Thanks to Winter Storm Skylar, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit the 100-inch mark around the middle of the month. When the snowpack starts getting that deep up there, it’s time to really think about heading above tree line into the alpine, because everything is filled in and the skiing really gets good. While last Sunday’s weather in the higher elevations was frigid, with wind chills well below zero F at the summits, today’s forecast with minimal winds and temperatures in the 20s F was looking perfect for some above tree line adventures on Mt. Mansfield. With the weather looking good, my only remaining concern was how much spring cycling the alpine snow had seen in the recent stretch of sunny days we’ve had around here. Either way though, that wasn’t going to be a deal breaker, so I had E inform any interested students and coaches from our BJAMS ski program that we’d plan to hike up above Stowe’s terrain into Mt. Mansfield’s alpine for our Sunday afternoon session.
We ultimately had a crew of eight for today’s alpine adventures, with our usual suspects from my group along with Jonah and his brother and dad, who was willing to make the trip with the boys even though he’s got one injured arm in a sling! As soon as program started in the afternoon, we headed right up to the Climbing Gully and found an excellent boot pack in place. With some pretty decent southern exposure, the snow in the Climbing Gully had softened in the sun and sat somewhere between winter and spring consistency. Once we hit the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline though, the consistency of snow was all winter, and that allayed at least some of my fears about the consistency of the snow above tree line. You could feel the nice cool breeze along the ridgeline doing its job to keep the snow from baking in the late March sun, and I knew that any terrain without strong southern exposure up in the alpine was going to be in fine midwinter form. The views were stupendous, so we took a few minutes to enjoy the scene and fuel up. Ty had been silly and not eaten much in the morning, so he’d been bonking on the climb up the Climbing Gully. I made him quickly have a couple packets of GU around the middle of the ascent, and then I told him to get at least one granola bar into him on the ridge to make sure he’d have enough in the tank for the rest of the tour.
“Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency.”
After our ridgeline break, we headed up to The Chin, and I first checked out the condition of Profanity Chute, which was my initial plan for today’s descent. Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency. I knew from Powderfreak’s pictures and comments that Winter Storm Skylar had really dropped a ton of liquid equivalent on the mountain and filled everything in, but it’s still most impressive to see it firsthand. Even more impressive to me than how filled in Profanity was, was just how plastered all the usual windswept areas of the summit were. The Chin is so exposed to the wind that it’s more typical to see a mix of rocks and snow vs., the area being covered wall-to-wall in white, but that’s how it’s been since Winter Storm Skylar. People were even skinning all the way to the summit, which you’ll only see when you get a storm of plentiful, dense snow that really covers all the rocks.
“From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat.”
While the group congregated at the summit, I also took a look down at Hourglass Chute, and I was very impressed with what I saw. The snow quality and coverage looked excellent. Hourglass is narrower and steeper than Profanity, and I’ve never brought to boys down it, but it was starting to look like today might be the day. It was hard to pass up the great aesthetic look of Profanity with the current snowpack, but the boys have now skied it a number of times, and after surveying everyone to see who was interested, the boys were definitely game to give Hourglass a shot. Looking down on Hourglass from above, it’s a pretty intimidating view with plenty of exposure. From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat. That’s a pretty impressive pitch wherever you are, and with the apparent exposure of the chute from above, I was sort of dumbfounded that none of the boys even gave it a second thought. Jonah, Wiley, Robbie, Ty, and Dylan were all simply ready to jump right in, and they seemed confused as to why I was even making a big point to thoroughly confirm that everyone was on board. I was worried that it might just be ignorance on their part, but they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink, so it is what it is I guess.
I dropped down above the throat of the chute (Hourglass is so named because of the relatively open upper headwall and apron areas, with a tight, rock-lined middle section) and set up for some photography of the boys. I had the wide-angle Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM on my camera body at that point, and the spot I was in was a bit too steep to comfortably change it out, so I ended up sticking with it. Even at 22 mm it was too wide to really get nice shots of the boys going through the throat of the chute, but I did give a nice side-angle shot of everyone above the chute as they waited, and you can get a good idea of the pitch of the slope. Everyone ultimately did fine skiing the chute, although Dylan did take a tumble at the end of the throat as he was doing a jump turn, and I heard that Jonah also had a tumble down there. Fortunately, even with that steep pitch, it’s still not “No Fall Zone” terrain with the decent snow conditions we had. I saw Dylan slide headfirst for a time after his fall, and Ty was below ready to help him arrest, but he’d stopped before that point. Anyway, everyone seemed to have a great time skiing Hourglass, and all the snow was a fantastic midwinter consistency. Even after skiing it, none of them seemed to feel that it was a very big deal, so I guess I was much more impressed with how they did than any of them.
“…they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink…”
We caught some steeps along the apron, managing our descent as much as possible to make for an easy cruise over toward and around the Adam’s Apple to catch the Hell Brook Trail. The Hell Brook Trail was in its usual state for this time of year, with terrain exposed to the south/sun getting crunchier and crunchier as one descended in altitude, but the sheltered snow on the skier’s right of the gully was continually fantastic. The whole area is really loaded with snow now, and in conversations with Ty and Dylan during the descent, we all really loved those steep, open faces on the south side of the gully that held the protected winter snow. Although he’d skied Hourglass beautifully, Ty was feeling off his game and heavy on his feet in the tighter sections of the Hell Brook gully (probably because of not initially fueling up properly), so he was really enjoying those more open areas that didn’t have any moguls.
The ski out was relatively quick because the snow wasn’t sticky at all, although I hadn’t noticed that Wiley and Robbie had chosen a route without a good bridge across the final stream, so they had to take some time working their way through the lower woods to find a good crossing. Robbie was of course a trooper doing the whole thing on his snowboard, both above and below the Hell Brook Trail there are plenty of spots that are no big deal on skis, but can be a headache on a board. Down there on Route 108 it totally felt like spring, with lots of sunshine, and winter recreationalists out enjoying any manner of snow and ice travel. I’d had a lot of fun on today’s outing because I guess it’s been about 20 years since I last skied Hourglass Chute. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I get to do that again!
Both Dylan and I got to try out our new Anon M2 Goggles, the same model of goggles that Ty got at Christmas with the magnetic interchangeable lenses. Dylan and I were both in need of new goggle for various reasons, and it seemed like a no brainer to get the same model that Ty has to be able to quickly share all the lenses between us. We even got a few extra lenses for various conditions – we’ll just have to be good about not fighting over them!
By the time we got back to Spruce Camp, the program session was just about over. I do like that a typical hike to The Chin with a Hell Brook run is just about perfect for one of our afternoon program sessions, since everyone is pretty cooked by the end anyway between the hike in and the traverse out. Ty was famished, so we headed up to the Great Room Grill for some food with Mom, and Ty got one of their huge burgers. He devoured it, not surprisingly, and E and had time to remind him not to try pulling ski outings like that on a nearly empty stomach. There’s nothing quite like a hearty meal after being famished from a good winter tour, but you have to know your metabolism and where the empty line is on your tank or you can easily get into trouble before you get to that next feast.