The boys were more interested in planting flowers with Mom on Saturday than skiing, so unfortunately I couldn’t interest them in going out for some turns. This meant that I was on a solo outing, but the upside was that I’d be able to do a much bigger tour than I would have been able to with Ty, or especially with Dylan. The skies were clear and blue all Saturday morning on what was likely our warmest day of the spring up to that point. The temperature was already around 80 F when I pulled into Stowe’s Midway lot (~1,700’) in the early afternoon, and with the forecast for temperatures in that range, I hadn’t been too optimistic about the snow quality. My major goal was to at least get in a good workout, so I was willing to negotiate some sloppy snow on the descent if that was the way it had to be.
Snow was available right from the Midway Lodge elevation, with just a couple hundred feet of fairly flat walking on grass to get on it from the parking lot. I was immediately surprised when I got on the snow and found that it wasn’t sloppy at all; it was all corn with just the top inch or so loosened up. That’s the sort of corn that seems to provide some of the easiest turns, so I was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for a quality descent. There wasn’t much of a breeze in the lower elevations, but the snow helped keep the air temperature a bit cooler and the ascent was very enjoyable. For ascent attire I’d gone about as minimally as I felt comfortable doing, with a short sleeve polypropylene T-shirt and my ski pants with the side zippers fully open, and that worked out to be a comfortable setup for the temperature. I hadn’t made a non-powder ascent on skins in a while, and I was quickly reminded how the lightness of Telemark gear allows you to simply fly up the slopes. Before I knew it I was up at the Cliff House (3,625’) and feeling great, so I decided to keep going up into the alpine.
I set my skis onto my pack and hit the climbing gully. There was a bit of rotten snow in spots, and as I didn’t immediately find a boot ladder, I had visions of an inefficient, sloppy climb with lots of post-holing. I’d already post-holed a few times in the outskirts of the gully (it only took one of those to remind me to get my ski pants zipped up at least halfway) but fortunately, about 50 feet up the climbing gully I found a boot ladder made by some nice big feet. That made the going fairly smooth, and the views of the Green and White Mountains continued to improve with each step. Near the top of the gully, I ran into a guy about to descend. He had spent an overnight or two on the mountain, and said that he’d been amazed to find fresh powder on Friday morning when he’d started skiing. It sounds like along with Thursday morning, Friday morning had also been good in the higher elevations with regard to fresh snow. The downside of the fresh snow was that conditions in the alpine were still a bit sloppy. The new snow had not yet cycled to corn in the highest elevations, so it just wasn’t going to provide an optimal surface. By the time I departed from my conversation in the gully, I was moments from the Mansfield ridge line. Up on the ridge I enjoyed the new westerly views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and decided to stop in at the top of The Chin (4,395’) since I was so close. There was a small group of college students enjoying the popular leeward side of the summit, and there was a pleasant breeze of probably 15 MPH or so. The high temperature for the day at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 67 F, so I suspect that the summit maximum temperature was probably close to that. Getting an April day like that at the top of The Chin is certainly a treat.
For my descent, I wasn’t able to ski right in the summit or the West Chin area due to lack of snow, but I was able to ski down the gully where the Long Trail drops away from The Chin as it heads south. It was quite a perspective to see the snow create a flat surface through the gully, when in the off season it’s a 10-foot deep chasm containing the hiking trail. I had to remove my skis to descend the very top of the climbing gully, but below that point one could keep them on continuously. As expected, the new snow up high that hadn’t fully cycled to corn wasn’t as nice as the corn snow on the bottom 2,000’, but I actually had some fun turns in the climbing gully, and it let me work on Telemark turns in steeper, tighter confines. I still had to make some alpine turns and throw in some side slipping up there since some areas were just so tight, but overall the gully allowed a good mix of styles. The crème de la crème of snow surfaces for the day was probably the top half of the Gondolier descent. There must have been very little traffic up there because most of the snow surface was just a smooth layer of ripe corn. The lower half of Gondolier still had nice corn snow, but the surface wasn’t as smooth as the top half of trail. Perhaps the lower elevations had experienced more melting that started forming aberrations in the surface. Based on my GPS data, it looks like my descent was 2,720’, not quite what you can get for vertical in the winter when you head all the way back down to Route 108, but still a decent run. There were still about 7 feet of snow at the stake on Saturday, and even though that level has dropped some with the recent warmth we’ve had, skiing should available on Mt. Mansfield for a while.
E and the boys are off from school this week, so I joined them for a day up on the mountain yesterday. Heading up to ski was pretty much a no brainer – it looked to be almost a carbon copy of Saturday, with another foot or so of upslope Champlain Powder™ overnight to finish off another three-foot storm cycle, and the clouds pulling away to leave blue skies and perfect temperatures. Bolton Valley had just finished off a run featuring six feet of snow in six days, which doesn’t happen all that often… anywhere.
