Today was a chance for Ty and I to have the session we’d expected last week and work with Harrison during our BJAMS ski program day. Harrison has had some ski time, but we started right off from scratch at the magic carpet. The afternoon began with skis off as we worked with Harrison in his ski boots, showing him angulation, walking around, and getting him familiar with some of the positions his feet would be in. From there it was skis on and we used the magic carpet slope to have him work on engaging and disengaging his edges with side slipping.
With those first exercises under his belt, Harrison decided that a break was in order, so we headed to the Great Room Grill where he ordered up some mac and cheese that he loved. It really seemed to hit the spot because when we headed back to the Magic Carpet after the break, he began to work on his wedging and wedge stops with great success. When we felt he was comfortable enough to make smooth stops, we said that he could move on to the Adventure Triple and the Inspiration Slope, which had him very excited. We spent the rest of the afternoon there, and Harrison worked on speed control using his wedge, and finally began to get the idea of how to even turn in his wedge. He’s ready to really take off at his next session, providing it’s not too long before he gets back out there.
One of the things that really help Harrison progress today was the excellent soft, surface conditions. There weren’t any signs of scratchiness of Inspiration, and we even had some snowfall at times during the afternoon to freshen things up. Eventually a bit of mixed precipitation appeared at the very end of the day, so we’ll have to see how that affects the surface conditions.
While the snowy weather at Stowe today was just what we’d all expected, the makeup of my ski day turned out to be dramatically different. I was scheduled to work on the Magic Carpet with Harrison this afternoon, but he ended up being a bit under the weather and we were informed that he wouldn’t be coming to the BJAMS ski program. Ty was supposed to be working with another group, but two out of the four student there didn’t show, and one of the remaining students was the son of the chaperone, so they were all set without Ty. When all was said and done, and we’d waited for any late arrivals, Erica said that Ty and I should just head off and ski together.
Wind holds were rampant today, with the Fourrunner Quad, the Gondola, and the Sensation Quad down at a minimum. Winds actually weren’t bad at all down low, but the Sunny Spruce had quite a lift queue with so many other lifts on hold. After a warm up run on the Meadows Quad, Ty and I decided to wait in the Sunny Spruce queue once, then go adventuring and take an exorbitantly long run to avoid dealing with any lift lines.
“As we finished up and headed back toward our car in the Mansfield Parking Lot, snowfall was in the 1 to 2 inch per hour range and slowed traffic leaving the resort, but it sure was impressive and will no doubt be freshening the slopes even further.”
Since we had all afternoon, my plan was to explore the lines that dive off toward the notch from the top of Sunny Spruce. I’d seen the obvious lines many times before, but I’d never take my group down there without some reconnaissance first. With just Ty and I, today was the perfect day to get that done. The route starts off steeply, with some obvious trimmed lines through mixed evergreens and hardwoods. The pitch then moderates a bit, and you get into hardwoods where natural lines abound everywhere. The new powder was only about 6 inches deep, so Ty and I sought out some of the shallower lines, but there are countless steep lines in there that would support powder of any depth.
We generally kept to skier’s left, shallowing out our lines and knowing that we had to head that way eventually. There were several sets of tracks in there, so it was clearly a traveled area, but I was bit surprised as we approached the bottom and saw a river instead of Route 108. It turns out that we were on the near side of the valley away from the road, but we were easily able to cross the frozen river, then hook up with the boardwalks coming from near Barnes Camp, and get back to the resort. We headed to the Midway Lodge for a break and a snack, and with the wind holds the Lodge was nearly deserted.
We finished off the day with a few more runs on Spruce Peak, and any lift queues had essentially evaporated by that point. The snowfall continued to intensify though, and the skiing just kept improving every run. As we finished up and headed back toward our car in the Mansfield Parking Lot, snowfall was in the 1 to 2 inch per hour range and slowed traffic leaving the resort, but it sure was impressive and will no doubt be freshening the slopes even further.
