Stowe, VT 20NOV2014

An image showing ski tracks in powder below the Chin Clip trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Getting out this morning to experience some of the powder at Stowe

Areas downwind of the Great Lakes such as Buffalo have been making headlines due to feet upon feet of lake-effect snow falling in rather short order, and in Northern Vermont we’ve picked up an inch or two of snow here and there thanks to being downwind of Lake Ontario. On Tuesday evening though, we got into the action a bit more as things aligned correctly to drop roughly a foot of snow on Mt. Mansfield. We only picked up about an inch and a half of snow at our house in Waterbury, in association with that event, so I didn’t even suspect that Mansfield had been lit up with that kind of snowfall. However, mountain valleys farther to the east of the Green Mountain spine picked up a few inches, and that was a bit of a tip off that something was up. When Powderfreak started sending in powdery pictures to the American Weather Forum noting the substantial accumulations at Stowe, it was becoming clear that there was some nice powder skiing out there.

I didn’t have time to check out the snow yesterday, so this morning I headed out for an early ski tour on Mansfield, and found 3 to 4 inches of snow at the Midway Lot near the base of the Gondola. I followed a well established skin track that headed up Chin Clip Runout, and then diverged to follow Switchback for the next part of the ascent. When I reached Gondolier I decided to just finish out the ascent to the base of the big Gondola waterfall on the skin track I saw there. I didn’t have time to travel any higher, but up at that ~3,200′ elevation there was roughly 6 to 7 inches of powder, which sat atop a few inches of dense base snow.

An image of tracks on powder snow from a November storm on the Gondolier trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the powdery view today at Stowe up around the 3,000′ elevation mark

The snow depths I observed for the powder above the base today were as follows with respect to elevation:

1,600′: 3-4″
2,000′: 4-5″
2,500′: 4-6″
3,000′: 5-6″
3,200′: 6-7″

I dropped in for the descent on Perry Merrill, and there were just a couple of additional tracks there, so plenty of fresh powder was available. I’d pulled out the fat skis, and they were the perfect tool for the occasion – they kept me floating and gave me some really great stability. I did have to watch out for a few rocks here and there, and at times I switched to alpine turns when it seemed like the base was a bit thinner or the rocks a bit bigger. I found that alpine stance kept me floating a bit higher, and today I really noticed how the AMPerages actually seemed to make it easier to ski alpine style in Telemark bindings. It’s not always easy to ski alpine with a loose heel, but I was very surprised at how stable it felt in today’s conditions. I think the stability and rocker of the fat skis were really playing their part. I eventually made my way back over toward Switchback and connected to Chin Clip Runout to finish off my run, and the grassy slopes down there were perfect for where the powder and base was a bit shallower. It was still fantastic skiing though, and some of my favorite turns of the outing were down there below the 2,100′ elevation. That terrain is so grassy with few rocks that it was easier to just let it ride without worrying about rocks. Rock skis would give you a bit more ease of line selection out there and more peace of mind, but you can certainly get by and have some fantastic turns with regular skis as well.

Stowe, VT 12APR2014

An image of Ty skiing the Nosedive Bypass Chutes at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty out in the Bypass Chutes during today’s spring adventures at Stowe.

Based on the forecast, it looked like today was the pick of the weekend for spring skiing, offering sunshine and mountain temperatures in the 40s and 50s F depending on elevation.  There was also a good freeze overnight last night, with temperatures down in the 20s F here at the house, so that bode well with respect to continued corn cycling.  Our thermometer out back struggled to get out of the 30s F for the first part of the morning, but once we got past 9:00 A.M. it was moving into the 40s F, and a check on the temperatures at Stowe revealed that they were hitting similar levels.  The snow had likely softened at all elevations by that point, so we headed off to the mountain.

“…holy cow could
those Sin 7s carve!”

The lower mountain valleys around here in Northern Vermont have fairly patchy snow coverage now, and you have to get up into that 1,000’ to 1,500’ foot elevation range for really solid snow cover.  But once you get up into those elevations, the coverage is great; there’s about a foot and a half of natural snow down at Stowe’s base elevations, and the depth simply explodes upward the higher you go.  Up around 3,700’ at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, the snowpack is in the six to seven foot range.  You can tell that coverage is great if you pan around at Stowe’s base area – even south-facing Spruce Peak is doing well.  The morning snow report indicated that the Alpine Double would be running over at Spruce, but with the other lifts there closed down for the season, and the Gondola not running either, the Mansfield Base Lodge was really the most practice place to base yourself.

An image of the Over Easy Gondola at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont with some of the Mt. Mansfield ski trails in the background
From top to bottom, snow coverage is really great out there on the hill right now.

“I’m looking for something
nimble and flexible that is
going to carve tight arcs,
fit into tight spaces, and
surf on soft snow.”

We suited up in the lodge and then I headed right up to the Stowe Toys Demo Center at the base of the Fourrunner Quad – I had a big day of checking out demo skis planned.  It’s hard to find a day to spend demoing skis, since many Sundays during the season we’re out at Stowe with the BJAMS ski program, we’ve got plans with other people on the mountain, or we’re hoping to head into the alpine terrain or out into the sidecountry for powder.  Our typical days with those types of focused runs aren’t conducive to swapping out skis every couple of laps on the lift.  Today with E and the boys though, it going to be one of those casual spring outings with no real plans, and it looked demoing some pairs of skis would work.

I’ve actually needed to do an alpine ski demo day for quite a while, but it really hit me a couple of seasons ago on February 26th, 2012 at Stowe.  It was a bluebird day after they’d just picked up three feet of snow, so I pulled out my alpine fat skis for the day – my Volkl CMH Explosivs.  They’re a fully-cambered, 120/95/112 ski from the early 2000s, and like many Volkl skis, they really like to go straight and fast.  These Explosivs have always felt that way to me, especially with the length – I’d gotten them in the 180 cm length, since E had gone with the 165 cm version, and it seemed like a reasonable choice for me at the time.  I hadn’t minded that they weren’t overly nimble, since powder can give you a lot of leeway, but it was always frustrating to have to deal with them in tighter trees, and they were essentially making that type of terrain undesirable and far less fun than it should be.  That powder day in February 2012 marked the first time I’d used the Explosivs in quite a while, and after spending so much time on shorter, much nimbler skis, their girth, length, and stiffness were oh so exceedingly apparent.  While skiing Spruce Line that day, I went over a rise and dropped rather unexpectedly at high speed into the steepest pitch of the run.  I wanted to check my speed, but the Explosivs just wouldn’t turn.  I eventually had to bail into the snow to check my momentum, and the end result was happily unremarkable thanks to the slope being powdery and forgiving, but the skis had been feeling like heavy dogs on my feet all day, and that was definitely the last straw.  I could easily see an accident arising due to the way those skis were handling.  After that experience, I don’t think I’ve used them since, and my only alpine skis currently in use are my 108/70/101 Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots.  They’re actually my on piste/carving skis, and they’re a joy to carve on, but that’s not really the type of skiing we spend much time doing.  I’ve focused on my Telemark gear of the past few seasons, getting the cambered 127/86/113 Atomic RT-86 as my mid fat, and the more rockered 139/115/123 Black Diamond AMPerage as my powder/backcountry/fat ski.  But, I’ve got nothing like either of those skis in my alpine gear, and alpine gear is what I’m typically on each Sunday when I’m coaching my BJAMS ski groups.  Most of our ski days each season feature some form of powder, whether it’s on or off piste, and as I watch the boys drift and smear turns in the soft snow with their fat, rockered skis, I’m realizing that relative to the types of ski that are out there now, my Salomons are aren’t optimal for the kind of skiing we typically do.

