Tag Archives: Backcountry

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 18FEB2018

An image of Erica skiing in the backcountry area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
For the first time this season the whole family was able to get out for some skiing together, and we were greeted with some fantastic conditions in the Bolton Valley backcountry.

After the good conditions I experienced yesterday on my tour of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, I knew today had some great potential depending on how Winter Storm Noah performed.  It wouldn’t take much to produce some really excellent skiing, and when the numbers finally came in this morning, Bolton Valley was reporting 5 inches of new snow.  That was more than enough for the whole family to get together for a tour.

“The powder was typically 10-12” in depth, with some areas even more, and a few open spots with less if the wind had pushed the snow around.”

Although it’s already mid-February, today was actually the first day of the season that the whole family would have a chance to ski together.  It really looked like a beauty though, with close to 10 inches of snow in the past couple of days, temperatures in the upper 20s F, and snow showers giving way to clearing skies in the afternoon.  Arriving up at the mountain in the mid-morning timeframe, the resort was really humming with visitors once again.  We were able to get a prime parking spot right along the edge of Broadway, geared up, and we were on our way.

Since I’d like what I found on my tour yesterday, I brought E and the boys on a variation of that trip.  We headed up to Bryant Cabin, stopped for a quick break among about a dozen other backcountry travelers, and then headed on above Gardiner’s Lane as I’d done yesterday.  My skin tracks had just about disappeared with all the new snow overnight, but there were just enough vestiges of my passage to allow me to use my old track as a guide.

An image of Ty in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe descended through a lot of glades I knew well, in addition to a few different lines that we found in our explorations.  There were definitely plenty of good crashes in the powder, especially by Ty who seemed to enjoy the crashes as much as any aspect of the tour.  The powder was typically 10-12” in depth, with some areas even more, and a few open spots with less if the wind had pushed the snow around.

A Google Earth map overlayed with GPS tracking data from a ski tour in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map overlayed with GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour

We stopped in for some lunch at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery after the tour, and I got a great shot of Ty grappling with his huge sub.  It was great to finally get the whole family out together, and what a day for great ski conditions!

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 17FEB2018

An image of a ski track in powder snow in the backcountry at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Yesterday’s cold front put down some excellent powder in the higher elevations of Bolton Valley

We had some great ski conditions in the area last weekend thanks to a couple of winter storms putting down a solid resurfacing of the slopes.  Ty and I hit some beautiful powder on Saturday at Bolton Valley, and the good snow conditions carried right over to our BJAMS ski program session on Sunday at Stowe.  Some mixed precipitation moved in as the weekend closed out though, potentially setting up some dicey conditions as temperatures cooled back down during the week.  Some new snow would likely be needed to soften up the slopes, but the only real possibility in the forecast was a cold front coming through the area on Friday.  It was only expected to drop an inch or two, but true to form, the resorts along the spine of the Northern Greens managed to reel in a solid four inches.  A subtle but important aspect of the snow that fell was that it started out dense and wet, then gradually dried out.  That held the potential to really bond it to the old snow and actually create a rather soft subsurface that would be great under the new powder.  You never know exactly how the layers are going to come together, but the potential definitely piqued my interest enough for a trip to the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network.

“In many areas my pole would simply go down 15 to 20 inches to a previous base layer.”

We had a morning of blue skies and bright sun, but it was dimming just a bit ahead of incoming Winter Storm Noah as I headed up to the mountain around midday.  Arriving up in the Village, there was no doubt that it was President’s Day weekend – it took me several minutes to get a parking spot even down by the Sport Center and Nordic area because the lots were just jam packed.  Hopefully that’s a great sign that the resort is going to have a great weekend of visitors.  I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get out today though – it was simply spectacular out there with sunshine and temperatures in the upper 20s F.

“Those turns had been so good, and it was such a nice day, that I decided to tack on some more touring.”

