Stowe, VT 22FEB2015

An image of Ty covered in powder while skiing in the Hazelton Zone at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after Winter Storm Pandora dropped 9 inches of snow
An image of Dylan skiing deep powder in the Hazelton area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
After a moderate shot of snow from Winter Storm Pandora, it was quite a powder fest out there today at Stowe.

Beginning yesterday afternoon when we were skiing up at Bolton Valley and well into the night, Winter Storm Pandora unloaded inch per hour snows on the Green Mountains. As of this morning we’d picked up over 8 inches at the house, and accumulations at the resorts in the Northern Greens had topped out around a foot. The snow was incredibly dry; the stack at our house came in at 3.5% H2O.

“I’m starting to give up on checking the surface snow depths for the time being because my 40+” pole simply disappears when I push it into the powder.”

An image of Dylan in his ski goggles looking out the window of the Stowe Gondola at the start of a powder dayIt looked like a good day to kick things off early at Stowe ahead of our afternoon BJAMS ski program, so we headed over to the resort in the morning. When we arrived there was another round of snow falling, setting the mood for what would hopefully be a great day. E decided to hold off with skiing or riding until her coaching obligations in the afternoon to make sure that she didn’t work her injured toe too much today, so she relaxed in the Spruce Camp Base Lodge and did some ski program coordinating while the boys and I headed over to Mt. Mansfield to start the day on the slopes. This was definitely not a sleeper powder day. There was a queue almost out the Gondola building by 9:00 A.M., and the trails were already tracked out. Even all of the easy access trees seemed to have been hit, and not with just a couple of tracks We headed into the trees for powder, visiting Ravine, the Kitchen Wall, the Hazelton Zone, and then some new terrain off the western end of Spruce Peak.

“The snow was incredibly dry; the stack at our house came in at 3.5% H2O.”

The powder was fantastic, and temperatures in the 20s F felt so nice for a change. With powder so light and dry, it really didn’t keep you consistently off the subsurface in those areas that had been groomed or previously packed by skiers, but if you got into untraveled terrain, the fresh snow represented another beautiful Champagne Powder® icing on the soft cake that is the current snowpack. I’m starting to give up on checking the surface snow depths for the time being because my 40+” pole simply disappears when I push it into the powder. In any event, even where the subsurface was packed, there’s not much that compares to gliding through that kind of delicate cold snow.

“In any event, even where the subsurface was packed, there’s not much that compares to gliding through that kind of delicate cold snow.”

After lunch with E in the Great Room Grill, we met up with our group and got back out for some more. We did an Angel Food run, which yielded some large areas of fresh snow farther left, and then there were plenty of options for fresh tracks all around the return traverse as well. We visited the Kitchen Wall again, headed far to the south for a change of pace, and then dropped off Nosedive for a different approach to Hazelton. We got into some of those big, north-facing gullies that I’ve seen in the past and wanted to visit, so that was a nice accomplishment. With nine in the group there were certainly a few episodes of people getting stuck in the deep powder. In one instance, Ken lost a ski on an encounter with some obstacle, and it looked like we could be in for one of those incredibly long “ski search and rescue missions”. He was in a spot right where the terrain was starting to roll over and get steeper, and the powder out there is so bottomless, it was really going to be tough to track that ski down if it slid away under the surface. I was the only one within reasonable distance to be able to help, so within a couple of minutes of his initial searching I’d made it up to him and I prepared myself for a thorough and systematic process of probing the snow. Everyone else in the group was within 50 yards, but downhill, and with slopes that steep combined with powder that deep, they might as well have been on the moon. I was really wondering how we were going to manage everyone’s time. We were lucky though, within about a minute, I happened to look down the slope and saw his ski sticking up out of the snow. He quickly got it and we breathed a sign of relief – that’s the sort of stuff that can really slow down the group, and of course the odds of that stuff happening increase with each addition to the group. I’ve got to say though, the trip was really pretty efficient for as big as our group was. It’s definitely helpful that Ty and I have been in that area a few times now and have a feel for the lay of the land. One big advancement in my knowledge of the area today was in exploring some of those ridges and plateaus between the gullies. The gullies are typically the first areas to get tracks in them, since people are naturally drawn down into them by gravity. There is some excellent skiing on the ridges in between though, and they are typically untracked and yield some seriously steep and deep powder as the pitches drop back down into the gullies. I nailed some really sweet turns after helping Ken find his ski, so that was quite the reward.