Based on my experiences with a wide range of ski widths in the past few seasons, and thinking about a typical everyday ski for the type of skiing that we actually do, something with a waist in the 95-100 mm range was my target.  After seeing many of the latest gear reviews, it sounded like the Rossignol Soul 7 was really taking a lot of the top spots.  It appeared to be my kind of ski with its light weight and ability to make short turns, so it definitely piqued my interest.  At 136/106/126, it was a little on the wider side of what I’d been thinking, but it was close enough, and I don’t mind going a bit on the wider side for the type of skiing we typically do, especially if the ski was as versatile as everyone seems to feel it is.  With that said, I also planned to check out the Rossignol Sin 7, since it was the next width down in the series at 128/98/118.  Between those two, and a comparison to similar models from other manufacturers, I figured I’d have a good idea of what I liked.

An image of the Stowe Toys Demo Center Sign at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontThere’s a thing about demo gear though – the demo shops tend to sell it off.  And this late in the season, that was a huge issue.  It turned out that the demo shop had already sold all their Soul 7s, so those were entirely gone, and the only Sin 7 they had on hand was in a 180 cm length.  I had really wanted the 172 cm or 164 cm (I’ve got little interest in long skis at this point for the type of skiing we typically do), but if the 180 cm was the only option, it would at least let me get a feel for them.  According to everything I’ve read, the Sin 7 does run short with all that rocker, so I was intrigued to see how they performed at 180 cm.  I also inquired about the next wider ski above the Soul 7 in Rossignol’s Freeride 7 series, the Rossignol Super 7.  At 140/116/130, the profile is something more similar to my Black Diamond AMPerages that I have mounted Tele.  Since I’ve already got my Salomons for carving, I’m leaning a bit on the wider side for the all around soft day ski that I’m seeking, and while the Super 7 is almost certainly wider than I want, I still wanted to try them out.  I wanted to have a feel for all their skis in that 95-115 mm range of width.  I was surprised to find out that they shop didn’t even carry them, and the guy that was helping me out in the demo shop said it’s too wide a ski if you ski on the “East Coast”.  I’m not sure if he’s just supposed to say that, whether he actually believes it, or if there’s some other reason he’s supposed to go with that philosophy, but it was probably the first sign that we weren’t going to be quite on the same page with respect to our viewpoints on skiing.  I’d expect someone from Stowe of all places to know that selecting ski width doesn’t work by drawing some arbitrary line down the middle of the country.  Some of the ski magazines try to preach that sort of approach, and maybe it’s practical for a typical low snowfall resort run on manmade snow in the eastern U.S., but we’re talking about Northern Vermont, where snowfall is as much or more than many resorts in the Rockies.  In any event, I was happy that they at least had a pair of the Sin 7s to try, so I got those set and headed for a run with E and the boys.

An image of the Sin 7 skis from RossignolFrom the top of the Fourrunner Quad, we headed out along Ridge View, and holy cow could those Sin 7s carve!  I’m not talking about carving well for a wider ski; I’m talking about carving as well as my Salomon carving skis.  I was flabbergasted.  Although awesome in powder, I’m fairly unimpressed with the way my 115 mm wide AMPerages carve when they’re out on hard snow.  They’re really what I’m used to for skis above the width of my RT-86s in that 80-90 mm range, so that’s what I had to go with in terms of fatter skis’ ability to get out of the powder and onto firmer surfaces.  Frankly, as much as I like my AMPerages for powder, even shallower accumulations of powder where their girth keeps you nicely off the subsurface, I can’t even believe that the concept of using them as an all around ski is even brought up – unless your home mountain is Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, or something equivalent, it just doesn’t seem practical based on the harder snow performance I’ve experienced.  Granted, the Sin 7 is almost 20 mm narrower at the waist, but it literally felt like you weren’t giving up anything with them on the carving front, at least in the relatively soft corn snow we had today.  I’m still smiling right now thinking about how much fun it was carving up that snow on the Sin 7.   Next up on our run was a trip down Hayride, and they handled it nicely, carving smoothly as needed in the terrain that hadn’t bumped up, or slipping and sliding through the bumps with that soft shovel.  In the bumps was where I could tell that I’d be happy to lose the extra length and come down to one of the shorter sizes, but I can only imagine how quick those 164 cm and 172 cm versions must be.  On the next run I wanted to try them off piste, so we went through the Bypass Chutes and down into the Nosedive Glades.  Even though we were heading off piste, the snow was great, not sticky like it can sometimes be on these spring days; areas that had already received a few turns were definitely the best, but even places without traffic were often decent.  It was especially fun introducing E to the Nosedive Bypass area – I’m not sure if we’ve ever brought here out there before.  We had a blast exploring the different chute options and routes down in the Nosedive Glades; I knew we’d be back there multiple times during the day.  Again, the Sin 7 was a joy to ride, and my only thought was about what they would be like if they were even shorter.  People can say all they want about how skis “run” short because of the rocker, and indeed they do, but that rocker is still never going to make a 180 cm ski fit sideways through a gap that is only 170 cm wide.

An image of the Cham 97 Skis from DynastarI popped back into the shop, told the guys about my very favorable impressions of the Sin 7, and inquired about what else I could try that would be similar to those.  After some hemming and hawing about not having much available in the 170 cm range because that seemed to be what everyone wanted and had purchased, I got the Dynastar Cham 97 (133/97/113) in a 172 cm length.  The guy in the demo shop said that he actually liked these better than the Sin 7, so based on our initial interactions, perhaps I should have been suspicious about how they’d appeal to me.  I could tell as soon as I clicked my boots into them that they were stiffer than the Sin 7.  For some people that might be a plus, but it’s not something I find to be a necessity in my skis, and I’m finding now that if often detracts from their versatility for my purposes.  I wasn’t immediately excited by the stiffness, but I still had to see how the Cham 97 was going to behave in action, so we headed up for another run.

An image from the Octagon building at the top of Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont - looking southward at a ski slope and some of the Green Mountains
Looking out at one of today’s views from the Octagon atop Stowe

The boys were anxious for some lunch, and wanted to eat up at the Octagon, so we stopped in there for a midday meal.  I didn’t think they’d have the selection of food that we’d get down in the main lodge, but they really have some excellent options up there now.  I got a nice seared tuna wrap that seemed to have some sort of tzatziki sauce, and it really hit the spot, while E got a turkey wrap with turkey, bacon, apple butter, green apples, arugula, and probably more, but that’s all that she could remember.  We order the wraps at the register along with some hot dogs for the boys, and they brought them right over to us at our table once they were prepared.  The Octagon was definitely hoppin’ today with the beautiful weather, but we got a nice window seat near the deck and it was a great time.  It was little breezy outside at times, but a lot of people chose to sit out there as well.

An image of Dylan skiing one of the chutes in Nosedive Bypass at Stowe
Dylan working his way down one of the Nosedive Bypass chutes today

It was sort of strange to have the Cham 97s out there at the ski racks during lunch without even having ridden them yet, but it was nice to be able to jump right on them as soon as we were done eating.  We took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes so that I could put them through their paces.  It was nice to drop some length from the Sin 7 as we worked our way through those steep, narrow chutes, so that was a plus.  However, even in the shorter length and essentially the same width (dropping to 97 mm vs. the 98 mm on the Sin 7s), the Cham 97s were slower edge to edge and just not as nimble all around.  Once we got out onto Nosedive and I did some carving on groomed corn snow, I could certainly see that they carved much better than my more tradition CMH Explosivs which have a similar 95 mm underfoot, but they were nowhere near being on the same snappy level as the Sin 7.  One fun aspect of the Cham 97 that was noted by Dylan, was the fact that the shovels of the skis looked like chainsaws, so he was having fun trying to stay away from the fronts of my skis while we were in the tighter confines of some of the Bypass Chutes, lest he get cut in half.  One run on the Cham 97s was enough though, because it was simply no contest against the Sin 7, so I popped into the demo shop for my next pair.

