With the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake back around the 100-inch mark, it was finally time to bring my BJAMS ski group up into the Mansfield alpine for our weekly Sunday session. My initial plan was a run down Profanity Chute with a return toward Chin Clip, followed by a trip to the Outer Planets. Nolan wasn’t going to be with me since he was still in the process of returning from Montreal, but fortunately Rick was going to join us and that gave me a second adult. With Rick’s added knowledge of the area, I felt comfortable enough to kick things up a notch and bring the boys to the Hell Brook Trail for the bottom part of the run.
The weather forecast was also a big part of opting for the alpine today – highs up around 4,000’ were expected to be in the 20s F and wind was supposed to be minimal. The Climbing Gully was in great shape, with lots of snow and one of the best boot ladders I’ve seen. The March sun had done some work on slopes with southern aspects, but up high the effects seemed to be pretty minimal – the packed snow in Profanity Chute was quite wintry, and there was some nice powder still available in the open area on the right side of the chute. I wish I’d had the camera out for when Rick skied that because the powdery turns looked fantastic.
We cut left following the normal Profanity route, and then traversed below the east face of The Chin containing the Hourglass Chute and connected to the Hell Brook Trail. The north-facing aspects in the Hell Brook area held some fantastic snow, but surface conditions deteriorated the more southerly the aspect. At times we had to ski some of those more southerly-oriented aspects, so that made for some very challenging turns on either crusty snow or powder with a sun crust on it. But the boys all did quite well on what is a very challenging run that simply goes on, and on, and on. By the time we traversed back to Gondola and headed over to Spruce Camp we’d covered over 5.5 miles and 2,900’ of vertical.
Although there are roughly 100 inches of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake right now, I don’t think coverage on Profanity was quite where it was on our last visit with the kids a couple of seasons ago. With Winter Storm Stella we really just made back the snow that had settled or melted during the previous couple of weeks, so the snowpack doesn’t seem to have quite the coverage of a 100-inch pack that grew throughout the full season. In any event, there’s a lot of snow up in the high elevations and things look good for the slopes heading into spring.
Last weekend’s weather was a bit too dicey to get us to head over to Mt. Washington for skiing, but the forecast for good weather this weekend was looking pretty solid. E was feeling the need to get other work done with the end of the school year closing in, so the boys and I decided to just go for a day trip to the snowfields. Typically we throw in some camping in the White Mountains as part of our Mt. Washington ski trips, so this would be the first time in a while that we’d be doing the out and back in a day. It’s actually just a couple hour trip to get over to the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road from our place in Waterbury, so day tripping is certainly practical, but breaking up the driving with some camping has been the routine these past few seasons.
“The snow was great, being a bit harder in a few spots, and a bit softer in others, but the bulk of it was just right for making turns.”
I did a final check on the forecast for roughly the 5,500’ level on Mt. Washington this morning, and it called for leftover frost, clear skies, a high around 50 F, and light winds in the 10-15 MPH range. That’s an excellent forecast for some skiing in Mt. Washington’s alpine areas, and it’s good to jump at these sorts of days, because you never know what the next one will bring when it comes to the Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. The boys and I headed out around 9:00 A.M. under blue skies and temperatures in the 60s F, and by midday we were up in the parking lot along the Nelson Crag Trail at ~5,700’ getting our gear together. The weather was great, and the numbers on the board showing the summit weather conditions had been right in line with what the forecast suggested. After checking the images from the Ravines Cam over the past few days, as well as this morning, I could see that one of our favorite snowfield areas below Ball Crag was of decent size, so that was our planned destination. We like that Ball Crag snowfield because it doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as the main East Snowfields below the summit, and instead of having to park above it and hike down into the snow, you can contour right across from the parking area along the Nelson Crag Trail. It can be a bit harder to find some of those lower snowfields if you’re not familiar with the area, but we usually have good luck traversing out from near the junction of the Nelson Crag and Huntington Ravine Trails.
“The snowfield was a totally clean slate of corn, with no traces of previous skier activity…”
Today the traverse out to the snowfield was incredibly quick – within 5 to 10 minutes (Ty says it was 7 minutes) we’d hit the snow. The snowfield was a totally clean slate of corn, with no traces of previous skier activity, so presumably nobody had skied it in a while. The scene was quiet when we arrived, but it wasn’t long before the boys started having fun with the snow and the activity level ramped up. The boys had a great attitude about the skiing today, certainly relative to some trips we’ve had, and although it was different since Mom wasn’t there, I think they enjoyed the “boy’s day out” sort of feel. We made an initial ski descent of the snowfield, which seemed to provide somewhere in the range of 200 feet of vertical. It was a reasonably long run in which you could certainly get a groove going, and there were a lot of different options for skiing in the various nooks and crannies of the snowfield’s footprint. The snow was great, being a bit harder in a few spots, and a bit softer in others, but the bulk of it was just right for making turns. I told the boys that I’d bring their skis back up for them so that they could enjoy the hike, and strapped their skis on my pack along with mine. It actually wasn’t a bad pack load, and I think it helped to keep their spirits up.
