The latest weather system to come into the area has been named Winter Storm Theseus. Snow associated with the storm started up on Friday and left nearly a foot of at some of the local ski resorts, so Dylan and I headed up to Bolton Valley this morning for what we hoped would be some great powder skiing, and we weren’t disappointed.
Temperatures edged above freezing down in the valley, but the freezing line really stayed below 1,500’ this morning from what we saw, so that kept surfaces wintry at all elevations of the resort. The snow was certainly less dense the higher you went, but it wasn’t until probably below 1,800’ that the quality of the powder skiing started to fall off a bit – it was just getting a bit too dense for optimal turns. Really though, that’s just last few hundred feet of vertical at Timberline, and everything at the main mountain was well above that. It snowed all morning to keep the wintry appeal going and keep things fresh. The flakes were small so additional accumulations weren’t too hefty, but it was definitely coming down at times – we had to pull out the lens hoods for some photography sessions because of the intensity of the snow.
We started off on the morning on the main mountain with a trip up the Vista Quad, but we knew that by the time we’d worked our way down the trails we’d be able to catch the opening of the Timberline Quad. We had a good time down there, catching the rope drop on Upper Tattle Tale, just after we’d skied the lower half from the crossover. We did some exploring and found the entrance to House Line, a shot I’ve been looking to ski for a while. Dylan decided to go Telemark again today, and he was definitely ripping up that powder. We eventually made our way back to the main base and finished off the ski day on Wilderness, then grabbed some food at the main cafeteria and the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery.
Bolton’s got their 48-hour total at 9 inches for the higher elevations, and I’d say 9 to 10 was where we found things topping out with the addition of this morning’s snow. Anyway, it was a great way to start off this month’s skiing, and of course another perk of the day was the fact that we’re in April, and visitation at the resorts really starts to fall off. There were certainly visitors, but there were still a number of trails with just a few tracks on them when we were leaving around midday, so folks who were out really got treated to one of those kind of powder days.
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.
Today the family headed up to Bolton Valley to pick up our season’s passes and go for a ski tour to check out the snow from our recent storm. The snowfall has finally slowed down, and with temperatures staying in the 20s F, conditions were indeed great for getting out on the slopes.
What immediately struck us when we got to the resort was how many people were there. The top tier of the main Village lot was totally full, and the uphill side of the next tier down was full as well. Plenty of people were coming and going, and it was obvious that a lot of them were picking up season’s passes and leased equipment, but we could also see that there were a lot of people geared up for ski touring.
We got our gear together, headed up to the main base lodge to take care of our passes, and when we were done we put our skis on behind the lodge. There were a number of snow guns running near the base as the resort prepares for opening next weekend, but there was plenty of natural snow as well, and it was staying dry and powdery.
We made our way over to the Lower Turnpike skin track, and I’d never seen so many people out on the ascent. Just within eyeshot there were a dozen people on the track in groups of varying size. A lot of things (fresh snow, weather, pass pickup, etc.) had presumably come together to get people out, but the number of people out there has clearly got be a sign that the word is out on the resort’s uphill routes and touring options. Hopefully it’s a great sign for a busy season at the resort in general.
In terms of the skiing, indeed the snow quality was great, just like yesterday. Bolton didn’t quite pick up the totals that I found at Stowe yesterday though – I measured 8-10” of new snow in the Village elevations around 2,000’ or so, and I’d say Stowe picked up those amounts about 500’ lower. We measured roughly 14-15” of new snow at the 2,500’ elevation mark, and I’d say that was about the same near the 3,000’ level.
We took a nice break at the top of our ascent to enjoy some soup and hot chocolate (Ty really loved the peppermint mocha creamer that I added) before we finally got out descent underway. Everyone got in some great powder turns, and the boys were in much better Telemark form on this snow without the slight crust that challenged them on their previous Bolton Valley outing. Although our big storm just finished up, it looks like we’ve got a smaller system on the way tomorrow to add a bit more. Let’s hope we can keep the snowy systems going as we move forward to set up some good December skiing.