An image of the Annex 98 Ski from K2The third ski I tried was the K2 Annex 98 (131/98/119) in a 170 length – these were lots of fun, and seemed very close to the Sin 7 in terms of what I was looking for.  I rode them for two runs, first a run that Dylan requested over toward the Mountain Triple via Ridge View and Sunrise, and then another through the Bypass Chutes.  Carving was very reminiscent of the Sin 7, easy and smooth, and they were also fun in the tighter confines of the Bypass Chutes and Nosedive Glades.  I still gave the personal preference edge to the Sin 7, especially considering that I’d tried it a 180 cm ski, but the K2 Annex 98 was certainly in the running.

An image of the Mantra Ski by VolklDylan said that he was starting to feel his legs getting tired after those runs, so he and E decided to hit the lodge, but I had time for a couple more runs, and I wanted to make the most of my ski demo day.  Ty said that his legs were feeling great, so he stuck with me for more turns.  When I inquired about the next ski in the demo shop that time, I let them know that it was OK to go a bit farther afield of the type of ski that I was focused on, and they decided to hook me up with a 170 cm Volkl Mantra (132/98/118).  I’ve definitely heard about the Mantra, since it’s been around for years, and the demo guys were saying that this would be one that would require a bit more muscling around relative to the others I’d been skiing.  Imagine that, a Volkl ski with stiffness and such – I think we’ve seen that before!  I took a run over by the Mountain Triple with a more cruising theme as we’d done before, and just opened up the Mantras.  Well, those things just flew!  They were an impressively fast, powerful ski.  That was a lot of fun, even if I pushed it a bit into the scary zone at times with the high speeds.  Fortunately, the trails were getting pretty empty as we approached the end of the day, so it was easy to let it rip from edge to edge on the runs.  Ty was happy that I was going Mach 5 down the trails, because he likes to do that sometimes… or more like all the time if we give him the chance.  Anyway, those Mantras were a lot of fun, in a stiffer, less forgiving, take charge, longer turn sort of way.  I knew going in that they were not what I was looking for in new skis, but they’ll be great if that’s the sort of skiing you like.

An image of the RTM81 ski by VolklI’d mentioned to the demo guys that I wanted to try something with full rocker, and the ski that they had on hand that I could try was a 170 cm Volkl RTM 81 (126/81/108).  For me, a fully rockered ski with no camber is about smearing turns, drifting, and all that, so it seemed weird to think of it in a Volkl.  The RTM 81 also has a narrower, 81 mm waist that what I’d been skiing.  That seems more like a waist for carving, so I was flummoxed as to what the ski was actually meant to do.  Ty and I took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes and the Nosedive Glades to see if the full rocker would help with drifting and sliding through those tight spaces.  It was fine, but it didn’t really seem as though that was what it was meant to do.  I want to float on top of the snow if I’m going to be smearing turns and sliding sideways, and in a relative sense, these skis didn’t really have the width to excel at that.  I did find that they were awesomely fun to carve when we got out on Nosedive.  Talking with the guy in the demo shop later, I asked him what the target audience was for such a ski, and he said something to the effect of “Oh, only about 50% of the people that walk in here and ski at this mountain.”  I couldn’t figure that out – people want a relatively skinny, fully rockered ski – for what?  Based on my conversations throughout the day, I certainly didn’t get the impression that the shop guy and the typical clientele he spoke of are out there on rockered boards so that they can smear and drift turns in the soft snow more easily, but I guess you never know.  Later, after looking online for some info on the ski, it appears as though the Volkl RTM 81 is more of a front side carver.  I guess it was once again that theme of me not really being on the same wavelength as the guy in the shop.  I always thought that camber was what one wanted for carving, so I’m not sure why full rocker is put into a carving ski, and a Volkl to boot.  Anyway, they were fun to carve, that sort of ski would be interesting to try in firm conditions to see what they do.

“At least based on the
skis I tried, it was fairly
easy to come away from
the day with the Sin 7 as
the clear front runner for
my purposes.”

At least based on the skis I tried, it was fairly easy to come away from the day with the Sin 7 as the clear front runner for my purposes.  I’m looking for something nimble and flexible that is going to carve tight arcs, fit into tight spaces, and surf on soft snow.  The 180 cm length I tried was fine, but I’d definitely go for the 172 cm, or even the 164 cm.  Officially I’m in the 172 cm range for my weight, but I’d certainly consider going with the 164 cm, even though everyone says to go longer.  I’ve yet to encounter a ski that is too short for what I want, but I can’t say the same for skis that are annoyingly long, and I’m happy to get rid of extra length.  I’ve encountered none of the disadvantages that people speak of with regard to shorter skis as my skis have gotten shorter and wider.  That’s the shape of the tool for the type of skiing we typically do – soft snow, with short-radius turns in smaller spaces.

Prior to this outing, I’d only tried out skis on demo days, and the one thing I did learn today was that if you want to try demo skis from a shop while having a full selection of models and sizes available, you should shoot for the first half of the season.  The guy at Stowe Toys said that they actually started selling off their gear in the middle of February.  I’m thankful that they had at least one Sin 7 pair left on hand, because that ski really seemed to best hit the sweet spot I was looking for.  Unfortunately, I still don’t know what the Soul 7 feels like, but I’m sold enough on the feel and fit of the Sin 7 that I think they would be a fantastic everyday ski for our typical soft conditions, and having another alpine pair of something wider like my AMPerages for bigger days might work.  Actually, at almost 100 mm underfoot, I’m sure the Sin 7 would work fine for everything if I was going to try to go with just one pair of alpine skis.  As much fun as fat skis are in powder, they’re far from mandatory.

“…the snowpack, snow surfaces,
temperatures, terrain… it all came
together to set up some primo
spring skiing.”

The overall ski experience today was simply great – the snowpack, snow surfaces, temperatures, terrain… it all came together to set up some primo spring skiing.  One complaint would be that there were lift queues for the Fourrunner Quad; it was weird to be waiting in a lift queue in mid April, but with great conditions and only a couple of lifts running, I guess that can happen.  For the boys, it was a chance to ski with both E and I on Mansfield without the time constraints and other obligations that happen on many ski program days.  On a number of runs, we used the great bumps on Lower National to work on those technical aspects of turns like timing, pole work, rotation, etc. that moguls really bring out.  Dylan showed us some impressive runs through there as he continued to refine his upper and lower body separation, and for Ty, who has always naturally had great technique with his poles, we kept him thinking about it as we’d noticed that he tends to let it laps at times.  Although they had their fat skis today for the soft snow, you could really see how the rocker in the skis let them slide right through the moguls with whatever amount of carve or slarve the immediate environment required.  We all took turns following each other, and I had a great time on Dylan’s Heels watching him make those little personal choices about which line or angle was the best fit as the run progressed.  One of Dylan’s favorite accomplishments of the day was actually up in the Nosedive Glades, where he laid down this beautiful drift of close to 180 degrees around one of the trees.  It was one of those spontaneous situations where he came upon the right snow and terrain, and it just happened so smoothly that it was a thing of beauty.  We actually kept looking for that spot on subsequent runs to recreate the drift, but never seemed to quite find it.  We could sort of tell though that it was one of those situations where the spontaneity of the first encounter played into the experience, and you can never quite recreate it anyway.  It was a great move though, and seeing him do it couldn’t have been more apt on a day when I was trying out all the sets of wider, rockered skis that give one the ability to put those types of moves into action more easily.

