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 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.
With 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.
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.
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.
The boys both ended up staying over at the Handler’s house last night, and we wouldn’t be picking them up until the Warren Miller ski movie (No Turning Back) in Stowe this evening, so that gave E and I a chance to get out for a bit of skiing together today. I got a really good sampling of the snow and glade conditions on my solo ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network yesterday, and I found some spots that I thought E would really like, so I planned on a mini tour that would let us focus on just those glades. The Gotham City area and the glades below that looked like a very good option; based on the pitch, tree spacing, and depth and consistency of the powder, it felt like a good fit for E’s off piste Telemark skills.
Temperatures were rising today ahead of our next incoming winter storm, and they were right around the freezing mark when we arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village at midday. The resort was absolutely packed with the cars of visitors; now that the temperatures were nice and comfortable, presumably everyone was making their holiday trips to the slopes. The Village lots were actually all full and they were parking people down at Timberline, but since we’d be visiting the Nordic side of the resort, we figured we’d be able to find something down by the Nordic Center. Even down there it took some creative parking to get a spot, but we managed one in the lowest tier of the main area.
We walked over to the tennis court area, strapped on our skis and began following a short skin track that others had made that quickly merged onto Broadway. From there it was up to the Bryant trail, where we stopped at the highest junction with World Cup to drop some layers and open some vents. We continued on Bryant up to the 2,400′ elevation, where we cut off over toward Coyote. There’s a skin track leading right up into Gotham City that I’d seen yesterday, and my estimates were that an elevation of ~2,400′ was just about right for getting there. Indeed we quickly found the skin track off Coyote, and it was just another few minutes up to Gotham City. They even have a sign now that welcomes you to the area. I’m not sure when it was, but at some point today I realized that Gotham City must of course be name after Ann Gotham of Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry. I’d initially thought that the name referred somehow to the Gotham City of Batman fame, but the link to Ann seems so obvious now.
We stopped our ascent in the middle of Gotham City to switch over for descending, and we were treated to sunshine peeking in and out from behind clouds as we enjoyed the mild air and snowy scene. We had some soup and hot chocolate, but they almost seemed out of place with the relatively mild weather. Despite the rising temperatures, the powder had appeared to hold up pretty well in areas we’d checked during our ascent, but we soon noticed that it was starting to stick to our skis in sunny areas. We knew we’d better get a move on lest the powder turn to mush on us.
We headed down by skiing a combination of Girls and Sasquash, and fortunately the powder was still decent in the more shaded areas. It was starting to turn in sunnier areas though, and when we got into some of the lower elevation glades below World Cup, it was definitely past its prime. Fortunately we’ve got a winter storm on the way this evening, with Winter Storm Warnings up for the Northern Greens. A good storm will make quick work of any adulterations to the powder in those lower elevations.
In any event, we got some good turns, hit four different glades in that short tour, and finished off on the Telemark Practice Slope. I bet one could easily do that tour in under an hour if they got right to it and didn’t pause to do other things. An efficient route for access might be just to go up Coyote, although I’m not sure if the skinning there would be quite as easy as on Bryant since it’s not used as much. We’ll definitely get back there with E, and hopefully the boys with even better snow, but it’s a great little tour that hits some beautiful ski terrain.
This evening we met up with the Handler’s and the boys at Bender’s Burritos on the Mountain Road in Stowe. Our family has been a few times now since Ty really likes burritos, but apparently it was a first visit for everyone but Jeff in his family. It’s a small place that seats maybe a dozen people, and we were worried that it might be packed with holiday visitors, but we essentially had it to ourselves. A memorable part of the experience was watching the end of the Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game, in which the Packers seemed to have it all locked up with just a little time to go, but the Seahawks made a ridiculous comeback to win the game. At one point the Bender’s staff was all out front at the counter, eyes riveted to the screen as they watched the dramatic conclusion of the game. Of most importance of course was the fact that the winner of the game could potential be playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I think everyone had a great meal – I got a fish burrito as I often do, going with the cod this time.
“An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up…”
The next phase of the evening was to head up to the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center at the resort to watch the latest Warren Miller ski movie, No Turning Back. We usually catch it in the fall at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, but we didn’t get a chance this year. It was just sort of luck when I found that it was playing at Spruce Peak because I was getting some links for another ski trip report. When Jeff found out about the movie, that set things in motion and he got us all tickets. I believe this showing of the movie is one of those put on by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, and it’s very unlike the Flynn Theater experience. Whereas that’s a real raucous affair filled with hundreds and hundreds of people, this was a much mellower time, with about a couple dozen of us in the entire theatre. They do have the intermission, but the only prize drawing is for the grand prize opportunity to win a ski trip. Another cool aspect of this showing was that they have free snacks and drinks for everyone – at intermission you just pop out into the lobby and grab your complimentary food. The movie was great, with a lot of depth in each feature as opposed to just the skiing. An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up; it’s worth a little more description as I wrap up this report.