An image of Ty skiing deep powder in the Hazelton Zone of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Deep champagne powder and sunshine… definitely ingredients for a great ski day.

We returned to Spruce around 3:00 P.M. to finish off the day, and mixed up a number of runs off Sunny Spruce, including the terrain that Ty and Dylan and I had explored earlier that morning. All the students really did well in the trees today, and they’re getting more and more comfortable as time goes on. If the snow continues to stay this good we’ll have some excellent options with the group in the coming weeks.

An image of Ken skiing dry powder as he comes out of the trees and into the open on Spruce Peak at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Although Stowe’s plentiful amount of visitors meant that on piste areas were tracked out pretty quickly, venturing off piste and exploring areas old and new provided great powder all day long.



Stowe, VT 11JAN2015

An image of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont with snowflakes in the air
An image of Kenny jumping off a rock as he skis in the Chapel Glades at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Kenny holds no punches as he drops into the Chapel Glades at Stowe today.

Today marked the start of the season’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe, so the whole family was excited to once again hit the slopes with friends, classmates, and faculty. I was also quite interested in finding out what the ski conditions were like on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield. We’d headed out into the Jay Peak backcountry yesterday after hearing about the good snow that the area had seen this past week, and the conditions we found certainly didn’t disappoint; there was roughly a foot of midwinter powder out there. I knew Mansfield had picked up some good snow in the past couple days based on Powderfreak’s pictures on American Weather, but was it on par with what we’d found farther north, and how would it hold up to all the weekend visitors to the resort? I hedged my bets after seeing the pictures, and decided to bring my Rossignol Sin 7 skis for the day – I had a hunch that we’d be able to spend a good amount of time off piste and I suspected I’d want my wider, rockered boards instead of my on piste carvers.

“While riding the lift I caught sight of a couple of kids skiing in the trees above meadows, and as I watched the powder spraying off their skis, I knew it was going to be game on in the off piste.”

On our way up Route 100, we could see that the Greens were lost in snowfall off to the west, and fluffy flakes soon began to fill the air down in the valley. The snow globe flakes stayed with us all the way to the resort and put quite a spirit in the air as we kicked off the ski program season. With all the construction going on for the new facilities in the Spruce Peak Village, parking is at a real premium, but our ski program participants are being allowed to use the parking area at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. It’s a bit of a walk for the kids, but everyone was really appreciative of the resort allowing that use; I think the logistics of transferring over from the Mansfield side are even more challenging with all the little ones.

Our usual ski group would be growing today with the addition of Wiley and Jonah – everyone felt that they were more than ready to join us in our usual off piste escapades, and both boys were excited to get at it. Although our group had now increased to a total of eight students, Ken was joining us as well, so we had a pair of adults to keep tabs on everyone. Having a lower ratio of students to coaches is nice, but it’s especially helpful with the amount of off piste skiing our group does. It’s much easier to get separated among the trees than out on the trail, so it’s important to have as many eyes on the group as possible. We’ve found that if we have one or two of the older or more experienced students leading, that can free up one coach to be the tail guide and a second coach can then keep their eyes on things from the middle of the pack and follow individuals that might take different routes. Ken and I have done it with similar groups before, so we were ready for the increased numbers today.

“…when the powder is looking good down at the bottom of Spruce Peak, you know it’s going to be good on Mt. Mansfield.”