An image of the logo for the Sushi Yoshi Asian restaurant in Stowe, VermontWe capped off the afternoon with a trip to Sushi Yoshi, where Ty was able to get his sushi fix, or at least a partial fix, since it’s been hard to find the limit on his consumption.  I did get to eat a few pieces without losing my hands to the fray on the sushi board.  We’re now eyeing the potential for a winter storm around midweek, so we’ll see if we can get some powder infused into this April.  E and the boys have the week off, so we may be able to take advantage of the storm with some family skiing if it comes together.

An image of some sushi rolls on a platter at the Sushi Yoshi restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Catching the scene just before Ty went to town

Stowe, VT 20APR2013

An image of Erica skiing spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
On the spring snow today at Stowe

We almost did a little skiing at Stowe on Thursday this week, but it was just starting to rain when we stopped in at the mountain around midday, and with E and the boys a bit under the weather, we decided to hold off.  The weather was much better today, so we headed up to Mansfield in the afternoon to make a few turns.  Temperatures were up around 50 F in the mountain valleys, and the sky was a mix of clouds and sun, so it seemed like a reasonable spring skiing day.  It was only in the 40s F at the base of the mountain, but that was still more than warm enough to soften up the slopes.

An image of the women's Scarpa T2 Eco Telemark boot

One item of note today was that it was E’s first chance to try out her new Telemark ski boots that she bought a couple of weeks ago.  After almost six seasons of using the $50 boots that she picked up at the South Burlington Ski Swap, it was finally time to up the fit and performance level of her Telemark footwear.  Her boots had always been just a bit on the large side, and she’d just either worn some thicker socks or dealt with the minor inconvenience, but when she got some fatter Telemark skis this season (Black Diamond Element) with a width of 115 mm underfoot, the fit became a real concern.  There weren’t any serious issues in untracked powder, but as firmer or more uneven surfaces were encountered, the slop in the boot was clearly making things difficult.  Relative to a narrow-waisted ski, getting a wide ski like that on edge takes more pressure, and if you don’t have a snug fit in your boot, you’re potentially going to have problems when you encounter groomed or other firm surfaces.  Since I have the standard, slightly stiffer version of her ski (Black Diamond AMPerage) I could feel the extra force required to get the ski up on edge when encountering groomed surfaces, but I found the inconvenience fairly trivial in a good-fitting boot.  With that in mind, E got a gift certificate from Outdoor Gear Exchange for her birthday last month so the she could go and get the boot that she liked best without thinking about the price; she’s more than paid her dues the past six seasons in her current boots.  E’s birthday has always been timely for ski-related gear, and as is typical, all the current boots are on sale now that we’re near the end of the ski season.  After a solid boot-fitting session with one of the associates, she found the Scarpa Women’s T2 Eco to be the perfect fit.  It’s a three-buckle boot with a power strap, similar to my Garmont Garas.  It looks like they’ll be a great boot for the combination of lift-served and backcountry skiing that we do.  It’s also interesting to note that Scarpa T2s were the Telemark boots we tried back in 2002 at Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana on our first day of Telemark skiing ever.  We had no other reference at that point, but liked the boots a lot.

“As for conditions on the
hill, they were a mixture
of corn snow bordering
on loose granular at the
very top, which blended to
a softer corn snow below.”

While we were getting changed in the lodge, Ty found an Easter egg in his Telemark boots, and we realized that it’s been a few weeks since he’s been out on his Telemark skis.  While Dylan had last used his Telemark skis for our trip down the Bruce Trail on March 31st, for Ty it’s been since back in mid March when the boys and I skinned over to Wilderness at Bolton for fresh tracks.  That’s over a month that he’s been off his Telemark gear, so indeed it was good that he was getting out for an opportunity to keep working on his skills.

As for conditions on the hill, they were a mixture of corn snow bordering on loose granular at the very top, which blended to a softer corn snow below.  I enjoyed the snow a lot, being able to really bite in and carve, although Ty and Dylan felt like they were being pushed around in the soft snow at times.  The major downside I found today was that it wasn’t quite warm enough to really soften up the subsurface to where I like it, so there were occasional encounters with firm patches.  Both boys were still feeling the effects of being under the weather this week and they didn’t really have their usual levels of energy.  With the combination of low energy and what they found to be challenging snow, they ended up going pretty minimal on the number of Telemark turns they made.  They stuck with alpine most of the time, but at least they got a bit of Tele practice and were out in the fresh air.

“Those were
some very
smooth turns.”

E immediately noticed the security and stability in her new boots.  They were noticeably harder to flex than her old boots, but of course these are new, and her old ones must have seen a decade worth of ski seasons… and they had cracks in the bellows as well.  The rigidity and support in her new boots must be light years ahead of what she had.  E was quite impressed with the increased control she had with the new boots, she said that she could feel the soft snow wanting to push her skis around, but she could overpower that more easily and direct her skis wherever she wanted.  She said that she couldn’t do that to nearly the same degree with her old boots.

An image of Erica skiing in spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont as she tries out the Scarpa Women's T2 Eco Telemark ski boots
The new boots in action

By our second run, temperatures seemed like they were cooling, because the snow was beginning to tighten up near the summit of the Fourrunner Quad.  By that point the boys had had enough skiing anyway, as they were feeling tired.  One can always tell when Ty is tired, because he’ll take a seat or lie down when we stop on the trail.  He used to do that a lot when he was much younger since he didn’t have any stamina, but if we see it frequently now, we know he’s getting tapped out.  We did finish that next run on quite a high note by catching some untracked corn snow on Lower Gulch.  Those were some very smooth turns.  On a weather-related note, we were very surprised to find that it was actually snowing at times this afternoon, despite the fairly warm temperatures.  Clearly some colder air has moved in at the higher elevations to support the snow we saw, because that’s the only type of precipitation that fell.

So E had a great experience with her new boots today, and I think it’s going to be interesting as she tries them out under different conditions, and eventually on her fat, powder skis.  It seems like they’re going to give her much more control, but we’ll just have to see what the combination of boots and skis is like.  I realize now that after checking them out more closely, that her old boots are actually only a two-buckle model with a power strap; they seem like they might be some Scarpa T3s, and an old well-used T3 from a decade ago is going to be a dramatically different boot than a modern T2.  I’m sure we’ll have more boot updates as we move ahead in the spring skiing season.

Bolton Valley and Backcountry, VT 16FEB2013

An image of Erica skiing powder in one of the glades in the Nordic and Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
E enjoying the powder in one of the glades today

Although the recent midweek storm gave a decent shot of snow to the Northern Greens, with Stowe picking up a foot of snow, and Jay Peak picking up a foot and a half, it’s still been fairly dry in general.  Because of the rather high Froude Numbers for that storm, the more west-side locations of Smuggler’s Notch and Bolton Valley saw them picking up just a half foot of snow during that event, and that’s what Bolton was reporting for their seven-day total as of today.  The dearth of snow and a holiday weekend had me thinking a tour on the Nordic/backcountry network was in order, because there’s some excellent snow out there, but there’s been enough time since if fell for lift-served traffic to pack it down pretty well by this point.