My first real sign that there might be some great snow on the hill came as soon as I walked to the back of the car to gear up.  I’d backed into my parking spot and was pleasantly surprised when I had to remove almost a foot of powder to clear a spot so I could get my ski boots on.  The snow had clearly drifted some, but it was obvious that the resort had picked up a good shot of accumulation and I was eager to see what the protected environs of the trees held.

An image of a sign on the Bryant Trail indicating the direction of Bryant Cabin at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontStarting my ascent I generally found about four inches atop the old base, very consistent with what the resort had mentioned in the snow report.  It was actually tough to gauge the depth of the new snow at times though, because indeed the new snow had bonded so well to the old snow that it was hard to find the interface.  In many areas my pole would simply go down 15 to 20 inches to a previous base layer.

An image of one of the mountain operations buildings at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontI was inspired to try a couple of new areas on my tour today.  First, I ascended up the Bryant Trail, then past Bryant Cabin to Gardiner’s Lane.  I then ascended up above Gardiner’s Lane at an angle until I hit the evergreen line, and then contoured across at that elevation until I reached the North Slope area.  I stopped where I could catch a nice line all the way back down to Gardiner’s Lane, and got in some great turns.  Then, instead of continuing along Gardiner’s Lane, I dropped off into one of the glades and skied fresh lines down to the next bench.  I contoured on the bench until I found myself entering Gotham City, where I caught a series of various glades back down to Bryant.

Those turns had been so good, and it was such a nice day, that I decided to tack on some more touring.  I headed back up Bryant, and ascended back up to the bench near the bottom of A1A.  I worked back toward Gotham City and then ascended into some lines above.  I finished off my descent heading down Alchemist and back toward the Village for a stop in at the deli for some subs.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from a ski tour in the backcountry at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for today’s ski tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry

The Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery was really hoppin’, but I definitely have to give a shout out to Gus and his crew for some great work managing all the holiday visitors.  Thanks Gus, the sandwiches were great!

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 03FEB2018

An image of a Coyote trail sign on the backcountry skiing network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Following a skin track out in the Bolton Valley backcountry today – the recent snow really started getting the backcountry conditions back on track.

As the forecasts suggested, we’ve moved back in a bit of a snowier weather regime after the past couple weeks of midwinter doldrums.  A system on Thursday ushered in some welcomed snow, with 4.4 inches down here at the house, and 6 to 8 inches at most of the resorts in the northern 2/3 of Vermont.

Today started out quite cold, with temperatures down near 0 F, but it was expected to get warmer throughout the day.  I waited until midafternoon, then headed up to Bolton Valley for a tour to check out how the new snow had settled in.  Temperatures were in the mid to upper teens F when I arrived, and checking the settled depth of the powder at the 2,100’ elevation level, I found it was 4 to 5 inches deep.

An image of an Old Goats trail marker on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Old Goats: The Bolton Valley Backcountry Network is probably the only place you’re ever going to see a trail marker like this.

Instead of going all way up to Bryant Cabin today, I decided to do a bit of an abbreviated tour.  I headed about halfway of the way up the Bryant Trail, then connected onto Coyote and made my way up to Gotham City.  I saw a nice skin track taking a novel route into the upper reaches of Gotham City, so I followed that for a few minutes and added on some additional vertical.  I topped out close to 2,500’, where the depth of the powder was roughly 6 inches.  The upper reaches of Gotham City that I skied were totally untracked and yielded some excellent turns, and I followed my run out through the usual assortment of glades available throughout the World Cup area.  The turns were excellent on low to moderate angle terrain, with only the occasional contact with the subsurface unless you got into steeper terrain or areas that had seen previous traffic.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the backcountry ski network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS Tracking Data for today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network overlayed onto Google Earth

Even that modest storm that we just picked up was all that was really needed to make a huge bump up in the ski conditions, but we’ve got another system on its way tomorrow that should help even more.  We’ll see how this next system plays out, but another several inches on top of what we just picked up will really get things back in midwinter form.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 30DEC2017