We kicked things off with a ride on the new Meadows Quad Chair, which has replaced the Alpine and Easy Street Chairs. This new chair is a fixed grip quad, but it has one of those moving carpets underneath for efficient loading – the chairs are spaced quite close together on the new chair, and presumably the moving carpet lets them load a higher volume of skiers overall. While riding the lift I caught sight of a couple of kids skiing in the trees above the meadows area, and as I watched the powder spraying off their skis, I knew it was going to be game on in the off piste. The boys inquired about jumping into the trees, and I told them that we’d do a warm up run on the trails first, but we’d be getting into the trees right after that; when the powder is looking good down at the bottom of Spruce Peak, you know it’s going to be good on Mt. Mansfield.

Our group made its way over to the Gondola on Mansfield and as we traversed across the initial flats of Perry Merrill, I headed off to the skier’s right to check on the depth of the powder. A quick check revealed almost a foot and a half of champagne fluff, further confirming that we were going to be able to find plenty of soft snow. We worked our way down into the north side of the Nosedive Glades, and found lots of soft snow as expected. The good conditions weren’t too surprising, since Luc had told me he’d already been in there earlier today and found it quite good. Still, it’s always nice to really get you feet on it and find out for yourself. There was a solid foot of powder on untouched lines, and I’ve got to say, there was really just about the same amount of fluff as what we found in the Jay Peak backcountry. Mighty Mansfield has clearly done well in the snowfall department over the past several days. There was the usual amount of ice in the middle of snowmaking trails, but just about everywhere else it was not only the powder that was impressive, but the underlying and on piste surface as well.

An image of Luc, Julia, and Kenny lining up to drop into the Chapel Glades area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Lining up for the drop in on Chapel Glades today

We worked our way over to the Fourrunner Quad and visited the Chapel Glades and Sunrise Glades. As usual all you had to do to get some untracked lines was just venture a bit farther afield. As we finished off that run I started exploring any woods shot that I came across, and was very impressed to see Wiley and Jonah right behind me on all those adventurous forays. With attitudes like that, I think they’re going to have a lot of fun in our ski group. And, they weren’t just handling it, they looked really comfortable following my traverses and lines through the deep powder.

An image of Dylan's ski boot liners warming up on the heater at the Octagon building at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontAfter a break in the Octagon, and a trip down Liftline to retrieve Kenny’s gloves that he’d dropped from the lift, we worked our way over to Nosedive Bypass and down through the glades again. Wiley really seems to have a nose for powder, and I often found him poking around the same areas as me as we sought out the best snow. I think one of the best treats today, aside from the fact that Stowe had picked up such a good amount of snow this week, is how much of it people had missed over the course of the weekend. Ken and I just kept finding good snow slightly off the beaten path, and that’s really nice for a Sunday afternoon.

Stowe, VT 02MAR2014

An image of Luc dropping into some deep snow in the Kitchen Wall area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The boys out in the white stuff today on one of those sleeper powder days at Stowe

One of the early signs that Stowe has received a decent shot of overnight snow, is when Powderfreak sends out a pre-sunrise update and you see some nice depth to the snowy tire tracks in the parking lot.  That’s the way it went this morning, and since a few inches down low can mean even more up high.  It definitely piqued my interest, and suggested that we should go for one of those morning starts ahead of our afternoon ski program.  With Dylan still under the weather, and E staying home with him, it would be just Ty and I heading out today.  I waited until Ty woke up, he grabbed a quick bite, and we were off.

“Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know.”

An image of Ty skiing powder in the open terrain above the Meadows trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ripping up some big turns above Meadows

The lifts hadn’t been running too long at Spruce Peak when we arrived, and you could tell by the tracks that were appearing that there was some great fresh snow.  We suited up in Spruce Camp, and then hopped on Sunny Spruce for a quick first run.  When we saw that Freddie’s Chute was open, we headed right there and caught some of the fresh lines still available along the skier’s right.  The snow that fell overnight was some gorgeous light and dry Champlain Powder™.  There were several inches of new snow, and it skied really well, even if it didn’t have the density to keep you off the subsurface in previously tracked areas.  We grabbed first tracks on some lines we knew in the Lower Smugglers Trees, and found the turns to be mostly bottomless there.  We finished off with a run through the terrain above Meadows – there wasn’t quite enough powder to be bottomless down at those low elevations on south facing terrain, but the snow provided a good amount of resistance to make the turns fun.