We’ve had a decent buildup to Winter Storm Goliath over the past several days because it was expected to be the first widespread winter storm to hit the Northeast this season. The forecasts were spot on with an initial burst of heavy snow in the wee hours of Monday night, as snow began to fall not too long after midnight, and by the time I made my 6:00 A.M. weather observations there were 4.3 inches on the boards here at the house. Early morning reports from the mountains weren’t actually all that much greater than our total in the valley, topping out around a half a foot, but the snow was certainly going to do a decent job of resurfacing the slopes – my liquid analysis showed the snow coming in at a hefty 13.0% H2O. That’s actually a great way to start building a natural base of snow.
“I could tell that in the appropriate areas the snow was going to offer those surfy, buttery powder turns that you get atop a good dense snowfall.”
We were getting set to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns around noontime when we hit a very unexpected snag – Ty put on one of his Telemark boots and immediately let out a boisterous “Whoa, that’s tight!” Apparently kids his age grow. Ty likes his boots really tight, so for him to say that was a bad sign, there was no way he was going to be able to ski in those boots. E quickly offered him one of her new boots, and it was a great fit. Ty was of course elated to have the chance to try out E’s sweet ski boots, but of course that left her without a pair. Let’s just say that it’s fortunate for us that trash day is Thursday. E’s old Telemark boots had been sitting around for a couple of years, and after finally bringing them to OGE last week for consignment and finding out that they were just too beat up for them to even accept them, it seemed like it was time to give them the heave-ho. Desperate times call for certain types of measures, so into the trash I went this afternoon, and the old Garmonts came back into service. Ty actually tried them on and found that even those were too tight, so “conveniently” he somehow still wound up with E’s nice new boots and E donned her old ones. Needless to say, a trip to OGE is going to be in order to see what we can find for Ty in the Tele boot department.
The precipitation we encountered was generally sleet as we headed up to the resort, and we got a pretty good sandblasting with pellets driven by a strong wind in the Bolton Valley parking lot. There generally seemed to be 3 to 4 inches of new snow at Village elevation, but there was also plenty of drifting due to the strong winds, so it was hard to get a good estimate. The process of being blasted by sleet pellets tamed down as we began skinning up the sheltered slopes of Lower Turnpike, and after gaining a couple hundred feet of elevation, depth checks revealed 5 to 7 inches of dense snow along the sheltered areas on the climber’s right of the trail. Even on Lower Turnpike, there were still some areas that were wind packed and or showed reduced snow depths due to stripped snow, but I could tell that in the appropriate areas the snow was going to offer those surfy, buttery powder turns that you get atop a good dense snowfall. The boys stopped their ascent at the junction with Wilderness Lift Line and jumped into the woods to play in the snow, but E and I continued on up to the base of the headwall on Cougar to get into some of the typically good snow that sits there. As we neared the top of our ascent I was finding pockets of 8 to 10 inches of snow in the best spots, but even half that amount was plenty to keep you well off the subsurface with the density of this storm’s snow.
After a quick break, E and I began our descent, sampling the snow along the skier’s left of Cougar and finding some reasonably soft lines in the dense accumulations. As E descended I took the opportunity to get in a first test of ski action photography using the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. I’ve been looking for a really bright lens to supplement my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM workhorse – especially for dark storm days like this near the solstice. Although it’s a prime lens, 50 mm on an APS-C camera is in a pretty nice spot with respect to focal length for my type of ski action photos. And, it’s hard to argue about the monstrous light-gathering ability of an f/1.2 lens – wide open it’s more than an 11-fold increase over my f/4 lens, so it should be able to handle even the darkest of storm days. Obviously shooting action photos wide open at f/1.2 with its razor thin depth of field isn’t necessarily going to be practical, but even stopping down to a respectable f/2 is going give me a four-fold increase in brightness and the ability to hit action-stopping shutter speeds in lower light without having to crank up the ISO too high. Today I started off with a reasonable f/2.8 and a locked shutter speed of 1/1000 sec, and an ISO of only 250 was required. After looking at the images, I’ve got nothing to complain about so far; the focal length is looking like it’s going to be great, and the lens has got that beautiful color retention and contrast you’d expect from one of Canon’s L-series lenses.
“Dylan was back on his game of trying to one-up me with his Telemark turns, but I had my fat skis today, and boy were they the right tool for the dense snow.”