An image of a glade in the Bolton Valley backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking advantage of today’s slightly warmer temperatures to visit some of the glades in the Bolton Valley backcountry network

I last got out for a ski tour at Bolton Valley on Tuesday, with the plan of getting in some turns ahead of the very cold weather that was forecast for the rest of the holiday week.  Indeed the cold came into the area as expected, and while the low temperatures were far from anything that would set records, high temperatures that were staying below zero F and wind chills on top of that meant that it was going to be brutal out there.  Today marked a bit of a respite from those temperatures though, with highs expected to be well up into the single digits F, no winds, and sunshine.  I figured that today was my window to get back out for a ski tour before temperatures dip back down in the coming days.

An image of some plants poking through the snow along the Broadway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe warmest part of the day was expected to be in the afternoon, with a southerly flow of air thanks to the remnants of Winter Storm Frankie passing through the area.  I went with two base layers (lights under heavies) just to ensure that I’d be comfortable, and headed up to the mountain around 2:30 P.M.  There was still some dim, arctic-looking sun pushing through the clouds off to the south as I arrived at the Village and parked right along the edge of Broadway.  Temperatures were in the in the 5 to 10 F range, and with no wind it was actually quite comfortable – within a few minutes of starting my ascent of Bryant I was skinning without a hat in order to cool off.

“Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.”

It was my first day out on the backcountry network this season, so I stuck with a simple trip up to Bryant Cabin with one of my favorite touring routes:  Car –> Broadway –> Bryant –> Bryant Cabin –> Gardiner’s Lane –> North Slope –> Connector Glade –> Gardiner’s Lane –> Grizzwald –> Gotham City –> Girl’s –> World Cup –> World Cup Glade –> Telemark Glade –> Broadway –> Bolton Valley Village –> Fireside Flatbread –> Car.  It seems like quite the tour, although it’s only about 2.5 miles.  That last stop before the car is pretty important though, especially on a cold December afternoon when the sun’s gone down.

A map with a GPS tracking data plotted onto Google Earth for a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort on December 30th, 2017
The GPS track of today’s Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry tour mapped onto Google Earth

We’ve had perhaps an inch or two of snow since my last outing on Tuesday, and at Village elevations I was finding about 5 inches of powder atop a thick layer.  That surface snow depth definitely increased a bit with elevation, and if you punched through the thick layer in the snowpack you’d be looking at 18 to 24 inches of snow before getting to whatever base snow was below that.  Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.  Some of the best sections were Girl’s and Telemark Glade, where the terrain and snow really flowed well.

Mt. Washington, NH 16MAY2017

An imae of Rob skiing Hillman's Highway on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Hillman’s Highway was the choice today for our trip to Mt. Washington

As the spring semester winds down, many of our graduating biochemistry majors here at UVM have been getting out to enjoy the remaining snow in the mountains of both New Hampshire and Vermont.  I’ve been hearing some fun reports, so when Rob invited me to join one of their Mt Washington adventures, I was definitely interested.  His plan was for the Tuesday of senior week, weather permitting of course.  My schedule looked good, so I was hopeful for the chance to commune with some of the seniors in the great outdoors before they’d begin departing after graduation.

“We could see that there had been some sloughing there due to the new snow, but the lower areas we could see looked quite settled and stable, and there had already been plenty of skier traffic in the gully.”

Mother Nature threw some rather interesting weather into the mix ahead of the planned trip, with Mt Washington picking up almost 3 feet of new snow at summit elevations over the past couple of days, and over a foot down at Hermit Lake.  That was a lot of new snow, and the avalanche report suggest that northerly winds would be loading the more southerly-facing gullies and cross-loading the east-facing ones.  Temperatures were expected to rise significantly today, which we knew would result in plenty of settling depending on elevation.  There seemed to be enough potential to find at least some level of safe skiing, so we decided that we’d check with the staff on scene in the Hermit Lake area, and the trip was on.

An image of water pouring from a gutter at the Hermit Lake Caretaker's Cabin near Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Meltwater pours from a gutter at the Hermit Lake Caretaker’s Cabin as rising temperatures melt off the recent snow.