“It was just me
and Ty, and a
couple hundred
acres of fluff.”

It was off to Mansfield next for some Gondola runs.  We started with a run in which I introduced Ty to a full trip through the Hazelton Zone.  With the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake above 60” now, there are no concerns about coverage.  We just let our noses guide us through the terrain, and it was powder-filled adventure through streambeds, powder fields and steep river banks.  We didn’t see another soul, and we didn’t even run into any tracks until we got down toward the main line in the bottom half of the area.  It was just me and Ty, and a couple hundred acres of fluff.  Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know.  South facing chutes were where that crust was evident though – there featured conditions with more like six inches of powder with a crusty base underneath.  Once we found that out though, we stuck to the north facing terrain and other aspects where there were no problems.  Ty said he loved the explorations and skiing in the area, along with the roller coaster exit traverse at the end.  One comment he made was that the run seemed sort of long, which I’d argue is a nice problem to have.  Our next run was through the Tombo Woods followed by some of the Switchback Trees, where the snow was great all the way to the bottom.  When I did a depth check around the 2,000’-2,500’ mark on Switchback, I got a reading of 6 inches for the new snow.  Ty noticed that his fat skis were serving him well, keeping him planing atop the snow and moving even when the terrain flattened out.

An iamge of Ty skiing some powder snow in the Hazelton area of Mt. Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
In the morning it was Ty and I getting to rip up the powder on Mansfield together.

Ty and I headed in for lunch at the Great Room Grill, getting sandwiches from the deli area, and then met up with Luc and Jack for our afternoon session.  We started them off with the run that Ty and I had skied in the morning, and Ty like the fact that he’d had both first and third tracks through the Lower Smugglers Trees for the day.  Back over on Mansfield, we took a great run through the Kitchen Wall area, and worked our way all the way through the Goatdive Woods and some of the Liftline Trees.  Jack hurt his leg a bit on a run through the Sunrise trees, so we made our way back to Spruce, where he took it easy for the last hour in the lodge while the rest of the group finished off with some runs on SensationMain Street was an interesting mix of hard manmade racing snow below the fresh stuff, but outside the racing fences was some really good powder.  We’ll definitely be back to check out some of the new routes we learned there.  This was definitely one of those sleeper Stowe powder days that sneak in under the radar – we were psyched to have it on a Sunday.

Stowe, VT 24MAR2013

An image of Ken jumping off a rock on skis into the powder above Green Acres at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ken tests out the powder landings above Green Acres.

I made a Bruce Trail reconnaissance run back in January, and since then we’ve been waiting for the right combination of snowpack, weather, and coach availability to bring our BJAMS group for a trip down the Bruce.  A couple weeks ago, the forecast began to suggest that the snowpack was just going to continue to build through March, so we decided to bide our time.  Indeed as the forecast suggested, this “powder week”, with between 30 and 50 inches of snow at the Northern Vermont resorts along the Green Mountain spine, has bolstered base depths.  One result of all that snow has been the growth of the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake; it’s finally crept above average this week, reaching a depth of 82 inches as of yesterday.  With excellent snowpack now all the way down to the mountain valleys, a forecast for partly cloudy skies with temperatures around 30 F, and good availability of the BJAMS ski program coaches that wanted to ski the Bruce… today was the day for our trip.

“All in all that had
to be just about
perfect conditions
today for skiing
the Bruce…”

We had a little time before our group got together, so we did a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor and his dad.  As expected, the snow quality was excellent – it was packed powder on the trails and powder off piste, with just a few bare spots here and there on steeper south-facing terrain like Freddie’s Chute.  One of the highlights of that run was West Slope, where we rode the ridge along the skier’s left with big swooping drops into the chowder on the left side.  At one point I heard Luke screaming out behind me something like “That was so intense!” after launching a huge drop on one of his turns… intense indeed!