We hit up many of our usual haunts in the Timberline area, but also got in a few runs in the Adam’s Solitude/Wild Woods out of bounds areas, which we’d yet to visit this season. I don’t visit those areas all that often, but I was absolutely floored by how protected the accumulated snow was over there. Amazingly delicate accumulations of Northern Vermont’s famed upslope snow had settled on everything, apparently defying gravity by even accumulating laterally and growing off the sides of trees. All it seemed to take was the slightest imperfection on a surface to catch a few crystals, and then they would apparently grab hands and just go nuts. I’m not sure if the area is always protected like that, but I’ll sure be on the lookout with future storms. My final overnight accumulation of snow down at the house for that event had come in at 2.4% H2O, which is not all that uncommon for upslope snow in our sheltered valley location, but there really were areas up near the top of Adam’s Solitude where the snow was like air. I’d be skiing along through the usual bottomless powder and I’d hit pockets where it would feel like the bottom had literally dropped out because the snow became so airy. It almost felt like I was hitting small tree wells, but it was just the settling pattern of the powder. Anyway, it was quite an experience. I’ve skied a lot of cold smoke snow between Vermont and our years out in Montana, and yesterday snow now sets the standard. I can remember a day at Smugg’s several years back that featured snow as airy as yesterday’s, but it was only about 6 to 12 inches deep and not bottomless, so the experience wasn’t quite the same.
I wanted to bring E and the boys over to explore some areas on the main mountain, but the day at Timberline was so packed full of runs that we just never had the chance to get over there. We did manage to meet up with Stephen and his kids for a final run down Adam’s Solitude. It was a first time out there for them, so it was quite an introduction to that terrain. I worked a bit with Ty and E on getting their body positioning more compact when they are in the air. They’ve still got some work to do, but it was one of those days where you didn’t mind having to try, try again on those kinds of tasks. The rest of the images from yesterday can be found below in the gallery, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.
The numbers are in, and they indicate that Bolton Valley picked up a solid three feet of snow from our latest storm cycle, with the final 12 inches of upslope fluff coming in overnight to set the table for a fantastic Saturday. The day started off a little cloudy and breezy, but by midday we were left with warm sunshine to make for one of the best ski days of the season. We arrived up at the Timberline Quad for the 8:30 A.M. opening, and in classic Bolton Valley style the powder day lineup was comprised of a whopping three chairs worth of people. The first hour or two of the morning were pretty quiet in the Timberline area, at least in terms of numbers of visitors, although generally not in the voices of those of us that were there. By 10:00 or 11:00 A.M. more visitors started to arrive.
“The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09.”
While the trails only contained about a foot of powder in areas that had seen skier traffic over the past couple of days, many off piste locations that hadn’t seen visitors on Thursday or Friday held the entirety of the storm in and undisturbed stack. Before heading up to the mountain this morning we joked about losing Dylan in the deep snow, but fortunately that didn’t happen. The good thing about the snow was that it was quite dry (my analysis on the overnight accumulation at the house was 3.7% H2O); even the boys could get down in it and really have a fun time experiencing the depth. We met up with Dave and his friend Jo at 10:00 A.M., and my colleague Stephen and his son Johannes early in the afternoon, and all eight of us managed to do a couple of great runs on Twice as Nice together.
For Ty it was a day of notable improvements in his skiing. With the fantastic depths of powder in the off piste, he was able to start charging steep slopes more aggressively than I’ve seen up to this point. E and I had indicated to both boys that they would want to ski steeper terrain than usual today because the deep powder would be slowing them down. They weren’t very receptive to this idea at first. However, by the end of the day Ty had really changed his tune and was actually seeking out some of the steepest lines so he could tackle them. Dylan had quickly picked up on the idea as well.
The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09. I’d been saving up a nice 5 to 10 foot drop with a sloped landing that Dave and I had discovered in the Villager Trees a couple weeks back, and with feet of new powder it was ready to be plundered again. Ty likes to do jumps on his skis, but this type of a drop was in a league he’d never really tackled before, so I was curious to see his reaction. When we arrived at the top of the drop, he was certainly intimidated by the height and confirmed that he didn’t want to hit it. We didn’t want to force him, but we had Mom drop it and demonstrate how easy it was with such deep powder. After seeing that, he didn’t immediately change his tune, but we could see that the wheels were turning. Later in the day we were in the Wood’s Hole Glades and Ty somehow found himself atop a rather big rock. He dropped a pretty rugged looking line, and with that his confidence was building. I asked him if he’d be interested in joining Dave and I in dropping another small cliff on the next run and he said yes. We gave him first shot at the drop in the freshest powder, while E shot pictures from below. He wasn’t willing to carry a lot speed going into it, but he dropped right off and did an awesome job. At the end of the day when we were in the lodge, he indicated that he wanted to go out for one more run. He insisted that we hit the first drop that we’d shown him earlier in the day, the one that Mom had done. He said he was now ready for it. He had no trepidation this time around, and dropped it as soon as I was in position with the camera and gave him the go ahead. When we got back to the lodge he even told E that he’d done a better job on it than she had.
Dylan also had quite a day, blasting lots of powder lines with the most consistency that I’ve seen from him all year. He plowed through every mellow or steep nook and cranny that we dragged him into, and his powder skiing is now becoming reliable enough that we don’t have to worry much about bringing him into any of the typical areas that we’d ski as a family. It appears as though a mounting topic with Dylan is the use of ski poles. Ty didn’t start using poles until his 4/5-year old season (last year), but it looks like Dylan is about ready. After I broke a wayward stick off of a tree today in the Wood’s Hole Glades, Dylan proceeded to bring it with him for the rest of the run and use as a pole. Back on the trail, E told Dylan how he should be using the stick in terms of planting, and he easily coordinated the timing of planting and turning. We may have to start phasing in poles for him the way we did with Ty. Dylan also skied what was perhaps his biggest day to date, racking up over 8,000’ of vertical. He was clearly on his last legs when we came down through the Twice as Nice Glades near the end of the day though; he just couldn’t handle the steepest pitches anymore and I had to help him down the final one.
