LOL, Mother Nature and her snowy ways definitely changed up my plans a bit today. When I arrived up at Bolton’s Timberline area this morning, I knew it was going to be good – in the parking lot is was snowing big fat flakes, it was in the 20s F, and there wasn’t a trace of wind. I guess one could make an argument for sunshine being the primo setup vs. the flakes, but I’m definitely partial to the potential for constant refreshing of the surfaces when it’s dumping.
My initial plan was to catch a couple of runs on my way to work for a meeting, and it was just dumping 1-2”/hr snowfall with ski conditions that were off the hook. It was the kind of snowfall where if you don’t move around much during the lift ride, you find a half inch of accumulation pouring off you when you disembark from the lift. Although there was no wind down at the base at 1,500’, up at 2,500’ there was a touch of wind, but nothing too serious – all around the mountain you could just see the upslope snow stacking up on everything. Even the deciduous branches were just loaded with snow, and it was too such a degree that you couldn’t see a thing through areas of the forest that normally let you catch glimpses of adjoining trails. The heavy snowfall helped to make everything intensely quiet; between the snow piled on the trees, the air filled with huge, fat flakes, and the ground covered with powder, sounds were muffled to almost nothing.
“The heavy snowfall helped to make everything intensely quiet; between the snow piled on the trees, the air filled with huge, fat flakes, and the ground covered with powder, sounds were muffled to almost nothing.”
It’s midweek of course, so the mountain is virtually deserted, and there were powder refills on every run. It was so good that I had to stick around for an extra run, and then just headed back down to the house for the meeting instead (it was a Zoom meeting anyway). You know it dumped even in the valley, because I found a fresh 2.2″ on the measurement boards at home.
We had a fantastic first run down Hard Luck, where we found just a few tracks ahead of ours – it was nice to show the boys what getting out a bit earlier can get you! I think they might have some manmade snow under there, but it was hard to tell with all the snow from Winter Storm Malcolm providing a very thorough resurfacing. The resort also opened the Wilderness Chair for the first time this season, and there was a notable queue as it was finally getting ready to open, but it was a fun wait because there was an excited energy among the skiers for it to make its season debut.
I can’t speak to the financial aspects, but in terms of snow conditions, it was definitely a solid holiday weekend for Bolton Valley and the Vermont ski areas in general.
The family was up at Bolton Valley for a ski session this morning, and the mountain reported an additional 6” of snow as of their early report today, making for a 14” storm total at that point. That will probably go up a bit more for tomorrow since it was still snowing while were there, and indeed the snowfall was heavy at times.
They had a resort-wide power outage in the morning (presumably some heavy, wet snow and/or winds brought something down on the Bolton Valley Access Road), so that delayed opening a bit. We’d planned to just do lift-served skiing on alpine gear today, but catching wind of the power outage via the snow report, we brought Telemark gear as well, and ascended via the Timberline uphill route to make a quick run there while we waited for the Timberline Quad to open.
We switched over to alpine gear once the Timberline Quad started loading, and the skiing was great. While we were hanging out, we checked total snowpack depth on the Spell Binder trail at around the 2,000’ elevation mark, and generally got depths of 18-20”.
Due to high winds, the uppermost lifts (Vista Quad and Wilderness Double) never opened, so we ended up skiing in just the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range on Timberline. I know from my experience at the resort yesterday that the snow was notably drier on the upper mountain, so what we skied today in those lower elevations was a bit on the denser side. The powder had certainly become drier overall with the overnight addition of upslope snow vs. just the dense snow from yesterday, but I bet the snow is even drier in the upper elevations of the main mountain. With that said, the snow at Timberline was still fantastic, with lots of untracked powder available as ski patrol did their checks and other work to get new trails open.
The mountain is planning to run all the lifts tomorrow as long as the winds die down, so there could be some nice turns on the lifts that didn’t open at all today.
With Winter Storm Malcolm moving into the area early this morning, there was a major PNW vibe around in the valley – we had huge, moisture-laden flakes falling all morning at the house, and driving through just 2-3” of unplowed snow on the road felt like you were moving through concrete. It reminded me of being back at Snoqualmie Pass/Alpental.
