Today was a big ski day for Stephen. He’s been working hard, for what seems like years, to put together an appropriate alpine touring setup for backcountry skiing at a reasonable price. Over the past few months, the final pieces have finally been coming together. Despite his son Johannes “stealing” critical pieces of what appeared to be his final setup, the gear swapping, shop visits, adjustments, readjustments, and everything else that tried to get in the way, was eventually settled. All that remained was finding a day in his busy schedule to actually use his fancy gear. Today was that day, and the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network was the place.
We got a fairly early start to give us plenty of time for a tour of whatever length we chose, I figured I’d give Stephen a good introduction to some of my favorite parts of the network that he’d never visited. We’d be able to adapt the length of the tour as needed to fit energy levels and any equipment issues. Snowfall from Winter Storm Skylar was just getting started as we began our tour from the sports center, and it intensified on our ascent of the Bryant Trail. We saw only one other person on our ascent, and with the Bryant Cabin vacant, we were able to check out the upgrades that had been done as we took a quick break. Clearly the cabin has seen some recent use, because the icicles draped down from the roof were some of the largest I’ve ever seen.
The next leg of our journey took us up to “The Glades” above the Catamount Trail, where we stopped our ascent around 3,100’. Although the storm occasionally brought us some slightly larger flakes, they were for the most part small, with diameters in the 1 to 2 mm range. This meant that the new snow was fairly dense, and it was covering everything underneath it quite well. We continued down into the Cotton Brook Glades on Randy’s and Great White Way, and found some impressive untracked lines. Stephen had a few good explosions in the powder, but he seemed thankful for most of them as they helped cool him down after the long ascent. Those steep, tight sections on Randy’s were certainly the most challenging, but Stephen had some of his best turns down in the mellower pitches of Great White Way. I find that those lower angle areas are some of my favorites as well unless you’ve just picked up two feet of fluff and really need the steeper pitch.
The ascent up from the back side was quite a labor at times. It’s always tough skinning out in a few spots of that Cotton Brook ascent. It’s just steep and narrow near the bottom of Randy’s, and there’s no way around it, so you have to try your best to set in switchbacks. We were fortunate to have use of the old skin track that’s in place, but we were slipping on the steepest pitches. Stephen was definitely feeling it as he’d take one step forward and what felt like 10 steps back, especially as he was getting used his very first day on his skins, but we made it through that struggle and the pitch of the ascent improved dramatically. When we cut Stephen’s skins for his skis at full width, I was telling him how I considered that approach a “no brainer” vs. going with anything narrower, and after today’s ascent up from the Cotton Brook area I know he agrees 100%.
We finished off the tour with a line below Heavenly Highway down to Bryant Cabin, then on to Gardiner’s Lane and JJ’s, which delivered one of the best runs I’ve had there. We’d certainly accumulated a few fresh inches of snow from the storm by that point, which helped make the skiing extra soft. The Telemark Practice Slope was also aided by all the new snow, and made a nice end to the tour. Actually, the tour wasn’t quite over at that point because we added on one of the most important parts: sandwiches at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery. We even got to chat with Ralph Deslauriers while we were there, and naturally one of the topics of conversation was the very snowy week we’ve got to look forward to. It sounds like Winter Storm Skylar is going to move up into Northern Maine and wrap some of that abundant Atlantic moisture into the Northern Greens, just like the way things happened last week after Winter Storm Quinn!
I last got out for a ski tour at Bolton Valley on Tuesday, with the plan of getting in some turns ahead of the very cold weather that was forecast for the rest of the holiday week. Indeed the cold came into the area as expected, and while the low temperatures were far from anything that would set records, high temperatures that were staying below zero F and wind chills on top of that meant that it was going to be brutal out there. Today marked a bit of a respite from those temperatures though, with highs expected to be well up into the single digits F, no winds, and sunshine. I figured that today was my window to get back out for a ski tour before temperatures dip back down in the coming days.