When I finally downloaded the images from my camera this evening, I discovered that I’d taken 479 shots throughout the day, but I managed to whittle it down to 21 that made the final cut. In some cases, the culling process involved skipping over some really nice waist-deep powder shots in favor of some even better chest and neck-deep ones, but sometimes that the way it goes! Images from the day are in the gallery below, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.
By the time I’d left the house (495’) at 7:30 A.M. this morning, we’d picked up 0.6 additional inches of snow since the 6:00 A.M. snowboard clearing, bringing the event total to 4.1 inches. It had been snowing lightly at the house when I left, but when I arrived up at the Bolton Valley Village area (2,100’) it was snowing moderately and still accumulating. The mountain had reported 7 inches of new snow as of their 6:45 A.M. update, but I suspected I’d find a bit more based on the way it was coming down. The lifts weren’t going to start loading until 9:00 A.M., so I kicked off the morning off by skinning for some turns, taking the route straight up Beech Seal. I first checked the consistency of the snow near the base area; I couldn’t quite make a snowball out of it in my hand, so I guess I’d describe it as medium weight powder. Beech Seal had been groomed at some point earlier, but I found about 2 to 4 inches of additional new snow on top of the groomed base.
“…today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder.”
When I reached mid mountain (2,500’) I checked the depth of the powder in an undisturbed location and it came in right at 12 inches. That should represent the combination of powder from last week’s midweek system (~6 inches) as well as whatever had come down up to that point with this new event, so that seemed reasonable. Wind doesn’t appear to have been much a factor with this system, so getting measurements was easy. I was thinking of skinning up in the Cobrass area, but there was enough powder to keep me following one of the snowmobile tracks for my ascent. At about 9:00 A.M. I’d reached the top of Vermont 200 (~3,000’), and when I checked the depth of the new snow there I found that it was at 9 inches.
“It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.”
I enjoyed first tracks down Vermont 200, and this new round of snow had settled in nicely. The medium-density powder was just what the doctor had ordered in terms of getting the windswept steeps back into shape. I was on my Telemark skis, and found that the consistency of the snow made for really easy turns. After my initial descent I stayed around for some rides on the lift, and unquestionably the trail pick of the day for me was Spillway. Usually I avoid it like the plague between its man-made snow, exposure to the wind, and traffic, but today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder. The fact that it has seen grooming in the past made the subsurface the most consistent and provided lots of nice bottomless turns, and since there didn’t appear to be much wind with this event, there were no issues on that front. I had to hit it twice because it was so good, and I’d say it was better than even Hard Luck or Vermont 200. The Wilderness Lift opened right around 10:00 A.M., and I was fortunate to catch one of the first few chairs. The way the steeper trails had been skiing so nicely, I opted for Bolton Outlaw from the Wilderness Summit, and it was in great shape. After that descent I traversed back toward the main mountain. I followed a random set of tracks off New Sherman’s Pass and found a nice region of glades that I’d never explored before.
The mountain definitely had more than its usual midweek handful of people this morning. A lot of the extra folks I saw were children, and I think some of the schools in the Northeast have vacation right now because I heard what sounded like a Boston-style accent on a couple of occasions. It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.
The moderate snowfall had gradually tapered off through the morning, and when I left the mountain around 10:40 A.M. there was just light snow and the temperature at my car (~2,100’) was 34 F. The temperature stayed fairly stable through most of the descent down the Bolton Valley Access Road, but at the bottom (340’) it was up to 35 F. The precipitation was light snow as I drove westward through the Winooski Valley to the center of Richmond. The temperature there was up to 36 F however, and I was surprised to see that Richmond appeared to have picked up little if any snow from this event. When I’d reached the I-89 rest area in Williston, the temperature was up to 37 F and the precipitation was over to rain, which was coming down at moderate intensity for a while. In the South Burlington area the temperature was up to 38 F, and when I finally arrived at the UVM campus it had hit 39 F.
Although it was a holiday today, E and Ty had to go to school, leaving Dylan and I home alone. After a couple of sunny days, the weather was mostly cloudy with flurries throughout the day at the house (495’), and it was a little tougher to get inspired to head up to the hill. I got a lot of stuff done at home during the day, and when I asked Dylan if he wanted to head up to the mountain for a couple of runs, he was very excited… click through to read the full trip report and see all the images from the day.
As we approach the Christmas holiday, snowstorms are really stacked up for the Northeast. Storm #1 came through on Wednesday and Thursday (December 17th & 18th), dropping 7.1 inches at our location in Waterbury (495’), and before storm #2 had even arrived, we picked up another 1.6 inches from a frontal passage on Thursday evening. Storms #2 and #3, were expected to pass through over the weekend (Fri/Sat and Sun/Mon respectively), and looked to be even bigger, although storm #2 was initially expected to be more of a Central/Southern New England Event.
