A number of students were unable to attend ski program today, so there were some small groups, and any of them that were interested in a trip down the Bruce joined up with us. From the top of the Fourrunner Quad, those that wanted to ascend joined me for a trip up Old Nosedive, which I find is a nice way to get in a bit of hiking and extra turns before diving into the Bruce. The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour. It was quite wintry up top, but even in the lowest elevations the snow was dense enough to hold up well for fresh turns, just like Dylan and I had experienced yesterday at Bolton Valley. There was still ample untracked powder available off the sides of the Bruce, and as usual once we were down into the open hardwood areas there were lots of great lines to explore in the trees.
“The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour.”
This morning, Dylan said that we should go with Telemark skis for today’s session if our focus was going to be the Bruce Trail, and while I’d planned to go alpine, I agreed and ended up going Tele. It was totally the right choice, especially since the coverage and snow conditions were so optimal. I was happy because I felt really dialed in and my transitions felt incredibly quick, and Dylan was also really psyched because he skied so well today. He says that he always wants to run the Bruce on Telemark gear now. Of course he got to experience it on a great day. I’d put today in the top 25% of conditions for the Bruce – there was so much soft snow and powder around, and even those most difficult to cover, south-facing shots were virtually blemish free.
We capped off the run with a trip to the Notchbrook General Store for snacks, and a ride on the Mountain Road Shuttle back to the Spruce Peak Village. Greg said that the last time he skied the Bruce Trail was about 35 years ago, so it was really neat that he got the chance to do it again after such a long hiatus. We had time for a few more runs on Spruce once we got back, and found that the quality of the snow was still really nice. This was just the way a March ski day should be!
Today it was back to Stowe for BJAMS ski program, and a few key considerations came into play as I planned out our session. New snow this past week has been fairly minimal, but it’s also March 1st and we’ve got a healthy late-winter snowpack hovering around 80 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Temperatures were expected to be in the 20s F, so that would plenty comfortable for any extended backcountry or sidecountry runs with the kids. It seemed like a great day for a run on the Bruce Trail, and to add a little icing on the cake, I figured we could tack on some extra vertical and hit Old Nosedive to start the run.
The temperatures were simply perfect as we gathered everyone up at the usual group meeting place by the base of the Spruce Peak lifts. We took a run on the Gondola to warm up and get us over to the Fourrunner Quad, and without new snow that we had last weekend from Winter Storm Pandora, there were no lift queues like last Sunday. In fact, there were no lift queues at all. We warmed up on Cliff Trail, and found that it was a real zoo when we got to Nosedive. I’m not sure where all the people had come from, but if one hadn’t wanted to escape to a run on the Bruce Trail before that, it certainly would have made it more appealing. As is often the case, there was plenty of firm snow on Nosedive, and with the temperatures being so consistently wintry, it presumably had to be from snowmaking and skier traffic. We finished off the run with everyone working the bump lines on Lower National while thinking about their pole work, and the snow was much better down there.
From the top of the quad we headed up Old Nosedive, and hiked a couple hundred vertical before we got to some of the narrower shots and I decided that would be enough. I hiked on a bit father for some of the views from the Nose, and I could see lots of clouds from our next incoming storm while some of the first light flakes swirled around me. The descent was fun, and the snow was generally tracked but quite soft. There were even some pockets of powder still off to the sides.