There was certainly some variability in the snow due to areas affected by the wind and dense precipitation types, but the sheltered spots yielded some very nice turns. When we’d made it down to the boy’s elevation we found that they had already put away their skins and were just about ready to go – that was a pleasant surprise. Dylan was back on his game of trying to one-up me with his Telemark turns, but I had my fat skis today, and boy were they the right tool for the dense snow. They made that beautifully stable platform that kept you up in the upper reaches of the powder, but still let you slice your way into it. I’d say the most consistently good powder turns were in the upper reaches where E and I began our descent, but there were some nice turns to be had lower down as well. Ty was unfortunately off his game a bit due to a sore leg, but Dylan had some beautiful carves and was working hard on fast transitions from turn to turn as he followed me into some of the best lines along the skier’s left of the trail.
I’d heard that the James Moore Tavern was going to be open for business this weekend, but I guess they changed that plan because we found it closed, and instead headed for some food at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery. The resort was pretty quiet in general, with just a few skiers around hitting the slopes and enjoying the new snow with a bit of extra solitude. There was plenty of snow being made on the slopes of the main mountain today, and combined with this natural accumulation (which added up to over an inch of liquid even down at our place in the valley) they should be in good shape to handle lift-served levels of traffic on the terrain they open. We’re getting into a much more wintry weather pattern now, so this storm should serve as a good base for the start of the season’s snowpack.
I had a really busy Friday, but the views of the mountains caked with snow suggested that accumulations were really holding well in those elevations that had received snow, and my plan was to head out for some turns at some point today. Ty and E had left the house early today for some volunteer work at a school function, but Dylan and I were able to head up to Bolton Valley by late morning. The lower valleys are bare in terms of snow, and it felt quite warm, so it was really hard to imagine that there was going to be decent snow for skiing just a few minutes away. We saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road in the 1,300’-1,400’ elevation range by the big S-curve below Timberline, and the accumulations really shot up quickly above that elevation. By the time we got above 2,000’ to the Village, it was an entirely different world. Within the span of 1,000’ in elevation we’d gone right from November into December. There was a good 2-3” of dense snow on the ground, and temperatures were holding in the 34-35 F range. The snow was wet so that it packed very well, and as I got the ski gear together Dylan had rolled a massive snowball within moments. After a good session of building and destroying some snowballs, we headed over to the base of Wilderness to start our ascent.
We were able to strap on our skins right away, as there was plenty of coverage, and checking the depth of snow on the climber’s right on Lower Turnpike at ~2,200’, I was already measuring 3-4” of snow. We continued on up the available skin track, and I was surprised to see only about 3 or 4 tracks on the trail from skiers descending. I would have thought there’d be more pent-up demand for turns since it hasn’t snowed in a couple of weeks, but I think a few of the other trails had served as descent routes as well. We continued up to around the 2,600’-2,700’ elevation range, where we stopped at the base of the steep headwall of Cougar. The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry. Dylan tried to build snowballs as he’d done at the base and had no success; the snow was just too dry and it all crumbled away like sand through an hourglass. I was hoping that the loss to snowball building was going to be our gain with regard to fluffy turns.
“The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry.”
I started off the descent and struggled with turns on my long, skinny, Tele rock skis, and of course Dylan made fun of me as he floated along on his more modern gear. I’d brought along my rock skis because I really hadn’t known how much coverage we’d have, but with the generally grassy slopes of Lower Turnpike and decent snow depths, a pair of fat skis would leave you with minimal concerns about damaging any bases. I got my Telemark turns flowing as we descended farther, and Dylan and I exchanged some smack talk about who was actually the better Telemark skier. Dylan said that “only in my dreams” was I actually better than him, but I countered by asking if he’d like to switch skis and see how things went. I think I’d get the much better end of that deal, even if his skis would be on the short side for me. By the time we’d descended to the 2,400’-2,500’ range the snow was starting to get a bit wet, so we’d presumably hit the freezing line. The turns actually remained fairly decent all the way down to within about 100’ of the base though, and we were still able to even make Telemark turns for most of it. There were a few water bars negotiate, but we had a lot of fun working with the different techniques for those – simply zooming across the gap allowed it, or taking the more conservative approach of stepping over if it didn’t. You could certainly lap the top half of the mountain if you wanted to stay in totally dry snow, and we actually saw one guy doing just that up near Peggy Dow’s.