Thanks to Winter Storm Skylar, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit the 100-inch mark around the middle of the month. When the snowpack starts getting that deep up there, it’s time to really think about heading above tree line into the alpine, because everything is filled in and the skiing really gets good. While last Sunday’s weather in the higher elevations was frigid, with wind chills well below zero F at the summits, today’s forecast with minimal winds and temperatures in the 20s F was looking perfect for some above tree line adventures on Mt. Mansfield. With the weather looking good, my only remaining concern was how much spring cycling the alpine snow had seen in the recent stretch of sunny days we’ve had around here. Either way though, that wasn’t going to be a deal breaker, so I had E inform any interested students and coaches from our BJAMS ski program that we’d plan to hike up above Stowe’s terrain into Mt. Mansfield’s alpine for our Sunday afternoon session.
We ultimately had a crew of eight for today’s alpine adventures, with our usual suspects from my group along with Jonah and his brother and dad, who was willing to make the trip with the boys even though he’s got one injured arm in a sling! As soon as program started in the afternoon, we headed right up to the Climbing Gully and found an excellent boot pack in place. With some pretty decent southern exposure, the snow in the Climbing Gully had softened in the sun and sat somewhere between winter and spring consistency. Once we hit the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline though, the consistency of snow was all winter, and that allayed at least some of my fears about the consistency of the snow above tree line. You could feel the nice cool breeze along the ridgeline doing its job to keep the snow from baking in the late March sun, and I knew that any terrain without strong southern exposure up in the alpine was going to be in fine midwinter form. The views were stupendous, so we took a few minutes to enjoy the scene and fuel up. Ty had been silly and not eaten much in the morning, so he’d been bonking on the climb up the Climbing Gully. I made him quickly have a couple packets of GU around the middle of the ascent, and then I told him to get at least one granola bar into him on the ridge to make sure he’d have enough in the tank for the rest of the tour.
“Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency.”
After our ridgeline break, we headed up to The Chin, and I first checked out the condition of Profanity Chute, which was my initial plan for today’s descent. Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency. I knew from Powderfreak’s pictures and comments that Winter Storm Skylar had really dropped a ton of liquid equivalent on the mountain and filled everything in, but it’s still most impressive to see it firsthand. Even more impressive to me than how filled in Profanity was, was just how plastered all the usual windswept areas of the summit were. The Chin is so exposed to the wind that it’s more typical to see a mix of rocks and snow vs., the area being covered wall-to-wall in white, but that’s how it’s been since Winter Storm Skylar. People were even skinning all the way to the summit, which you’ll only see when you get a storm of plentiful, dense snow that really covers all the rocks.
“From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat.”
While the group congregated at the summit, I also took a look down at Hourglass Chute, and I was very impressed with what I saw. The snow quality and coverage looked excellent. Hourglass is narrower and steeper than Profanity, and I’ve never brought to boys down it, but it was starting to look like today might be the day. It was hard to pass up the great aesthetic look of Profanity with the current snowpack, but the boys have now skied it a number of times, and after surveying everyone to see who was interested, the boys were definitely game to give Hourglass a shot. Looking down on Hourglass from above, it’s a pretty intimidating view with plenty of exposure. From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat. That’s a pretty impressive pitch wherever you are, and with the apparent exposure of the chute from above, I was sort of dumbfounded that none of the boys even gave it a second thought. Jonah, Wiley, Robbie, Ty, and Dylan were all simply ready to jump right in, and they seemed confused as to why I was even making a big point to thoroughly confirm that everyone was on board. I was worried that it might just be ignorance on their part, but they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink, so it is what it is I guess.
I dropped down above the throat of the chute (Hourglass is so named because of the relatively open upper headwall and apron areas, with a tight, rock-lined middle section) and set up for some photography of the boys. I had the wide-angle Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM on my camera body at that point, and the spot I was in was a bit too steep to comfortably change it out, so I ended up sticking with it. Even at 22 mm it was too wide to really get nice shots of the boys going through the throat of the chute, but I did give a nice side-angle shot of everyone above the chute as they waited, and you can get a good idea of the pitch of the slope. Everyone ultimately did fine skiing the chute, although Dylan did take a tumble at the end of the throat as he was doing a jump turn, and I heard that Jonah also had a tumble down there. Fortunately, even with that steep pitch, it’s still not “No Fall Zone” terrain with the decent snow conditions we had. I saw Dylan slide headfirst for a time after his fall, and Ty was below ready to help him arrest, but he’d stopped before that point. Anyway, everyone seemed to have a great time skiing Hourglass, and all the snow was a fantastic midwinter consistency. Even after skiing it, none of them seemed to feel that it was a very big deal, so I guess I was much more impressed with how they did than any of them.