We headed down to the start of the Bruce Trail next, and after getting a couple of photos of the group, everyone dove in. The snow on the Bruce was well tracked and generally packed, but I’ve got to say that the overall conditions were right up there as some of the most consistently awesome I’ve had on there. Since much the Bruce faces south, it’s easy for some of those steep, south-facing shots to lose coverage, or at least start to thaw and refreeze a bit, but there was none of that. The coverage was simply wall to wall on every single pitch, and there just wasn’t any firm snow anywhere. I’ve certainly had softer snow on there closer to a storm, but I don’t know if I’ve seen coverage quite this perfect. There was plenty of powder everywhere off in the trees, and as usual it was untouched. Now that I’ve done the Bruce a few times I’m starting to learn that you can ski so many of the natural trees around there that you can turn it into quite a powder run if you want to. Wiley followed me through a great streambed when we were still up in the evergreen areas, and we got some beautiful first and second tracks through there. I got more untracked powder turns down in the hardwood areas than I think I’ve ever had this far from a storm, but really all you have to do is cut off the trail in those areas and the lines are all over the place. The snow was still wintry and quite fast when we were down on the Nordic trails, and we made good time aside from the typical hijinks from the boys. We had just enough time to stop in at the Notchbrook Convenience Store for snacks before we caught the bus back to the resort.
The bus dropped us off right at the temporary sport for the village fire pit, so we caught the daily s’mores for the first time this season. We hung out for a while, then some folks called it a day while I went out with the boys for one more run off Sunny Spruce. We got into the trees west of the boundary like we’d done last week, and many of our tracks were still there, only buried a bit by the few inches of snow we’ve had since then. Open areas down low had even taken on a bit of a sun crust since they face south, but I guess that’s going to happen now that we’re into March.
It looks like the pattern of storms is going to pick back up this week, with one going on already this evening and persisting for the next couple of days, and another one later in the week. Hopefully Mother Nature can cover up those tracks for us and we’ll have some fresh lines to check out next weekend.
With the Easter holiday, we didn’t have BJAMS ski program today, but we decided to head to Stowe anyway for a bit of lift-served skiing and another run down the Bruce Trail. E wasn’t able to join us for the Bruce run with the kids last week because she was coaching her younger, intermediate-level students, but she had no such obligations today. Coverage on the Bruce was excellent last week, and this week has seen fairly typical spring weather for the Northern Greens, with some snowfall and some warmer days, so it didn’t look like there would be any major changes in that department. Not surprisingly, the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is still sitting right around that 80-inch mark, so there were clearly no issues with loss of snow in the higher elevations. However, the lower mountain valleys certainly lost snow this week, brining into question the lower elevation snowpack. And, the Bruce Trail has a good deal of southern exposure, so that means that those areas are going to lose snow more quickly than other aspects at similar elevations. In fact, I was more concerned about snow coverage on those higher-elevation, south-facing pitches in the 2,000 to 3,600’ elevation range than even the lowest elevations down near 1,000’; the snow in lowest elevations of the route is well protected by the forest and well packed, so I suspect it persists quite well in the spring.
“…I’d say the Bruce will probably still be good to go next weekend as well…”
Today we planned to flip our Bruce Trail tour setup from what we’ve done in the past; we’d park the car down at The Matterhorn, ride the Mountain Road Shuttle up to Mt. Mansfield, ski the mountain for a while, and then finish off with a run down the Bruce and a meal at The Matterhorn. We timed things pretty well with knowledge of the Mountain Road Shuttle schedule, and arrived at The Matterhorn in the early afternoon with time to get into our gear and head across the street to the shuttle stop. The plan was for everyone to Telemark since the boys could get in some lift-served practice runs and it’s generally a good fit for a trip down the Bruce, although Ty opted for alpine gear at the last minute because that’s what he felt like skiing.
“On piste coverage
at Stowe remains
100% of trails
We started off the afternoon as planned with some lift-served runs, and found some marginally sticky conditions in places. None of the surfaces were too bad in that regard, but there was definitely some snow that has not transitioned all the way to corn with the rounds of snowfall earlier this week. Temperatures were a bit warmer than yesterday, sitting in the upper 40s F down in the lower elevations, and somewhere in the 30s F at the summit elevations. On piste coverage at Stowe remains excellent, with 100% of trails open today – it’s much more typical this season, and nothing like last season when that huge March heat wave really sapped the snowpack. Dylan worked on his Telemark turns and was making strides on his bad side turn, and Ty on his alpines was throwing himself off all the airs he encountered.