The warmest part of the day was expected to be in the afternoon, with a southerly flow of air thanks to the remnants of Winter Storm Frankie passing through the area. I went with two base layers (lights under heavies) just to ensure that I’d be comfortable, and headed up to the mountain around 2:30 P.M. There was still some dim, arctic-looking sun pushing through the clouds off to the south as I arrived at the Village and parked right along the edge of Broadway. Temperatures were in the in the 5 to 10 F range, and with no wind it was actually quite comfortable – within a few minutes of starting my ascent of Bryant I was skinning without a hat in order to cool off.
“Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.”
We’ve had perhaps an inch or two of snow since my last outing on Tuesday, and at Village elevations I was finding about 5 inches of powder atop a thick layer. That surface snow depth definitely increased a bit with elevation, and if you punched through the thick layer in the snowpack you’d be looking at 18 to 24 inches of snow before getting to whatever base snow was below that. Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns. Some of the best sections were Girl’s and Telemark Glade, where the terrain and snow really flowed well.
This is opening weekend for lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley, but with only minimal terrain served by the lifts at the moment and fairly chilly temperatures in the forecast, I decided to make it my first visit of the season to the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. Although we haven’t had any big storms in the area in the past few days, we’ve had some lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes and additional snow from an arctic frontal passage that has given the mountains additional bouts of snow almost every day. The Mt. Mansfield Stake is indicating a snowpack depth of 34”, and it’s definitely not just fluff. With the high elevation and maintenance that goes on in the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, I’ll usually feel OK poking around on appropriate terrain once the stake kits 24” (depending on the composition of that 24”), so with 34” I figured it would definitely be ready to go.
I headed up to the mountain in the afternoon, and temperatures in the Village at ~2,000’ were in the mid-teens F, but fortunately there was minimal wind. There was blue sky at times, but light snow was still falling off and on. My goal was to head to the upper glades along the Catamount Trail out past the resort boundary. Those glades are up around the 3,000’ elevation, so I suspected the snowpack would be more than sufficient.
I headed up the usual Bryant Trail, and the most interesting thing I saw was that there are some new structures going up around the Bryant Cabin. One structure looked like a shed of sorts, and there was a larger structure that seemed to be partially built. It also seemed that there had been some work done on the cabin itself. In terms of snowpack depths, down at the Village at 2,000’ the surface snow was generally 14-15” of powder over a fairly thin layer of base snow. Up at the Bryant Cabin at ~2,700’ there was 16-17” of powder over a much more substantial base, and when I finally got up to ~3,000’ in the glades on the back side of Bolton Mountain there was a healthy 18-20” of powder. I was able to punch through the base at one point in my measurements, and the base snow seemed to be in the 8-10” range. So, that would put total snowpack depths up at that elevation approaching the 30” range, which seems pretty reasonable with the Mt. Mansfield Stake at 34”.
“…when I finally got up to ~3,000’ in the glades on the back side of Bolton Mountain there was a healthy 18-20” of powder. I was able to punch through the base at one point in my measurements, and the base snow seemed to be in the 8-10” range. So, that would put total snowpack depths up at that elevation approaching the 30” range…”
The skiing was generally excellent, especially in those upper glades. Since it was afternoon there had certainly been some traffic up there, but I still found areas of fresh snow. I made my way down via Gardiner’s Lane, and eventually decided to check out the Alchemist glade that I hadn’t visited in a while to the south of Gotham City. It’s a south-facing glade, so conditions can be quite variable, but aspect almost doesn’t matter right now because we’ve had November/December sun over the past couple of weeks… and not much of it anyway, so south-facing terrain isn’t all that different from north-facing terrain. One does have to watch out as they get down near 2,000’ though because the base below the surface snow does start to get pretty thin, so you don’t want to ski anything with many obstacles at that point. One could easily just lap terrain up above 2,500’ though with minimal concern about base depths. Skiing is definitely quite good up high right now.