“Depths of powder above whatever
firmer subsurface lay below were in
the 8-12” range, with a bit of that melt
layer in there in the lower elevations
or on south facing terrain.”

I devised a somewhat ambitious tour for today, at least with respect to what the boys might be willing to accommodate.  It would be an opportunity to show E and the boys the two glades that I discovered last month on the 19th and the 27th.  The plan was to skin up Bryant to the Bryant Cabin, descend through the first glade, then connect over to the alpine trail network, catch an assist from the Wilderness Lift to the Wilderness Summit, traverse out on Heavenly Highway, ski the second glade, and return to the car via the Nordic/backcountry network.  If we couldn’t complete the whole tour we’d have some opportunities to truncate it as needed.  The forecast called for some sun and temperatures in the 20s F today, so it looked like we wouldn’t have to worry about anyone getting cold too quickly.

An image of our car parked along the edge of the Broadway trail in Bolton Valley's Nordic skiing area with Erica unloading backcountry ski gear in preparation for a ski tour
Unloading and preparing the gear along Broadway

We arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village in the late morning period, and the main parking lots were getting pretty full, but we were able to get a trailside spot right on World Cup in the lower tennis court lot.  There were plenty of people about as we began our ascent, including a number participating in the “Bolton to the Barns” event.  We ran into Alex, one of my former students on his descent with the event group, and learned that he is now at Tufts Medical School, although he seemed very happy to be back in Vermont visiting Bolton Valley. Dylan asked for just one break on the ascent, and we pulled over into the sunshine along the top section of World Cup and had a snack.

An image of the World Cup Nordic Trail at the Bolton Valley Cross Country Ski Center in Vermont
Admiring the beautiful conditions in the World Cup Nordic trail as we pause for a snack on our way up to Bryant Cabin

Near the start of our tour when we’d passed by the Courtside 1 Condos on Broadway, we ran into a Nordic skier who was pausing there.  She inquired about the substantial width of E’s fat skis, and E indicated that they were for powder skiing.  The woman seemed puzzled because as far as she could tell there was no powder around.  She wished us luck on finding powder, but you could tell she figured it was a lost cause.  It was very interesting to hear her speak that way when just a few feet away from her off the side of the trail, you could see the powder sitting there.  People certainly have some unique perspectives on snow conditions.  As a Nordic skier, perhaps she’s got a totally different idea of what powder snow actually is, or she may have just been oblivious to what conditions were like off the groomed runs of the Nordic trails.  Anyway, in terms of the actual snow conditions, out near the car a bit above the 2,000’ mark there were 2 to 3 inches of fluffy snow above a bit of a melt/sun crust, but I suspected that crust would disappear as we got out of exposed areas and headed up in elevation.  Indeed, pretty quickly in shaded areas I found that the powder was deeper and the melt crust underneath was disappearing, and after a few hundred feet of ascent it was essentially gone.  Depths of powder above whatever firmer subsurface lay below were in the 8-12” range, with a bit of that melt layer in there in the lower elevations or on south facing terrain.

An image of Bryant Cabin in the Bolton Valley backcountry showing the snow depth outside reaching halfway up the windows
Snowy Bryant Cabin

An image of a thermos and cup sitting in powder snow outside the Bryant Lodge on the backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe found the Bryant Cabin in use with the woodstove pushing a fragrant plume of smoke out the chimney.  When we talked to one of the guys using the cabin, he said that the resort is no longer renting it or regulating the usage; you can just use it on a first come, first serve basis.  I’m guessing that also means that they aren’t supplying wood, which is why we frequently saw him browsing around for dead stuff to throw on the fire.  We sat down and had lunch off to the side of the cabin clearing, and enjoyed hot soup, cocoa, and other items we’d brought.  Various groups of skiers made their way past while we were there; it was probably one of the busier days I’ve seen out there on the backcountry network, and it was nice that all the people were out supporting the use of the trail system.  Hopefully the initiative to buy the land with the help of Vermont Land Trust will go through and people will be able to continue enjoying it as public land.

An image of Black Diamond AMPerage, Black Diamond Element, and two pairs of Volkl Gotama Junior skis mounted with Telemark bindings and sitting in the snow near the Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network in Vermont
The Tele powder boards hanging out at lunch

“We found the Bryant Cabin
in use with the woodstove
pushing a fragrant plume
of smoke out the chimney.”

Our first descent was in the North Slope and Gardiner’s Lane areas, and the powder was very good in the upper elevations.  On our first pitch dropping from North Slope, conditions were just right so that both Ty and Dylan made some nice Telemark turns.  Later, Ty dropped a nice Telemark-style jump turn launching off one of the steeper pitches, and he was very proud of that.  The boys threw in a good amount of alpine turns, especially when they wanted to go faster, but it was all around great practice for them.  Like I’d noticed on our ascent, the last couple hundred vertical of the descent featured some of that melt crust below the powder.  We were on a south-facing slope, so that certainly wasn’t surprising.  I found my fat AMPerages to be really helpful in that terrain, and E had some nice turns on her Elements, but she’s still finding them hard to get up on edge in packed snow due to their width.  We’re wondering if the play in her boots is just too much and it’s ruining the ability to convey the necessary pressure into the ski.

We connected over to the Wilderness Double Chair and took it to the Wilderness Summit as planned, but Ty was pretty insistent on a quick descent without additional skinning.  So instead of heading across on Heavenly Highway to drop through the second glade I’d chosen for the day, we opted to descend on Peggy Dow’s to quickly get to Snow Hole.  There was decent powder in Snow Hole, although it was certainly more tracked and packed than what we’d seen in the backcountry glades.  I got off to the sides of the main route a good deal though and got a number of fresh lines, and at times the boys would follow me.  We did make a good connection back onto the Nordic network and caught a few final turns on the Telemark Practice Slope and other lower mountain glade areas before heading back to the car.  We’ll be planning another tour at some point to catch that second glade; I still want to show it to E and the boys.

An image of a Google Earth map showing the GPS track of a ski tour on the alpine, Nordic, and backcountry areas at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont on February 16th, 2013
A map of today’s combined alpine, Nordic, and backcountry tour at Bolton Valley – click for full-size image

Our next shot at snow appears to be coming into the area in the Tuesday timeframe.  It looks like it’s going to be a pretty standard frontal passage at face value without much fanfare in terms of snowfall, but there is definitely the potential for some upslope snow.  The crew at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington has had their eyes on the potential, and Powderfreak has been watching as well.  We’re hoping for that snowfall boost from the upslope snow, because there isn’t much forecast in terms of synoptic snowstorms in the immediate future.

Bolton Valley, VT 29DEC2012

An image showing the snow depth of 26 inches above the base on the Showtime trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
26 inches will do just fine!

Our latest winter storm started up in Waterbury around 10:45 A.M. today, with the snow coming in as small flakes that accumulated slowly – generally in the ½ inch per hour range.  I gave the snow a few hours to accumulate and then headed up to the mountain for an afternoon session of turns.  After seeing how busy the mountain was with holiday visitors yesterday, I decided to park down at Timberline and take the shuttle up to the main mountain, or if the shuttle wasn’t running, skin over via Timberline Run and Timberline Lane.  My plan was to ski over at the main mountain and then finish my session with a run back down to the Timberline Base.  Ty was away at a friend’s house, but E and Dylan thought that we should do some night skiing since the conditions looked so stellar, so it looked like I’d be picking them up at the house as soon as I was done with my tour.