“…they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink…”
We caught some steeps along the apron, managing our descent as much as possible to make for an easy cruise over toward and around the Adam’s Apple to catch the Hell Brook Trail. The Hell Brook Trail was in its usual state for this time of year, with terrain exposed to the south/sun getting crunchier and crunchier as one descended in altitude, but the sheltered snow on the skier’s right of the gully was continually fantastic. The whole area is really loaded with snow now, and in conversations with Ty and Dylan during the descent, we all really loved those steep, open faces on the south side of the gully that held the protected winter snow. Although he’d skied Hourglass beautifully, Ty was feeling off his game and heavy on his feet in the tighter sections of the Hell Brook gully (probably because of not initially fueling up properly), so he was really enjoying those more open areas that didn’t have any moguls.
The ski out was relatively quick because the snow wasn’t sticky at all, although I hadn’t noticed that Wiley and Robbie had chosen a route without a good bridge across the final stream, so they had to take some time working their way through the lower woods to find a good crossing. Robbie was of course a trooper doing the whole thing on his snowboard, both above and below the Hell Brook Trail there are plenty of spots that are no big deal on skis, but can be a headache on a board. Down there on Route 108 it totally felt like spring, with lots of sunshine, and winter recreationalists out enjoying any manner of snow and ice travel. I’d had a lot of fun on today’s outing because I guess it’s been about 20 years since I last skied Hourglass Chute. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I get to do that again!
Both Dylan and I got to try out our new Anon M2 Goggles, the same model of goggles that Ty got at Christmas with the magnetic interchangeable lenses. Dylan and I were both in need of new goggle for various reasons, and it seemed like a no brainer to get the same model that Ty has to be able to quickly share all the lenses between us. We even got a few extra lenses for various conditions – we’ll just have to be good about not fighting over them!
By the time we got back to Spruce Camp, the program session was just about over. I do like that a typical hike to The Chin with a Hell Brook run is just about perfect for one of our afternoon program sessions, since everyone is pretty cooked by the end anyway between the hike in and the traverse out. Ty was famished, so we headed up to the Great Room Grill for some food with Mom, and Ty got one of their huge burgers. He devoured it, not surprisingly, and E and had time to remind him not to try pulling ski outings like that on a nearly empty stomach. There’s nothing quite like a hearty meal after being famished from a good winter tour, but you have to know your metabolism and where the empty line is on your tank or you can easily get into trouble before you get to that next feast.
We actually had most of our regular ski group today, and with the conditions on hand I decided that we should head for some of that exciting terrain that we just haven’t been able to visit yet this season. We kicked things off with a run on Ravine, although Bob’s foot was acting up so he had to bow out at that point. The conditions on Ravine are great, and base depths are more than sufficient, although you can tell the base isn’t quite up at normal levels for this time of year based on the look of some of the bigger obstacles.
“Conditions are stellar because we recently picked up more than a foot of snow from Winter Storm Quinn, and then overnight the mountain upslope snow event brought close to another foot to the resort.”
We had a fantastic run starting on the Kitchen Wall, with some very powdery lines in the trees below, and we just kept diving into every section of woods that presented itself until we finally would up in the Hazelton Zone. We had to be a little cautious in there with only 50 inches or so at the stake, but there’s definitely enough base. The traverses are in place and looking good. That run was quite a doozy, so everyone requested a break at the Midway Lodge after that for food and drink. On our final run of the day, Wiley and Robbie switched to each other’s snowboard and skis, and we took a run through the terrain park. Wiley had plenty of falls, but really hung in there for taking his first even snowboard run right off the Fourrunner Quad.