There was a bit of accumulation of snow on my car when I got back to it after the tour. It was rather minimal though, about ¼“ of new after 2 to 3 hours away. Currently, Winter Weather Advisories are up ahead of our next storm that is coming into the area tomorrow. I signed up for Washington County weather alert texts through VT-Alert, so I was notified of our Winter Weather Advisory just I was finishing up my ski tour today. It was definitely nice to get that heads up right away without having to actively check, and it really doesn’t matter where you are. Anyway, the advisory calls for a general 4-7”, which seems pretty consistent with what’s been expected of this event for a few days now.
Best… Bolton… backcountry… tour… ever. That’s really the only way to start this trip report, because even after years of exploring the backcountry around Bolton Valley, that’s what today’s tour was for me. I can’t say that this tour was tops in every category; the powder was fantastic, but there have been numerous days that top it, and E and the boys weren’t with me, so it was a solo outing. What made the tour so great though was the combination of great powder on all aspects, the good distances covered to provide a nice workout, but most importantly, the breadth of the backcountry network used and the substantial number and variety of glades visited. The tour spanned all the way from the alpine trails of Wilderness to the Cotton Brook area, and featured nine different glades. What also made the tour so outstanding was that I could use my knowledge of the area to connect all those glades very efficiently; in terms of powder turns that meant getting the most bang for my buck.
“…we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week.”
It’s a holiday weekend, which typically means lots of visitors to the ski resorts, and the forecast today called for fairly chilly temperatures in the single digits for the mountains. That’s a combination that just calls out for some backcountry touring, and that’s the plan that gradually evolved this past week as I watched the forecast. Although we haven’t had any huge storms in the past week or two, the snow out there in the Northern Greens is simply fantastic – we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week. And, the January weather just keeps all that powder pristine.
Ty was out at a dance until late last night, and friends came back to our house and stayed overnight to play with him and Dylan. I wasn’t about to pull them away from that this morning, and in fact, I wasn’t really planning to ask anyone if they wanted to ski with only single digits in the mountain forecast. I knew it was going to be one of those days where it could be uncomfortably cold if you didn’t keep moving, so going out by myself meant that I could keep the tour at whatever pace I chose. Knowing that I was going out solo also let me devise a more ambitious tour than if I was heading out with the whole family. After considered the many options, I decided that a lift-assisted tour out toward the Cotton Brook area would be a good option. There are glades farther to the north there that I’ve yet to explore, and at a decent pace, it looked like I’d be able to put together a solid tour out to that area and back in the three to four hour window of time I had.
The Wilderness Chair was scheduled to start running at 10:00 A.M., so I headed up to the mountain a bit after that and found that parking had reached the third tier of the main Village lot. That’s actually less than I’d expect for a Saturday on a holiday weekend, but I think the cold weather kept some folks away. I was able to wrap around and get a spot in the first tier, and then headed right over to the base of the Wilderness Chair to start my tour with a lift assist. Temperatures were certainly on the chilly side, probably somewhere in the single digits, but there was no wind, and that made quite a difference in terms of sitting out there lift. The lift ride gave me a chance to check out the on piste conditions, since I haven’t been to the resort since our trip back on the 4th of the month, and what I saw today looked really good. I didn’t hear any hard sounds as some snowboarders passed below me, and off in the Wilderness Woods to my left, I watched a boy glide through the powder in silence. I’d say ¾ of the terrain in Wilderness Woods was still untracked, so there was a lot of good skiing to be done there. I was even tempted to take a run, but keeping on track for my tour was a necessity.
From the Wilderness Summit I skied down the top of Peggy Dow’s to the junction with the backcountry network at Heavenly Highway. I let my momentum carry a bit of the way into the forest, and then stopped to put on my skins. At that point I definitely felt the cold – it had the bite of below zero cold up there around 3,000′, and having just sat on the lift for a while meant that I wasn’t producing much heat. As I got my skins on another skier appeared, coming from Heavenly Highway. We exchanged greetings and I saw that he was heading for a descent on the alpine terrain. I got my skins on quickly, and headed northward on the trail. My goal was to head down Devil’s Drop and get on the Catamount Trail, and I made good time through those high elevations. I checked the depth of the surface powder as I moved across the ridge line on Heavenly Highway, and generally I found about 13 inches. I saw a couple other skiers along the way toward Devil’s Drop, but as usual it was pretty quiet. For Devil’s Drop, I debated taking off my skins and really having some fun on the descent, but opted to just keep them on. I did switch my binding to ski mode so that I could make some Telemark and alpine turns as needed. I actually had first tracks Devil’s Drop, and if I’d been with others it probably would have been worth pulling off the skins and skiing it hard with some pictures.