Only Rob and Emily ended up being able to make the trip, but I met them at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, and after getting our gear together, we were on our way.  I’ve hiked up to the Tuckerman Ravine area many times, but with the new snow I decided to try a gear setup that I’ve never used before.  Instead of brining two pairs of boots (hiking boots and ski boots), I wanted to just wear my mid-weight Telemark boots for everything, hiking and skiing.  It turns out that the setup worked great; my Garmont Gara boots have got rubber Vibram soles so they were plenty comfortable and pliable on the ascent through a lot of dry, rocky terrain.  Ascending from Pinkham Notch at ~2,000’, we saw our first signs of snow at 2,650’, and at around 3,400’ the snow cover was continuous enough that I was able to start skinning there and made it right up to Hermit Lake.  The new foot or so of snow had certainly helped with the potential for skinning – coverage would have been somewhat less continuous on that last part of the ascent without it.

We assessed the snow/ski terrain situation from there, and while most of Hillman’s was visible with clouds just skimming the upper reaches, Tuckerman Ravine was generally socked in.  After consulting with the staff at Hermit Lake, and using what we could see, we decided that Hillman’s Highway was the way to go.  Most skiers we encountered seemed to be making the same decision.  We could see that there had been some sloughing there due to the new snow, but the lower areas we could see looked quite settled and stable, and there had already been plenty of skier traffic in the gully.

An image of Hillman's Highway on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire viewed from the Hermit Lake area
Hillman’s Highway from the Hermit Lake area

Emily and I skinned up the first part of gully, but around halfway it was just getting too steep and we had to switch to hiking.  Thankfully there was a nice boot ladder already in place on climber’s right.  I stopped around mid-gully where I figured I’d still get plenty of descent, and set myself in a good position with my camera.  Emily and Rob headed up to where the gully splits into a Y, and went a little farther up the climber’s right option before settling down in a sheltered area of rocks.  Above that point the snow hadn’t been skied and was a little questionable, and in that regard they were on the same page as other folks skiing in the area.

An image of Emily paused during a ski run on Hillman's Higway on Mt. Washington in New HampshireThe best skiing was in areas where there had been some skier traffic that got down to the older corn snow surface, and the toughest turns were in the mush that had settled down near the bottom of the gully.  The Sherburne Ski Trail had actually opened back up a bit with the new snow, and we were able to ski about a third of it before we had to cut back to the hiking trail.  After that the descent was quick, and we were back at the cars saying our goodbyes.

An image of the summit snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
A view of the summit snowfields of Mt. Washington from Hillman’s Highway after almost 3 feet of snow in the past few days

The new snow is going to get even better with a couple of freeze-thaw cycles, and it’s certainly bolstered the snowpack somewhat in the higher elevations.  Although they were in and out of the clouds, the summit snowfields looked really nice, so there should eventually be some excellent skiing up there with easy access as soon as the road opens back up.

Stowe Sidecountry & Bruce Trail, VT 26MAR2017

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing on the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today’s BJAMS ski program featured a great run on the Bruce Trail.

It’s March, the season for deep snowpack and long days in Northern Vermont.  That also means that it’s prime time to make use of that ample snowpack and enjoy some of our legendary sidecountry and backcountry ski routes.  For last week’s BJAMS ski session we focused on The Chin and put together a nice tour featuring Profanity Chute and the Hell Brook Trail.  Today it was time to switch action to The Nose for a combination of Old Nosedive and the Bruce Trail.  We’ve had a great run of storms and wintry weather during this second half of March, and it’s definitely time to make hay.