It was really great to finally be able to get out there with the boys into the some of the exciting terrain we’ve been missing all season. It actually looks like we could have yet another winter storm affecting the area this week. This one has the potential to bring upslope snow as well, so we’ll just have watch for where this one tracks over the next few days, but ski conditions should continue to improve going forward.
I haven’t been on my snowboard for a while, but it was definitely fun being back on it for today’s BJAMS ski program session at Stowe. Dylan was planning on his first real day of snowboarding, and with Molly snowboarding in my group as well, riding today seemed to be the obvious choice.
“I’m not sure if we had the groomers or the skiers to thank for all that loose snow, but it was more than a foot deep in spots, which provided a nice surfy feeling on the boards.”
We started off in the late morning, a bit earlier than usual, so that E could work Dylan on his board a bit and get him as far as possible ahead of our session. When I caught up with the family after parking and getting changed, Dylan had just finished his third run on Inspiration and was moving on to the Meadows Quad. I joined everyone for that run and we helped him work on his heel side transitions and turns, which were definitely his weaker side.
Stowe had picked up a couple of inches from Winter Storm Riley, but the subsurfaces were generally frozen granular in the Meadows area. Fortunately, there was tons of loose granular on top of the base in many areas. I’m not sure if we had the groomers or the skiers to thank for all that loose snow, but it was more than a foot deep in spots, which provided a nice surfy feeling on the boards. It was great stuff for cushioning falls, which as anyone knows, are common when you’re learning to snowboard. Dylan certainly had his share of tumbles today, but his improvements were obvious on his last couple of runs. I was quite wary of his tumbles, as my friend recently broke his wrist after catching an edge and falling backwards. He thankfully found https://handsurgeonsnyc.com online so consulted with them about his wrist. I’m defintiely buying Dylan wrist guards for next time we get the boards out.
Precipitation in association with a minor system affecting the area had already started falling by the time we got to the mountain in the morning. It began out as light graupel, transitioned to some granular flakes as time went on, and had graduated to much fluffier flakes by the end of the day. There were some bursts of fairly heavy precipitation as well. With Dylan’s hard work learning to maneuver his snowboard around, we took plenty of breaks in the lodge. Lunch with the family was definitely a fun break – I visited the Noodle Bowl area at the Great Room Grill and got the shrimp pho… definitely delicious!
February snowfall has been off to a roaring start here in Northern Vermont, with Stowe just coming out of a stretch that dropped 30 inches in 8 days. The quality of the skiing both on and off piste has naturally taken a huge jump, and unlike the great snow we had back around the holidays, this snow didn’t come with subzero arctic temperatures. Everyone seemed quite excited to get out for our first BJAMS ski program of the season where the mountain was really delivering in quality and quantity of terrain.
We had most of our usual group today, along with Johannes, since he and Stephen were at the mountain to watch some of the Bolton Valley Freeride Team take part in the 2018 Stowe Freeride Challenge. Ty was also with us, since he wasn’t needed for any other coaching responsibilities today.
“February snowfall has been off to a roaring start here in Northern Vermont, with Stowe just coming out of a stretch that dropped 30 inches in 8 days.”
I wanted to make the most of the great conditions and get our crew into some fun terrain, so I set my sights on getting them over to Lookout. Coming over from Spruce Peak, we took the Gondola to Cliff Trail, and I’ve got to say, Cliff Trail had some of the best conditions I’ve seen there in a long time. You could just lay those edges over and dig in, and there was nothing there but packed powder. Lookout was closed from the top, so I brought the group around via Hayride and we wound up skiing through much of Tres Amigos Glades. There are still some icy sections in there on the heavily used lines, but there were a lot of great soft lines present as well if you just ventured out to the sides a bit. I hadn’t been in Tres Amigos for quite a while, and I’d forgotten how steep and fun it is in there.
As we neared the end of the day we’d whittled down the group to just Wiley, Ty, Dylan, and I, and we finished things off back at Spruce Peak with some runs off the Sensation Quad. Green Acres yielded what was definitely the most consistently great snow of the day, with deep bottomless powder that had us stunned with the fact that it was still untouched after the whole weekend.
“You could just lay those edges over and dig in, and there was nothing there but packed powder.”
