There really wasn’t much lead up discussion on the American Weather Forum about the winter storm we’ve been having in the Northern Greens the past couple of days. That’s because, while it looked like the mountains would muster up some snow accumulation, the models hadn’t really suggested that we’d be getting TWO FEET of accumulation. But, once the snow levels dropped into the mountains, Mother Nature just continued to drive that moisture into the spine of the Greens, and it kept snowing. It’s been snowing continuously now for two straight days.
Temperatures were a degree or two above the freezing mark around in the lower mountain valleys at mid-morning when I was heading out today, and the precipitation was all snow, but accumulations were quite variable with the borderline freezing temperatures. We had about an inch on the ground here at the house on the Waterbury/Bolton line, and that tapered off to much more patchy accumulations in Waterbury and Waterbury Center. The accumulations picked back up again once I was into the Stowe Village area, fairly similar to what we had at the house. At The Matterhorn around the 1,000’ mark I’d say the snow depth was roughly 2 inches.
“…and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing.”
Just making that jump up to ~1,500’ at the base of the resort resulted in a huge increase in accumulations. My depth checks revealed ~10” of new snow at the base of the Gondola, and that measurement was fairly easy, since the old base had generally melted out down at that elevation. I skinned up Chin Clip Runout, since I like the grade, seclusion, and protection from any wind more than heading right up Gondolier. Actually though, winds today were pretty minimal in the lower mountain elevations, and with the temperature just a bit below freezing, it was really pleasant.
Above mid mountain I started to get into the snow guns, and I meandered here and there from Switchback to Gondolier to Perry Merrill following various skin tracks to see if there were any quiet areas. But aside from Chin Clip, they had guns running all over the place. It’s noisy and ruins the natural snow in spots, but of course the resort has to blow snow when it’s time. I actually only headed above the 3,000’ mark for the exercise and to see what was up at that elevation, because I knew the skiing was going to be much better below that point. The winds were howling on that last section of Upper Gondolier, and pounding snow from the storm combined with snow guns every 50 feet or so blasting out their little ice particles made it a virtual whiteout. It was absolutely miserable. If you’ve ever wondered why people are willing to pay a premium for really high quality alpine/backcountry/ski outerwear, there’s an example. It’s not as if it was even midwinter cold (somewhere in the 20s F), but with the snow guns added in, there was just so much liquid being blasted at you on the strong winds. Gear was thoroughly put to the test today. The skin track from the guy who was just a few minutes in front of me had absolutely vanished in that short amount of time. All I could think as I struggled up that final pitch was that if I was ever going to Tweet something at that point it would have been #itsbrutaloutthere. It was a major relief to be able to get out of the wind, snow, and the roar of the guns under the deck of the Cliff House.
Above the base elevations where the old snowpack had melted out, I did my best to try to measure on top of the old base snow/crust, and here’s the summary of my best estimates for settled accumulations from this event from the valley and up into the Gondi area below The Chin:
That last number there from the Cliff House is just an estimate because as is often the case, the wind made it really tough to find a representative spot for measurement.
“The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great.”
Anyway, as much as that last, wind-exposed stretch of Upper Gondolier was brutal on the ascent, the skiing was actually fine. But, just below that on Chin Clip was heavenly. The air was calm, the noise of the snow guns was gone, the plentiful flakes falling form the sky were friendly… and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing. I actually felt bad on the ascent for anyone that wasn’t skinning up because if you were trying to boot pack through this storm’s bounty, you were doing a lot of work. There’s no walking though airy dendrites out there right now, this is hard-workin’, blue-collar stuff that’s just been put down. Powderfreak is estimating this storm’s likely going to leave a couple inches of liquid equivalent all together. That’s a season starter right there. On my ascent I’d chatted with another guy near the bottom on Chin Clip Runout who was just coming down, and he said he never touched a thing below the snow… and he wasn’t kidding. On 115 mm boards I’d say I was sinking in about 8 to 10 inches on hard pressured turns on steep terrain. So you can imagine up high where there’s 20 inches of new stuff plus an old base below that, you aren’t touching anything. Even back down near the base elevations though, where the snowpack was dropping below a foot, there were no issues. The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great. I actually found a bit of upside-down snow at times on my descent, no doubt due to some changing densities throughout the storm, but even for Tele turns it wasn’t too notable within the scope of the overall snow that was available.
On the way back down into the valley on my drive home, I’d say that in general a bit more snow had accumulated during the morning/midday, but you could tell that the snow was struggling to accumulate too quickly with temperatures right around or slightly above the freezing mark. Surprisingly, back in Waterbury Center and Waterbury, there were very sparse accumulations if any, but then accumulations picked back up again once I head toward the house and into the mountains.
