an excellent morning with Arturo though; he’s lots of fun and passed on numerous pearls of wisdom from his many years of instructing.

After the usual midday paperwork and season pass picture session, we had lunch at the Great Room Grill and headed over to Mt. Mansfield to continue the progression into higher level teaching.  At the top of the Gondola we found the best snow of the day, which included plenty of packed powder that had been preserved thanks to cooler temperatures.  I really enjoyed the snow and turns on that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill, which coincidentally was where I had my best turns exactly two weeks ago when I skinned up to the top of the Gondola.  Below that we stopped just around the corner past the junction with Cliff Trail, and everyone commented on how good the soft, packed powder snow was in that area.  The snow continued to be pretty decent (although still firm in lots of spots due to skier traffic) until about halfway down Perry Merrill, where it got notably harder.  Presumably, temperature fluctuations had deteriorated the snow quality down there, similar to what we’d experienced over on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak

We finished the day off with a run from the Fourrunner Quad.  Although basically just as high in elevation, the snow off the top of the quad didn’t seem up to the quality we’d seen at the top of the Gondola.  Perhaps that’s due to the fact that the quad terrain has seen more traffic in general – I heard that today was actually just the first day for Gondola lift service.  After a comment from Joe about wanting to get better at bumps, Arturo decided that we should make a run down Hayride.    Frankly, it seemed like it was going to be pretty scary with the firm conditions – with the way the top of Hayride drops away, revealing nothing of the slope but just a view of the sunlit valley below, one had to cringe at the thought of an icy slope hiding behind the drop.  Indeed there was plenty of firm snow, but Arturo had us work on turning on the tops of the bumps where the soft snow remained, and that was good practice and a surprising amount of fun at the relaxed pace at which we skied it.

I had several favorite new drills/techniques from the day; the first was a technique for kids turning in the wedge stance.  Arturo puts his hands out to the side like an airplane, and then drops his hand down to a knee.  This puts pressure on that ski and creates the turn.  At the more advanced level, Arturo gets folks to put more aggressive angulation into their skis on steeper terrain by having them punch their hips in toward the slope with their downhill fist.  I also like the way Arturo puts his ski poles on his shoulders to show how they are always pointing downhill, and uses the term “Shin-Tongue” (a.k.a. a new Asian dish) to remind students’ to keep their shins against the front of their boots to ensure that their weight is forward.

Since there’s been minimal new snow over the past couple of weeks, today was definitely a ski day worthy of edges, and not one in which I would typically venture out.  But, that’s one of the benefits of these scheduled training days, they get you out on a day you might otherwise not hit the slopes.  The temperatures were plenty cold, and the mountain continues to crank out lots of manmade snow and expand terrain, so there should be a lot available for the holidays, regardless of how much natural snow we get in the next couple of weeks.  Fortunately, we’re looking at a much more active weather pattern starting up tomorrow.  While the sun from the past few days has been nice, and it was fun being out on the slopes in it today, I’m definitely looking forward to the next week of wintry weather.  Things kick off with snow tomorrow, and while we’re expecting some mixed precipitation in there as we head into the beginning/middle of next week, it sure seems like we’ll start adding to the natural snowpack in the mountains again.  Right now the natural snow line is actually pretty low, down to around 1,000’ at the Matterhorn, but it’s still quite thin in general, so we need some storms to get the natural snow terrain rolling again like it was at the beginning of the month.