I gave Mother Nature some time to continue putting down the new snow, then headed up to the mountain for a session this afternoon. I’d brought gear for both skinning and lift-served skiing, unsure about whether or not there would be COVID-19-related lift queues. When I reached the Timberline Base and saw the Timberline Quad running for the first time this season with virtually nobody around, it was an easy decision to opt for lift-served skiing. There were actually no queues at any of the lifts this afternoon, and it was walk-up all the time with numerous empty chairs, so presumably the opening of more terrain took care of any issues that had been creating backups.
In terms of the snow, it was unquestionably dense down at 1,500’. I was actually happy with my choice to go with lift-served turns because I appreciated having some packed snow in places and the ability to wander off to the sides into the powder as desired. The powder would have been a bit easier on my fat skis, but on my midfat Teles it was definitely a workout staying for long periods in the deep, dense untracked snow. I was happy for some quick reprieves on the groomed areas. Groomed terrain was skiing very nicely – the packed snow was certainly dense, but not to the level of that slick, wet pack snow that can get rather grabby. The snow got substantially drier with elevation – in the top 500’ of vertical, say from the Vista Summit on down to 2,600’ or 2,700’, the snow was in a totally different league relative to the base. Jumping into untracked powder made for smooth, easy turns; the snow had just lost enough density that it just wasn’t pushing me around on my midfat Teles. Down below those elevations, the powder began to get a bit denser, but you could definitely give yourself and extra margin of comfort on a pair of alpine fat skis, or especially a snowboard.
As of this afternoon’s additional snow from the storm, we’d picked up 1.09” of liquid equivalent down at the house, so the mountains must have had at least that much, and whatever they did get, it represented a major resurfacing of the slopes. Ropes were dropping all over the place, and within one trip over to the main mountain, I came back to find that they’d opened up Tattle Tale, apparently even the steep headwall section, which speaks to how meaty this snow was. They even had Spillway open on all natural snow, and that’s a steep minefield of boulders and stumps. I figured people were just poaching it until I saw the rope opened at the top.
In terms of the depth of new snow that fell from Winter Storm Malcolm, it was difficult to tell because there was already some decent loose snow below this new stuff, and there hasn’t been a major thaw in quite a while to consolidate the base. When I got off the top of the Timberline Quad at the Timberline Summit, I stuck in my measurement pole and it went up to 18”. This represented the entire snowpack at that elevation from what I could tell. Based on occasional probing around and measuring during the afternoon, I came to the conclusion that there must have been at least 8” that had fallen up high, and the resort’s afternoon report says 8” at elevation, so that makes sense.
I was last out at the mountain on Sunday, and although we’ve only had a few additional inches of snow since then, it seemed like today was a good day to head on up for a tour and check out the conditions. We’ve continued to be treated to temperatures that are well above average, which in January around here actually makes for some very nice temperatures in the 20s F.
I didn’t check out any of the manmade or lift-served terrain today, but I started my tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network and then connected over to the Wilderness area. After several outings following the standard Wilderness Uphill Route right from the base over the past few weeks, I wanted to mix things up today. So, I started out down by the Nordic Center, headed up Bryant until I got to World Cup, and then continued over to Lower Turnpike via the connector trail used by the mountain operations crew. It was a fun variation with some new views, and it let me check out the conditions across a number of trails, including the Telemark Practice Slope, which looked to be in such good shape that I skied it on my descent. Starting out on my tour in one of the tennis court lots, I actually had my pass scanned by a resort associate with a handheld scanner. This was the first time I’ve been checked since Bolton Valley has switched to RFID. It’s great to see that they’re checking, and it’s a good reminder to be sure you bring your pass, even if you’re going to be touring!
The Colorado-esque weather regime over the past few days has definitely been outstanding with respect to snow preservation. In areas that haven’t been skied, all the recent snows are just sitting there in the form of midwinter powder, and I found depths of generally 6-12” at the 2,000’ elevation and 8-12” up around 2,700’, which was as high as I went on my tour. I toured on my midfats today instead of my fat skis, assuming powder would be fairly hard to come by after a week of modest snowfall, settling, and skier traffic. I’d still go that route again based on what I chose to ski, but there is definitely some fat ski-worth powder out there in many areas. I’d say the main issue is still the base below that snow. It’s quite variable, and down at 2,000’ in the Village elevations there’s nothing at all below the powder in unprotected areas. In the higher elevations the base is a bit less variable, but there’s still nowhere near enough base for steep terrain. I could tell that the mountain had opened up some of the natural snow terrain on Wilderness for lift-served skiers connecting over from Vista, because there were surprising number of people skiing the Wilderness Lift Line and Wilderness Woods. I saw a group of four kids in Wilderness Woods having a lot of fun, although it’s still a bit thin and you could hear them hitting the occasional stump or rock.