We skied down to the landing at the northeast corner of the village hotel complex, and pulled out the cameras take a few more pictures. Dylan had actually asked to bring along one of the DSLRs to use today, so I gave him the Canon EOS 30D with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM on it, and I used the 7D Mark II with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. He was shooting in auto mode getting used to monitoring the focus lock indicator as today’s training, but we talked shutter speeds as we worked on imaging either droplets or streaks from the meltwater coming off the roof of the hotel complex. We stopped in to grab some lunch at the Deli & Grocery before heading home, and then it was back down to the valley and a return to more of a November environment. These mild temperatures are pretty nice though, and getting to ski in some dry powder snow out there on such a gorgeous day was somewhat of an unexpected treat. It looks like the temperatures stayed pretty cool at elevation, so I suspect the powder will still be up there tomorrow.
We’ve only had an inch or two of new snow since Monday’s winter storm and our last Bolton Valley outing, but as is typical of January, it’s been consistently cold so the powder has just been sitting there. Heading out for some backcountry turns today was certainly a reasonable option, but I also suspected there would be plenty of lift-served powder available at Bolton Valley; with only a few midweek days since the storm, skier traffic should have been relatively low. Dylan’s very much on the mend from his recent bout of Strep, but he’s certainly not to the stage where he should be heading out on the slopes, so E decided to take him to BJAMS to get some work done. That left me and Ty in the mix for some skiing, and it made the choice easy – I know Ty would lean toward some lift served turns, and I was happy to hedge that way as well knowing that we’d be able to get into a lot of powder.
“The snow was fantastic – I stuck my poles in the snow to hold my gloves while I ran the camera, and the poles sunk up to the handles.”
We grabbed some fairly fat boards and headed up to the mountain in the late morning. My plan was to start us down at Timberline, which turned out to be an appropriate choice because the resort already had signs up indicating that the parking areas at the main mountain were full. There was ample parking in the Timberline lot though, and the attendant directed us to one of the spots in the circle right below the Timberline Quad. Temperatures were right around 30 F and skies were partly cloudy, so it was a choice day to be out there.
Arriving at the main base we could see that there really wasn’t much in the way of lift queues; with all the lifts running, even a full parking lot doesn’t seem to do much to back things up. There was an event going on atop the main deck at the base lodge; I’m not sure what it was, but the deck was full of people. Ty and I headed right over to Wilderness, and my plan was to take him to Stanton’s, or at least that general area to get some steep powder turns. I told Ty how I was taking him to a line that he’d said was too steep for him several years ago – it was January 6th, 2008, so he would have been four years old at the time. I guess we can cut him some slack for feeling it was over head at the time. When I told him about that story today, he sort of laughed and said that he doesn’t run into much that fazes him now because of steepness. Even way back on that day when he did find it too steep, we suspected where things would eventually end up. Sliding into position atop Stanton’s, we could tell that, not surprisingly, it had been hit by plenty of traffic, so we headed a few yards back to one of the lines that was still untracked. I dropped in to set up for some photos and found that there was plenty of powder, even for those steep shots. Ty skied a nice line, but we didn’t really pull any keepers out of that photo session.
The remainder of that run was one of the most enjoyably adventurous parts of the afternoon. We just continued on down below the chutes and let our noses guide us toward fresh tracks. We were in a bunch of seldom used terrain areas, working our way through the trees among Lower Crossover, Coyote, and Work Road. I laughed at one point and said to Ty, “I have no idea where we are!” Actually, I knew we were in the Fanny Hill Woods, but we were following a streambed that I’d never skied before, so we never knew quite what was going to come around the next bend. We eventually wound up at the junction of Fanny Hill and Abenaki Trail, and of course Ty said he knew we’d end up in that area all along. I wasn’t convinced. In any event, that area sees very little skier traffic, so we saw hardly a track. Our first run of powder exploration was a rousing success.
We headed to Vista next, and found Cobrass in really good form, especially off to the right side where the soft snow usually collects. We came screaming around the big bend below the headwall, where the snow was beautiful and you could just sink in those edges and let it rip. Next it was off to sample the Villager Trees, where Ty skied Heaven for the first time this season. The snow was fantastic – I stuck my poles in the snow to hold my gloves while I ran the camera, and the poles sunk up to the handles. We headed to the Sixth Corner area and then to some lines in Gump’s on our way back to the Timberline Base.