An image of Joe and Gianni out on the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontA number of students were unable to attend ski program today, so there were some small groups, and any of them that were interested in a trip down the Bruce joined up with us.  From the top of the Fourrunner Quad, those that wanted to ascend joined me for a trip up Old Nosedive, which I find is a nice way to get in a bit of hiking and extra turns before diving into the Bruce.  The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour.  It was quite wintry up top, but even in the lowest elevations the snow was dense enough to hold up well for fresh turns, just like Dylan and I had experienced yesterday at Bolton Valley.  There was still ample untracked powder available off the sides of the Bruce, and as usual once we were down into the open hardwood areas there were lots of great lines to explore in the trees.

“The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour.”

This morning, Dylan said that we should go with Telemark skis for today’s session if our focus was going to be the Bruce Trail, and while I’d planned to go alpine, I agreed and ended up going Tele.  It was totally the right choice, especially since the coverage and snow conditions were so optimal.  I was happy because I felt really dialed in and my transitions felt incredibly quick, and Dylan was also really psyched because he skied so well today.  He says that he always wants to run the Bruce on Telemark gear now.  Of course he got to experience it on a great day.  I’d put today in the top 25% of conditions for the Bruce – there was so much soft snow and powder around, and even those most difficult to cover, south-facing shots were virtually blemish free.

A map showing the GPS track overlayed onto Google Earth from a ski tour on the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The GPS track of today’s tour down the Bruce trail overlayed onto Google Earth

We capped off the run with a trip to the Notchbrook General Store for snacks, and a ride on the Mountain Road Shuttle back to the Spruce Peak Village.  Greg said that the last time he skied the Bruce Trail was about 35 years ago, so it was really neat that he got the chance to do it again after such a long hiatus.  We had time for a few more runs on Spruce once we got back, and found that the quality of the snow was still really nice.  This was just the way a March ski day should be!

Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 19MAR2017

An iimage of Dylan descending Profanity Chute above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan makes his way down Profanity Chute today

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.

An image of Dylan skiing Profanity Chute above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
More Dylan action in Profanity Chute

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.

A map showing the ski route taken on a tour of Profanity Chute and the Hell Brook Trail above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The GPS track of our ski tour today mapped onto Google Earth

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.

Lincoln Gap, VT 18FEB2017

An image of Dylan backcountry skiing in powder in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
Today we headed to Lincoln Gap to check out some of the recent powder from Winter Storm Pluto.

For the first time in a while, none of the family had anything else on their agenda, so we were all free to ski together today.  Winter Storm Pluto wound down on Thursday night, which meant that unfortunately the resorts would have been pretty tracked up after all of Friday’s visitors.  Based on my Friday morning tour at Bolton Valley though, I knew the powder from upslope portion of Pluto was really good, so that had me thinking a backcountry session was the call (not to mention it’s a holiday weekend for the resorts).  But where to go?  We’ve basically hit the point where lines are viable essentially all the way down into the mountain valleys, at least on the east side of the Greens, so basically everything there is on the table.  The west side in general did well with Winter Storm Pluto, bit even with that boost, the base there is still lagging well behind the east side.  With temperatures expected to head above freezing by midday, I was looking for a protected area with some north-facing lines, and ultimately decided on Lincoln Gap.  Ty and I had visited Lincoln Gap back in February of 2015, and I was simply in awe of the massive acreage filled with steep open lines through the hardwoods.  This was our chance to show the area to E and Dylan.

An image showing trails at Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont
Morning views of Sugarbush as we drive through the Mad River Valley

Knowing that we had only until around midday before temperatures might be a concern with respect to the quality of the powder, we got a relatively early morning start.  We were heading out into a gorgeous day with temperatures in the mid-20s F as we passed through the Mad River Valley.  One thing that stuck me during our drive was that in the bottom of the Mad River Valley there only seemed to be about half the amount of snow on the ground relative to what we’ve got at our house, so I’m guessing the valley itself didn’t make out quite as well in the recent storms as we did farther north.  As usual, snowpack certainly wasn’t an issue as we headed up to closure area on Lincoln Gap Road.

An image of Ty skinning while Erica looks on in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
On today’s ascent.