“I toured on my midfats today instead of my fat skis, assuming powder would be fairly hard to come by after a week of modest snowfall, settling, and skier traffic. I’d still go that route again based on what I chose to ski, but there is definitely some fat ski-worth powder out there in many areas.”
What I saw that impressed me most on today’s tour was the state of skier-packed natural terrain. Areas like Lower Turnpike, Telemark Practice Slope, Bryant Trail, and Nordic trails like World Cup (some of these may have been machine-packed) were in very good to excellent shape. Presumably, these areas of packed snow held up well against the warmth around Christmas, and now the additional snows of the past week or two have reinforced that base. Lower Turnpike had nearly perfect coverage, and all this packed terrain is going to make for some excellent powder skiing when the next storms come.
All in all, though, you could definitely feel that winter has settled in for the mountains, even if the snowpack/base is on the low side. The water bars I encountered today were all sufficiently frozen, although most of them are still visible and require a bit of navigation.
Yesterday delivered some decent lift-served turns, as well as a quick Wilderness tour with some powder, so today I headed back up to the mountain for a ski tour with Dylan. With more time than I’d had yesterday afternoon, we went a bit farther afield in the Wilderness area in search of untracked powder. The untouched snow was definitely harder to come by this afternoon, because there has been heavy ski touring traffic this weekend. The amount of traffic is relative of course, and nothing like you’d get with lift-served skiing, but after an entire holiday weekend worth of people touring, the untracked snow on the trails of Wilderness had been just about picked clean. One factor in the apparently heavy traffic is that folks aren’t yet using all the acreage of tree skiing; the trees were generally untouched because people know that it’s still just a bit too thin in there for the skiing to be practical. I saw an occasional track of people who had headed into the trees, but you could tell they weren’t quite ready. If we get one more good snowstorm with an inch of liquid, then the low-angle trees will be in play.
We picked up some take-out from Fireside Flatbread for the first time this season, and the process is similar to what the resort is doing at the Village Deli and The Mad Taco – they’re not taking orders in person. In this case it looks like the preferred method is to go through the Toast online ordering service. I actually found this approach to be quite quick though; I was easily able to put in my order on my phone, and they accept Apple Pay, so all I had to do was authorize that with my fingerprint, and we were good to go!
The weather looks generally quiet this coming week, but by the early to middle part of next week we could get back into a more typical Northern Greens bread-and-butter pattern of modest systems to freshen up the slopes. We still need a solid synoptic storm with an inch of liquid equivalent (or something similar from a series of smaller systems) to really get the base depths to more respectable levels, but Winter Storm John was a godsend to at least get a bit of base down and have some snow to see us through the next week.
With the way it had been dumping inch/hr snowfall when I headed home around noontime, I decided it would be worth another session in the afternoon. This time I went for a tour on Wilderness, which had its uphill route officially reopened as of today thanks to the accumulations from Winter Storm John. There had been additional snow, and I’d say 6-10” of powder above the base snow would represent a good summary of what I found overall in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ elevation range, which was a combination of the snow from this storm on top of the accumulations from previous events. With Bolton Valley providing access to the entire Wilderness Lift area of moderate-angle, cut trails all starting above 2,000’, I’m sure a lot of folks see it as a very good option with the rather thin base currently in place at lower elevations. That, and the fact that it was a holiday weekend, meant that there was a lot of uphill traffic. Fortunately, there was still decent access to untracked powder along the edges of trails, and the turns were quite good and bottomless on low and moderate-angle terrain with the recent snow we’ve picked up.
We’d been looking for an opportunity to try out The Mad Taco Bolton, so I place my order from the car before I started my ascent, and then timed my tour to be able to make the pick-up. It worked quite well, and I got to see the way they’ve set up the restaurant for the first time. It looks like there are a number of tables in there that folks will be able to use once in-person dining is back in action, although for now it’s takeout only. The food was great though, just like we’ve had from their other locations!