It was mid afternoon at that point and we’d discovered that in sun-exposed areas there was just the slightest of melt layers atop the powder in the last few hundred feet of vertical above the Timberline Base. That wasn’t surprising with the temperature so close to freezing down there, but it hadn’t reached the stage of making the snow sticky, and it still skied like dry powder, so we decided to do a little more Timberline skiing. We visited more of Gump’s, the KP Glades, and the Corner Pocket Glades with the usual powdery results. We rode up with an older couple from South Burlington that saw our skis and inquired about rocker in skis and whether it was worth it. I told them that most of the skis still have camber in the middle of the ski, so they’re very versatile, and indeed the rocker is great for powder. For us the choice was a no brainer since we spend so much of our time off piste in the powder, with today being a perfect example. We talked about width as well – I was using my Rossignol Sin 7 skis, which are close to 100 mm at the waist, but said that if they spent a lot more time on piste, something with a width somewhere in the 80-90 mm range would be a good fit.
All told, Ty and I had a great day of exploring some new lines, visiting some old favorites, and generally catching a lot of powder. For today’s action photography it was definitely the Ty show, but that’s often how it goes when he’s the only one along for the ride. I didn’t get a chance to give him the camera since I was usually tracking down lines for him to ski, but perhaps we’ll get one of the boys behind the camera next time.
Today was a bit of a whirlwind as we set out to ski some of the new snow from this latest winter storm. We initially headed to Stowe in the early morning, since school ski program ticket vouchers typically work for coaches’ passes on MLK day. Surprisingly, we were told that wasn’t the case this time. We did have a good breakfast in the Mansfield Base Lodge and got E’s coordinator pass taken care of over at Spruce Camp while the boys took a run on Meadows, but we ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth buying an expensive holiday ticket just to ski for a few hours. We instead headed off to Bolton Valley, knowing that there was plenty of day left for everyone to get some runs together.
There wasn’t much going on in terms of snowfall while we’d been at Stowe, but it started to pick up as we made our way southward through Waterbury and on toward Bolton. There was generally a very wet snow falling in the valleys, but once we hit ~1,000′ elevation on the Bolton Valley Access Road the temperature had cooled enough that the flakes were really starting to stick. There was some nice snowfall as we parked at Timberline, and the slopes were looking very inviting.
“…during that early afternoon there was a much steadier snow on the mountain, with rates up to 1″/hr at times.”
While we were unloading, E got a call from Claire indicating that they’d gotten the appropriate officials at Stowe involved, and indeed they had confirmed that the coaches’ vouchers were valid. I’m still amazed that we were the first ones on the entire day trying to apply a voucher at what must have been at least 9:00 A.M., but if we served as the guinea pigs to get things straightened out, that was good for everyone that decided to go later. When we’d set out this morning, we’d planned on skiing with some of the other BJAMS families at Stowe, so it’s too bad that plan didn’t come together. Things worked out really well in the end of course; we were at Timberline, and we could see how much great snow was out there and how few people were skiing it. Even thought we hadn’t arrived until mid to late morning, we knew that Bolton Valley would still be serving up the usual plentiful allotment of fresh tracks.
Knowing that the snow was generally denser down low, we headed up the Timberline Quad and immediately went over to check out the main mountain. The snow was definitely drier in the higher elevations, but the top of Vista came with a healthy dose of low clouds, wind, and colder air. The wind turbine at the summit was running though, and boy was it turning in that wind! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the blades spinning as fast as they were today.
“…there was a good foot or more of powder in there, and you could see just how high the quality of the powder could be when it was entirely out of the wind.”
As we headed down through Spillway Lane, our initial observations were that the exposed slopes had been blasted with wind; the new powder was wind-packed, and you barely sunk into it while skiing. We dropped down onto Vermont 200 out of the wind, and the conditions improved as the powder along the trail edges was much better thanks to the protection offered by the surrounding trees. We crossed over to Hard Luck and found similar snow, but we really got into some good stuff once we jumped into the trees in between the two trails; there was a good foot or more of powder in there, and you could see just how high the quality of the powder could be when it was entirely out of the wind. We quickly took that lesson to heart and headed into the trees on the lower mountain, catching some good lines in the Glades area.