As I neared the bottom of Devil’s Drop I saw a group of eight skiers below heading northward on the Catamount Trail. That’s one of the larger groups I’ve seen out there, and then seemed pretty organized; as I caught up to them they all pulled over to the right in near unison and let me pass. Within another few minutes I’d passed Birch run and reached the border of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. I continued on a bit more until I was just below “The Glades”. My goal actual goal was down below, but I had the time and energy, and there were few tracks in The Glades, so I continued up to add another couple hundred vertical to my descent. That’s when I really started to warm up, and I had to hit the side zips on my pants and open the vents in my helmet. I actually think the air temperature was starting to warm a bit as well as southerly flow was starting to kick in ahead of our next storm. The ascent overall there was really quick though, and soon I was at the top of The Glades switching over to descent mode.
I hadn’t really gotten the feel of the skiing since I’d had my skins on at Devil’s Drop, but now I had them off and could dive into those turns in the Glades. The turns were excellent; there was a good foot or more of midwinter powder that easily kept me floating on my fat skis. I continued straight on below the Catamount trail onto “Randy’s”, which began with a modest pitch, and then dropped right off into a nice steep, open drainage. The pitch was close to 30 degrees in spots, and I can imagine this is quite a spot after big dumps of snow. The powder there was the deepest I’d seen on the day, but even that wasn’t quite enough to keep from touching down to the subsurface in a few spots because it was just so steep. That’s some really sweet terrain down there though, and there was just one or two other ski tracks in there, so the untracked lines were plentiful. Below that I got into “Great White Way”, where the pitch mellowed out a bit relative to Randy’s. The route just kept going, and as far as I understand, you can essentially take it all the way down to Waterbury Reservoir if you want, but after about 700-800′ of vertical I decided to call it a descent so that I could stay on track with the rest of my tour.
I skinned up along the edge of Great White Way, using a skin track that others had put in place. It would great to have a skin track that was totally out of the way of the trail, but the pitch is reasonable enough that you can head straight up the trail. As I approached Randy’s, the pitch really steepened of course, and the skin track had to make some pretty tight switchbacks. Fortunately, a more official, off trail skin track is quickly offered that heads up toward Birch Loop; there’s even a sign to let skiers know where that ascent route is, and it’s marked by blue blazes. That ascent was excellent, with a well-established skin track, and it delivers you right back that the Catamount trail just below The Glades.
“The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course.”
I left my skins on and zoomed across the flats toward Bryant Cabin. I didn’t stop inside, but instead continued along Gardiner’s Lane and up to North Slope to set up my final descent of the day. I stopped at the top of Upper JJ’s as my starting point. Since it was my final descent, I pulled out some tomato soup from my thermos, let it cool while I removed my skins, and then chugged the soup down and got on my way. The turns were beautiful, and I continued on Gardiner’s Lane, noting that there was a nice line above A1A that I hadn’t recalled seeing. I’ll have to check that out in the future. When I got to Grizzwald’s I found it completely untracked, and bounded my way down the steep pitch with some deep, fluffy turns. I contemplated a look at Alchemist, since it faces south and might be well preserved in this cold weather, but I saw what looked like just a track or two heading toward Gotham City and my skis just ended up pulling me that way. I skied Girls, and I think those might have been my favorite turns of the day. The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course. I hit two more glades on the descent before I was down to Broadway, but I don’t really know the names of those – the snow was good to the very last drop though.
I really can’t think of a tour I’ve done in the Bolton Valley backcountry that delivered such a huge amount of perfect turns in so many different areas, so this one really does go down as my best tour in that regard. The lift assist really allowed this tour to fit into a reasonable window of time while covering some good distances. There are really limitless combinations to do out there in terms of tours, but I know I’ll visit parts of this one again because it delivered so well.
