Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 25APR2009

An image of some of the trails of Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont taken from the alpine area up near the Chin of Mt. Mansfield
Looking back at the resort trails today as I head up into the alpine

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.

A Google Earth/GPS map showing the route of a ski tour up through Stowe Mountain Resort to the Chin of Mt. Mansfield on April 25th, 2009
A Google Earth/GPS map of today’s ski tour up to the Chin of Mt. Mansfield – Click the image for a full size map

Bolton Valley Backcountry, VT 11FEB2007

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from a backcountry ski tour to the western ridge of Bolton Valley in Vermont
An image of part of the VAST (Vermont Area Snow Travelers) used as part of a backcountry ski tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry
Out on the VAST trail during today’s tour

Today I headed out for some backcountry exploration in the Bolton area. I was sure that James would still be resting his ankle, so once again I made it a solo outing. After exploring part of the Cotton Brook drainage the previous week, I decided to switch it up and check out something on the other side of the valley. A convenient starting area for reaching the terrain on the western side of the valley is one of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) access points. The ample parking lot sits at an elevation of roughly 1,000 feet on the Bolton Valley Access Road. My plan was to start out on the VAST trail that heads west from the parking area, and make my way up to the ridge line that extends north from Stimson Mountain. The summit of Stimson Mountain is at 2,002 feet, and the ridge maintains roughly that elevation for several miles as it heads northward toward the Bolton Mountain area. If I was able to find a suitable route to the ridge, and the terrain was appropriate, the tour would provide about 1,000 vertical feet of skiing.

I arrived at the trailhead in late morning to sunny skies and a temperature of 19 degrees F. There was only one snowmobile trailer in the lot at that time, so the lot looked pretty deserted. I started skinning westward on the nicely maintained VAST trail, which at first had a fairly gradual slope. Then, I crossed a large bridge, and the trail steepened. After maybe 50-100 vertical feet, the trail flattened out and turned to the south. At that point I decided to break away from the VAST trail and head westward up the ridge. The going would be slower once I had to get off the trail and break my own way through the powder, but as far as I could tell without a VAST map, the VAST trail headed more southward and was not going to get me up the ridge where I wanted to be. I finally broke off the VAST trail at the intersection with an old logging road. There was a sign indicating that the logging road was not open for VAST travel.

Despite breaking my own trail, the going was pretty smooth. I’d checked the depth of the powder just after I started my hike, and found it to be 9 inches over whatever thicker layer was below it. At the bottom of the logging road, the snow was still in the 9-12-inch range, so I wasn’t bogged down by too much depth. I continued upward, following a network of logging roads and taking the route that seemed to best direct me toward my destination on the ridge. I spied plenty of great ski lines along the way, and I marked a few of the more attractive ones on my GPS. The logging road seemed to have been maintained and it made for quick travel; at least it appeared that way with the snowpack at the time. If there was a forest of saplings growing on the road, they were long buried under the snowpack. There was only one obstacle that forced me to detour from the logging roads, a huge tree that lay across the trail near the middle of the hike. It took a few extra minutes to work my way around that one. Currently, with the additional 3 to 4 feet of new snow from Wednesday’s storm, that tree is probably not even an issue.

My route took me generally westward up the ridge, with a bit of northward movement toward the end. About 2/3 of the way through the hike, I came across a large flat area, and above it was some of the steepest terrain I’d seen on the day. The terrain there actually looked a bit too steep and rocky for skiing, so the slight northward trend worked well to keep me in more skiable terrain. Near the top of the hike I attained nice views of the Timberline area across the valley. I could even hear the announcer for the ski race that was taking place over there. The race was presumably a continuation of the event that Ty and I had seen the previous day. High clouds had been building in throughout my trip, so at that point the sunshine was no longer as brilliant as it had been when I started the hike.

After several minutes of additional climbing, I finally hit the ridge. While the powder just below the ridge had built up to a depth of around 15 inches, on the ridge itself, the snow was heavily compacted and drifted. In some places, the snow had been scoured down to just a few inches in depth. Small trees all across the ridgeline had been bent over and snapped by the strong prevailing winds that raked the area. To the west below me was Bolton Notch, and I could see what looked like some skiable lines dropping eastward toward the Bolton Notch Road. I actually thought I heard the voices of a couple of people below me in the notch, but it was very faint and I couldn’t get a fix on their location. I hiked around the summit ridge for a bit while I had a snack and a drink, then removed my skins and started down.

To ensure that I’d be able to get right back to the car without having to do any hiking along the access road, I followed a downhill route in the same general area as my skin track. Sometimes I traversed out above my skin track and skied back down to it, but for much of the run I was able to stay off to the skier’s left of my skin track and follow the natural contour of the terrain. Even with the snowpack below average (as gauged by the snow depth at the stake on Mt. Mansfield being at only ~54 inches), one could pretty much ski anywhere in the area I explored. There were always some lines that seemed to be the pick of the crop, but there were few areas where the vegetation was too thick for turns. There was plenty of powder for bottomless turns throughout the descent, and the depth of the base let me tackle the lines with a fair degree of confidence. With the potential for 3 to 4 feet of snow from the storm this coming Wednesday, I suspect there will be even more wide open lines. A storm of the size expected would likely bring the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake close to 80 inches, which would actually be above average for this time of year.

For the final pitch down to the VAST trail, I actually skied the last part of the logging road I’d ascended. It was steep enough that it made for some pretty nice turns. The Avocet recorded 920 vertical feet of descent and the Suunto recorded 958 vertical feet of descent, a difference of 4.0%. The high clouds had continued to build in throughout the tour, so the temperature at the end of my run was pretty much the same as it had been when I started skinning. It was a fun and easy trip with great access.

Stowe, Hourglass Chute, & Hell Brook Trail, VT 22MAR1997

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.

Robbins Mountain Power Line, VT 30DEC1995

Today we skied the power line on Robbins Mountain (power for the airway beacon on top).  Here are the stats:

Base elevation: 340′
Summit elevation: 2060′
Vertical drop: 1720′
Length: 5544′
Slope: 31%

After kicking in steps yesterday evening (snowshoeless are we) to 1,100′, we hiked up to around 1,350′ today with skis. Unfortunately, above this point, the line hasn’t been cleared in a couple of years and its pretty thick with brush. Below this point though, its clear sailing, about 40 feet wide and untracked. The snow conditions were about 5 inches powder followed by that crust, then another 2-3 feet of thick powder below. From our starting point, the first 200 feet down are a little brushy (a la Goat) then the trail funnels into a 50 foot chute with steep drops on either side. After this chute, the line opens up for about 200 feet of blue-grade boulevard untracked (one of the best parts). The next 1,000′ consists of a few cliffs (5-10 feet high and easily bypassed if desired) with islands of brush that leave at least half of the trail open at a all times. At this point (elevation 700′) the main power line takes a dive into a stream bed, but fortunately there is a road, or riverbed or something that parallels the line and provides a nice clear route. The last 100 feet or so is a bit of a scramble out the road. Temps were in the 20s and light snow was falling today making for great conditions. 1,000 continuous vertical of untracked powder at no charge; sometimes it’s nice to earn turns by muscle instead of $$$$.