Dylan was pretty tired from a long weekend filled with activity, therefore we decided that we should work our way back toward the Timberline Base so that he could rest a bit in the lodge down there and call it a day if he needed to. We had a pretty classic long run featuring Cobrass, Cobrass Woods and Five Corners to get us back toward Timberline. Those were our first turns of the day down at the Timberline elevations, and the density of the snow actually didn’t affect the skiing until the last few hundred feet above the Timberline Base Lodge. I had initially thought that people might be staying away from Timberline because the snow wasn’t as good in those lower elevations, but it really wasn’t all that different on most of the terrain.
“You could tell it was dumping though, as even under the protection of the trees we could barely view the pictures on the camera screen because the snow was accumulating so quickly.”
Dylan went to rest in the lodge with E, while Ty and I headed off in search of more powder. Traffic had been pretty low at Timberline, and you could find great powder throughout the trees and even on the trails. We’d found plenty of untracked snow on Tattle Tale on the previous run, so we decided to explore some lines in that area. I pulled out the camera and got some great shots of Ty blasting his way through the powder. That was definitely some great storm riding; the intensity of the snowfall had been ramping up since we’d arrived, and during that early afternoon there was a much steadier snow on the mountain, with rates up to 1″/hr at times. I told Ty that it looked like I’d gotten a pretty cool shot of him from the side sending up a massive powder tail, so when we’d made our way down lower on the mountain, we pulled into the protection of the trees along Spur so that we could take a look at the images. You could tell it was dumping though, as even under the protection of the trees we could barely view the pictures on the camera screen because the snow was accumulating so quickly. It was a great test of the weather sealing on the 7D2, because even after just a couple of minutes all the surfaces were well covered with melted or partially melted flakes. There were no issues, although I suspect the 7D2 shouldn’t even blink at that level of weather. We’ll keep putting it through the paces though.
We stopped in the lodge to see E and Dylan, and we ended up hanging out for a while and getting some food. While inside, Ty and I worked to convince them that they needed to come back out because the skiing was just so good. Dylan eventually felt that he had enough energy to oblige, so we brought them back to the Tattle Tale area for more good lines. With the steady snowfall and a little wind out there, we were definitely talking refresher runs where our previous tracks were getting filled in. That’s part of the fun of storm days of course. Dylan was eager to do some of the photography with the 7D2, so we set him up with it and with some training and a little on the fly help from E, he had a blast. It would be great if he wants to keep working on that and become more experienced, because he already captured some excellent shots, and I’m always happy to get out from behind the camera and let others have fun with it. He snagged a really nice shot of me cutting a hard turn along the edge of Tattle Tale.
We did one more run in the Intro Woods before calling it a day, and I’d say that was good stopping point so that we didn’t tire Dylan out too much; the season is still young and hopefully he’ll be working up to some longer days. Still, we found some really great snow out there during those last couple of runs, and it was hard to pull away and head home knowing how many great spots we didn’t even get to visit. The weather looks to stay wintry this week though, so the snow could be well preserved over the next several days.
With this new snow on top of the already decent snow I saw on my trip to the mountain Thursday, it sounded like ski conditions were going to be even better than what I’d experienced. E and Dylan and I headed north to BJAMS in Morrisville to help with the moving of some school library books and to pick up Ty from an overnighter at Kenny’s, so we got to see the changes in snowpack throughout the local mountain valleys. These last couple of storms that have targeted Mt. Mansfield have also targeted Stowe Village and points north, so from snow depths of an inch or two in Waterbury, the snowpack more than doubles in the Stowe/Morrisville area. After helping move some bins of books into the school’s new library area, we got Ty suited up, and he joined me and Dylan for a trip to Mt. Mansfield. Unfortunately E’s back has been a bit sore the past few days, so she decided not to stress it with skiing and stayed at school to work. Thus, it was just us boys for today’s ski tour.