Ty and I headed up to the mountain today to cash in on the new snow. We arrived in the Bolton Valley village (2,100’) to a temperature of 5 F, but it eventually warmed up to around 20 F, the sun came out, and we were rewarded with an awesome powder day. A great part of the day was having lunch in the James Moore Tavern while we watched people ski the powder in the terrain park. An even better part of the day was finishing up lunch and then hitting those powder lines ourselves! Ty got to ski a lot of untracked snow today and I could see that his powder technique continues to improve. Check out all the pictures and details in the full report from today.
Today I headed out for some backcountry exploration in the Bolton area. I was sure that James would still be resting his ankle, so once again I made it a solo outing. After exploring part of the Cotton Brook drainage the previous week, I decided to switch it up and check out something on the other side of the valley. A convenient starting area for reaching the terrain on the western side of the valley is one of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) access points. The ample parking lot sits at an elevation of roughly 1,000 feet on the Bolton Valley Access Road. My plan was to start out on the VAST trail that heads west from the parking area, and make my way up to the ridge line that extends north from Stimson Mountain. The summit of Stimson Mountain is at 2,002 feet, and the ridge maintains roughly that elevation for several miles as it heads northward toward the Bolton Mountain area. If I was able to find a suitable route to the ridge, and the terrain was appropriate, the tour would provide about 1,000 vertical feet of skiing.
I arrived at the trailhead in late morning to sunny skies and a temperature of 19 degrees F. There was only one snowmobile trailer in the lot at that time, so the lot looked pretty deserted. I started skinning westward on the nicely maintained VAST trail, which at first had a fairly gradual slope. Then, I crossed a large bridge, and the trail steepened. After maybe 50-100 vertical feet, the trail flattened out and turned to the south. At that point I decided to break away from the VAST trail and head westward up the ridge. The going would be slower once I had to get off the trail and break my own way through the powder, but as far as I could tell without a VAST map, the VAST trail headed more southward and was not going to get me up the ridge where I wanted to be. I finally broke off the VAST trail at the intersection with an old logging road. There was a sign indicating that the logging road was not open for VAST travel.
Despite breaking my own trail, the going was pretty smooth. I’d checked the depth of the powder just after I started my hike, and found it to be 9 inches over whatever thicker layer was below it. At the bottom of the logging road, the snow was still in the 9-12-inch range, so I wasn’t bogged down by too much depth. I continued upward, following a network of logging roads and taking the route that seemed to best direct me toward my destination on the ridge. I spied plenty of great ski lines along the way, and I marked a few of the more attractive ones on my GPS. The logging road seemed to have been maintained and it made for quick travel; at least it appeared that way with the snowpack at the time. If there was a forest of saplings growing on the road, they were long buried under the snowpack. There was only one obstacle that forced me to detour from the logging roads, a huge tree that lay across the trail near the middle of the hike. It took a few extra minutes to work my way around that one. Currently, with the additional 3 to 4 feet of new snow from Wednesday’s storm, that tree is probably not even an issue.
My route took me generally westward up the ridge, with a bit of northward movement toward the end. About 2/3 of the way through the hike, I came across a large flat area, and above it was some of the steepest terrain I’d seen on the day. The terrain there actually looked a bit too steep and rocky for skiing, so the slight northward trend worked well to keep me in more skiable terrain. Near the top of the hike I attained nice views of the Timberline area across the valley. I could even hear the announcer for the ski race that was taking place over there. The race was presumably a continuation of the event that Ty and I had seen the previous day. High clouds had been building in throughout my trip, so at that point the sunshine was no longer as brilliant as it had been when I started the hike.
After several minutes of additional climbing, I finally hit the ridge. While the powder just below the ridge had built up to a depth of around 15 inches, on the ridge itself, the snow was heavily compacted and drifted. In some places, the snow had been scoured down to just a few inches in depth. Small trees all across the ridgeline had been bent over and snapped by the strong prevailing winds that raked the area. To the west below me was Bolton Notch, and I could see what looked like some skiable lines dropping eastward toward the Bolton Notch Road. I actually thought I heard the voices of a couple of people below me in the notch, but it was very faint and I couldn’t get a fix on their location. I hiked around the summit ridge for a bit while I had a snack and a drink, then removed my skins and started down.
To ensure that I’d be able to get right back to the car without having to do any hiking along the access road, I followed a downhill route in the same general area as my skin track. Sometimes I traversed out above my skin track and skied back down to it, but for much of the run I was able to stay off to the skier’s left of my skin track and follow the natural contour of the terrain. Even with the snowpack below average (as gauged by the snow depth at the stake on Mt. Mansfield being at only ~54 inches), one could pretty much ski anywhere in the area I explored. There were always some lines that seemed to be the pick of the crop, but there were few areas where the vegetation was too thick for turns. There was plenty of powder for bottomless turns throughout the descent, and the depth of the base let me tackle the lines with a fair degree of confidence. With the potential for 3 to 4 feet of snow from the storm this coming Wednesday, I suspect there will be even more wide open lines. A storm of the size expected would likely bring the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake close to 80 inches, which would actually be above average for this time of year.
