Tag Archives: Backcountry

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.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 05MAR2016

An image of a ski track in powder off to the side of a Nordic trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a little powder off to the side of World Cup on Bolton’s Nordic trails.

It’s not too often in Northern Vermont that we have winter temperatures and no access to powder, but today was pretty close. Generally, even for winter weather systems with mixed precipitation, there’s at least some snow on the back side of the storm to provide a bit of powder for skiing. As usual, that was the case with Winter Storm Quo that came through earlier this week. The storm dropped 4 to 5 inches on the resorts in the Northern Greens, and the precipitation even remained frozen throughout the event. After the dense accumulation in the middle of the storm, there was some lighter powder, but it was fluffy, and based on the way it has really settled down over the past couple of days here at the house, I suspected things would be similar up in the mountains.

With that in mind, I inquired with E and the boys to see if any of them wanted to go for a ski tour up at the mountain, but didn’t push too hard because I didn’t suspect the conditions would be quite up to the level of what we found last Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. It was a nice sunny day though, with temperatures around the freezing mark down in the valley, so whatever the conditions, it was going to be nice to get out in the fresh air.

Temperatures were in the mid to upper 20s F up at the resort, and it looked like business was good based on the number of cars in the Village lots. Although Winter Storm Quo didn’t deliver a ton of powder, it did substantiate the base depths at the resort, and the open trail count was as high as it’s been in a while. I hopped onto Broadway and headed right up toward Bryant Cabin. The powder had settled to about a half inch at Village level, and I was hoping that it would build with elevation the way it had last weekend, but it never really did. Even up at the cabin I only found about an inch or so of fluff above the base. The overall minimal availability of the powder skiing was pretty evident due to the fact that I saw more people out on the trails today on snowshoes vs. skis.

Noting the minimal powder, I decided that I ski some of the mellow trees between the Bryant Trail and Gardiner’s Lane. The skiing was surprisingly good because thanks to little if any liquid precipitation, the base below wasn’t really icy, it was mostly just dense. The turns there got me interested enough that I headed off toward North Slope to check out some of the glades there. I tried out a new area back down to Gardiner’s Lane, and then poked around in the trees and found some new glades in the A1A area that I don’t think I’d skied before. They brought me right down to the junction of Bryant and Coyote, where I skied Coyote out to World Cup and connected over to the base area. I had some good turns here and there, with some nice ones off in the untouched snow off to the sides of the groomed Nordic trails.

A map of the Nordic and backcountry terrain network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A map of Bolton Valley’s Nordic and Backcountry Network with more than two dozen glades listed.

Back in the Village I grabbed some food for E and the boys and called it a day. Over the next week it looks like we’ll have some spring warmth and sun moving into the area, but the weather models do show the potential for some storms, so we’ll have to see if they bring some snow to the mountains.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 27FEB2016

An image of Dylan skiing powder on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan scoots off through one of Bolton Valley’s backcountry glades today as we take in some of the powder left by Winter Storm Petros.

I haven’t been on a backcountry ski outing since January 23rd, but the whole family got out to the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network today for a tour. Winter Storm Petros left up to 9 inches of new snow at the local resorts yesterday, and with a clear beautiful day today, it was a perfect chance to get out.

Temperatures at the house were in the low to mid 30s F when we headed up to the mountain in the midafternoon timeframe, and it was just a bit below freezing up at the Village (~2,100’). It’s not quite spring weather yet, but the sun is certainly getting stronger, and it was pleasant as we put our ski boots on down along Broadway in one of the tennis court parking areas.

An image showing some snow crystals that had formed on a frozen stream on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in VermontDepth checks at the start of the tour revealed that the new powder had settled to about 2-3” down at the Village elevations, and up at Bryant Cabin it was in the 4-5” range. The Bryant Trail was pretty quiet and we didn’t see anyone else, but you could tell by the various descent tracks and a well-established skin track in spots that people had certainly been out. Up at the cabin we stopped to have hot chocolate that E had made (with a special thermos of dark hot chocolate for Dylan that he was very excited about).

An image of Dylan removing his skins from his skis on a backcountry ski outing on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Everybody had a fun time working on skin removal without taking off their skis today.