Back at the top of the snowfield, we had lunch, and the boys again played around in the snow for a while. There was just a bit of breeze at times, and bugs were virtually nonexistent, so it was a great day to be out on the snow. During our first run, a couple with a dog had arrived for some skiing, but they spent their time a little farther over on the snowfield, so we didn’t see them much. It was actually good that they had their own section in which to hang out, because Ty and Dylan were a bit boisterous in their play, and that way the boys weren’t too loud in their immediate vicinity. For our last run we decided to run out the snowfield to the bottom, then contour back over to the Huntington Ravine Trail and take that right back up to the car. That hike took a bit longer since we were starting out lower in elevation, but I’d say within roughly 15 minutes we were back at the parking area. The boys still played around a lot today, so that took up plenty of the afternoon, but this has to be our most efficient outing in terms of the hiking. The snow will likely be around for a bit longer based on what we saw, so there should be snowfield turns available for those that are interested as we move forward in June.
“The snow in the chute looked so good it was almost spooky.”
My thoughts of a very early departure to Stowe for me and Ty were stymied by the fact that I had to get some work done and send it off to Stephen, but we managed to get going by around 9:30 A.M. I hadn’t eaten by that point, and we stopped in at the DD on Route 100 to really calorie up with some hearty food. Although he’d had some breakfast, Ty followed suit with at least a cream cheese bagel; it was a good idea, because I suspected we’d need those calories, and as we’d find out later in the day… they were going to be burned. We got to the mountain by mid morning, and the slopes were looking very good. The resort was reporting a fresh 9 inches overnight, and they appeared to be in the sweet spot for accumulations. We were of course really happy that the surprise dump of snow coincided with our usual Sunday visit to the mountain. We’d dressed warmly since temperatures were around 10 F, but truth be told, the temperature just didn’t have the bite that it seems to in January. It’s mid March, and either we’re acclimated, or the March sun just helps to fight off the cold.
Ty and I kicked things off with a run on the Sunny Spruce, featuring some Lower Smugglers Trees just like we’d done a couple of weeks ago, followed by a visit to the terrain above Meadows. The new snow was indeed light and dry, and the skiing in the trees was awesome, although the base was stiff in low elevation areas that were unprotected from the sun. I’d suspected that as a possibility based on the dense snow we’d found in the lower elevations at Bolton Valley yesterday, so after that warm up run our plan was to head right up into the higher elevations of Mt. Mansfield, where we knew the snow would be very well preserved.
We started off with a trip along the Kitchen Wall traverse, and hit some of the deep powder there. There had really been minimal traffic through the area at that point, so we just picked an untracked area in one of the first snowfields and had at it. That essentially led us on a long and meandering trip through various areas of tree skiing that brought us to the Fourrunner Quad. From the top of the quad I took Ty down Pipeline, which I probably haven’t skied in 20 years. I was happy that I was able to find it, but less enthused about how narrow it was. My skis have only gotten shorter since 20 years ago, so I have no idea how I skied it back then. It was already well packed out, which probably doesn’t take much, since in general people are going to side slip a lot of it anyway. It was just as steep as I remembered though, and the fall away views were spectacular. We eventually found ourselves dropping into the Hazelton Zone from the south side, and that resulted in a great run with tons of untracked snow. Somehow we even managed to get into some of the same lines we’d hit back on the 2nd, and I think our noses naturally lead us in certain directions. Knowing more about some of the big, north-facing gullies though, we managed to get ourselves into one of those, and that was pretty sweet. We’ve still got several of those to explore however, the trick is just finding exactly where to enter the zone to get there.
By the time we traversed out of the Hazelton Zone, it was time to head over to Spruce Peak for some lunch, and to meet up with Dylan, E, and all the other folks for the afternoon BJAMS ski program. After climbing and skiing the Cliff Trail Gullylast Sunday as a refresher, today the plan was to kick things up a notch and visit Profanity Chute. Skiing Profanity is a bit of a larger endeavor, since it involves going all the way to the top of The Chin, with a longer hike and a longer descent. This was a great day for it though, with a couple feet of snow midweek from winter storm Vulcan, topped off with another 9 inches of fluff from the overnight snows, the odds were favoring some really nice snow in the alpine. Joe had heard about our plans, and since he was interested in bringing his group up as well, we joined together with him, Ethan, and Julia to make a nice gondola-sized group of eight.