The weather pattern is actually looking active and potentially snowy going forward, so we’ll see what Mother Nature wants to give us. It would be really nice to get in even an average December after the past three running in the range of 50% of normal snowfall. Even normal would feel quite snowy with the way things have been the past few seasons.
This Memorial Day Weekend certainly hasn’t been like last year, with its two feet of new snow, but even from Waterbury one can see that Mt. Mansfield still has some of this season’s snow left on it, and with today’s great weather, it was hard to pass up the chance for some skiing. We’d actually been keeping our eyes on the weather over at Mt. Washington for a potential trip to ski the summit snowfields this weekend, but the forecast for nice weather didn’t end up being quite solid enough for us to make the commitment. Of course, being around at home meant that the opportunity was there for some local turns. I thought last week’s ski trip with E and the boys might be our last turns on Mansfield for the season, but that wasn’t the case… at least for me. Even last week, the skiing payoff relative to the hike was getting pretty marginal for the rest of the family, so although I did a perfunctory check to see if any of them wanted to go, I would have been surprised if any of them said yes. This time of year, it’s typically a good idea to go into a ski tour with the intention of enjoying the hike itself, because it’s often a big part of the outing relative to the skiing. If either of the boys had wanted to go on today’s tour, they would have had their work cut out for them, because I knew that it would require at least 1,000’ vertical of hiking before hitting decent snow. They barely have the patience for earning turns when the skiing is top to bottom, so all that hiking before getting to the snow wouldn’t be well received.
“You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place.”
After some midday yard work with the boys, I finally headed off to Stowe in the mid afternoon. The valley temperatures were generally in the mid 70s F, and the skies were mostly clear aside from a few clouds here and there, and a surprising number of leftover contrails. From Waterbury Center I could already see patches of snow left on Mt. Mansfield near the Cliff House, so I knew that the Nosedive area would have snow. I parked in the Midway Lot at 1,600’ where I saw a few other cars, but very little activity aside from the occasional group of hikers. Temperatures were still warm, so my setup for the ascent was a short sleeve polypro T-shirt, shorts, and socks/Tele boots, and I packed my ski pants, a long sleeve polypro shirt, and my gloves in my pack for later use. I’ve been very impressed with just how flexible my Garmont Garas have been these past few warm, spring-style outings. Throw them in walk mode and add temperatures like today, and it’s like walking in a pair of stiff hiking boots. They’ve got Vibram soles, so the grip is nice on most surfaces. They certainly don’t match up to the a pair of good hiking boots when trying to hop from boulder to boulder working one’s way across alpine areas of Mt. Washington, but for traipsing around on the generally grassy or slightly rocky slopes below tree line, you can hardly tell that they’re there. For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times. Of course I probably make up for some of the weight savings carrying camera gear, but the light weight of Telemark skis and bindings also cuts down on the pounds.
As far as the snow goes, there were a couple of piles here and there even down near the base, but nothing of real consequence. I didn’t start to see more consistent patches on Nosedive until I got up around the 2,100’ mark at the junction with National. What I did get to see in the lower elevations was the appearance of wildflowers, including what looked like some trout lilies on their way toward opening up. Even though we had some rain yesterday, Nosedive was really pretty dry aside from areas in close proximity to snow patches or the occasional water bar with meltwater, so that made the hiking especially easy. The mid afternoon sun was still quite strong during my ascent, so I hiked in the shade when possible. As for the insects, all I saw was the occasional mosquito, so that made for a pleasurable ascent on that front. The presence of patchy snow off to climber’s left was all that I saw until I got up near 2,600’, and just below the intersection of Cliff Trail I saw the first area of coverage across the whole width of the trail. That was only an isolated section, and it was back to grass for a while above there, but once I got up to ~2,900’ I got into the nearly continuous snow, and there was even some snow remaining in the trees on both sides of the trail. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just up above that location at ~3,700’ was down to only two inches as of today’s report, although it was certainly deeper in those areas of trees I saw. I continued my ascent all the way up to roughly 3,600’ because the snow just kept going. There were a couple more breaks, but they were small enough that it kept me interested in reaching the top pile near the junction with the Toll Road (which is definitely open – I saw a car on its way down while I was up there).
At the top I could definitely feel the ascent, so I downed a GU and cracked open and Odwalla smoothie that I’d been saving for the top. Between the amounts of sugar in those, recovery and rejuvenation were quick. I moseyed around up there for a bit and got a few pictures, and then geared up for the descent. If you’ve ever wondered about why you’ve got full side zippers on your ski pants, well here’s one of those perfect situations that call for them. You don’t spend time taking off you ski boots to get your pants on, you open up those zippers, strap on your pants, and off you go. The first big section of snow right at the top of Nosedive was just a big mound, with pretty dirty snow, but the snow on the second corner was a bit better, and then better again on the third. The best area of snow though is that one leading down to 2,900’. It’s the longest area without a gap, and it’s got some of the smoothest snow. You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place. The consistency of the corn snow was great, although that almost seems to be a given on the remaining snow at this time of the year unless it’s just too cold to soften it at all. It was a bit dirty in spots as one might expect, and there were some sun cups and other aberrations, but especially on that lower snowfield area, the turns were quite smooth.