For the final pitch down to the VAST trail, I actually skied the last part of the logging road I’d ascended. It was steep enough that it made for some pretty nice turns. The Avocet recorded 920 vertical feet of descent and the Suunto recorded 958 vertical feet of descent, a difference of 4.0%. The high clouds had continued to build in throughout the tour, so the temperature at the end of my run was pretty much the same as it had been when I started skinning. It was a fun and easy trip with great access.
Well, our 7th valley snowfall of the season delivered nicely, at both the low and high elevations. When I did my first snow measurement this morning at around 9:00 A.M., we already had 2.6 inches of new snow at our place in Waterbury (elevation 495 feet), and the snowfall showed no signs of letting up. We headed up to Bolton Valley for some skiing and they already had 4 inches of fresh powder to start the day. It continued to snow all day up at Bolton and they’re now reporting 7-10 inches of new snow. It was a full on powder day, and the ski patrol was opening natural snow trails all over the place. We only got a chance to ski one of the natural snow trails (the “Glades” trail off the Mid-Mountain Lift) since we were with the boys, but it was more than ready to be opened. There was easily a foot of powder on top of denser base-layer snow below, so you didn’t really have to worry much about rocks. I’m sure most trails could be opened at this point if the mountain wanted to do it. The Northern Vermont resorts seem to be reporting new snowfall totals in the 6 to 12-inch range from this event so far, so I’m sure more natural snow trails will be opening soon. We arrived home to 4 more inches of snow at the house and it was still snowing. I’m estimating the water content of the snow in the 6-8% H2O range here at our place. With this event (6.6 inches so far), we’re up to 21.6 inches of snowfall on the season here. There were also 8 new inches of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, and the snow depth there is now up to 22 inches. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, and with all this fresh powder the backcountry/sidecountry is certainly open for business. I’m definitely planning to earn some turns and get some photos.
It’s interesting that all the new snow didn’t really come from a very official “storm”, but the local meteorologists gave us a good heads up so we were able to plan our day accordingly. We knew we were heading up to Bolton for some turns, but we wanted to pick the time of day to go with the boys and make the best use of the new snow. Initially, we thought it might be best to let the snow accumulate and head up to the slopes in the afternoon, but when we woke up to almost three inches at the house in the morning, we decided to get skiing as soon as possible.
The drive was a little sketchy with the continued heavy snowfall, and we even had to stop a couple of times on the way up the Bolton Valley Access Road. The first occasion was to let a rafter of wild turkeys cross the road. E counted at least 18 of them, but said some had already disappeared into the trees before she had a chance to count them. The second stop was for a car that was slipping its way up the last steep section of the road. Perhaps they hadn’t put on their snow tires yet, but they eventually gained enough traction and let everyone make it up to the Village. Once again, there was a huge crew of Bolton Valley associates ready to help us with our ski gear in the Village unloading area. We were doing well in our unloading process and didn’t want to take them away from helping other guests, but we thanked them anyway. I’m not sure if this is just something they do over the holidays, or if is standard customer service now, but it’s a nice touch. It’s as if they’ve infused a touch of Deer Valley into Bolton Valley. I had a chance to chat with the Bolton Valley associates and they commented on how great it was to have all this snowfall with virtually no wind. I guess that’s what you can get from a “non storm” type of snowstorm. They were also hyping the fact that Sunday was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day. In the back of my mind, I appreciated the fact that such a day would make for fantastic skiing in all the new powder, and even better photography, but at the moment I was more concerned with the fact that it was dumping in the here and now.
With four new inches of snow in the Village already, we wasted no time suiting up and getting right on the Snowflake Lift. The snow surface was cut up powder in the center of the trails with plenty of untracked along the edges. We skied with Dylan between our legs again, and boy was it a lot tougher in chowder and powder than on a nicely manicured slope. His skis would submarine in the powder and pull him down, so I basically had to hold him high and keep him floating on top of the snow in the more powdery areas. It was even more work than usual, but he seemed to be pretty happy with the whole experience so it was worth it. Dylan was even keeping his mittens on, which was nice to see on such a snowy day. On one of our early runs, Ty and I showed Mom the terrain in the Sprig O’ Pine/Deer Run area where we like to scout for powder, but this terrain was just too mellow for the accumulating snow. The slow progress in this area did give us a chance to get a picture of Dylan standing in the powder and all suited up in a combination of his new gear and some of Ty’s old stuff.
We did a couple of runs in our usual haunts off the Snowflake and Mid-Mountain lifts, and got to show Mom our little powder stash under the Vista Quad. Then, circumstances arose that led us to try something new. While riding the Mid-Mountain lift, I began noticing skiers filtering out of the trails to the skier’s right of the lift (terrain over in the “Glades” area). I initially thought these folks might be poaching, but there were just a few too many of them for that to be the case. The patrol must have actually opened some of these trails. I’ve skied the terrain in that area before, and some of it rather steep and contoured. So, I was really skeptical that it could be opened on the snow we had at this point. In a somewhat half serious way, I pointed the area out to Ty and asked if he wanted to try something new. I thought he would be a bit tentative about trying something new, since he liked his usual trails and jumps so much, but by the time we’d neared the top of the lift he had convinced me that we should head that way. I was still somewhat unsure if we’d be limping our way down a rock filled minefield of early season conditions, but I was willing to give it a go since Ty was so enthusiastic. The terrain was actually open, and the patrol had simply stuck an “Experts Only” sign at the entrance to keep people aware of what the terrain was potentially like. E was a little worried by the sign, but I assured her that the hardest parts of the trail were basically in the range of a single black run with some scattered trees on it, and that Ty could certainly manage. The tougher part would be skiing with Dylan, but I knew I could always carry him in my arms on the couple of steepest pitches.