When Ty and I were last at Lincoln Gap to ski, we headed to the south side of the gap road, where there are a lot of popular north-facing lines.  I was hoping to try something on the north side of the road this time – the terrain looks a little bit mellower for those getting their Tele legs.  With the sun out and temperatures rising though, I didn’t dare risk sticking around on those southerly-facing areas, so we ultimately decided to once again use the route to the popular north-facing terrain that Ty and I had used last time.  Once we got to the base of the main terrain area, I decided to alter our ascent from what Ty and I had done.  There’s a nice skin track that follows the forest road and wraps beneath some of the terrain, and while it’s got a nice gentle grade, it’s quite circuitous.  With concern for the warming temperatures, my plan was to instead just break a skin track right up the main north face.  It was extra work, but we were able to direct ourselves right toward areas that looked good.  And boy was there a lot of terrain that looked good, really good.  I’d actually forgotten what a gold mine of ski terrain the whole Lincoln Gap area is, but I was quickly reminded and spent a lot of time gawking at amazing lines as I broke trail for the skin track.

An image of Jay backcountry skiing in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
There are so many great areas to ski around Lincoln Gap!

We’d covered about half the potential vertical on that north face before I decided that we’d get a good run, and we’d hopefully outrun the warming temperatures.  As for the snow, my probes during the ascent generally revealed about 18 inches of powder over the subsurface.  I can’t say exactly which storms the powder should be attributed to, but it was looking great.  There wasn’t a single track in the various gullies and spines that we’d surveyed on our ascent, so we had the pick of whatever lines we wanted.  Everyone struggled at least a bit with their Telemark turns in the deep powder, but very, or at least moderately-fat skis were certainly helping.  Temperatures were pushing past the freezing mark as we finished our descent, so it was really comfortable out there.  The snow wasn’t quite as outrageously deep and light as the time that Ty and I went to the area by ourselves last, but I think E and Dylan were impressed with the area, so I suspect we’ll head back at some point.

A map of GPS tracking data plotted on Google Earth from a backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area

An image of the sign for "The Mad Taco" restaurant in Waitsfield, VermontAs we drove back down the Lincoln Gap Road, it suddenly felt like the calendar had flipped to March.  The gravel/dirt portion of the road was already starting to have some mud on it!  For lunch we went to The Mad Taco, and low and behold, Chris was right at the bar and spotted us.  We caught up on lots of stuff (including his ski trip to Idaho to see friends) and being quite the regular at The Mad Taco, he gave us the lowdown on everything.  They make tons of different hot sauces all the time, and list them on various blackboards in the establishment.  They’re even numbered on a 1 to 10 scale based on how hot they are, but Chris said watch out because the numbers aren’t always right.  For sauces I tried “It Tingles” (2) and “Bad Hombre” (1) and both had a decent amount of spice.  The food was fantastic, and so was the atmosphere.  I suspected I was going to like the scene when I jump in line to place my order and Joy Division is coming through the speakers.  We’ll definitely be back, and Chris said he’d be happy to grab take-out for us anytime he’s heading toward our place.

An image of the various hot sauces available for the day at "The Mad Taco" restaurant in Waitsfield, Vermont
Pick your poison… by number.

On a final note, today was my third time using my iPhone to plot my GPS data from a ski tour in place of my old handheld GPS unit.  I’ve been using the MotionX-GPS app, and I’m totally sold.  It only costs a few bucks, it does basically everything my old GPS unit did, and it makes it all 10 times easier.  It’s so much more sensitive to picking up GPS signals as well – I can basically store it anywhere on my person or in my pack and the signal is fine.  I really enjoy the feature of announcing your speed, distance and tour time at various intervals.  Since it’s on my phone, which I’m carrying anyway, that means one less item I have to carry.  Anyway, I’m sold, so if you’re looking for a GPS app for your phone that acts like a real GPS, check out MotionX-GPS.

