Brandon Gap, VT 02FEB2019

An image showing Erica, Ivan, Dy;an, and Ty skiing powder in one of the great backcountry glades created by the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance at Brandon Gap in Vermont
An image of Ivan jumping in powder snow at RASTA's Brandon Gap backcountry recreation area in Vermont.
Ivan blasts through some of the powder we found today on our ski outing at RASTA’s Brandon Gap backcountry recreation area.

Today the family headed to Brandon Gap for some backcountry skiing.  Dylan’s friend Ivan is visiting, and he joined us as well for his very first backcountry skiing experience.  He doesn’t actually have any backcountry ski gear, but we were able to set him up with some Alpine Trekkers and a pair of Erica’s older skins that fit his skis almost perfectly.  We also had the advantage of nicely warning temperatures today, so we waited until the afternoon, and arrived at the Bear Brook Bowl Access and Trailhead on Vermont Route 73 to cloudy skies and temperatures around 20 F.

There are multiple trail pods at Brandon Gap, but for this tour I chose to stick with the same No Name Backcountry Area that I’d visited last March.  It’s an efficient touring area that heads right up from the parking lot with almost zero approach, and I didn’t expect we’d have too many curves thrown at us since I had a good idea of the lay of the land.

An image of Ivan and Dylan looking at the map at one of the trailheads at RASTA's Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
Dylan and Ivan check out the map as we begin our ski tour at RASTA’s Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area this afternoon.

“The powder we found was beautifully light and dry, and generally 12 to 24 inches in depth, with the highest reading I obtained at 26 inches.”

The skin track was well established as usual, and in this case it was almost a bit too well packed because there was some occasional slipping on the steeper pitches.  We quickly found that all you had to do was slide a bit to the left or right into the untracked snow and you’d find sufficient purchase.  Ivan had to get used to using the Alpine Trekkers, but by the end of the ascent he was really getting it down.  There had been about a dozen other vehicles in the parking area, but we only saw one other group out in the No Name pod.

An image of Erica removing the skins from her skis at the top of the No Name section of RASTA's backcountry recreation area at Brandon Gap in VermontFor our descent we headed far to the skier’s left, father than I’d traversed on my previous visit, and we got to ski one of the leftmost glades that had perhaps three or four previous tracks.  The terrain is generally in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ elevation range or so, and the snowpack is quite prodigious.  It was too deep for me to easily estimate based on any pole measurements, but there really aren’t any deficiencies and everything you could possibly want to be covered certainly is.  The powder we found was beautifully light and dry, and generally 12 to 24 inches in depth, with the highest reading I obtained at 26 inches.  The composition of the subsurface was pretty inconsequential because you just weren’t having to get anywhere near it, but from what we could tell it didn’t seem overly crusty.  Temperatures stayed very comfortable, and the skies were just cloudy until about midafternoon when it started to snow in association the new small system that’s coming into the area.

An image of Erica and Dylan helping Ivan out of the powder snow during a ski tour at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
Erica and Dylan have fun chaining up to try to help Ivan out of the powder today at Brandon Gap.

We stopped off in the Mad River Valley for some Mad Taco on the way home, and business appeared to be booming based on how packed it was.  I’m sure resorts throughout the state were loaded with visitors today thanks to the great conditions and moderate temperatures.

Brandon Gap, VT 16MAR2018

An image of the map at the Bear Brook Bowl trailhead at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
An image of one of the backcountry glades in the No Name area at Brandon Gap in Vermont
Today at Brandon Gap I was greeted by more than 30 inches of feather weight powder, and fantastic ski terrain and access that have been meticulously crafted thanks to the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance.

At Brandon Gap, about an hour or so south of our house in Waterbury, the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance (a.k.a. RASTA) has done something very special.  They’ve created the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area, a network of trails for backcountry skiing and riding in the Green Mountain National Forest just south of Vermont Route 73 at Brandon Gap.  The area has over 16,000 vertical feet of skiing and riding on numerous glades spread out along three miles of the Long Trail.  What makes the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area so special is that unlike the typical clandestine backcountry areas that skiers have created throughout Vermont, the area at Brandon Gap was actually created in partnership with the United States Forest Service,  It truly is a pioneering project showing that the development of backcountry ski terrain can be done in a legal, legitimate, and sustainable way.  The only other area for backcountry skiing that I know of around here that would be somewhat comparable would be the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network, which is associated with Bolton Valley Resort.

