Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 13MAR2018

An image of Stephen dropping off Heavenly Highway into some powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Stephen skiing powder in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen enjoying some of the great snow out there in the Bolton Valley backcountry today

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.

An image out the window of the Bryant Cabin showing icicles in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe 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%.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a tour in the backcountry at Bolton  Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS tracking data for today’s tour into the Bolton Valley backcountry

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!

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 03MAR2018

An image of people riding fat bikes on the Nordic Trails at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont March after a fresh snowfall
An image of the Prayer Flag trail on the Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heading down through a bit of fresh powder today on the Prayer Flag trail on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

Yesterday the Northeast was affected by Winter Storm Riley, a whopper of a system with wind gusts reaching 93 MPH in Barnstable on Cape Cod.  On the winter side of the storm, the Catskills were the epicenter for big snowfall, with accumulations reaching 40 inches.  Here in Vermont, the snow totals weren’t quite as outrageous, but the southern resorts still pulled in over a foot of accumulation.  Bolton Valley was reporting 4 inches of new snow from the storm, which seemed like just enough to temp me out for a tour in the new powder.

“I didn’t have first tracks, but I did catch second tracks, and they were generally bottomless thanks to the dense snow and 115 mm fat skis.”

I headed up to the Village in the mid-morning timeframe with temperatures in the upper 20s F and mostly cloudy skies.  The parking lots were already getting quite full, but there were still a number of parking spots right along Broadway, and I was able to grab one of those.  I actually saw a few folks riding fat bikes on some of the lower Nordic Trails, and it looked like a perfect day to be out on those.  Actually, with the fresh snow, comfortable temperature, and peeks of sun, it was just a gorgeous day to be out on anything – I saw all manner of folks on the trails varying from the bikers, to snowshoers, to Nordic skiers, to backcountry skiers.

A direction arrow and snowy evergreens on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in VermontWith only a few inches of new snow, I was looking for some low-angle glades for today’s tour, and I decided to venture across to the west side of the valley for a change.  I kicked things off with a run on Prayer Flag, augmented by ascending a bit farther up the west wall of the valley above the flags to get some extra vertical.  I didn’t have first tracks, but I did catch second tracks, and they were generally bottomless thanks to the dense snow and 115 mm fat skis.  Only when I had to cut hard to stop or adjust for a major obstacle would I get down to the subsurface.  Lower angle was clearly the way to go today though, because down on Brook Run I could see that steeper terrain like the Holden’s Hollow Glades will definitely need another storm before they’ll be back in top form.

Down at the pump house on Broadway, I reskinned my skis and headed back up World Cup to Bryant.  I skied the first half of Cup Runneth Over to start my next run, skipping the steeper bottom half because the new snow just wasn’t sufficient for that pitch.  Cup Runneth Over had seen a couple of skiers, but there was ample fresh snow remaining and the turns were generally very nice.  I finished out with some of the usual glades in the World Cup area, and even caught part of the Telemark Practice Slope, which had actually seen minimal traffic.

A Google Earth Map with GPS Tracking Data for a ski tour on the Nordic & Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A map of today’s tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network

The classic end to the tour was of course a visit to the Village Deli to grab some subs with that fantastic new bread they’ve got.  I didn’t see Gus today, but the Deli was really hummin’ with just about every table filled.  It sounds like we might have another storm affecting the area this coming week, so we’ll certainly be watching that potential over the next few days.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 03FEB2018

An image of a Coyote trail sigh no the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a Coyote trail sign on the backcountry skiing network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Following a skin track out in the Bolton Valley backcountry today – the recent snow really started getting the backcountry conditions back on track.

As the forecasts suggested, we’ve moved back in a bit of a snowier weather regime after the past couple weeks of midwinter doldrums.  A system on Thursday ushered in some welcomed snow, with 4.4 inches down here at the house, and 6 to 8 inches at most of the resorts in the northern 2/3 of Vermont.

Today started out quite cold, with temperatures down near 0 F, but it was expected to get warmer throughout the day.  I waited until midafternoon, then headed up to Bolton Valley for a tour to check out how the new snow had settled in.  Temperatures were in the mid to upper teens F when I arrived, and checking the settled depth of the powder at the 2,100’ elevation level, I found it was 4 to 5 inches deep.

An image of an Old Goats trail marker on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Old Goats: The Bolton Valley Backcountry Network is probably the only place you’re ever going to see a trail marker like this.

Instead of going all way up to Bryant Cabin today, I decided to do a bit of an abbreviated tour.  I headed about halfway of the way up the Bryant Trail, then connected onto Coyote and made my way up to Gotham City.  I saw a nice skin track taking a novel route into the upper reaches of Gotham City, so I followed that for a few minutes and added on some additional vertical.  I topped out close to 2,500’, where the depth of the powder was roughly 6 inches.  The upper reaches of Gotham City that I skied were totally untracked and yielded some excellent turns, and I followed my run out through the usual assortment of glades available throughout the World Cup area.  The turns were excellent on low to moderate angle terrain, with only the occasional contact with the subsurface unless you got into steeper terrain or areas that had seen previous traffic.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the backcountry ski network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS Tracking Data for today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network overlayed onto Google Earth

Even that modest storm that we just picked up was all that was really needed to make a huge bump up in the ski conditions, but we’ve got another system on its way tomorrow that should help even more.  We’ll see how this next system plays out, but another several inches on top of what we just picked up will really get things back in midwinter form.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 10DEC2016

An image showing some ski tracks in powder snow in a high-elevation glade along the Catamount Trail outside of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the depth of powder on a glade along the Catamount Trail outside of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
In the backcountry today, the higher elevations held up to 20 inches of powder atop a roughly 10-inch base, indicating a snowpack of approximately 30 inches.

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.

An image of a new structure near Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I saw that there had been some recent construction up in the Bryant Cabin area.

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.

A map showing a ski tour from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
GPS/Google Earth plot of today’s backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley

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.

Bolton Valley and Backcountry, VT 16FEB2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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