“For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times.”
After the bottom of that section, I strapped the skis on once more for that area below the junction with Cliff Trail, and then hiked out the rest of the run. The down hike was very quick, with the generally dry, grassy trail making for great traction, and it was only about 15 minutes or so from that last area I skied to get back to the car. I actually heard a band playing during the final few hundred feet of my descent, and after swinging through the Spruce Peak Base Area on my way home, it seemed like there was a wedding event going on. They certainly got a great day for it. The long-lasting light is great on these days as we approach the solstice – it was already after 7:00 P.M. by the time I was at the car, but there was plenty of light left. I hit the grocery store on the way home, and then we cooked outside and had dinner and some time at the fire pit. It’s really nice to have some of that local snow hanging around to get in some skiing over the holiday – and as much fun as it was to have the two feet of fresh snow last year, the weather in the valleys wasn’t great for outdoor activities, so this type of Memorial Day Weekend is also pretty sweet.
I made my morning CoCoRaHS observations at 6:00 A.M., and after checking back in on the weather board and looking at some of the mountain web cams, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour. I couldn’t tell quite how low the snow line had gotten, but it was still below freezing in the higher elevations, and the precipitation had continued through the night. There was a good chance that a nice shot of snow had accumulated on Mt. Mansfield. I didn’t try convincing E or the boys to try to join me, since they were all still in bed, so I got into my ski clothes, let E know that I was on my way, and loaded up the car with my gear. I don’t typically find the ski gear vying for space with the baseball stuff in the back of the car, but it definitely was today. I headed off to the mountain around 7:30 A.M. or so, and temperatures throughout the mountain valleys in the Waterbury–Stowe area were in the lower 40s F on my drive. The precipitation was generally light rain until roughly the point where the electronic sign indicates the status of Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch, and not long after that, the rain became much heavier. The sign, by the way, read “NOTCH ROAD CLOSED… DUE TO SNOW”. The road through the notch tops out near 2,200’, so clearly the snow was accumulating at that elevation on paved surfaces. The temperature remained in the lower 40s F until that final rise above The Matterhorn to Stowe Mountain Resort, where they dropped into the upper 30s F.
“You could do laps up there from 2,500’ to 3,600’ and think it was midwinter.”
I parked at the Midway Lodge (~1,600’), where the temperature was in the mid to upper 30s F, and the precipitation was generally snow, but certainly some rain as well, and the snow that was falling was of course incredibly wet. It was pretty nasty at that point, with 25 MPH winds and driven wet snow/rain. The snow wasn’t quite accumulating there, but it was close, and you could see the accumulations just a few hundred feet up the trails. The weather was nasty enough that I left my lens hood on my camera in its protective orientation, even when it went back in my pack. I rarely feel the need to do that, and typically flip it back around for storage, but that speaks to just how wet and windy that snow was to make me take that extra step to minimize the amount of precipitation getting on the lens filter.
In the Midway parking lot there were a few dozen vehicles belonging to skiers, and most of the people were heading up Gondolier, but my initial ascent was via Nosedive; it’s often a good bet for decent snow coverage and preservation in these early and late-season storms. Also, based on what I saw in the report from AdventureSkier.com last Sunday, it looked like there would be some decent base snow left in case the new snow depths were marginal. The first traces of snow accumulation on the ascent were at 1,800’, by 2,100’ there was generally complete coverage of the trail, and by ~2,200’ the depth was a couple of inches and it was consistent enough that I switched from hiking to skinning. Even with those couple inches of snow, I was beginning to experience some occasional slipping as I hiked, so it was nice to get the skis off the pack and on the snow where the skins had beautiful traction. There was a faint skin track from an earlier ascender, but it was intermixed with some of the descent tracks of skiers and a bit hard to follow. I met up with another guy that was making the Nosedive ascent, and we chatted a bit about skiing as we made our way up the mountain. He was just hiking in his boots with his skis on his back, which seemed like a bit more work as the snow got deeper and deeper, but it didn’t appear to slow him down too much. Listed below are the snow depths I found on the ascent of Nosedive with respect to elevation:
We stopped our ascent at 3,300’ because as we approached the switchbacks at the top of the trail we got some beta from a couple of skiers coming down Nosedive – they indicated that everything above that elevation in the switchbacks was scoured and really not worth it, and indeed that was obvious once we got to the landing below that final switchback at 3,300’. I’m going to call the average snow depth there 10” to be on the conservative side, but there were plenty of areas with 12”-15” of snow; there was just variability due to the effects of wind deposition. I stuck my measurement pole right in the snow in the center of that landing, and found 15” of snow depth. The guy that had ascended with me headed up just a bit higher to catch some turns along a drift of snow, so I pulled out the camera and got some action shots as he made his way down.