I’d checked on some of the boys packs down in the lodge, so once we got to the top of the gondola, the preparation for the hike went fairly smoothly. The ascent of the Climbing Gully was a little slow at first, simply because of all the fresh snow. The boot ladder was just not consolidated enough. That issue gradually waned as we got up into terrain that had been brushed by the wind a bit more. About 1/3 of the way up the gully, we stopped for a break and to let Jack and Kenny catch up with the group. In order to give them a rest, we waited a bit longer, and with temperatures in the single digits, we had to worry about getting too cold. In the upper half of the hike, I eventually had to put Kenny’s and Jack’s skis on my pack to allow them to keep pace with the rest of the group. That worked well though, and we eventually got everyone up to the Chin and the area atop Profanity Chute. Winds were probably 30-35 MPH up along the ridgeline near The Chin, but fortunately we were able to quickly get on the leeward side of the mountain by the chute.
The snow in the chute looked so good it was almost spooky. There was just one obvious ski track over on the skier’s left, but the right side was a huge field of what appeared to be powder. Just to be safe and to check on wind loading, I ski cut through that area to make sure it wasn’t going to release. It passed that test, and we let the kids just rip it up. I didn’t even have time to get my camera out because they were so quickly enamored with what lay beneath their feet. Indeed that was some mighty fine snow we hit, two to three feet of soft powder, with the denser accumulations from Vulcan topped off with last night’s fluff. I was at least able to shoot some images of Joe in the chute, since he’d waited for all the kids to go. The kids were treated to some fantastic conditions up there, with almost no tracks all the way down the second part of the chute toward Taft Lodge. There’s not much to say other than that the snow was deep, bottomless, and everywhere; that leeward side of Mansfield just really knows how to do snow right.
After following the mazes of tracks and bobsled runs through the subalpine area, getting down to Chin Clip, and then skiing all the way to the base, it was time to head back to Spruce Peak and call it a day. The kids really earned high marks today, and I was amazed at how comfortable with the exposure of the chute up in the alpine. I think that the amazing snow helped with that of course, because even when people did fall, they just immediately stopped thanks to the deep powder. The temperatures were doing a great job of preserving the snow, even when the March sun came out, and it looks like those temperatures will continue to keep preserving the snow as we head into the coming week.
I didn’t have high hopes for the overall ski conditions today after what I experienced during yesterday’s outing at Stowe. Snow surfaces in the lower elevations had warmed earlier in the week, followed by plenty of cold nights, and the temperatures yesterday just weren’t warm enough to get the snow to soften. Gondolier was quite firm yesterday afternoon when I made my final descent to the base, with generally frozen granular and a bit of loose granular. Fortunately there was some refuge up in the alpine elevations above ~3,800’ where the snow was still wintry, but it would take some sun and/or warmth to get the lower elevations in shape today, and sun didn’t appear to be in the forecast. Whatever the case, we’d be able to head back up into the alpine to get to the good snow if necessary; today was our final BJAMS ski day of the season, and if the right group of willing students came together, my plan was to make use of the reconnaissance I’d done yesterday and get them up for some fun turns in the area of The Chin.
“…he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn…”
Throughout the morning today, E was getting various calls and text messages from folks letting her know that they weren’t going to be making it to ski program. Those students in the BJAMS theatre program have been putting in many long days of preparation over the past 10 weeks, and this weekend was the culmination of those efforts with shows on Friday and Saturday. Most of those students were so sapped of energy from long days and very late nights, that skiing just wasn’t in the cards. Luke was one of those students, but fortunately Claire had made it out for the day. After combining the usual number of absences for various reasons with the ugly-looking weather forecast and the many students resting up from the play, the end result was eventually just a handful of students and adults meeting at the base of Spruce Peak today. When the dust and reorganization had settled, it turned out that both E and Claire were free to go with our group, and the only kids that we’d have would be Ty, Dylan, and Jack.
Ty and Dylan were raring to go for some hiking and turns in the alpine, and it turned out that Jack was more than ready as well. Somehow, a little bird had told him that I’d been out on the mountain yesterday doing some reconnaissance in the alpine near The Chin… and that I just might be planning to take the ski group up there today. He came ready with his backpack holding a couple bottles of water, and an attitude that said “Let’s get up there!” Ty, Dylan, and I grabbed our ski packs, E and Claire joined us, and we headed up the Gondola for a visit to the wilds of The Chin. Everyone in the group had been up on The Chin and other alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield extensively for hiking in the warmer months, but for everyone but me, this was going to be their first experience up there with winter snowpack and skis. We hoped that Mother Nature was going to make the experience a good one.