I took everyone on one of my usual routes along Gardiner’s Lane, North Slope, and then down via Grizzwald through Gotham City. We skinned a bit past the cabin, and at the top of our descent everyone worked on removing their skins without taking off their skis. Everyone was ultimately successful, although I’d say Ty spent a good amount of time on the ground after things went a bit awry. We caught first tracks in some areas, and on the upper half of the terrain the powder turns were quite nice. I kept everyone off south facing terrain since I could see that it was pretty thin, but in fact I’d say this has to be the lowest snowpack that I can remember around here for the end of February. Fortunately that amount of snow is still enough to cover a lot of the glades well. Below Gotham City the snowpack and powder were notably thinner, so you had less line selection, but we still had some good turns down there. No doubt the way to go for the best turns is to stay above ~2,400’ if possible right now, but you can get some very nice powder if you know your terrain and aspects. It was really great to get the whole family out for some exercise today, since we haven’t had quite as many ski outings as usual with the low snowfall this season. The boys were in good spirits for the whole tour, I’d say probably the most positive backcountry attitude from them in quite some time!

An image of Erica sking powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E Teles through the powder today as we drop through one of the glades below North Slope

We’ve got another system in the area tonight giving us a bit of snow right now even here at the house, but it sounds like Jay Peak might really get the best shot out of this one.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 23JAN2016

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Girl's trail on the backcountry skiing network at Bolton Valley ski resort in Vermont
The snowpack may be low for this time of year, but you’d never know it based on the great powder skiing I found today on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network.

Thanks to a storm affecting the Northern Greens in the first half of the week, we picked up nearly a foot of snow at our house in Waterbury, and some of the local peaks picked up more than a foot and a half of the white stuff. The new snow I measure here at the house was super dry, with densities as low as 1-2% H2O, so it’s settled quite a bit over the past few days. I’m sure the same thing was going on in the mountains, but it’s been seasonably cold and I knew that the powder out there would be well preserved and ready to offer up some potentially fantastic turns.

I was busy with a bunch of work at the house today, but with the recent powder, a solid base below it, and afternoon blue skies with temperatures in the 20s F, it was just too nice of day not to get out. I decided to head to the mountain for a quick backcountry tour up to Bryant Cabin and down through some of numerous glades below it. The resort was really hoppin’ with visitors, and with the gorgeous afternoon and people probably making up for lost ski time during out slow December, it wasn’t surprising. Fortunately, I was quickly able to get a parking spot right along the Nordic trails in one of the tennis court lots.

I got on my way and checked the depth of the powder at Village level. Bolton Valley had reported 18 inches from the storm in their higher elevations, and I found that settled powder depths today at ~2,000’ were 10-12 inches. I could see that coverage was excellent as I skinned my way up the Bryant Trail; there really aren’t any concerns about bare spots on the main routes at this point. Up at the cabin at ~2,700 I found that the depth of the powder had bumped up a couple of inches to the 12-14” range. It was a gorgeous time to be out on the trails in that last hour before sunset, and I saw a few other Nordic and backcountry skiers out there enjoying the scene as well.

“I’ve got to say, you know the Northern Greens are a pretty sweet spot for snow when we’re currently running in the bottom 5% of ski seasons on terms of snowfall, and there’s still plentiful base and powder for midwinter-quality powder skiing.”

I took a descent route through several of my favorite glades in the North Slope/Gardiner’s Lane area including Grizzwald and Girl’s, others that I’m not sure of the names, and still others that I don’t think have names because they’re likely just areas of the forest that are naturally appropriate for skiing. The powder turns were fantastic; the base is plenty deep and the amount of powder for even blue and black pitches was plenty for bottomless floatation on my fat skis. I’ve got to say, you know the Northern Greens are a pretty sweet spot for snow when we’re currently running in the bottom 5% of ski seasons on terms of snowfall, and there’s still plentiful base and powder for midwinter-quality powder skiing. I suspect the very steepest terrain is probably not quite there yet in terms of coverage, but from what I skied, you’d almost never even guess that snowpack is only in the 2 to 3-foot range. The only hints I had that things weren’t quite at the typical Northern Greens midwinter depth were those instances where you might feel a slight pressure/bump where a log sits under the base, vs. never even knowing it exists. In any event, the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network is in great shape, so get out and enjoy it. There’s certainly something to be said for having the base elevation above 2,000’.

An image of a ski line with powder snow in the Girl's area of the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I really didn’t find much underbrush on a lot of powder lines today; they were looking in midwinter form.

I managed to catch fresh tracks through various glades and tree areas all the way down to the bottom of World Cup, and then skied out and hiked to the Village to order up some sandwiches and pizza to bring back for E and the boys. They were busy and/or tired today so I didn’t pressure them much to head up to the mountain, especially since I was unsure of the conditions, but I definitely let them know how great it was when I got back.