So, with a level of uncertainty still remaining, the family shuffled past the “Experts Only” sign and ventured into the unknown of the “Glades” trail. What we found was far better than I could have imagined. There was no minefield rocks and roots, just a steep powdery playground full of terrain features. After the first pitch, the extent of the coverage and new snow was obvious. You really had to seek out rocks or other underlying debris if you were actually going to hit something with your skis. You could actually ski the trail without concern, and you didn’t need “rock skis” at all. I was flabbergasted that natural coverage could be this good down at this low an elevation. Obviously the ski patrol knew how good the conditions were. Any concern we had for Ty dissolved away as he charged down through the powder on the first steep pitch. The conditions were just too fluffy to care about anything.
I spied an especially deep untouched line on the skier’s right of the trail, that required ducking under some thin branches, and decided to go for it with Dylan. However, I overestimated the height of the branches and how low I would have to bend. Dylan ended up having to go through the branches with me. I felt really bad about what I’d gotten us into, but once it was too late and I realized where we were heading, I kept him as low as possible without causing us to crash (which would have probably been a worse result because Dylan would have gotten all snowy and mad). In the end, we did wind up tumbling over into the powder, but we were well clear of the branches and Dylan was none the worse for wear. E, who agreed to take a picture of us skiing the line, said that she never thought I would take the line I did. To her, it looked like I used Dylan as a battering ram for the tree branches. That was totally not the case of course. In any event, Dylan is almost two years old now and should probably get used to toppling into the powder like his brother.
Knowing that I was planning to head out for a backcountry day on Sunday, I offered to take Dylan inside for a break so Mom and Ty could hang out together and enjoy the powder. For some reason however, Ty wanted to ski with me instead of Mom, so E conceded and headed in with Dylan for lunch, while I “reluctantly” hung for another run with Ty. Well, Ty must have had fun on our first powdery romp through the Glades trail because all he could talk about was going back to ski the “new one” again. I actually got to have even more fun on our second run through the Glades, because I wasn’t skiing with Dylan and could really shred some powder. I also had free hands to take pictures of Ty as well. Come to think of it, I now realize that E and I did all our powder skiing that day without poles (we typically don’t use our ski poles on days with the boys due to loading them on the lift, carrying them, and whatever else has to be done). I must be getting used to it because I didn’t even think of it until I wrote this. I do like the way that having no poles leaves my hands free for taking pictures; that’s a definite added bonus. Without Dylan, I was also free to explore the terrain a bit more, and I realized that there were no ropes up anywhere in the area. I spied a connection into a more thickly gladed/wooded trail to the skier’s right (this may have been part of the “Upper Glades” trail), and it seemed devoid of any recent tracks. It was very tempting to dive in there and catch a fresh line, but Ty had already started down the run we were on and I didn’t want to lose him. I’m hopeful others got the chance to expand the skiing into that area and ski all the fresh lines. I was still blown away that all that terrain was open with such great coverage.
Ty and I skied more great untracked snow down the skier’s right of Glades, and Ty even took the same line under the branches that I had skied with Dylan. I think Ty wanted to try it because he saw us do it, and he ended up as a heap in the powder, just like us. Actually, Ty followed me through some pretty steep and deep lines. Even though we were only in about a foot of powder, that’s fairly deep for a guy his size and he handled it well. He really ripped it up in some sections and he seems to be getting the powder bug. I guess there are worse diseases or addictions to have. We were both pretty giddy after that run and couldn’t wait to tell Mom about our turns. Ty was getting a little goofy as we glided through the flats back to the lodge, and he wound up laying down on the trail watching the snowflakes fall on his goggles. He asked me to join him and I did just that. It had been a while since I’d simply lain down and watched the snow fall on top of me, and it was as fun as ever. As much as Ty can really be annoying when he dilly dallies and we need to get something done, sometimes he has exactly the right idea. We headed in for lunch and told E all about our run.
After lunch we all headed back out and took a run off the Snowflake Lift. Dylan dropped a glove near the start of the lift, and I hiked up to get it on the next run. I carried my skis up with me so I could ski down, but they had been making snow in the Village/Terrain Park area so my ride was a little crunchy. By the next run, Dylan had fallen asleep just like on Wednesday, so Mom took him into the lodge for a nap. I tried to convince Ty that we should take a run on the Vista Quad to find more powder. I could see that people were skiing down trails like Spillway etc., and figured the patrol had opened a bunch of terrain up there. But, Ty was not enthusiastic about riding the quad, since he remembered there were snow guns up there on his last trip, so we stuck to the Snowflake Lift. Ty continued hitting his favorite jumps on Sprig O’ Pine (although not with as much air as usual because the powder was slowing him down), while I worked the untracked snow on the skier’s left of the trail. After a few more runs, we called it a day and headed into the lodge.
