We’ve had plenty of pleasantly benign weather days this month, but yesterday was one of those raw October days that really speak to the seasonal progression. Temperatures in the valleys even stayed well down in the 40s F, and a storm passing through the area brought bouts of heavy rain that made walking around outside a rather rough experience. I wasn’t sure if this storm was actually cold enough to bring in some snow to the area, but sure enough, Powderfreak was already posting snowy images from Mansfield this morning and letting us know that the snow level was down to 3,000 feet. Once the clouds began to break away from the mountains in the afternoon I was able to snap an image from my office of the new white near the peak of Mansfield behind some of the colorful foliage still hanging on in the Champlain Valley. We’ve got a potent storm coming into the area Sunday that is expected to bring a lot of wind and rain, and next week there’s the chance for a bit more snow in the area as we get some cooler temperature and a flow that could bring moisture over from the Great Lakes.
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.
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.
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.
Parts of the Northeast have had bouts of sub-freezing temperatures since the end of August, but tonight looks like the first widespread occurrence of the season throughout Vermont. We’ve got a frost advisory here in Washington County, but it sounds like some of the colder areas of the state up in the Northeast Kingdom could get down into the middle 20s F, and freeze warnings are in place. It’s certainly time to cover up those gardens in the usual cold spots.
With the unknown element of mixed precipitation, we decided to head for Jay Peak on Saturday. Along with Bennett, we even pulled Mr. Mango Madness out for his first day of the season. In anticipation of bad roads, we loaded ourselves into Bennett’s big rig and headed north. Burlington had accumulated about 4 inches at this point, and although it was temporarily coming down only lightly, it picked up as we headed toward Jay Peak.
We were proud of ourselves for arriving on time (not easy), and took a run on the double before the tram opened. We headed down Green Mountain Boys (I think) and found about 4-6″ blown around by the wind; best on the sides. The powder was not super light, but not bad (and it was still snowing’ like crazy). By the time we got down, the tram was ready and we hopped aboard. We headed out on Vermonter, finding about 12″ of chowder, a tough ski, especially with the humidity and our goggles going crazy from the moist tram ride. I think I heard the term “skiing by Braille”, or some such out of somebody in the group. On a personal note, of course my goggles fogged up right in the middle, but if I turned my head sideways, I could look out the edge and see, really messed with the balance, but oh what fun.
After another run on the tram, we headed over to the triple, and headed for Timbuktu (one of our favorites). We hung to the right to catch fresh snow, but found plenty of ice storm damage in that area, and with the snow that had fallen so far, only very short lines were available, and even then it wasn’t a secure feeling with the fallen trees around. As we headed back left, we found that clearing had been much better, but this area was already getting pretty tracked.
We boarded the quad and found our best run of the day by far. North Glade must have just recently been opened because there were few tracks, and 8+ inches of powder; we left there wanting more (and trying to figure out where we were and how we got there.) We finished off the day with a couple of tram rides (amazingly, you could always get right on the tram with no line) and hit some areas that may not have been officially open, but didn’t exactly have ropes either. Oh well, there were three of us, and sometimes ignorance is bliss; in the form of untracked snow.
One of the highlight’s of the day was Mango simply exploding on a very flat section of Deer Run. It looked like a snow snake just jumped out and bit him; and the look of “what the…!” as he went down into a crumbled heap of man and equipment, was priceless. During one of our traverses that I was leading, I got ridiculed for my choice of line, something about “What rabbit made this!” as Bennett found himself stuck between a tree and a hard place.
During one of our tram rides, the ticket checker said that it was raining just about everywhere south of Jay. I was initially skeptical, then happy that we were at Jay Peak of course, then worried about what would happen at places like Sugarbush. Stay tuned for our Sunday installment in which the truth will be revealed!