Around mid afternoon we decided to head down the Bruce for our final run, and the snow was nice and soft right from the top. The only notable coverage issues were in the usual spots – those steeper pitches with southern exposure. Those areas had opened up a bit since last week, but the differences in the skiing are fairly marginal; you’ve just got to navigate those areas cautiously. As expected, the lowest elevations in the Nordic areas in the 1,500’ – 1,000’ range had perfect coverage. The only potential break in the snow cover down there is the last hundred yards or so where you use the road the leads to the Bruce House. The road has been plowed, but you can ski on the snow banks along the edge of the road and they’ll take you right out to Route 108 as usual. The whole trip down the Bruce was extremely quiet today – we didn’t see a single soul on the Bruce itself, and we only saw one family touring on the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center. Perhaps the holiday kept the numbers of visitors down relative to a typical Sunday, but the resort looked pretty busy overall. I didn’t track today’s travels by GPS, but for a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the general route of the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.
It was fun to get E’s impressions of the trail since this was her first trip down the Bruce. She found, and I entirely agree, that on today’s outing the combination of the relatively narrow nature of the trail, the areas where the formation of moguls tended to dictate specific locations for turns, and the concave sculpting of the snow due to skier traffic, all come together to create quite a challenging ascent on Telemark gear. I noticed those aspects as well, and indeed in this case what is really pretty standard intermediate or advanced fare on alpine equipment, is much more technically demanding on Teles… or at least it is if you’re trying to make Telemark turns. Trying to navigate those concave edges while snaking down a narrow line (and even feeling narrower in a Telemark stance) among moguls on terrain with decent pitch will certainly push your skills. Fortunately one can use alpine turns as a fall back, and those are certainly a lot of fun too, but of course trying to be strict with those Tele turns keeps the bar up. Even with the great spring snow, E favored alpine turns heavily in the steep, upper sections of the trail, but there were plenty of areas where her Telemark turns would flow. I threw in good doses of alpine turns myself in spots, because sometimes it’s just too hard to plot a solution with Tele turns through certain areas. But, every run gets more turns under your belt. Dylan threw in a few Telemark turns here and there, but he already knew going in that he was going to mostly alpine and just enjoy the ride in that fashion.
The final part of today’s outing was an early dinner at The Matterhorn. I’ve actually never eaten at The Matterhorn, since I’ve thought of it generally as an après ski bar. As it turns out though, they’re a restaurant as well, and to my amazement, they’re pretty well known for their sushi. I tried for a visit to get some sushi back on Bruce Trail trip on January 21st, but the sushi bar is closed on Mondays, so I decided to wait until my next visit. Well, today was that day, and I’ve got to say that indeed the sushi was quite good. I went with a Salmon Maki Roll and one of their specialty rolls, the Crab Rangoon Roll, and both were great. E and the boys didn’t get sushi, but everything we had was good. Sitting out back by the river is also a nice perk – there was a feel of early spring watching the water roll by amidst the snow.
Based on forecast for the coming week, I’d say the Bruce will probably still be good to go next weekend as well, so keep it in mind if you’re looking for something to do as we move on to April skiing in the Northern Greens.
“All in all that had to be just about perfect conditions today for skiing the Bruce…”
We had a little time before our group got together, so we did a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor and his dad. As expected, the snow quality was excellent – it was packed powder on the trails and powder off piste, with just a few bare spots here and there on steeper south-facing terrain like Freddie’s Chute. One of the highlights of that run was West Slope, where we rode the ridge along the skier’s left with big swooping drops into the chowder on the left side. At one point I heard Luke screaming out behind me something like “That was so intense!” after launching a huge drop on one of his turns… intense indeed!