Indeed the thing of greatest importance in the world of Vermont skiing this evening was the weather. This current storm has been potentially dicey in the Northeast, with areas off to the east of the Greens likely to see a lot of rain. But, here in Northern Vermont we’ve been in the game for a good shot of snow, and as of this evening it looks like that might be coming to fruition. When we left the house around 5:00 P.M. there wasn’t much going on, but we got into some light rain in the valley during the trip northward. While we were at Bender’s Burritos on the mountain road (elevation 750′), there was a little light rain, and when we left there around 6:30 P.M. the rain had picked up – it was actually freezing on some ground surfaces, but it was spotty so it must have only been those that were very cold. Upon heading up to the mountain to watch the movie, snow mixed in at roughly 1,200′ elevation. At the Spruce Peak Village (1,500′) the precipitation was all snow, and it was starting to come down at a really healthy clip. At intermission during the movie we could see that the snow was really picking up, and when we were leaving around 9:00 P.M. we were getting a real shellacking of dense snow; there was a good inch or so already down. It was snow all the way back to the house at that point, and a very isothermal 33 F on the car thermometer the entire trip. Here in Waterbury at 500′ I measured 1.2″ of snow as of 11:00 P.M. this evening and I’m planning to do a liquid analysis at midnight. Things are looking good for a day on the slopes tomorrow though.
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.
Down at the house, snow from our current storm was just starting to fall around 3:00 P.M. today when I headed up to Bolton Valley with the boys. E had headed off to get some work done at school, so it was just the guys at home, and I figured that we should get out and enjoy the snow for a bit. After getting a closer look at the Cup Runneth Over glade on Sunday, it seemed like a nice, short touring option to try with the boys.
“Skiing in the upper section of the glade was pleasant. Even though there were a number of sets of tracks, there was still untouched powder around, and a good 6+ inches of it.”
The temperature was in the mid 30s F at the house, and the flakes that were falling here and there quickly began to intensify into a steady light snow as we headed down the Winooski Valley through Bolton Flats. Looking out ahead of us toward the west, we could see that that more intense snow was heading our way. With the marginal valley temperatures with this event, the mountains are expected to do notably better with the snowfall, and indeed that was borne out as we headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road and got into sub-freezing air. Snow was already accumulating on the road above ~2,000’, and the snowfall was much more intense up in the Village. The boys quickly covered up with their hoods as we got out of the car and into our gear, because the snowfall would quickly wet you down if you didn’t get yourself under something waterproof.
Lights were starting to come on for the alpine trails, and skier traffic was scant on the Nordic network as we skinned along World Cup and then Bryant. The boys hardly believed me when I told them that we were in for just a few minutes of climbing before we’d reach the start of our descent. Indeed that was the case, and we stopped along Bryant at the entry spot I’d seen for the upper section of Cup Runneth Over on Sunday. We relaxed and hung out along the top of the Glade, enjoying the snowfall and the comfortable temperatures just below freezing. Dylan immediately dove into his pack for some snacks, and ended up creating sandwiches comprised of Cheez-It® crackers with snow in the middle. One lone skier passed by us as she made an ascent up Bryant, but, aside from her, all we saw were a couple other Nordic skiers and a guy on snowshoes. With the fairly late hour, it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t see many people.
Skiing in the upper section of the glade was pleasant. Even though there were a number of sets of tracks, there was still untouched powder around, and a good 6+ inches of it. The boys practiced some Telemark turns and stopped down at the intersection with World Cup where the glade starts to dive down a steeper slope. I began the steeper descent, but after I’d made a couple of turns, the boys asked if they could ski World Cup and work on their Telemark turns; they just weren’t feeling confident enough with their turns to take on the steeper part of the glade, and that was probably a good choice for them because I did find the coverage a bit bony. They were definitely enamored with the clean, groomed look of World Cup, made all the more enticing with the coating of fresh snow that was approaching an inch by that point. The boys certainly had a lot of fun on World Cup, trying different variations on their Telemark turns as they pushed around some of the fresh snow.
Once we were back at the car, I decided that boys could get a snack at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery, and we ended up also grabbing a couple of pizzas at Fireside Flatbread to take home for dinner. I’ve wanted to make use of having the pizza right there in the lodge for a while now at the end of one of these evening tours, and today it worked out perfectly. We had it in hand in roughly 10 minutes, so the guys at the oven were right on top of it.
We headed down from the mountain around 5:30 P.M., and roughly an inch of new snow seemed to be the total at that point, with continued moderate snowfall. This is a storm where areas farther north are expected to get more snow, so we’ll have to see how Stowe does overnight, but there could be some nice skiing tomorrow if the snow keeps up for a while. And the pizza from Fireside Flatbread was excellent as usual – their crust is one of my favorites anywhere.
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.