On Saturday morning I decided to go for my first lift-served turns of the season at Bolton Valley. Only the main mountain is open at this point, since coverage is still too thin down at the lower elevations of Timberline. It was snowing steadily with some big flakes when I arrived at the mountain, and I found about 4 to 5 inches of new accumulation in the Village areas at 2,000’. The snowfall tapered off to light snow during the midmorning period, but really picked up to some heavy inch/hr snowfall when I was leaving a bit before noon. That was when the back side of the storm was coming through, and the wind jumped up a bit there, but prior to that the weather was fantastic with temperatures just a bit below freezing and no wind. There was obviously some surface snow in place from previous systems because I was generally finding powder depths of 6-9” at the 2,400’ level. Skiing was good, with enough snow to resurface low to moderate angle slopes, and listening to skiers and riders on that terrain you’d hear absolutely nothing. On higher angle slopes you could still hear contact with the old base snow, so it was obvious that ¾” of liquid can only do so much with holiday levels of skier traffic.
The conditions had seen such an uptick relative to where they’ve been the past week that I had to head back up for a tour on Wilderness in the afternoon!
Erica and I headed up to Bolton Valley this morning to potentially get in a bit more powder skiing ahead of today’s warming temperatures. The real warmth wasn’t expected to come into the area until later in the day today, but it was already above freezing at the base elevations when we began our tour around 9:00 A.M. or so.
The Wilderness skin track was in great shape, but the snow on Lower Turnpike definitely looked like it had been worked in a bit more compared to what I saw on yesterday’s tour. There were more people out touring in the area today, and we figured it was because so many more people had time off for Christmas Eve.
My initial plan was to tour up to near 3,000’ and get into some powder like yesterday, but E was looking for a shorter tour than that, and once we discovered that the powder was already getting somewhat wet, we just toured up to below the Cougar headwall as our apex.
Turns on the packed areas of Lower Turnpike were quite good, with just a touch of stickiness in spots. I occasionally checked out the powder along the sides of the trail, but it was starting to get wet enough that the packed areas were generally the better experience. Had I known that the rising temperatures had already affected the powder, I probably would have just brought midfats instead of my fat Tele skis.
We headed back to the car through the Village Circle, and were reminded again about the Mad Taco outpost right in the Village. We’re definitely going to have to take advantage of the opportunity to get some of their food from the Bolton site – that’s the closest Mad Taco branch for us.
Our area is going to be in the warm sector for much of the next storm coming into the area today, but we’ve got more chances for snow during the holiday week.
Today turned out to be sort of a bit of a midwinter gem, which is pretty nice considering winter just started. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so stunning, but with the recent snows, it was clearly a good day to head up to Bolton for a tour and check out how the powder had settled in.
In the morning, before any clouds rolled it, the sun and sky were simply brilliant. And that’s the first thing I noticed when I got out of the car at the mountain. And I couldn’t believe how hot the sun felt. We’re up near 45 N latitude, and this time of year is just about as low a sun angle as we get, so all I can think is that I’m just not used to actually having the sun shining on my face. I had a 23% VLT lens in my goggles, figuring that sure, it was sunny, but it’s late December way up here in the north. Well, I could have easily gone with something sub-10% VLT; it was that bright.
“The powder definitely exceeded expectations today – I found settled depths of roughly 5-7” above the subsurface at 2,000’, and many spots with 8-10” up near 3,000’.”
The powder definitely exceeded expectations today – I found settled depths of roughly 5-7” above the subsurface at 2,000’, and many spots with 8-10” up near 3,000’. I initially couldn’t figure out where all of it had come from, but then I realized that since the 4-5” from Winter Storm Gail, it’s just continued to snow with these past couple of smaller systems.
The Wilderness skin track was in excellent shape, and it almost looked like the resort had groomed the adjoining Turnpike trail because it was so smoothly packed. It’s possible that it was just very nicely packed by skier traffic, but for folks looking for groomed turns in the Wilderness area, it’s good to go.
Off the main route though, there was tons of untracked powder available, and it was definitely right-side-up, midwinter quality stuff. That synoptic snow from Winter Storm Gail, topped off with the drier snow from these last couple of systems has really put together a quality surface. Low-angle stuff is good to go, and even moderate-angle slopes are nice if the snow is protected from the wind and there hasn’t been any skier traffic. Above those angles though, the snowpack is definitely not ready yet; the base is just not deep enough.
It’s going to be interesting to see how things play out for this next week. This next storm looks to consolidate the base, and there are a couple of potential systems behind it that could make some nice conditions atop that if they came to fruition on the snowy side of things.