We gathered up our group, which featured Claire, Ken, Julia, Luke, Ty, Dylan, and me. Along with Joana and big Luke, we were missing Joe, Sam and Ethan today, and I suspect they would have loved to make a run down the Bruce, but hopefully they’ll get to do it next time. Apparently Joe did have a great day out on the mountain on Friday with Ken though, so he’s had a good dose of all this new snow. We debated briefly about whether we should do our Bruce run at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, but with some folks having obligations preventing them from lingering at the mountain too long at the end, we decided that we’d better start with the Bruce and fill extra time in with some other runs at the end of the day. Based on my reconnaissance day, I was going with a fairly conservative estimate of two hours for us to complete the run to the base of the Bruce. I knew there wouldn’t be any problems for anyone in terms of the skiing, I was just unsure about what our pace would be through the flatter terrain in the Nordic areas. If the kids found it tiring it might take longer than what I’d experience on my own, so I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
We didn’t waste any time getting to the top of the Bruce, we crossed on the Over Easy and went right up the Fourrunner Quad. Unlike down in the base elevations, there was a brisk wind up there around 3,600’. Some of the boys dropped in the alternate entrance to the Bruce for a bit of powder and I grabbed a few pictures there and some more as they dropped below me on the trail. It was packed snow on the trail, but the quality was excellent, far better than what I’d experienced on my January trip, which was after a thaw the previous week. The skiing in the upper sections went pretty much as expected, the boys were having a blast with the bumps and jumps, and one could explore the powder off to the sides when areas opened up in the trees. A few of the steepest pitches were a little scraped down in spots, but that was pretty minimal because of the deep base and recent snow. As we got down into the hardwoods and the forest began to open up even more, I started venturing father off the trail into powder lines based on my previous knowledge. The powder was generally a foot plus in most places, and that worked well on most pitches – enough to slow you down on the steeper stuff, but not bog you down too much in the mellower areas. Down on the Nordic trails, the final, flatter part of the descent went very smoothly. Ty noticed one of those wavy green lines one of the trail signs, indicating beginner Nordic terrain, and with regard to the perceived flatness he said, “Oh no, that type of sign is never good!” I’d say he found out that it really wasn’t that bad. The kids did a nice job of keeping their pace on the flatter areas, and I’d give Ty and Dylan occasional boosts to keep their pace up. They started to play around and get tangled up with each other as they skated and poled their way down the trail, so that kept them entertained even on the flats. As a bonus we got those beautiful views of the snowy Ranch Brook, and the snow stayed quite powdery all the way down to 1,000’. All in all that had to be just about perfect conditions today for skiing the Bruce, comfortable temperatures, partly cloudy skies, and dry snow all the way to the base. I’m not sure what more one could ask for aside from getting first tracks!
From leaving the Spruce Peak Base to reaching the bottom of the Bruce at Route 108, it had taken a bit under 90 minutes, so we made it well under my two-hour conservative estimate, even with the large group. We were about 20 minutes ahead of the next Mountain Road Shuttle when we reached the end of the trail, so we popped into Notchbrook Convenience Store for some snacks, and enjoyed the early spring weather while we waited. The March sun is quite nice right now, and it’s the beautiful sort of weather that is keeping the snow dry instead of sticky, even with relatively warm air. Ty and Dylan loved the ride on the shuttle, and Ty only half jokingly insisted that “The Bruce was nice, but it’s the bus ride that’s really my favorite part of the trip.” He certainly does like to ride buses. For a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the travel circuit we used to ski the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.
When we arrived back at the Spruce Peak Base Area, we had another hour or so before the lifts stopped running, and we decided to use our remaining time for a trip over to the Sensation Quad. With the relatively deep March snowpack, it seemed like a good time to ski as much of Spruce Line as we could. The strengthening sun is only going to start beating on that south-facing terrain more and more. I was surprised to find that the steep terrain above Green Acres was fairly wind scoured, but we found a line through and the boys did some great steep turns and jumps off one of the rocks there. Dylan led the charge with an impressive jump turn off the rock, landing in a sea of deep powder. He was followed up by the other boys, including Luke who was totally jazzed at how high he went. That steep pitch used to intimidate him, and now he’s launching huge jump turns off boulders into powder. It’s great to see him expanding his skiing literally by leaps and bounds. Ken launched a beautiful air off the rock as well, although he had to deal with sloppy fourth or fifths in terms of the powder on the landing. The snow in Green Acres was excellent – powder of well over a foot in depth, which was plenty to slow you down in some of those tighter tree lines. We couldn’t ski all of Spruce Line because parts were closed, but we did get the middle section that was fairly lightly tracked with some beautiful snow. The group also enjoyed the chance to ski Main Street since there weren’t any races taking place – having Main Street open up for general traffic is one of those great things about approaching the spring season at Stowe.