Temperatures were great today, running in the range of probably 25 to 32 F, so comfort wasn’t at all an issue there. What was an issue though was the low clouds that were thick on the upper half of the mountain, making visibility really tough in open areas. There was also some light mixed precipitation in the afternoon that compounded visibility issues by leaving droplets on people’s googles and causing fogging. We had to ski with goggles up at times because the visibility was so tough, but fortunately temperatures were warm enough to make that feasible. The snow surfaces stayed nice at just about all elevations though, since the mixed precipitation we were picking up was fairly light.
Base depths are great right now, with five feet of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, so as long as we can keep refresher storms coming we should be in great shape heading into the rest of February.
Snow from our incoming winter storm began in the area this morning, and maintained a steady light intensity through our arrival at Stowe a bit before noontime. After the family had some lunch at the Great Room Grill, everyone gathered up for the afternoon’s sessions. With the past couple of week’s program sessions having rather stale snow, there was a bit of a buzz in the air with the incoming storm, even if new snow accumulations were still on the minimal side at that point.
Molly was continuing with her snowboarding, so Ty snowboarded as well, while Dylan and I went with Telemark skis. E feels that Molly is progressing really well with her turns, and just needs time on snow, so that’s exactly what we gave her. We did several runs off the Meadows Chair, which provided Molly with great terrain for her boarding, and it was an excellent area for Dylan’s Telemark practice as well. I drilled him using a technique that he actually invented, which involves skiing all turns in both directions in the same Telemark stance. In this case I made him work on his weaker stance, which is left foot in the back.
We had a good hot chocolate break back in the Great Room Grill before finishing off with a couple of bigger runs off of Sunny Spruce. The snow continued to fall lightly, but ended up adding a couple inches to freshen up surfaces before we left. We only took the occasional quick jaunt into the off piste, but it skied quite nicely with about 6 inches of powder, even down near the base elevations. The snow’s been chugging right along this evening at a slightly invigorated pace, so tomorrow should be another excellent day for turns.
Today, E set up a special Sunday morning session of snowboarding instruction for Molly based on the progress she’d made last week. It was one of those situations where Molly was progressing quickly and wasn’t quite going to have a group that would be a perfect fit for her abilities. Dylan was under the weather, but E giving the early session mean that she, Ty, and I headed off early today to Stowe.
It was sort of strange starting things off in the morning on a ski program Sunday, but while E went off to her session with Molly, Ty and I made good use of our early visit to the mountain by checking out some of the breakfast offerings at the Great Room Grill. Ty got their huge breakfast sandwich, and I got their hearty breakfast burrito, which was so filling that I could have easily skipped lunch and been fine all afternoon. We of course headed out for some turns as well, and were lucky enough to run into Jack, so we spent the morning doing some runs with him. He’s on the Rice Memorial High School ski team now, so we go to catch up on lots of his season’s adventures thus far.
“The terrain off Sunny Spruce was soft top-to–bottom.”
In terms of conditions, as expected, they were much like what we’d experienced last Sunday, and similar to what I’d found at Bolton Valley yesterday. Temperatures were well up into the 30s in the lower elevations, so surfaces ranged from spring-like softened snow on sunny aspects, to full on winter snow on the more northerly aspects. The terrain off Sunny Spruce was soft top-to–bottom, and we had a lot of fun on the skier’s left of Gondolier, where the sun had worked the snow into a beautifully soft consistency.
After lunch, which were able to keep on the small side thanks to that breakfast, we met up with our group and hit essentially the same terrain that we’d found to be optimal on the morning. Colder air did start moving in as the afternoon wore on, so the snow began to firm up a bit, but the places that had really softened stayed excellent right through the end of the day. There is off piste skiing to be had, as we saw in images from Scott Braaten yesterday, but we still need a storm to get it where it should be, so we’re waiting on that to happen. There’s clearly some terrain that still has issues with respect to conditions, because the mountain doesn’t have 100% of its trails open. Chin Clip was an example we saw today – for some reason it’s not open, because it was clearly roped off. It sounds like we’ll finally start to break out of the recent lull in snowfall this week, so we’ll see if we can get any snow down to give the surface conditions a boost.