An image taken in the Spruce Peak Village area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontWe gathered up our group, which featured Claire, Ken, Julia, Luke, Ty, Dylan, and me.  Along with Joana and big Luke, we were missing Joe, Sam and Ethan today, and I suspect they would have loved to make a run down the Bruce, but hopefully they’ll get to do it next time.  Apparently Joe did have a great day out on the mountain on Friday with Ken though, so he’s had a good dose of all this new snow.  We debated briefly about whether we should do our Bruce run at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, but with some folks having obligations preventing them from lingering at the mountain too long at the end, we decided that we’d better start with the Bruce and fill extra time in with some other runs at the end of the day.  Based on my reconnaissance day, I was going with a fairly conservative estimate of two hours for us to complete the run to the base of the Bruce.  I knew there wouldn’t be any problems for anyone in terms of the skiing, I was just unsure about what our pace would be through the flatter terrain in the Nordic areas.  If the kids found it tiring it might take longer than what I’d experience on my own, so I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

An image of Ty skiing powder at the top of the Bruce Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dropping into the Bruce Trail for an afternoon run
An image of Luke, Julia, and Dylan making their way down the Bruce backcountry ski trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Luke, Julia, and Dylan make their way down a narrow section of the Bruce Trail.

We didn’t waste any time getting to the top of the Bruce, we crossed on the Over Easy and went right up the Fourrunner Quad.  Unlike down in the base elevations, there was a brisk wind up there around 3,600’.  Some of the boys dropped in the alternate entrance to the Bruce for a bit of powder and I grabbed a few pictures there and some more as they dropped below me on the trail.  It was packed snow on the trail, but the quality was excellent, far better than what I’d experienced on my January trip, which was after a thaw the previous week.  The skiing in the upper sections went pretty much as expected, the boys were having a blast with the bumps and jumps, and one could explore the powder off to the sides when areas opened up in the trees.  A few of the steepest pitches were a little scraped down in spots, but that was pretty minimal because of the deep base and recent snow.  As we got down into the hardwoods and the forest began to open up even more, I started venturing father off the trail into powder lines based on my previous knowledge.  The powder was generally a foot plus in most places, and that worked well on most pitches – enough to slow you down on the steeper stuff, but not bog you down too much in the mellower areas.  Down on the Nordic trails, the final, flatter part of the descent went very smoothly.  Ty noticed one of those wavy green lines one of the trail signs, indicating beginner Nordic terrain, and with regard to the perceived flatness he said, “Oh no, that type of sign is never good!”  I’d say he found out that it really wasn’t that bad.  The kids did a nice job of keeping their pace on the flatter areas, and I’d give Ty and Dylan occasional boosts to keep their pace up.  They started to play around and get tangled up with each other as they skated and poled their way down the trail, so that kept them entertained even on the flats.  As a bonus we got those beautiful views of the snowy Ranch Brook, and the snow stayed quite powdery all the way down to 1,000’. All in all that had to be just about perfect conditions today for skiing the Bruce, comfortable temperatures, partly cloudy skies, and dry snow all the way to the base.  I’m not sure what more one could ask for aside from getting first tracks!

An image of skiers riding the Mountain Road Shuttle Bus in Stowe
Riding the Mountain Road Shuttle – it’s almost worth doing the Bruce Trail just for that!

From leaving the Spruce Peak Base to reaching the bottom of the Bruce at Route 108, it had taken a bit under 90 minutes, so we made it well under my two-hour conservative estimate, even with the large group.  We were about 20 minutes ahead of the next Mountain Road Shuttle when we reached the end of the trail, so we popped into Notchbrook Convenience Store for some snacks, and enjoyed the early spring weather while we waited.  The March sun is quite nice right now, and it’s the beautiful sort of weather that is keeping the snow dry instead of sticky, even with relatively warm air.  Ty and Dylan loved the ride on the shuttle, and Ty only half jokingly insisted that “The Bruce was nice, but it’s the bus ride that’s really my favorite part of the trip.”  He certainly does like to ride buses.  For a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the travel circuit we used to ski the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.