“The Bruce was nice,
but it’s the bus ride
that’s really my
favorite part of
While most of the group had to leave a bit early, Ty, Dylan, and I found time to squeeze in one more run on Sunny Spruce. We dropped into Freddie’s Chute, and Dylan worked his way to the woods on the skier’s right for some powder. He ended making an impressive drop off a log, which had to be 8 to 10 feet high. He did manage to hit his chin with his knee on the landing, and it wasn’t of any consequence, but I did stress the point of being aware that that can happen and making sure that your tongue is not anywhere near your teeth. That was really an aggressive drop that he made, and between Bolton yesterday and Stowe today, he’s really been on fire with the airs this weekend. With deep bases and deep powder though, ‘tis the season for such things. We followed that up with some exploration of the trees off to the skier’s left of Lower Smuggler’s – a section that none of us have ever explored before. We found some good lines, with just a bit of a slow exit on flat terrain. We finished off with a final descent down West Slope, making use of that ridge and flying off the edge into the powder.
I just checked the forecast, and we’ve apparent got more snow on the way this week. Nothing too big is expected, but the mountains often seem to do a lot with just a little moisture in the forecast. Indeed this is turning out to be quite a March for skiing in the Northern Greens as we make up for the rather paltry snowfall of January and February.
Some of the Northern Vermont ski areas have picked up close to (or in the case of Jay Peak, substantially more than) a foot of snow in the past seven days, and while that’s actually a fairly modest pace for snow accrual in the mountains this time of year, it’s helped to get surfaces back to packed powder since they hardened up last week. The snow has generally been dry and fluffy, so even with all that accumulation it hasn’t been a thorough resurfacing for all slopes. However, my explorations Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network revealed that the powder is building and there are some nice turns to be had. Temperatures were expected to be in the single digits in the highest elevations today, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some sidecountry exploration instead of riding lifts. And, since Claire and I have been talking about bringing our Stowe ski group for a trip on the Bruce Trail one of these days, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for some reconnaissance. There’s no doubt that everyone in the group is ready for the skiing on the Bruce, but I still wanted to familiarize myself with the route to ensure that the trip would go smoothly with all the boys in tow.
“In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range.”
Temperatures hovered right around 10 F all the way to the base of the resort, and there was sun and no wind, so it wasn’t feeling too frigid at the point. The resort had snow guns going on various trails, no doubt taking advantage of the temperatures to bolster base depths that were probably brought down a bit by the warmth earlier in the month. I rode the Fourrunner Quad with a guy who had already been out for some runs, and he said the conditions were quite good. Listening to the turns of the skiers below us, it did sound pretty quiet. I could see the occasional icy spot, but the surface seemed to be mostly packed powder just as the snow report had indicated. The snow over the past week has definitely been having an effect in terms of softening up surfaces.
“While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest.”
From the quad summit I headed over to the top of the Bruce Trail – a few tracks indicated that some skiers had already skied it today, but I dropped in via an alternate entrance to get an untracked line. The line was pretty steep and I was definitely touching down on the subsurface, but I could tell that I’d be able to get in some good powder turns on some lower angle terrain. The top part of the Bruce wasn’t really all that inspiring today – it’s pretty steep, a lot of pitches face southward, and it’s narrower than I’d thought it would be. I’d say it’s only 10 to 12 feet wide on average in the upper sections, which means that in reality it’s going to be tracked out and packed down after just a few skiers hit it. With its somewhat southern aspect making for spots of poor coverage here and there, it skied even narrower today. The snow was generally skier packed, so my fat Telemark skis were indeed feeling slow edge to edge, and I had to throw in a good number of alpine turns to fit in some of those small spaces dictated by the trail width and coverage.