It had continued to snow all day, although the snowfall began to slow down a bit in the afternoon. When I went to get the car, there were probably 2-3 new inches on it. For a “storm” day, it had been pretty nice with temperatures in the 20s F, and little if any wind. Despite the holiday/weekend crowds, there weren’t really any lift lines to wait in and all the extra terrain they had opened meant that you could find plenty of solitude if you wanted it. The Avocet recorded 9 runs for 2,865 feet of vertical, and the Suunto recorded 9 runs for 2,730 feet of vertical, a difference of 4.8%
I thought Ty would pass out in the car on the way home, or certainly need a nap at the house, but once we actually got out of the car, the sight of all the new snow got him way to excited to sleep. I asked him if he wanted to go snowshoeing, and of course he did, so we took a tour around the property and made the afternoon’s measurement on the snowboard. Ty just wouldn’t quit, so after snowshoeing, he helped me shovel some snow from the driveway to make a launching pad and jump for sledding. After sledding for a while, he actually put his alpine skis back on and started doing laps in the yard! The snow was a little deeper than he was used to skiing in the yard, so he would actually use his previous tracks to pick up speed, and then venture off into the fresh snow to make some powder turns. It was sort of nice to see him figure out a technique that I know many of us have used before on low angle terrain with deeper snow. Ty kept going even after he was done skiing, and played around in the snow with Dylan while E and I finished up shoveling the driveway. He’d really had quite a multisport day and I can’t believe how long he kept going. Ahh, the power of fresh snow is pretty awesome. E headed off in the evening to get some work done at school, and I had it real easy since both boys were pooped. I put Dylan to bed around 7:00 P.M., and Ty had already passed out on the floor while trying to watch T.V. It was an easy end to a great family powder day.
Today we took Ty up to Bolton Valley for a few afternoon ski runs. I hadn’t initially thought of taking him up to Bolton, but Grandma mentioned it and it sounded like a good idea. With holiday visitors at the house, and another family gathering later that evening, time was a little tight. So, Bolton was especially appropriate being only about 30 minutes away. E hadn’t been out to ski with Ty in the past couple of weeks, so this would be an opportunity for her to ski with him using the leash, and see the progress he’d made first hand.
The weather had been warming since yesterday, and had risen above freezing in the valley. When we left my parent’s house in Shelburne (elevation ~180’), the car thermometer was reading 39 degrees F. At the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road (elevation ~340’) it was at 37 F, and by the time we reached Bolton’s main base (elevation ~2,100’) it was down to 34 F. There was a notable difference in the look of the snow on the mountain when compared to the valley. Down in the valley, the snow was getting spring-like, and had melted off the trees. Up on the mountain, even at the base area, there was a coating of white on the trees, and the snow still looked pretty dry and wintry. Bolton was reporting 2 inches of new snow, which we hoped would make for some pleasant skiing.
To get to Grand Targhee, we had to head to the west back over Teton Pass. As we’d come through during the night before, this was our first real chance to check out all its legendary backcountry terrain. It looked as cool as all the hype suggested; skiable lines were everywhere right off the road. The slopes had tons of tracks on them, but there were still areas with untracked powder. I’m sure one could spend many season exploring the Teton Pass ski terrain.
About an hour or so after leaving Jackson, we came to the town of Driggs, Idaho (6,286′), and we knew we were getting close to Targhee. Driggs didn’t really have the resort atmosphere, which I think is due to the fact that Targhee is a sort of smaller, yet self-contained resort. Unlike Jackson, Driggs did have substantial snow on the ground; we could already see that things were different on this (the western) side of the Teton Range. The views of the Grand (13,770′), and other Tetons were also absolutely amazing. E had chosen not to ski today due to the fact that she was so sore from her horrible crash from yesterday, and didn’t want to take any chances on injuring herself further. This was a real downer because she had been really excited to ski Grand Targhee, it is totally her kind of resort. The fact that she was able to sit out after seeing all the great Targhee snow on a bluebird day, really showed how bad she was feeling.
There were only a couple dozen cars in the Targhee parking lot, and as we approached the lifts, we could already feel from this distance that conditions were different. The main skiing on Fred’s Mountain (10,000′), which is at the center of the resort, takes place on huge open slopes splattered with a few trees. Because it was so open, we had a great look at the snow, which looked much more like chowder than hard pack. The brilliant morning sunshine made it look so appealing, and there was virtually nobody around! We hopped on the Dreamcatcher Quad and rode up the 2000 vertical feet to give it the real test.
We were starved for powder, so even though we wanted to test out the broad slopes on the front of the mountain, I thought it would fun to explore a bit and see what we could find as we got the lay of the land. We traversed skier’s left along the summit, and as we followed along the ridge, we came across gates that let you into the legendary Grand Targhee backcountry. One big chute I came across looked like it just dropped into infinity from my vantage point, although since there were many tracks from people who had dropped in, I’m going to assume it was skiable. The backcountry looked enticing, but that wasn’t our plan, we had a whole new resort to explore. The snow surface was already far better than Jackson Hole’s, but so far we were just traversing on mellow terrain, we needed to find a good test. We continued along our traverse, keeping close to the resort boundary in hopes of finding some untracked powder just off piste. Brief forays onto some of the trails clearly confirmed that the snow was in great shape; not fresh powder but soft and loose all about.