An image of Luke completing a jump turn at the top of the Green Acres area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Luke comes out of a jump turn in the Green Acres area.

When we arrived back at the Spruce Peak Base Area, we had another hour or so before the lifts stopped running, and we decided to use our remaining time for a trip over to the Sensation Quad.  With the relatively deep March snowpack, it seemed like a good time to ski as much of Spruce Line as we could.  The strengthening sun is only going to start beating on that south-facing terrain more and more.  I was surprised to find that the steep terrain above Green Acres was fairly wind scoured, but we found a line through and the boys did some great steep turns and jumps off one of the rocks there.  Dylan led the charge with an impressive jump turn off the rock, landing in a sea of deep powder.  He was followed up by the other boys, including Luke who was totally jazzed at how high he went.  That steep pitch used to intimidate him, and now he’s launching huge jump turns off boulders into powder.  It’s great to see him expanding his skiing literally by leaps and bounds.  Ken launched a beautiful air off the rock as well, although he had to deal with sloppy fourth or fifths in terms of the powder on the landing.  The snow in Green Acres was excellent – powder of well over a foot in depth, which was plenty to slow you down in some of those tighter tree lines.  We couldn’t ski all of Spruce Line because parts were closed, but we did get the middle section that was fairly lightly tracked with some beautiful snow.  The group also enjoyed the chance to ski Main Street since there weren’t any races taking place – having Main Street open up for general traffic is one of those great things about approaching the spring season at Stowe.

“The Bruce was nice,
but it’s the bus ride
that’s really my
favorite part of
the trip.”

While most of the group had to leave a bit early, Ty, Dylan, and I found time to squeeze in one more run on Sunny Spruce.  We dropped into Freddie’s Chute, and Dylan worked his way to the woods on the skier’s right for some powder.  He ended making an impressive drop off a log, which had to be 8 to 10 feet high.  He did manage to hit his chin with his knee on the landing, and it wasn’t of any consequence, but I did stress the point of being aware that that can happen and making sure that your tongue is not anywhere near your teeth.  That was really an aggressive drop that he made, and between Bolton yesterday and Stowe today, he’s really been on fire with the airs this weekend.  With deep bases and deep powder though, ‘tis the season for such things.  We followed that up with some exploration of the trees off to the skier’s left of Lower Smuggler’s – a section that none of us have ever explored before.  We found some good lines, with just a bit of a slow exit on flat terrain.  We finished off with a final descent down West Slope, making use of that ridge and flying off the edge into the powder.

I just checked the forecast, and we’ve apparent got more snow on the way this week.  Nothing too big is expected, but the mountains often seem to do a lot with just a little moisture in the forecast.  Indeed this is turning out to be quite a March for skiing in the Northern Greens as we make up for the rather paltry snowfall of January and February.

Stowe, VT 03FEB2013

An image of a ski track in powder in the Tombo Woods area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Mt. Mansfield somehow still delivering that good snow

Since the roughly half foot of snow that the mountains picked up at the start of the midweek period, there really hasn’t been much in the way of additional snow.  Temperatures aren’t nearly as cold as they were when that arctic air was here a week or so back, but we’re in a similar dry, zonal flow weather pattern.  We’ve had just an inch of new snow at the house this past week, and the mountains haven’t had much more.  There certainly hasn’t been enough moisture for a full resurfacing of the slopes since the warm temperatures that came through midweek, so there wasn’t a lot of incentive to head out yesterday for turns.  I did get a lot of stuff done around the house though, and that’s a typical benefit of these snowfall lulls.  Today was a different story though – we had our BJAMS ski program at Stowe in the afternoon, and with temperatures predicted to be near 20 F at the base elevations with minimal winds, there was no reason to cancel like we had to do last weekend.  I wasn’t too optimistic about the snow conditions though – I actually pulled out my diamond stone and ran it along the edges of my Salomon Scream Hots just to make sure they were ready to hold an edge on firm surfaces.  I can’t remember the last time I was tempted to do a mid season sharpening of my edges, but today definitely had me worried.