Stowe, VT 08MAR2015

An image of Ken skiing the Cliff Trail Gully on Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Resort while Rick takes video and some of the kids look on from above
It’s March, and time to head up into Mt. Mansfield’s alpine terrain

It’s that time of year again – the snowpack is deep, the weather is getting warmer, and it’s time to head into the alpine on Mt. Mansfield. After checking the forecast, the plan for our group in this afternoon’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe was to head up for some skiing in the alpine. E gave everyone in our group the heads up and told them to bring their ski packs, water, and snacks for a trip up toward The Chin. One idea I was tossing around was to bring our group all the way up to The Chin and ski Profanity Gully as we did last year, but I was also concerned that with some new students in the group that hadn’t hiked into the alpine before, something like Cliff Trail Gully would be a safer bet. When Ty started grumbling in the car about the length of the trip up to Profanity, that was enough to convince me that we should start with something a bit less involved.   As we’d find out, that was probably a good call.

As we gathered the groups for ski program at the base of the Spruce Peak lifts, the composition of our group gradually took shape. We wound up with ten students, and fortunately, four adults as well. That was the largest group yet that we’d be bringing up above tree line, so the added help of multiple coaches was important. We’d had on and off snow showers around the mountain, but the weather was generally just cloudy as we took the Over Easy and the Gondola up to the Cliff House. For folks that had brought their packs to carry their skis, we took a few minutes and got everyone’s equipment set, then we headed up the boot pack. The snow in Cliff Trial Gully looked excellent, and it appeared as though only one hiker had been up the gully at all since the most recent resurfacing. Unfortunately whoever set the boot pack put in some pretty big steps, and that made for a real challenge for the kids – at times they said that had to make steps that were as high as their waist! I put in some intermediate steps to make things easier, but I could only put in so many new steps and still keep a good pace of climbing. We took a good break about halfway up where everyone was able to regroup, relax, and have snacks. Wiley had an entire box of Cheez-its, and I had to laugh. It was classic because I’d done the same sort of thing on one of my hikes to The Chin. For the final half of the hike, Dylan was a monster – he took the lead and blasted in a lot of kid-sized steps to make it easier for everyone. I took the lead again for the final five to ten minutes to the ridge line, and he’d inspired me to really put in a lot of extra steps, so hopefully it made it easier on everyone behind us.

At the ridge line it was of course time for jumping into the powder on the leeward side of the ridge, and that went on for quite a while – essentially until they’d bombed all the powder they could find. Finally, it was time for the descent. I’d contemplated checking out a couple of other gullies nearby, but once I’d seen how good the snow was in the gully, there was no need. There were no tracks in it at all, so we had plenty of fresh snow. Just about everyone had begun their descent when we learned that one of Kenny’s skis wouldn’t go on. It turned out that he taken one of his mother’s boots by accident since it was very close in size to his, and it was too big to fit into is binding. Rick and I worked for a while on adjusting his binding, but there was just no getting that boot in there – even the longest setting was ¾ of an inch too small. Kenny had to work his way down the gully on one ski, and it was definitely good that we hadn’t gone all the way up to the Chin and skied Profanity. That would have been quite a chore. The powder in the gully was nice, but it was only a few inches deep up top where apparently the wind had hit the underlying snow. In the lower ¼ of the gully the powder was notably deeper, presumably because it was protected from the wind.

With the assistance of the helpful lift service staff, we set Kenny up with a trip down in the Gondola, and said we’d meet him over at Spruce as soon as we did the next run. That would give him plenty of time to work out the ski boot issue. The group hit the Tombo Waterfall and everyone did really well – the coverage is awesome in there. We got into a lot of the trees to the right of Gondolier and Joe really had some nice turns in there that kept him raving about that terrain the rest of the afternoon.

Back at Spruce we found Kenny, who had worked everything out, and we had time for a couple more runs before the end of the day. We hit Sunny Spruce a couple times and just enjoyed some good on piste turns. Joe was really interested in working on his bump skiing, so Dylan and I gave him some tips as we skied West Smuggler’s.

The weather was interesting today; snow really started to come in when we were up on the ridge line, and it gradually ramped up through the afternoon until it was absolutely dumping at the end of the day. You could hardly see 50 yards at times as the air was filled with massive flakes. I’m not sure how much the mountain was going to get, but if it was snowing that hard at the base, it must have been ridiculous up high. I suspect there will be some fun turns out there for folks tomorrow.