Temperatures were a bit below freezing as we approached the Midway Lot at ~1,600′ near the base of the Gondola, and we could see plenty of activity over at the main Mansfield Base Area since it was Stowe’s opening day for lift-served skiing. The snow we found on the ground was definitely deeper than what I’d found at Midway on Thursday – a general 3 to 4 inches had turned into 5 to 6 inches. For today, I outfitted the boys with their alpine powder skis and Alpine Trekkers for skinning. We’ve still got to get skins for Ty’s new Telemark setup, but I’d prefer that they get a chance to ski on their alpines to get their season going anyway. The early season powder can be tricky, and I’d rather they just get the chance to have fun and not take on the added challenge of working on Telemark turns. I went with my fat Tele skis; they had worked quite well on Thursday, and the conditions were even more optimized for them today.
We followed a similar ascent route to the one I’d taken on Thursday – up Chin Clip Runout, onto Switchback and Gondolier, with some Perry Merrill thrown in as well. We finally stopped at around 3,500′ on Switchback because it didn’t look like there was much above that in the way of great snow. But, the boys had made the entire ascent, perhaps incentivized a bit by the fact that I told them they’d earn some sushi from Sushi Yoshi if they could manage it. That prize is sort of a win-win for everyone in the family, and they’re definitely at the stage that they can easily make that ascent now, but having that incentive there sure does keep everyone’s spirits high! While the snow surface contained a lot of wind slab where we stopped, just below that, the snow was deep and soft. The depth of the powder had increased by about an inch for every 500′ of vertical during most of our ascent, getting up to around the 8 to 9 inch range by 3,000′ or so, but above that it really jumped up. In areas out of the wind on the upper part of Switchback, we were finding 14 to 15 inches of settled snow, with pockets over two feet in depth. We knew that was the kind of snow where we’d really be able to lay into those powder turns and not worry about touching down on anything.
After a break at the top of our ascent, in which the boys took part in their nearly requisite play in the snow (this time in some deep stuff off in some nearby trees), we started down. That deep snow we’d seen up there on Switchback offered up some great powder turns as expected, and below that we just worked our way down the mountain choosing the best covered and least tracked routes we could find. We hit some nice powder on the skier’s left of Gondolier, and found a lot of good turns even lower down on Switchback. Coverage was indeed improved over what I’d seen Thursday, and the powder was staying fairly fluffy even though it was a day old. On the lift-served side of things, Stowe was offering 20 trails today, and it sounds like conditions were pretty decent due to the recent cold and snow. We’ve had some nice November conditions so far, and it looks like there may be some continued storminess this month – hopefully the snowpack can continue to grow.
Today’s tour gave us the first chance to out the Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera that we’d brought along. The 7D Mark II is Canon’s new APS-C sports shooter, and it’s weather sealed extremely well, has a 65-point autofocus system that is among the best in the world, and is built like a tank… just the way you’d want a camera to be made for dealing with the elements. It’s got twice the frame rate, two and a half times the number of pixels, and usable ISO values roughly ten times higher than what my Canon EOS 30D has, which is not surprising considering it’s about five generations newer and a step up in Canon’s performance lineup. It really is built for just the type of shooting we do, and it certainly seemed to live up to its reputation today. Late afternoon light on a cloudy Vermont day in November will give the light sensitivity of any camera a challenge, but I was still able to shoot the boys at 1/1,600 of a second due to the high useable range of the ISO. And, the ability of that focusing system in the low light conditions was very impressive. I also got to test out the video with a short clip of the boys playing in the snow, and my Canon EOS 30D doesn’t even have the option of video. We’ll hopefully have many more chance to put the camera to use this season as we learn all of its nuances and find the settings that fit our needs.
I saw a couple of new offerings mentioned on the Bolton Valley website this morning as they continue to expand their terrain – the opening of the Snowflake Lift and the Hard Luck trail. Ty was away at Kenny’s, and E and Dylan had to take care of some shopping for an upcoming birthday party, but eager to check out the expanded terrain, I decided to head up to the hill in the afternoon.
We’re experiencing warmer temperatures right now ahead of the next incoming storm, so it’s been quite comfortable out there. It was around 30 F at the house when I left at noontime, and mid 20s F up on the hill. It was cloudy, but unlike the persistent snowfall of yesterday, there was only the occasional spit of snow in the higher elevations. Like yesterday, I was able to grab a parking spot in the top lot from a car that was leaving, and after getting on my gear I headed right over to catch a ride on Snowflake. While on the lift I was able to watch a snowcat working on the Butterscotch Terrain Park – all the snow piles were being flattened, and they play to open it tomorrow for skiing without features. Only Timberline Lane and Lower Villager are open on the skier’s left of Snowflake, so I opted for Sprig O’ Pine to get me down to the Vista Quad. The snow on Sprig O’ Pine was nice, not as soft as natural snow of course, but good because traffic has been minimal there. I took the alternate loop out toward Deer Run, which did have natural snow – that was really soft, and as it’s a protected area there were some beautiful accumulations of snow on the trees.