An image of the Brandon Gap backcountry ski map from the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance
A copy of RASTA’s detailed map for the Brandon Gap backcountry area. Please visit RASTA’s website for a full-size version of the map

“Imagine more than 30 inches of feather-light champagne powder, and enough pitch to do it justice, and that’s what was going on at Brandon Gap today.”

The RASTA backcountry ski trails at Brandon Gap have been in the news for a while, and as soon as I first heard about them, I was eager to go on a tour and check them out.  It’s not always easy to find an appropriate hole in one’s schedule that coincides with great snowpack and conditions though, so it’s taken a while to get me down there.  I had time in the afternoon today though, and even though I was busy at work longer than I’d expected, I was still able to make it down to Brandon Gap.

An image of a Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance trail marker at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
One of the plentiful RASTA trail markers along the skin track

Although I didn’t know exactly how much snow the Brandon Gap area had picked up relative to the rest of the state, everyone has been getting substantial snows due to the remnants of Winter Storm Skylar.  Ski resorts in the northern part of the state have picked up as much as six feet of snow in the past week or so.  I could see that there wasn’t much to worry about at Brandon Gap when I caught sight of the massive stack of snow atop the map sign at the trailhead.  The snow situation was looking very good.

I was somewhat short on time, so I opted to tour in the No Name Backcountry Area today.  You really can’t ask for much easier access to great backcountry skiing.  For the No Name area you literally hit the trailhead, and within moments you start going right up on your ascent.  The skin track is nicely interwoven among the various glades in the area, so you can get a look at a lot of the potential ski options.  The skin track is well established, beautifully laid out, and extremely well marked with RASTA blazes and directional arrows.  I’ve never seen a skin track so clearly marked, it’s just one of those things about the area that make it so efficient and professional looking.

“We’re talking “hold onto your head as you descend because this is going to blow your mind” type of conditions.”

The ascent was extremely pleasant with such a beautiful skin track underfoot, and before I knew it I’d reached the top of the area where I found a nice packed out area for de-skinning, and another copy of the map displayed.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect on the descent, but my depth checks on the way up had revealed that there was more than 30 inches of absolutely feather-weight powder covering the base snow.  In many cases that would simply be too much snow, since you need some rather steep pitches to accommodate it, but that wasn’t a problem in the No Name area – the pitches there are generally at least black diamond.

An image showing the depth of the new powder for skiing at Brandon Gap in VermontWith my gear set for the descent, I headed off to skiers left where I’d seen a glade that was essentially untracked.  I dove in, and the powder skiing was simply insane.  Imagine more than 30 inches of feather-light champagne powder, and enough pitch to do it justice, and that’s what was going on at Brandon Gap today.  We’re talking “hold onto your head as you descend because this is going to blow your mind” type of conditions.  Wow, just… wow!  One of the more fun aspects of the descent was simply adjusting the pitch of my front leg in my Telemark stance to determine how much of my body was under the snow and adjust my speed.  You know the snow is deep when that’s your main mechanism for controlling your speed.  Got fat skis?  Good, you’ll want ‘em. 

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour at Brandon Gap in Vermont
A Google Earth Map with GPS tracking data showing the path of today’s tour in the No Name area at Brandon Gap

It’s so funny how different the snow was today compared to the dense snow yesterday at Bolton Valley, but that’s the way storms go.  Sometimes you have the right conditions in the dendritic grown zone to produce those massive, fluffy crystal, and sometimes you get small, baking powder flakes.  Brandon Gap definitely got the goods over the past few days.  It looks like we’ve got cold, midwinter conditions going into the weekend however, so the current state of the snow should be maintained for everyone getting out to enjoy the bounty of the recent big storms.