Our first BJAMS ski program day of the season at Stowe was scheduled for two Sundays ago, but we canceled it due to dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills. That wasn’t an issue today though – with base elevation temperatures in the 30s F, it was quite comfortable out there. On piste coverage and conditions were actually quite decent, whether it was the softened snow on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak, or the midwinter snow higher up on Mansfield. Although natural base depths are fine, and there are definitely people skiing off piste, the snow is sort of thick and punchy out there, so the groomed runs are just a much friendlier place to be.
“Although natural base depths are fine, and there are definitely people skiing off piste, the snow is sort of thick and punchy out there, so the groomed runs are just a much friendlier place to be.”
We arrived at Spruce Peak early enough that I was able to take a couple of runs with Ty and Dylan off the Sunny Spruce Quad. We found nicely softened snow with those temperatures in the 30s F, and it was really only those usual high-traffic areas out of the sun that we found to be slick. We had a mixed group of snowboarders (Cole and Robbie) and skiers (Dylan and Wiley, with Norris also tagging along) today, but since we were on piste for the most part there weren’t any traversing issues for the snowboarders. We did a couple of runs off Sunny Spruce, carving up the soft snow, and then headed over to Mansfield for some longer runs. Being fairly old snow, and a Sunday afternoon, the best turns were definitely the sides of the trails where ample traffic had built up substantial loose, soft snow. We did a few runs on Gondolier and Nosedive, and you could just go and go and go and rarely have to leave those edges with good snow if you didn’t want to. I think one would have to grade the overall conditions as subpar because of the quality of the off piste snow, but on piste conditions are fairly typical for when we haven’t seen a substantial snowstorm in a while. We had a nice break at the Octagon toward the end of the afternoon before heading back to Spruce Peak to catch up with everyone else.
For Ty’s first day as a chaperone/coach in the program today, he was helping E with some first-timers over on the lower parts of the Meadows area. When I stopped in to check on them at the end of the day, he was just heading up the Inspiration Chair with a boy who had graduated from the Magic Carpet. It was actually a great day to be out there with the first-timers, because he wasn’t really missing out on anything special on the steep or off piste terrain. I think it will be a couple of weeks before we get back into some really good storms, so hopefully he’ll be able to put in some more time at our next session helping out the beginners again.
Due to the winter storm coming through the area today, school was cancelled for Ty, and since I had contemplated working from home due to the weather, Ty being home for the day sealed the deal. The storm had only started up in the morning, so it would take some time before there was much new snow down for skiing. So, I got a bunch of work done, and finally in the midafternoon, we headed up to Bolton Valley for a quick ski tour in the new snow.
“We toured in the Wilderness area from 2,100’ up to around 2,800’, and we measured depths of the new snow in the 6” to 9” range, with some spots approaching 10” near the top of our ascent.”
On the way up to the Village, we noted the state of the snow at the Timberline Base (1,500’) and one could certainly have made some turns there if they wanted to, but some of the taller brush was still showing so I’d say it wasn’t quite ready for prime time at that point. We toured in the Wilderness area from 2,100’ up to around 2,800’, and we measured depths of the new snow in the 6” to 9” range, with some spots approaching 10” near the top of our ascent. I’d say the accumulations up there at that point weren’t all that different than what we had down at the house, although the flakes were pretty small, and the powder a reasonable middle-weight variety, so I’d say they’d picked up more liquid equivalent.
In terms of the powder skiing, although it certainly wasn’t champagne dry snow, the moderate heft to it was decent for keeping you up off the base. At this stage of the season we can of course use some snow with plenty of liquid in it to build the snowpack, and if what’s up there gets topped with fluff form the back side of the storm, it should produce some excellent powder skiing.
“There’s something special about these deep dark December storm days though, the low light just gives them a unique feel that it’s hard to replicate at other times of the year.”
We’re into some of the shortest days of the year now, so light it as a premium, especially during a snowstorm. I brought my brightest lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, and it was definitely sufficient, but there was still a lot of snow in the air making action shots a challenge. There’s something special about these deep dark December storm days though, the low light just gives them a unique feel that it’s hard to replicate at other times of the year.