Our traverse finally brought us below the cliffs of Peaked Mountain (9,700′) where we could see vast amounts of what looked to be deep powder between the cliffs and the boundary rope. After consulting our map and realizing that we would very easily be able to ski right back into bounds, we decided to traverse and check out the snow here. Even as we began the traverse, we could see that this snow was fantastic. It was deep and feather light. After a few minutes of traversing, we found ourselves atop a slope of powder that we knew was going to be amazing. We double checked that we weren’t below any major avalanche terrain, pulled out the video cameras, and Chris set up his still camera. We KNEW this was going to be good. What proceeded was incredibly cathartic after our days at Jackson. There were almost two feet of powder just sitting there, and although the run wasn’t very long, it was pitched beautifully at around 30 or so degrees, and it did the trick. The smiles on everyone’s faces during and after the run were obvious, the snow had re-invigorated everyone. We were able to traverse a few more minutes and get a second shot at similar terrain. The skiing at Grand Targhee was off to a great start!
Our travels brought us down into the gully between Fred’s and Peaked Mts., and we had an amazing ride though what seemed like an endless singletrack. Taking it at speed with all the blind corners was a blast. In addition, we got a chance to look at all the tress around and see where the fresh powder was at. The gully dumped us off at the bottom of the Sacajawea quad, which took us up to Peaked Mountain, a region which reportedly used to be accessible only for snowcat skiing. Now, they’ve got a lift on part of it, but the rest is still maintained for snowcat trips. There are signs at the top that indicate where you can’t hike for turns (so as not to destroy the powder of the cat skiing operation I guess). We did a few runs off the Sacajawea lift, checking out many areas of tree skiing, which, although having lots of tracks, still had a lot of areas of fresh. Nothing was quite as deep as the stuff we’d hit along the boundary rope, but there were still a lot of fun turns. I also managed to find a way down through the cliffs along the edge of Peaked Mountain, which took a good bit of route finding. There were plenty of cliffs to air out there if you knew the terrain, and it all dropped into the beautiful powder that we had skied on our first run. I was really wishing I knew the terrain up there to check it out, but jumping off a cliff when you can’t quite see what’s below you is still a bit sketchy, no matter how deep the powder is. We resigned to staying among the trees and had some great turns.
After a while, we decided to head in for a quick bite and check out how E was doing in the lodge. She’d brought some work to keep her busy, and it was a bit disheartening to have to tell her about the amazing light powder we’d found out there. I told her that we’d come back together someday to make up for her missing out. We had burgers for lunch which were delicious, and we ate upstairs where Erica was working; in a special room they had available for eating bag lunches. We shared it with a few other visitors and it was really nice since it provided a huge view of the mountain.
After lunch, we decided to focus on that huge open terrain on Fred’s Mountain, and see what else was in store for us. Upon first hand inspection, we found that the snow we’d see below the lift was really quite soft, broken up powder. Unlike Jackson Hole, bumps had not formed due to presumably much lower traffic. I know that Targhee had been under the influence of the same sort of weather as Jackson Hole, and even though it had been many days since snow, the surface was in beautiful soft shape. One of my personal highlights for the afternoon was screaming along the groomers on these broad open slopes. I can honestly say that it was the best groomed terrain I’d ever ridden. I’m not a connoisseur of groomed terrain, but this was fantastic. On trails like The Face, Sitting Bull, and Rock Garden, it felt as though you were on a snowy ridge at the edge of the world. These broad cruisers had such amazing soft groomed snow that you could go as fast as you wanted without any fear of your edges letting go. This fact, combined with few other skiers was a bad recipe for high speed. I make no exaggeration when I say that we scared ourselves silly; hands down the best groomed experience of my life. I know that James will certainly concur, since he had the same dumbfounded look on his face, and told me how he felt.
Off to the skier’s right of one of the groomers (Rock Garden) a small cornice forms which then drops you into steep terrain with names such as The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and theEast Woods. James and I had nearly encountered this in a bad way during a fast run on Rock Garden; although we had both stopped, we had no idea that a cornice dropped off the edge of this groomer upon which we had just been flying. I’m glad I never chose to explore near the edge on those fast runs! Now however, we WERE interested in the cornice. The snow below looked nice and soft, and it was time for some cornice drops. We had great fun working our way down the cornice and traversing back up to drop in again. Chris pulled out his digital still camera and got some great shots. It was a great end to a great day; Targhee is high on my list of places to get back to.
Although all the boys wanted to stay, E pointed out that we had a bit of a drive ahead of us and that she had to get up early for work tomorrow. These were obviously the words of somone who had NOT been on that amazing snow under a brilliant blue sky. Still, after debating on the radios, we realized that she’d been sitting around all day while we were having fun. It was unfortunately time to go :(.
As we drove away, we captured parting pictures of the Tetons and talked about how much fun we’d had. I can’t believe how different the snow was between Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee, especially when the two resorts are so close (as the crow flies). Jackson Hole gets plenty of thumbs up for amenities (we had great food in the lodges) and of course massive vertical and steeps. However, after this trip, Grand Targhee has made me a huge fan of its amazing snow, lack of crowds, fun terrain, and overall atmosphere. I hope I get back soon, I can’t even imagine what a powder day is like!