As I drove up the Bolton Valley Access Road, snowfall was light but steady, with probably a bit more intensity than what we’d been getting down at the house.  I found about an inch of new snow at the Timberline Base (1,500’) as I parked the car, and it didn’t seem like the resort had much parking taking place there, because there were only about a dozen cars present.  While I was booting up, I saw a snowboarder finishing up a run, and he asked if I knew whether or not the shuttle was running like it had been yesterday.  He had just made a run down through the Timberline terrain and was hoping to catch a ride back up to the Village.  I told him that I unfortunately didn’t know about the shuttle, but that I’d been there for about five minutes and hadn’t seen any sign of it up to that point.  Enough time had passed by the time I was suited up that I figured either the shuttle wasn’t running, or it wasn’t running very frequently.  In either case, I was happy to get in the workout of getting over to the main mountain under my own power, so I strapped on my skins, wished the snowboarder good luck, and headed on my way out around the back of the Timberline Base Lodge.

Just as I crossed behind the lodge I could see that work was actively being done on the Timberline Quad, with several chairs removed, so I assumed that that was at least part of why the resort hasn’t started lift service on Timberline yet this season.  My ascent was very smooth along Timberline Run – the groomers have been out doing their thing throughout parts of the Timberline area, so even with all the new snow of the past couple weeks, I had a nice firm base for skinning.  Also, I’ve finally fit my Black Diamond AMPerages with some full width skins, so they were sticking like glue to the snow surface and I was no longer having to deal with the slippage that’s come with using the narrower skins for my Atomic RT-86s.  In terms of the new skins, I once again went with G3 Alpinist Climbing Skins – I’ve not found anything that I like better.  Many of the retail shops around here seem to be carrying Black Diamond Ascension Skins, but I got a pair for Ty’s (now Dylan’s) Telemark skis and they just don’t stack up to the Alpinists.  The Ascension skins are fine on glide and grip as far as I can tell, but they are stiffer so that they don’t seem to fold up as well, they have a more standard style tip loop that is nowhere near as versatile as the clips on the Alpinists, and worst of all, the metal tail clips seem to easily fall off the tail adjuster.  We’ve already lost a couple and had to replace them.  The Alpinist tail clip doesn’t fall off because of the way it’s designed, and on this new pair of skins they have even improved the tail clip further to give it a really nice “cam” style attachment method.  Also, the Alpinist skins come pre-sized for length, so all you do is trim the width to fit and you are good to go.  For the AMPerages (as well as for E’s Black Diamond Element skis) we had to go with the 140 mm width skins to accommodate the 139 mm tips of the skis. 140 mm is the widest I’ve seen available in the Alpinist skins, but they are a fantastic fit, and I’m not slipping anymore.  I’m absolutely convinced that full width is the way to go though, especially on fat, rockered skis that may ride the edges of skin track grooves because of their width and lose some contact surface because of the rocker.  As an avid user of various pairs of Alpinist skins, I expect these new ones to be bomb proof just like the others; you can put them on and forget about them, and that’s the way it should be.

An image of skiers using a snowmobile to ski laps on terrain at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Folks running fast laps at Timberline with the aid of a sled

Anyway, the ascent continued to be a delight with the new skins doing their thing, light to moderate snow falling, temperatures in the mid 20s F, and zero wind.  It was another one of those perfect winter days to be out on the slopes.  As I approached the corner of Timberline Run below the junction with Sure Shot, I noticed some folks out along the trail with a few dogs.  I’m guessing that they lived in one of the many houses along the resort, and it turned out that they were running ski laps on Timberline with a snowmobile.  The laps were fast too, the snowmobile must have passed me three times while I was finishing my ascent up toward Five Corners.  Cutting the corner of Timberline Run via one of the access trails, I peered up into the Lower Sure Shot Trees and things looked quite nice in there.

At the Five Corners junction I stowed my skins in my pack, got into descent mode, and headed down to the main base area.  The number of visitors seemed much more modest than yesterday, and the area had a mellower vibe.  Snowfall that had tapered down a bit during my ascent made a notable resurgence by the time I’d reached the base, so I was eager to see how the snow was coming down in the higher elevations.  I jumped on the Vista Quad, and from the Vista Summit made my way over to Cobrass to begin working my way back toward Timberline.  Conditions on the Cobrass headwall were OK, but it definitely seemed to be showing some wear and tear form a day’s worth of traffic, and slick spots were plentiful.  Below that though, surfaces were in excellent shape.  More snow had definitely fallen in the higher elevations, but I didn’t get a good measurement to provide a number.  I jumped into the Villager Trees and tried to check out a new line that I’d explored in the off season, but I didn’t quite hit the one I wanted.  I’ve got a better idea of where it is now though, so next time should be closer.  Snow in there was good, but as we found yesterday, this synoptic-style, medium-weight snow seems more easily affected by traffic.

I headed up Villager to get to the Timberline Summit, and the snowmobile crew was still running their laps at what seemed like a breakneck pace.  I have to think those folks got in a lot of vertical today.  Descending along the skier’s left at the top of Brandywine, and continuing on to Intro, I was simply blown away by how good the snow was.  That east wind settled so much snow in there!  Turns were perhaps even better than yesterday with today’s extra snow on top.  To mix things up, I opted for Showtime below the mid station, and there were only a few tracks on the whole trail.  Man, the snow on that headwall was SO DEEP!  I hammered those turns as hard as I could and there was just no bottom to be found.  I did a quick check on the depth and found 26 inches of snow above whatever base layer sat below, and since the snowpack has now got plenty of this medium weight synoptic snow in it, it can take whatever you can dish out.  Even without Champlain Powder™ on top, those turns down Showtime were some of the best of the season so far; they just went on and on and on with smooth, buttery fluidity.  Combined with the snow falling and dusk setting in, it was one of those great runs I’ll remember for a long time.  Another fellow was just approaching the headwall as he was skinning up, and he was hooting and hollering with joy as I approached on my descent.  He said that he’d been waiting all week to hit the slopes, and I let him know that he was going to be in for quite a run.  I definitely wanted to go back for another lap, but darkness was in the near future and I had to get E and Dylan for night skiing.

Back at the Timberline Base I saw that indeed the shuttle bus was running today, so I’m assuming that snowboarder made it back up to the Village.  I called up E and let her know that I was on my way to pick them up for night skiing – the snowfall had actually intensified, so things were looking really good for some snowy night skiing under the lights.

Bolton Valley, VT 23DEC2012

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Tracks on Spell Binder – sometimes you can tell the quality of the snow just by the ski tracks.

The upslope snow that started yesterday really delivered in the evening, and we got to witness it first hand as we drove off to a Christmas party in the Champlain Valley.  We almost turned around right at the house as the snow was coming down at 2 inches an hour or more, and we could only see a few yards in front of the car.  Fortunately that tapered off a couple miles to our west, but in the end we wound up with 9.5 inches of upslope fluff at the house, and Bolton Valley probably had over a foot, bringing them to 30 inches of snow in the past week.  This snow was some incredibly high quality Champlain Powder™ to boot, with my snow density analyses coming in at 2 to 3% H2O.