Indeed the weather was ultimately on our side today, and skies that might have been cloudy became blue and almost cloudless as we set off on our midday adventures. Claire was unsure of how long she wanted to hike and ski, but when I told her we’d be starting off with and ascent and some turns in the Cliff Trail Gully, which was a fairly quick ascent to the ridgeline, she was game. While I was finishing with the other boy’s packs, Dylan led the charge upward, and blazed the ascent using a combination of the boot pack I’d used yesterday and some variations of his own. It was immediately obvious that we were going to be dealing with a different kind of snow today. The snow that had been firm with a bit of wind or sun crust yesterday was now softening in the sun. The ascent was absolutely delightful; there were occasional bouts of gusty winds, but for the most part the temperature was perfect, the snow supportive, and the boy’s attitudes positive. Although notably slower than my solo pace yesterday, we probably gained the ridge at around 4,100’ in roughly 30 minutes.
The views from the ridgeline were tremendous, and Claire was absolutely loving her decision to join us for the full ascent. The boys were already feeling in their element, as we watched them traverse higher on the craggy rocks farther south along the ridgeline. We hung out for about 20 minutes for drink and snacks, where we conversed about the season’s skiing, and just generally enjoyed the scenery and weather. We could have just as easily been up there in gray and cloudy conditions, but apparently the sun wanted to make its presence know.
To begin the descent, the boys headed over to the lip of the gully so that they could drop in on the steep terrain. The snow that was protected against the ridgeline was somewhere between spring and winter, but generally dry and edgeable; it was going to support some nice turns. Dylan was chomping at the bit to drop in, and after heading to the highest part of the lip, he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn that send him flying right down the gully into the terrain below. Ty and Jack followed suit, and within moments the boys were whooping and hollering about how great the turns were as they made their way down the upper sections of the gully. Indeed once I dropped in myself I found the snow to be well worthy of their praise. One could stick next to the protection of the rocky wall of the ridge for the driest snow, or head left out into more sunshine for more spring-like surfaces. We mixed it up with turns in various part of the gully until we’d dropped a couple hundred vertical feet, right to the spot where I’d descended yesterday that at that time marked the transition to lower-quality snow. That wasn’t the case today thanks to the assistance of the sun, but as we stood atop one of the overlooks and Jack saw the Cliff House below, he lamented the fact that we’d already descended so far and would soon be back to the bottom of the gully. I told him not to worry – we didn’t have to descend if we just wanted to keep touring.
Instead of descending the rest of the gully, I led the group on a traverse across to the next gully southward (see stage 4 in the detailed Google Earth GPS map from yesterday’s outing), and we were able to follow the same track that I’d used yesterday. I told the group that one option was to make another ascent here and ski this gully from the top of they wanted. The boys weren’t all that enthusiastic about another ascent, so after a few moments of discussion, we decided to descend the new gully and see how it went. We saw some great terrain below us, but I warned them that I hadn’t scouted the bottom of this gully yesterday. I told them that we could end up having to hike back out and descend via the Cliff Trail Gully if the trees got too tight or we got ran into cliffs. The acknowledged my advice, and then it was time to drop in. The descent of the second gully started with some nice steep terrain among sparse, buried evergreens. There were really a lot of fun terrain options such as rollovers and small ledges in there that will lend themselves to a lot of future exploration. As we continued downward, the trees began to get tight, and Dylan seemed to be having quite a time blazing a trail through the evergreens using a combination of his own ideas and the tracks of a previous skier that had passed through the area. With all the experience they continue to build, it really is inspiring to watch how confidently the boys navigate their way through challenging terrain like a maze of subalpine evergreens. They were inspecting options and helping each other out all while they were well ahead of the adults. Eventually my spider sense told me that that we needed to break right toward the Cliff Trail Gully, and after some tight squeezes through a few spots, we found ourselves in a pleasant spot atop a rock outcropping among the sea of evergreens. About 100-200 feet below we could see the Gondola summit area, and it felt as if we were on a balcony overlooking a show of skiers and boarders starting their way down the slopes. We spent another few minutes there on the knoll while everyone gathered back together via their own routes through the evergreens, and then we cut right about a dozen yards to get back to the Cliff Trail Gully. We finished our descent to the Cliff House there, and that bottom section of the gully served up some nice turns. It was ski pole-style high fives all around for the folks that had just completed their first descent from the alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield. I didn’t track our outing today by GPS, but for visual details, refer to stages 3 through 5 shown on the detailed Google Earth/GPS map from yesterday – today though, instead of ascending the gully shown in stage 5, we descended it.