Ranch Valley & Stowe Cross Country Center, VT 07JAN2017

An image of a sign for the Burt Trail on the trail network at Stowe Cross Country Center in Vermont
Out on the Burt Trail today for some backcountry skiing

It’s been a relatively slow week for snowfall in the Northern Greens, but Stowe did manage to pick up roughly a foot of snow between Wednesday and Thursday.  Since the Mt. Mansfield area seemed to be a sweet spot with respect to snowfall, I decided to head out for a backcountry tour in the Ranch Valley, which sits just to the south of the resort’s alpine trail network and is the location for Stowe’s Cross Country Center.  I’ve been through the area numerous times when coming down the Bruce Trail, and I’ve sampled some of the natural glades that populate the middle elevations in that area.  I could see that there was much more skiable terrain to explore though, so I decided to check out what the areas around the Burt Trail had to offer.

Temperatures were in the low to mid 20s F in the local mountain valleys as I headed up to the Stowe Cross Country Center to start my tour.  It turns out that Mrs. Blanck was behind the counter when I was buying my trail pass, so we were able to catch up a bit and she gave me an overview of some nice glades that she’d heard of as we reviewed the backcountry portion of the trail map.

My ascent route consisted of starting on the Timberlane Trail and using Cross Cut 2 to get to the Burt Trail.  The recent snows were certainly elevation dependent, so there was only about an inch of fresh snow atop the snowpack down near the base of the Cross Country Center at ~1,000’.  It did increase as I ascended, reaching a couple of inches by the time I hit the Burt Trail, and nearly 4 inches at the top of my ascent at the junction with the Underhill Trail.  Here’s the general depths of surface powder I found on my tour with respect to elevation:

1,000’:  1”
1,500’: 2-3”
2,000’: 3”
2,500’: ~4”

An image of a hut along the Burt Trail at Stowe Cross Country Center at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Passing a hut along the Burt Trail

The backcountry portion of the Burt Trail starts right around 1,500’ elevation, and getting to that point represents a pretty hefty approach of over two miles, so that’s about the minimum distance one will have to go on this route to get into terrain for potential descents.  The Burt Trail really starts to steepen above 2,000’, which one hits at close to three miles in.  At that point it’s comprised of switchbacks to accommodate the steeper terrain.  That area is still mostly hardwoods, with scattered evergreens, so tree density isn’t too bad and one can easily cut the switchbacks and ski through the forest.  That terrain is pretty steep though, so one would want a decent amount of powder for it to be optimal.  Based on darkness and trying to ensure that I made it back to the Cross Country Center by 5:00 P.M. since a sign that the parking lot gate would close at that point, I only ascended to the junction with the Underhill Trail, but I could see that there was plenty of similar terrain right up above me.

As for the skiing and conditions, one would definitely want more powder above the base than what I found today, but I was still able to get in some decent turns.  I had my midfat Tele skis, which were certainly not all that light in the overall spectrum of Nordic equipment, but I was thankful to have something that could handle the descent well.  I cut the Burt Trail switchbacks and skied the fairly open forest in some spots, but I could actually stay on the trail itself for the most part where it mattered.  Only one person had gone up ahead of me above 2,000’ on the trail and they must have descended another way, because there was no descent track.  So the Burt Trail itself was relatively untracked and I got some of my best turns of the afternoon simply by staying on it.  The terrain in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range offers some options off the trail depending on the pitch of the terrain, but I just ran my descent out the trail itself based on the snow conditions and my time.  The whole runout back to the Cross Country Center is actually pretty fun, and you can really cruise along at times, but you will have to do some skating and deal with a couple of small uphill sections.  It’s quite similar to running out the Bruce Trail though, and indeed the route is identical in some spots, so if you’ve done that you’ll have a good sense for what this is like.

An image showing GPS data on Google Earth from a backcountry ski tour in the Ranch Valley of Vermont near Stowe Mountain Resort
Today’s backcountry ski route in the Ranch Valley

It looks like we’ll be in a fairly active weather pattern in the foreseeable future with some clipper-type events and larger synoptic systems with potential mixed precipitation, so we’ll see how these play out in terms of bolstering the snowpack.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 10DEC2016

An image of the depth of powder on a glade along the Catamount Trail outside of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
In the backcountry today, the higher elevations held up to 20 inches of powder atop a roughly 10-inch base, indicating a snowpack of approximately 30 inches.