This morning we got up to the resort around 9:00 A.M., and similar to yesterday the scene was fairly mellow – after dropping off E and the boys I was able to park in the third tier of the main lot.  We started off with a run down Alta Vista, and it was E’s first chance to try out her Black Diamond Element skis, which are the women’s version of the AMPerage.  I warned her that unlike my first experience with the AMPerages, which was entirely under powder conditions, she might not be that impressed with how they skied on the groomed areas before we made our way to the powder.  Indeed she was very unimpressed, noting that there was so much ski width (115 mm at the waist) that she couldn’t even get them on edge.  I hadn’t found that to be an issue for me with the AMPerages, so it could certainly be attributed to a difference in our ski styles, but I think it questions again the potential for these skis to serve as a one ski quiver for all surfaces.  We got them as our backcountry/powder Telemark skis anyway, but it will be interesting to see how our usage patterns develop; being more comfortable on them so far, I might take them out on more marginal lift-served powder days, where E might stick with her narrower Telemark skis.  E did point out that her Telemark ski boots are a bit loose, and she could feel the slip in them today due to the thinner socks she was wearing.  Having that slip in there may make it challenging to get the pressure necessary to roll these fat skis on edge on groomed surfaces, so we’ll have to see if a better boot fit helps out, or if there’s going to be an adjustment period due to something else.

“We found a foot plus of
Champlain Powder™ over a
consolidated base – and it
was more than enough to
be bottomless…”

We made our way over to Wilderness and got into some powder, and not surprisingly, E didn’t have any issues with the skis there.  But, neither did she find them to be as amazing in the powder as I had on my previous outings.  Of course we were skiing in roughly a foot of amazingly dry snow over a well consolidated base, so almost any ski could handle it.  We enjoyed lots of fresh turns on Lower Turnpike, and it was a bit slow with the modest pitch and all the powder, but the boys had a great time.  Ty had an especially fun time straight lining sections of the powder.  We also jumped into Wilderness Woods, which were being skied extensively – they’re certainly skiable, although you still needed to be somewhat cautious to avoid underlying objects.  On that note, the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 28” inches yesterday, passing the magic 24” mark that I’ve used as a measure of when those initial forays into the trees begin.  Bolton even opened steep tree areas like Devil’s Playground today, so many trees are definitely ready for skiing if patrol deems areas like that acceptable.

We headed for the same route again on the next run at Ty’s request, but wound up taking the Wilderness Lift Line when Dylan led us that way.  Conditions along the edges still offered up plenty of nice turns though.  The boys were calling for an early lunch after those two runs, so we headed into the lodge, and eventually got a call from Stephen that he and the kids had finally made it to the mountain.  We finished up our lunch and met up with Helena and Johannes to take a run while Stephen picked up his skis from the ski shop.  We opted for the standard Sherman’s Pass route to let Helena and Johannes warm up.  Surfaces were decent packed powder aside from wind-exposed areas, which were blasted down to whatever nasty hard surface lay below.

When we all got back together we hit Lower Turnpike again, and it felt much faster that second time.  There were a few more tracks around to let you gain your speed, but somehow it was more than that.  Whatever the case, the turns were smooth and silky in the powder.  Johannes and Helena needed their lunch break by that point, so while they went in the lodge, E and the boys and I went back for another round.  Dylan and I came in at a higher entrance and got some bonus fresh turns.

We had spotted a car over at Timberline on our way up to the resort, with the intent of finishing off the day there, but Dylan was pretty beat, so E decided that they would drive down and meet Ty and me there.  Johannes had enough energy, so he joined Ty and me for the trip.  Aside from windblown areas, which were reduced thanks to the lower elevation, the snow was simply amazing at Timberline as is typical for these types of events.  We found a foot plus of Champlain Powder™ over a consolidated base – and it was more than enough to be bottomless, even on the Spell Binder headwall as long as you stuck to the skier’s right.  That’s some pretty primo skiing.  The only part to avoid was the bulk of the headwall section with sastrugi (or “fake powder” as it often looked today) from the winds.  Both boys did well, and we made reasonable time down to the car, with the requisite photo sessions as well.  Dylan missed some great turns, but he was certainly tired – while E was out getting a couple of final things for the holiday in the evening, I found that Dylan had gone and tucked himself into our bed and gone to sleep.

An image of Ty skiing in about a foot of Champlain powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty taking on Spell Binder today

I was worried about the cold today due to the potential wind chill, but it turned out to be a fine day with temperatures in the 20s F and only minor breezes.  We’ve got more snow falling tonight with the potential for four more storms to pass through the area this week.  It could be an excellent holiday period for skiing if the potential storms hit our area as snow.  The mountain is already opening up lots of natural snow terrain, so the snowpack is building with the weather pattern we’re in.  The Mt. Mansfield Stake just hit 42” today, and that is a sign that off piste skiing should be well under way.

Bolton Valley, VT 21DEC2012

An image of a ski track in powder on the Twice as Nice trail Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Carving away through some bottomless powder today

The mountain snowpack has been building up all week due to storms running through the area, and with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake approaching the two foot mark today, it was finally time to venture up to Bolton Valley and see how the western slopes of the Greens were skiing.  I awoke this morning to find 2.2” of new snow at our house in the Winooski Valley, and Bolton Valley reporting 4” overnight to bring their seven-day total to 19”.  Although 19” of isn’t an outrageous accumulation over the course of a week, these recent storms have put down plenty of dense snow, so there’s been ample liquid equivalent in that snow to build the base for skiing.

“The turns were naturally really
fun, with all sorts of new ski terms
like smeary, slarvy, and drifty
dancing through my head as the
rocker in the skis did its thing.”

When I left the house (495’) it was a couple degrees above freezing and we were in a precipitation lull, but by the time I hit Bolton Flats a couple miles to the west, the next wave of moisture was coming in, and I was hit with a barrage of wet snow and rain.  There was no snow on the ground right at the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’), but snowpack appeared very quickly as I began the climb – just a couple hundred feet up there was a solid inch or two of snow down on the ground.  The lowest part of the road is fairly protected, but as I got higher I could see that the winds were howling.  With the strong winds I was keen to stay somewhat low in elevation, so my goal was to start a ski tour at the Timberline Base (1,500’) if the snow looked sufficient.  The temperature at that elevation was right around the freezing mark, but snow was falling with plenty of intensity – when I had my skis out on the ground while I was getting ready, they were covered with a few tenths of an inch of snow in just a few minutes.  The wind gusts were strong, certainly 20-30 MPH, and I actually had to head off into the trees a few dozen yards away when I realized that one of my glove liners had been stolen and carted off by the wind.

An image showing the driving school vehicles at Bolton Valley with a fresh coating of snowAside from the driving school’s vehicles that were lined up in front of the base lodge, I only saw one other vehicle that seemed like it might belong to a skier (not surprisingly it was a Subaru).  As I began my ascent, I didn’t initially find a skin track, although I followed some fairly fresh snowshoe tracks before breaking off to set my own track up the climber’s left of Twice as Nice.  Snow depths at the base ranged from as little as 5 inches, to as much as 18 inches, with the average snow depth falling somewhere in the middle of that range.  Breaking trail was at times a bit tough through the snow on the deeper end of the spectrum, but I enjoyed very good traction despite sporting the combination of AMPerages with RT-86 skins.  This combination struggled to provide traction in established skin tracks back on November 30th and December 1st outings at Stowe, but it was very solid today.  I’ve discovered that the width of the AMPerages combined with narrow skins proves to be a difficult combination in skin tracks that may have been made by narrower skis – it leaves one resting on just the outer edges of the wide ski base, where there is no skin.  Today’s snow was dense with good grip, and I was able to head straight up the edge of the trail with minimal switchbacks.  Snow depth increased somewhat as I ascended, and that increase seemed to be on the bottom end of the range; the deepest areas weren’t get deeper, but coverage was definitely getting better in areas that needed it.  More notable than even the increase in snow depths was that after the first couple hundred feet of elevation, the snow got drier.  There’s definitely not enough base yet to open terrain to lift-served traffic down at that elevation, but it’s getting close.  One good dump with an inch or two of liquid equivalent would have it there.  The wind actually subsided quite a bit by the time I was descending, so it was very comfortable with the temperature near freezing.

