Tag Archives: Black Diamond Element

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, 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.

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.