We had a great day of lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley yesterday thanks to almost two feet of new snow from Winter Storm “Pax”, but today looked to be colder and windier, so some backcountry touring seemed like a good fit. It was such a gorgeous midwinter day today in the valley, with lots of sunshine, and highs around 20 F. The boys were more interested in sledding than skiing, but at least they were getting out enjoying the day. E stayed home with them and ended up doing some snowshoeing, but I headed up to the mountain for a tour. There had actually been a few more inches of fluff overnight in association with upslope flow from Winter Storm “Quintus”, so that new snow simply topped off what came from the larger storm.
“The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.”
Since I was solo, I decided on an interesting tour that would hit some common spots as well as some new areas that would let me check out some additional glades. I began with a standard skin up to Bryant Cabin via the Bryant Trail, which went quite quickly without any real stops. I actually had my pass checked by one of the resort employees out on the trail, so the resort is keeping up on that. The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.
From Bryant Cabin I headed out on Gardiner’s Lane and descended via JJ’s. There had been some skier traffic in the area, but there were various lines with fresh snow, and everything was simply bottomless and soft. I cut across to Possum, merged onto Cliff Hanger, and then skinned up to reach the top of Prayer Flag. Although I’ve explored that area before, I didn’t really know the name of the run until I saw it on the new Bolton Valley Backcountry Map. There was only one track on Prayer Flag, and it seemed to be an ascent track. The turns were good, and it was trench city with respect to the track I left. It was actually a bit much in the way of new snow for shallower grades, but for the steeper pitches it was excellent.
From the bottom of Prayer Flag I headed out toward “Breakfast Bowl”, a glade I’ve never skied before, and noted that the tracks looked really good coming down out of Holden’s Hollow. I found Breakfast Bowl totally untracked, and those were some of the best turns of the day – there is plenty of pitch there for whatever amount of powder you’ve got. At the bottom of Breakfast Bowl, instead of heading back up toward Broadway, I decided to cut across Joiner Brook, head up to the plateau on the other side, and take the Valley Loop Nordic trail back to the car. On my way up out of the streambed, I really got a feel for the instability of the snowpack. With the upside down snowpack having dense snow on top of lighter, drier stuff, “whumphing” sounds were being made with every step. It felt like a snowpack that would be ready to rip in appropriate terrain, and no sooner had I been thinking about it, than a room-sized slab shifted under me on a fairly steep slope. It only moved a couple of inches since it was stabilized by some trees, but it sure let me know that the snowpack meant business. Finishing my tour on Valley Loop was somewhat slow on my fat skis, but it was relaxing, and I cut a few corners to speed up the process on the very winding trail.
“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.
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.
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.
We 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.
“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.
It was a lot of fun skiing in the soft snow and warm temperatures last weekend, but winter is definitely back now. Temperatures dropped down closer to seasonable levels at the beginning of the week, and then the bottom fell out toward the end of the week as we dropped below zero F Thursday night with an arctic frontal passage. Fortunately, we’ve also had some modest shots of snow to start freshening the snowpack, and temperatures were back up to around 30 F in the mountains today, so it did seem like a good opportunity to get out for some turns and exercise. Stowe is reporting 8” of snow since Wednesday, and the skiing looks great based on the pictures that Powderfreak posted in the ski thread and the Northern New England thread at the American Weather Forum today. Bolton Valley is also reporting 5” of new snow during the period. Although I’m thinking of waiting until we hit roughly the one foot mark before checking out the lift served terrain, it did seem like we’d seen enough new snow in the past few days to provide some decent backcountry turns.
“…I found 3 to 4 inches of fluff down at the Village level, and that gradually increased to the 4 to 6 inch range by the time I got up to the Bryant Cabin at around 2,700’.”