“Today’s snow
was dense…”

I didn’t have time for a really long run, so I headed right back down Twice as Nice, sticking to the skier’s left where the snow looked deepest.  Indeed there were no issues touching down, and areas where depths were blown low by the wind were easily avoided.  This was my first chance to try the AMPerages in a denser, powder (morning analysis of the snow at the house came in at a Sierra-like 11.4% H2O) and they again showed that they were in their element.  After one cautious turn to see if I was going to find myself being tossed around in a Telemark stance… it was all downhill.  The turns were naturally really fun, with all sorts of new ski terms like smeary, slarvy, and drifty dancing through my head as the rocker in the skis did its thing.  I wouldn’t say that I ever tire of skiing powder, but these types of skis can definitely inject a new level of fun if you’re looking for something to invigorate your skiing.  Boy did I want to stick around for some more turns!

An image of ski tracks on dense powder at the Timberline area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Timberline is sporting a good coating of dense snow

I’m not sure when the mountain started opening natural snow terrain, but as of today they’ve got numerous natural snow trails in the mix, including several black diamond runs on the upper mountain.  That is a very good sign that snow depths are substantial up there above 2,000’.  I see from one of Powderfreak’s recent posts on the American Weather forum, that Stowe has also been opening up a bunch of natural snow terrain, and the skiing looks excellent.  It appears that some upslope snow could be coming in to the area tomorrow with the back end of this system, and that might deliver another foot of powder in some areas.  The skiing should be quite good with that addition, and with potentially more of these storms in the pipe, we could be looking at a very good holiday week for the local resorts.

Stowe, VT 01DEC2012

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Perrill Merrill trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today on Perry Merrill

The powder at Stowe yesterday was so good, that I had to head out today for some more.  E and the boys had some things to do at school in the morning, but for me it was a very casual Saturday today; with light snow falling to the tune of about an inch at the house, and powder in the mountains, it was just the sort of way you’d want to usher in the month of December.  I took care of some things around the house this morning, and then headed off to Stowe in the early afternoon.

Temperatures have warmed considerably today relative to yesterday, and the temperature at the house was around 28 F when I left.  That was pleasant though – much more comfortable than the teens, but not so warm that one would worry about melting the snow or affecting the powder.  The temperature dropped to 24 F as I approached the resort base, and as has been the case for the past couple of weeks, numerous snow guns were cranking away on the slopes.  On the American Weather Forum, Powderfreak sent in some impressive pictures of what Stowe has been doing in terms of snowmaking – those modern guns can really crank out the white stuff.

With the Fourrunner Quad area open with lift service, I decided to head over to the Gondola side of the resort to earn some turns.  It was my first visit to that area of the resort this season, but if the snow depths were anything like what I’d experience on National yesterday, I knew that there would be plenty of natural snow for turns.  There were just a couple of cars in the Midway lot, and as I began my ascent on Chin Clip Runout I saw that there had been a surprising amount of skier traffic on the trails.  Several people skied down past me as I climbed, and it had me wondering where they were all coming from.  I was still plagued with the lack of uphill traction that I had to deal with yesterday because of the narrow skins on my skis, so I stuck to a moderately pitched route that took me up Switchback.

“Even though it was only
a couple hours past midday,
the clouds were thick and
low, and the world had that
close, dark, quiet feeling of
December with deep snow.”

It was an incredible afternoon to be out on an ascent though.  Even though it was only a couple hours past midday, the clouds were thick and low, and the world had that close, dark, quiet feeling of December with deep snow.  Sounds were so muffled with all the powder around, that as I was ascending Switchback, two guys making their descent along the edge of Gondolier almost went unnoticed even though they were probably only 20 feet away from me.  The only reason I knew they were there was because I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.  Within another second they were gone, gliding downward in the fluffy silence.

When I hit eventually hit Gondolier, I had to make my own switchbacks because the pitch was just too steep for my skins, but things got a bit better when I reached Perry Merrill.  Soon after that, I realized where all the people were coming from – they were coming out of the exit of Lower Rimrock, so people were making their way over from the quad to hit the lower terrain of the Gondola area.  Above that point I found that the amount of fresh powder on the trail increased dramatically, because traffic really was down to people who were hiking for turns.  I continued on up and wrapped around to finish my ascent on Upper Gondolier.  In the 3,000’ elevation range it became a bit difficult to estimate the natural snow depth because of the effects of wind, but my depth checks along the ascent had revealed the following numbers:

1,600’:  9”
2,000’:  12”
2,500’:  14”
3,000’+:  14”+

I had a snack and a drink at the Cliff House picnic tables, and it was definitely colder up there than at the base elevations; I put away my wet hat and got on my balaclava and helmet pretty quickly.  The south side of the lodge had a nice area of drifted snow in excess of two feet, so I stowed my skis there while I recharged and enjoyed the quiet scene.  Based on what I’d seen of Upper Gondolier (very windswept), and the terrain leading toward Chin Clip (pretty tracked up), I decided to descend on Perry Merrill.  The best parts there were that very first steep pitch that drops toward Cliff Trail, and then the section near the big Gondola waterfall on down to where the traffic entered from Lower Rimrock.  Between those stretches, the terrain was pretty windswept like I’d seen in other areas.  Those Perry Merrill turns were awesome in general, with plenty of untracked powder, but I think that first steep pitch was the very best.  There were only a few tracks, and the pitch, snow depth, and fat skis combined for quite a ride.

An image of my Black Diamond AMPerage powder skis sitting in snow while I get ready for a descent at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The AMPerages ready for action

The snow became more tracked with plenty of chowder below Lower Rimrock where all the skier traffic was entering, and it was my first chance to see how the AMPerages handled those conditions.  I was able to tell pretty quickly that powder was really where they were the most at home.  They were fine in the chowder or partially packed areas, they just didn’t have that feeling of amazing superiority that they do in the powder.  Their slower edge to edge speed due to the width, which doesn’t really become apparent in untracked powder, was more evident in packed areas.  It’s interesting to hear Black Diamond speak to the potential of the AMPerage as “the closest thing you’ll find to the mythical one-ski quiver”, because while it does have camber underfoot to go with the tip and tail rocker and make it more versatile on packed snow, it’s still a ski with a 115 mm waist.  Based on impressions so far, I suspect one could pull it off as an all around ski here in the Northern Greens and various places in the mountains of Western North America, depending on their penchant for powder, but it still seems wide for everyday use.  It’s definitely not something I’d consider an all-around ski for many locales.  I got the AMPerages (and E the women’s Element version) as our powder Telemark skis, and although I don’t think we’ll refer to them as our all-around skis, they will probably see fairly heavy use.  There’s almost always some powder out there to ski, even if it’s not a deep day, but the beauty of fat skis is that they can help float you even on those smaller days.  I’m sure we’ll both have more to say about these new fatties as we work our way through the season, but up to this point I can only reiterate that I’m extremely impressed with how they ski in powder – if you haven’t yet tried a pair of fat, rockered skis for powder – do it.

It was well on to dusk as I was finishing my run, and when I saw the lights of the base area laid out below me, I stopped alongside the bottom race shack on Gondolier and took some pictures of the scene.  The darkness really reinforced that December feeling.  I actually think the powder may have settled a bit more in the higher elevations (probably due to wind) relative to some of the lower elevations, but the skiing was still excellent.  It was absolutely a good start to the month.