“Indeed, all of Peggy Dow’s above the first big bend had plenty of deep snow and some great powder turns were made.”
There was a lift queue of probably a couple minutes for the Vista Quad, but I jumped in the singles line and got right on. I found good snow along the skier’s left of Spillway Lane, and then dropped into Hard Luck to see how it skied. It was somewhat firm manmade snow in the top section, although skier traffic had created deposits of soft snow along the edges. As is sometimes the case with manmade snow, the loose material was a lot like sand, but at least it was soft. The bottom half of Hard Luck appeared to be mostly natural snow – it was much softer than what was above as one would expect, but some areas of poor coverage has to be roped off. Below Hard Luck there was actually some nice untracked powder remaining on the skier’s left of Sherman’s Pass – people just hadn’t been venturing that far to the left. On the lower mountain I skied Beech Seal, which had some excellent areas of soft, contoured snow along the skier’s left. I was eager to hit that again on my next run.
I checked out Alta Vista next, and the line along the skier’s left was in good shape. Had it not been for the occasional touching down onto firmer snow, it would have been great. Sherman’s Pass was in decent shape, with the occasional patch of slick snow that could be avoided, and turns were very nice once I got to that area below Hard Luck and followed the same route down Beech Seal.
I’d explored the offerings that I wanted to hit by that point, and decided that I’d tour over to Wilderness to finish off the day with some powder. I headed down Alta Vista again, really happy with the way I hit that skier’s left with some aggressive turns. My legs felt warmed up and stronger by that point. On my previous run I’d seen that all the lower routes over to Wilderness were roped off, so the Upper Crossover route was the best remaining option. I knew that anything steep was going to be too much for the current conditions, but I suspected that Peggy Dow’s would be passable, even if I found nothing good above the Old Turnpike area. I caught the bottom portion of Vista Glades, then connected onto Upper Crossover to switch over for the ascent. While putting on my skins, I had time to enjoy the snowy views, which included evergreens that were really starting to take on some healthy accumulations of powder. On the ascent toward the Wilderness Summit, I generally found snow depths of 6 to 11 inches in spots that weren’t scoured by the wind, so there were indeed some good pockets of snow up there.
Despite intense scouring at the top of Bolton Outlaw, the Wilderness Summit itself was sheltered from the wind and had some nice snow. Indeed, all of Peggy Dow’s above the first big bend had plenty of deep snow and some great powder turns were made. Once I neared the junction with Heavenly Highway I initially went wide right to avoid the icy, wind-scoured face, but I saw that another skier had taken the chute that bypasses it on the left. That area was protected from the wind, so I followed that skier’s tracks and found reasonable coverage. Down on Old Turnpike the first couple of steep corners were naturally icy, but there were lines to bypass the most exposed spots, and soon I was down into the protected lower areas that we skied yesterday. I actually used the same route as we did yesterday, until I decided to mix it up and check out the Wilderness Lift Line instead of Lower Turnpike. The lift line was actually fine, even if didn’t quite have the protected coverage of Lower Turnpike, and there were several tracks on it. From the base of Wilderness, I headed back to the car and had time to do a little long-range shooting with Chris’ Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM paired with his Canon Extender EF 1.4 III. That’s a full frame equivalent to 448 mm on my 30D, so there’s some great reach with that combo, and you’ve still got f/4 speed. It’s certainly not a setup that you can carry lightly though; with the lens hood on it’s 15 inches in length and the weight is around 6 pounds, so you definitely know it’s there.
Looking ahead, the next winter storm of note is a coastal system that is expected to affect the area tomorrow afternoon into Monday. The valleys will probably be a bit warm at the start, but the mountains look to do well; the point forecasts from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington currently call for 3 to 5 inches down here at the house, and 3 to 7 inches up at Bolton Valley.