With all that in mind, I decided to hit the mountain for a quick tour up to the Bryant Cabin and back through whatever terrain seemed fitting for the conditions. We’d reached the mid 30s F down at the house (495’) when I headed out around 2:00 P.M., but up in the Village at 2,100’ it was just 31 F. There certainly hasn’t been enough snowfall yet to really resurface the slopes and get the on piste conditions back to normal, so I couldn’t believe how the Village parking lots were virtually full. I wasn’t even able to get a parking spot in the upper tennis court lot like I usually do because it was full, but the lower tennis court lot had a decent number of spaces, and I was still able to park trailside along Broadway. The resort was hopping though, so I guess the holiday weekend and the comfortable weather are enough to make people really want to get out there. Overall that’s great for the resort of course.
“Indeed the turns in the powder were silky, especially when aided by the width of my AMPerages, and it was nice to feel that float again.”
In terms of unconsolidated snow above the old base, I found 3 to 4 inches of fluff down at the Village level, and that gradually increased to the 4 to 6 inch range by the time I got up to the Bryant Cabin at around 2,700’. Coverage on the Bryant Trail was generally fine, although a couple of the stream crossings had only recently filled back in after presumably being blown out a bit with running water during the warm spell. Traffic out in the Bryant area was pretty light once I was up above the Nordic trails – I saw a couple of skiers descending and a couple groups coming down on snowshoes. The air was generally calm, although you could occasionally hear some gentle gusts of wind up in the peaks. We’ve got another system and arctic frontal boundary coming through tomorrow, so there was that feeling of being between systems.
There was nobody in the Bryant Cabin area when I arrived there, and it was very quiet as I made my way past and stopped at the top of Gardiner’s Lane. I could see some of the glades above me, and the look of the powder up there was very appealing, but I could tell by the tracks of a couple of other skiers up there that the new snow wasn’t quite deep enough to really make the turns bottomless. As I was stripping off my skins, I heard a little noise coming from above me in the Birch Loop direction, and soon another backcountry skier passed by and headed down Gardiner’s Lane. I’m not sure what he’d been skiing up above, but he probably had a similar plan to mine for the terrain below – there are a lot of nice mellow options off Gardiner’s Lane that would work really well with the conditions.
Conditions on Gardiner’s Lane were packed, and a little bumpy in spots. At the junction with North Slope, I headed up a bit to catch a nice mellow line that I knew, and I’m glad that I did. I could see that another skier had taken in before me, and the tracks left behind suggested some nice turns. Indeed the turns in the powder were silky, especially when aided by the width of my AMPerages, and it was nice to feel that float again. Back on Gardiner’s Lane, I had a feeling that I was in the zone of another glade I knew, and figuring that Gardiner’s Lane itself would have seen a fair share of traffic, I decided to head on that lesser used route. Only one other skier had passed through there, and the snow was good, but the pitch was too steep to avoid contacting the base snow. Below there I followed a set of tracks to an area I’d never been, and found a nice long glade that brought me all the way back down to World Cup. It’s got to be one of the longest glades I’ve seen out there. I’m not sure how new it is in the grand scheme of the backcountry network, but it’s new to me; I can’t wait to show it to E and the boys – especially with deeper powder. Someone did some nice work in there. The glade starts off with some mellow terrain that was great for today’s conditions, and then it steepens out to more of an intermediate pitch. I was even able to finish off with a run on the Telemark Practice Slope, which did have some irregularities in the subsurface snow due to previous skier traffic, but still delivered some nice turns – even a few in which I was able to stay floating in the powder.
Overall I’d say that that part of the run in the new glade was a good description of the general conditions out there – you can get some bottomless turns (especially with the help of fat powder boards) on the mellower green-style terrain, but on intermediate pitches and above you’re going to be touching bottom a lot. It was definitely worth a tour out there today though, and if we get a few more inches as the next system passes through tomorrow, it’s going to be even better.
There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly. And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further. This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™. With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns. It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.
“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”
Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south. The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning. The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes. My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers. While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff. Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled. We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air. Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are. One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.
It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M. We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent. The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow. Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots. As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.
Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside. They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there. Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin. I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse. While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.
After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent. We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane. While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior. The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed). Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight. The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.
That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times. Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch. We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area. We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side. The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there. We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup. The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun. It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.