“Indeed the weather
was ultimately on
our side today…”
It was around 3:00 P.M as we began the next phase of our descent through the resort. We took Perry Merrill, and didn’t see another soul on the entire descent. The late season date, the fact that it was Sunday afternoon, and the ominous forecast had really cleared out the mountain. With the terrain entirely to ourselves, I led the boys in some huge GS-style turns that took up the whole width of the trail, and they had a lot of fun with that. Ty said that he had used up all his patience for going slow during the hiking portion of the day, so with that in mind it was a great time to let him really open it up. The snow was in fact fantastic, not too firm, not too sticky; it was just what you’d want in corn snow to sink in those edges and let the skis ride. Whatever the sun had not been able to do yesterday in terms of softening up the snow surfaces, it had done it in spades today. We had time to squeeze in one more run of Gondolier before calling it a day and heading back to Spruce Camp. Today is the end of the season for the Gondola and for Spruce Peak, and it ultimately turned out to be a great one. The weather was extremely changeable though – once we were back at Spruce Camp, gray clouds had come in and sleet began to fall.
We finished off the day with a visit to Frida’s for dinner, since we hadn’t been there at all this season. The guacamole was excellent as usual, with a real good dose of lemon today. Despite the fairly spring-like atmosphere out there, the boys both went for hot chocolate, which Frida’s does Mexican-style with some interesting extra flavor. It looks like this week is going to have more precipitation coming in, although not necessarily a lot of snow. It doesn’t look especially warm though, so it looks like it could be OK for snow preservation. It’s great to be going into the month with such a strong snowpack, because it looks like there a lot more great skiing to come.
Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield. Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling. There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F. That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’. I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse. It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.
“The snow was definitely all winter up there…”
I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing. There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today. If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring. As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road. The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.
I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off. I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”. There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles. However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow. That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there. On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear. Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’. Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow. I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.
I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns. The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds. I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me. The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over. I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully. I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully. By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.
I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them. I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing. The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent. Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before. It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel. The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there. I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff. The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’. It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick. Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations. I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier. Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around. I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was. The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions. We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures. It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.
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.
Well, the weather setup leading into this weekend was a 4 to 6 inch snowfall yesterday; so it came just in time for weekend turns. Somehow, there came to be a bit of a crust on top, but unlike last weekend, it was paper thin and didn’t really affect the non-groomed terrain.
Today I caught up with Shawshank at Stowe sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M. and we hit the usual stashes with other folks that we knew. The big event came in the afternoon with a 1:00 P.M. meeting at the top of the Gondi and a hike into the swirling mists of The Chin. Let’s just say, without the guidance of Shawshank, there would have been no way to find anything up there in the near zero visibility. The wind was probably gusting to 40 mph at times, but it wasn’t bad for the top of a mountain, and by the time we reached the Hourglass Chute, we were protected altogether. Hourglass was fun, although it seemed to be over so quickly. I remember reaching this one point about as wide as the length of my skis (the narrow part of the hourglass) and four turns later we had to bang a left to make the connection to Hell Brook. We traversed for about 50 feet, took a quick step up a short incline, then dropped a nice little section into the low point between the Adam’s Apple And The Chin (so I was told; still socked in). After a bit more of a traverse, we found ourselves at the top of Hell Brook. I thought that it was going to be a singletrack adventure down into the Notch; I was definitely wrong there. As it turns out (at least at this time of year) it is much like an interconnected patchwork of trails, snowfields, and gullies which gradually narrows into a single gully towards the end. Actually, a lot of it reminded me of the gullies at Alta or Snowbird, except that it was a lot longer and there were hardwoods about. One could take this thing 20 times and still not know the whole maze; it makes for some very fun exploration. A word of caution: there were numerous spots where a wrong turn would mean a big drop or other hazards that could ruin your run so take it easy. Shawshank lost his goggles in a little open water spot and before anyone knew what was up, they were down the brook and under the snow. Damn. We finally wound up on Route 108 for a mostly (one bit of uphill) downhill traverse back to the Gondola and nearly 3000′ of vertical in one run. By the time we got back to the quad it was about 3:30 P.M. and we were kaput.
I stopped in at the Stowehof where my friend Chris was staying. It’s a real quaint place with great views. I think that the bar and restaurant are open to the public, but just walking around in there is a lot of fun.