While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest. The trail is notably wider in that area, and there are a lot more glade options for venturing off the sides of the main route. In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range. All those depths were definitely enough for some nice powder turns on moderate angle terrain though. With the narrow nature of the Bruce Trail in the top sections, it’s really not a trail that’s going to offer up much in terms of fresh powder, so those looking for a sidecountry experience with real untracked snow would probably be best served by using the Bruce as a jumping off point for explorations of the Ranch Valley. The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now (right around the 40” mark), but I could see a multitude of ski options all around during my descent. I noted a couple of potential areas for exploration up in the evergreen areas, but choices really exploded once down in the hardwoods. It would be easy to make a day of it out there, or, ski the resort in the morning and then tour out in the Ranch Valley in the afternoon and finish off the day by skiing out to Route 108.
At around the 1,500’ elevation, I entered the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center. This is the part I’d been concerned about in terms of making the correct choices to get out to Route 108 and the Matterhorn. It turns out that it’s much easier than I’d thought; you simply stay on the Bruce, and Burt Trails, following the signs that say “Ski Lift”. Even though you may not be planning to head back to the Toll House Lift, those “Ski Lift” signs are the way to go. Eventually you’ll get to a junction where following the “Ski Lift” route is a very obvious (and somewhat arduous looking) uphill, so you won’t want to go that way. By that point there are signs that indicate “Route 108”, and those will get you right out to the Matterhorn area. At every intersection you essentially go straight through, so in a worst case scenario, go with that. The trek through Stowe’s Nordic trails, and a small portion of the trails that belong to the Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center, is slightly downhill, but there’s plenty of poling and skating to be done. I was happy to have my Telemark gear, even if I looked funny with my skis being three times the width of the other Nordic skiers ambling around on the trails. I generally took it slow and enjoyed the scenery, which included some marvelous views of the Ranch Brook. The brook had that winter look with some flowing water, but also lots of ice, and snow pillows covering the rocks.
The final leg of the descent on Ranch Brook Road brings your right out on the “Ski Inn” driveway, next door to the Matterhorn, and across the street from The Notchbrook Convenience Store. I had time before the next uphill Mountain Road Shuttle arrived, so I stopped into the Matterhorn to get some sushi… only to discover that they don’t have sushi on Mondays. Clearly I’m going to have to hit the Bruce again with the boys on a different day so that we can finish that part of the adventure. So instead, I popped across the street to the store and got a snack before catching the shuttle back up to my car in the Mt. Mansfield lot. One thing I should note about the shuttle – the ski slots on the outside are still fairly old school, so if you’ve got fat and/or twin tip skis, you might have to bring them on the bus with you. Apparently that happens a lot, because the driver immediately knew what my issue was when I inquired. Missing out on the sushi, I did stop off at Harvest Market for a couple of samosas on the way home, and that definitely filled the void. So, today’s outing offered up some good turns in the powder, and was certainly a successful reconnaissance. The route down to the Matterhorn is easy, and I can tell that the biggest hurdle is going to be getting the boys through the flatter terrain at the end of the run. If that’s the toughest part we have to deal with though, it should be a lot of fun.
Weather-wise, the day turned out much warmer than the forecast seemed to suggest – it was 20 F once I was back down in the valley, and before I’d realized that, I couldn’t figure out why it felt so comfortable. The sunny skies from earlier in the day had clouded over ahead of another small snowfall event that’s supposed to hit us tonight into tomorrow – these are the sorts of storms we’ve got for now until something bigger comes along, but at least we’re getting something.