This is opening weekend for lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley, but with only minimal terrain served by the lifts at the moment and fairly chilly temperatures in the forecast, I decided to make it my first visit of the season to the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network.  Although we haven’t had any big storms in the area in the past few days, we’ve had some lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes and additional snow from an arctic frontal passage that has given the mountains additional bouts of snow almost every day.  The Mt. Mansfield Stake is indicating a snowpack depth of 34”, and it’s definitely not just fluff.  With the high elevation and maintenance that goes on in the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, I’ll usually feel OK poking around on appropriate terrain once the stake kits 24” (depending on the composition of that 24”), so with 34” I figured it would definitely be ready to go.

I headed up to the mountain in the afternoon, and temperatures in the Village at ~2,000’ were in the mid-teens F, but fortunately there was minimal wind.  There was blue sky at times, but light snow was still falling off and on.  My goal was to head to the upper glades along the Catamount Trail out past the resort boundary.  Those glades are up around the 3,000’ elevation, so I suspected the snowpack would be more than sufficient.

An image of a new structure near Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I saw that there had been some recent construction up in the Bryant Cabin area.

I headed up the usual Bryant Trail, and the most interesting thing I saw was that there are some new structures going up around the Bryant Cabin.  One structure looked like a shed of sorts, and there was a larger structure that seemed to be partially built.  It also seemed that there had been some work done on the cabin itself.  In terms of snowpack depths, down at the Village at 2,000’ the surface snow was generally 14-15” of powder over a fairly thin layer of base snow.  Up at the Bryant Cabin at ~2,700’ there was 16-17” of powder over a much more substantial base, and when I finally got up to ~3,000’ in the glades on the back side of Bolton Mountain there was a healthy 18-20” of powder.  I was able to punch through the base at one point in my measurements, and the base snow seemed to be in the 8-10” range.  So, that would put total snowpack depths up at that elevation approaching the 30” range, which seems pretty reasonable with the Mt. Mansfield Stake at 34”.

“…when I finally got up to ~3,000’ in the glades on the back side of Bolton Mountain there was a healthy 18-20” of powder. I was able to punch through the base at one point in my measurements, and the base snow seemed to be in the 8-10” range. So, that would put total snowpack depths up at that elevation approaching the 30” range…”

The skiing was generally excellent, especially in those upper glades.  Since it was afternoon there had certainly been some traffic up there, but I still found areas of fresh snow.  I made my way down via Gardiner’s Lane, and eventually decided to check out the Alchemist glade that I hadn’t visited in a while to the south of Gotham City.  It’s a south-facing glade, so conditions can be quite variable, but aspect almost doesn’t matter right now because we’ve had November/December sun over the past couple of weeks… and not much of it anyway, so south-facing terrain isn’t all that different from north-facing terrain.  One does have to watch out as they get down near 2,000’ though because the base below the surface snow does start to get pretty thin, so you don’t want to ski anything with many obstacles at that point.  One could easily just lap terrain up above 2,500’ though with minimal concern about base depths.  Skiing is definitely quite good up high right now.

A map showing a ski tour from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
GPS/Google Earth plot of today’s backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley

There was a bit of accumulation of snow on my car when I got back to it after the tour.  It was rather minimal though, about ¼“ of new after 2 to 3 hours away.  Currently, Winter Weather Advisories are up ahead of our next storm that is coming into the area tomorrow.  I signed up for Washington County weather alert texts through VT-Alert, so I was notified of our Winter Weather Advisory just I was finishing up my ski tour today.  It was definitely nice to get that heads up right away without having to actively check, and it really doesn’t matter where you are.  Anyway, the advisory calls for a general 4-7”, which seems pretty consistent with what’s been expected of this event for a few days now.