“To my amazement, it was
far more than just good, it
was great. It was again that
2-3 inches of powder over a
fairly spongy base.”

It was partly cloudy and looked quite pleasant as we arrived at the mountain around midday.  The Spruce Peak parking lot was rather full as usual, and there was a race going on, but it certainly didn’t seem too busy.  We were able to grab one of those parking spots just a stone’s throw from the old Day Lodge, as there seemed to be a lot of people leaving midday.  I suspect anyone from Southern New England that wanted to get home to catch the Super Bowl would probably want to leave around that time.  I know that the resort has been making snow this week, so I figured trails that had seen some snowmaking might be the best bets for some reasonably soft ski surfaces.  I inquired about snowmaking at the guest services desk, and they knew that Perry Merrill had seen some, but they gave me the number for the snow phone and suggested that I call it to get the rest of the snowmaking information.  I can’t remember the last time I called the snow phone, but I dialed it up and I got to hear all the details.  It was a noontime update, and snowmaking had most recently been done on Upper Perry Merrill, Gondolier, and Centerline last night.  I think it may have even been Powderfreak on the other end that was giving the message.  Anyway, that was just the information I was looking for, so I put those trails on our hit list for the day.

“…it marked a big change
in our ski plans. I’d been
thinking it was going to
be an on piste day prior
to that, but clearly the
off piste was in play.”

Our ski group was large today, with the addition of Sam, Ethan, Luke, Julia, Joanna, Ken, and Joe, we had eight students and four coaches.  With the snowmaking information in hand, we headed right over to the Gondola for a run on Perry Merrill.  Conditions turned out to be far better than I’d imagined.  Up at the top of the Gondola I did a quick check on the depth of the unconsolidated powder snow, and found roughly three inches over the old base.  On top of that, the subsurface wasn’t even that firm; it had that spongy character that I’ve been finding at times lately, possibly due to assistance from the dry air.  The top steep pitch of Perry Merrill did have some good snow, but there was certainly a lot of ice as well.  Down below it was much better though, there was plenty of packed powder, although certainly some granular snow in areas as well.  That seemed to be most prevalent in the center of the trail where traffic was high.  However, the minimal natural snow that has come down in the past few days, plus whatever snowmaking had been done, plus the snow that people had pushed to the sides of the trails after a morning of traffic, made for some really nice turns overall.  Short radius turns along the skier’s right tree line of Perry Merrill were generally excellent – far, far better than I’d expected.

For our next run we did the same start and then moved over to Gondolier.  The skier’s right there was even better than Perry Merrill, with lots of loose snow and shots holding a couple inches of powder when one would dive in and out of the trees along the edge.  About halfway down the trail, Ken’s son Luke inquired about heading into some of the Gondolier Trees at an obvious line he noticed.  I was definitely leery of going in there; I couldn’t imagine that it would be that good with a fairly steep pitch and not much new snow.  I agreed that I’d check it out though, we could pop in briefly and any students that wanted to go could go with me.  Well, almost everyone came in because they wanted to see what it would be like.  To my amazement, it was far more than just good, it was great.  It was again that 2-3 inches of powder over a fairly spongy base.  Based on the weather we had during the middle of the week it’s hard to say how it was so well preserved, but as is often the case, Mansfield delivered again.  Dylan took his own line high along the skier’s left wall and got into some great powder.  All the boys twisted and turned their way down through the gulley, until I finally called for an exit back onto Gondolier.  The gulley did continue on, but I knew it got narrower down there and the exit more difficult, and I didn’t want to push our luck.  Everyone was excited by that run though – Sam commented how he loved going up and down the steep walls of the gully, and I told him it was one of nature’s half pipes.

“Based on the weather we had
during the middle of the week
it’s hard to say how it was
so well preserved, but as is
often the case, Mansfield
delivered again.”

I have to credit that snow discovery to Luke, and it marked a big change in our ski plans.  I’d been thinking it was going to be an on piste day prior to that, but clearly the off piste was in play.  The goal was to next head over to the Fourrunner Quad from the top of the Gondola, and I said that we could check out the north part of the Nosedive Glades (a.k.a “The Middle of Nowhere”) en route.  The snow wasn’t quite as good in there as it had been over by Gondolier, but it was certainly decent and easily held an edge.  There was the occasional icy patch in there, presumably where skiers had pushed away the new snow in higher traffic areas, but some of those lines were pretty steep, so the fact that they weren’t simply hard park was impressive.  Connecting onto Lower Nosedive we found the snow in the middle of the trail horribly hard packed, but fortunately the skier’s left held a good amount of soft snow that had been pushed there by the day’s skiers.

After flying down to the base of the Fourrunner Quad, Dylan said that he was just too cold for a ride there, so Ken headed up with the rest of the group, and I took Dylan back toward the Gondola base.  We warmed up by poling our way over, and he was in good spirits at that point and wanted to take a run on the tow to hit the Midway Terrain Park.  He was still feeling good after that, and was keen to do a Gondola run, where the ride would be warmer than sitting out on the quad.  I also asked if he’d show me all that powder he’d found in the Gondolier Trees, and he was excited to get back to that.  On our way down Perry Merrill, we stuck to the skier’s left and explored a lot of off piste shots at the bottom of the Tombo Woods area.  There was certainly some nice snow in there – just those 2-3 inches over the base, but that base was quite soft.  Back down in the gulley along Gondolier Dylan took me though his powder stash, and indeed we had some good turns.  We both stuck our poles into the snow and beyond the powder, you could push right through the spongy subsurface and get to softer snow below.  There really is a lot of good snow down there that doesn’t seem like it was affected by the recent warm temperatures, so that’s probably helping keep the quality of the off piste skiing reasonably good if people do get down and start busting up the subsurface.  Another nice aspect of the current conditions is that the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, while certainly below average, is still right around that 40-inch mark.  That means that coverage is quite good in most off piste areas.  I’m sure some areas that are more exposed to the elements could have an icier subsurface that what we experienced, but with the off piste in decent, skiable shape already, it’s primed to be really good as soon as we get a decent storm in here.

An image of Dylan skiing a steep line in the Gondolier Woods at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan drops in on his stash.
An image of Apres Ski time in front of the fire at the Spruce Camp Bar at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Spruce Camp Bar

Dylan and I called it a day after that, and headed back to Spruce Peak for s’mores and hot chocolate at the fire pit.  Dylan loved the late day atmosphere and the fact that he and I were getting gondolas to ourselves.  I think those rides in the cabins really helped him to ward off the chill that he’d been building.  We caught up with Ken and the other boys outside the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, and I found out that Ken had been working with Ty and the others on tip stands.  Ken has done some freestyle/ballet in the past, and he said Ty was quite taken with working on the tip stand.  That sort of stuff is indeed right up his alley, so we’ll have to work on that some more with Ken.  We had a good Après session by the fire at the Spruce Camp Bar with Claire and Sue, as E and Claire debriefed each other on the logistics of the day.  We actually had the entire place to ourselves today; I bet it was because most folks were heading home to check out the Super Bowl.  I’m more optimistic for snow this coming week, it seems like we’ve got a shot at snow tonight into tomorrow, another one midweek, and then a potentially larger one at the end of the week.  With conditions as decent as they already are, even a half foot of snow this week will elevate the off piste a lot.  It would be great if that system at the end of the week could do a bit of magic in the Greens and produce something a bit more substantial as some models are hinting at, but we’ll just have to watch and see how the models develop it throughout the week.