Before beginning my descent, I downed a packet of GU Energy Gel to see if it would provide that extra boost of energy to my legs to permit proficient and aggressive Telemark turns. I’ve noticed that after fairly long and/or quick ascents, my legs are often still recovering, and not to the stage where they can handle a lot of rigorous Telemark skiing right away. Alpine turns are typically no problem, since they’re easier and more stable to begin with, and after decades of alpine skiing, my muscles have the memory to really let them do it efficiently. But those Telemark turns take a lot more work, and it seemed like a little extra boost of quick energy would get me where I needed to be. So, I took a cue from the boys, who like to have a GU when they’re starting to fade while we’re biking or skiing – the Vanilla Bean flavor is a favorite among all of us. I usually don’t find that I need to worry about having enough energy on outings with the boys along; the pace is so slow that E and I usually don’t get drained. The boys certainly push themselves though, often needing some sort of recharge due to their smaller energy reserves, and when that’s the case, it’s GU to the rescue. On bigger, faster paced outings by myself though, I also feel the drain, and today I wanted to give a recuperative GU shot a try. I had the GU just a few minutes before my descent, and it absolutely worked. It helped give my legs that quick energy that they craved, and they had no trouble making Telemark turns. It was great having maximum powder to drive the legs, and while there’s no way to know exactly how my legs would have performed without the shot of GU, it was certainly my hero for today. I can still remember when I first learned about those energy gels back in the early 2,000s when Scott and Troy and their Dirtworld.com mountain biking team would use them. They’d strap them to their handlebars and down one on each lap to keep their energy up. With the way it performed today, I think a shot of GU before each earned descent is going to become part of the routine.
“There were plenty of
untracked lines to ski,
and it was dense, wall-
As for the snow conditions, indeed there was some leftover base snow on Nosedive, and that offered up great turns, but the new snow itself was extremely dense (probably 12-14% H2O or so) and as long as there was enough of it, there was no need for previous base because it kept you off of anything below. I caught some beautiful bottomless powder on the skier’s left below the switchbacks, and then a lot more on the skier’s right along the edge of the trail. The Telemark turns were definitely flowing, and despite the fact that it was dense snow that could easily have been challenging to ski, it wasn’t. I immediately thought back to that storm last year on April 10th. Mt. Mansfield picked up more than two feet of dense snow that covered everything, but it was quite a challenge to ski on the Teles. Sometimes you would punch through the snow too far, perhaps with one ski, making lateral balance tough, and fore-aft balance was also extremely challenging. It’s possible that there was snow of varying densities in that storm, with some less dense snow underneath the topmost layer. That’s “upside down” snow, which is typically more challenging to ski. It was after that storm that I really decided that I wanted some fat, rockered Telemark skis for powder, and eventually got the Black Diamond AMPerages. I can only wonder how they would have performed in that storm – they would have been nice today, but being unsure of the snow depths I went with my older Atomic RT-86 midfats, and there were no issues. Really, the most challenging aspect of today’s skiing was negotiating areas of thinner snow as you dropped in elevation. I was actually quite impressed with the quality of some of the powder skiing on Nosedive today, but little did I know it wasn’t even going to hold a candle to what was in store over at the Gondola.
I had no time limits, and plenty of energy left in the tank with the shortened ascent, so I skied down to the junction of Nosedive and Cliff Trail, and continued my tour by skinning up Cliff Trail. Within a few moments of starting my ascent, it was obvious that snow depths were substantially greater on Cliff Trail than they were on Nosedive at equivalent elevations. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was heading toward the Gondola, or because Cliff Trail offers better protection from the wind, but coverage was deep, wall-to-wall. Unlike what I’d seen on most of Nosedive, there were no signs of whatever lay beneath the snow. It wasn’t an illusion either; the depth at 3,000’ on Cliff Trail was 11”, vs. the 8” on Nosedive. The snow just continued to increase as I ascended toward the Gondola, there was 12”+ by the junction with Perry Merrill at 3,400’, and 12” – 15” easily up at the Cliff House. That’s on the conservative side for what you could find up there, and in general the snow depth was somewhat deceptive because you didn’t sink much into the dense snow. But right in the middle of Perry Merrill just beyond the Cliff House I measured 22” of new snow in flat terrain with no drifting. The usual measurement off the top of the picnic tables was deceptive as well – there was about a half foot of snow on the tables, but you could tell that the snow was much deeper because the table’s seats were just about buried. I measured in the open space between the tables and got a depth of 18”, so presumably the tops of the tables didn’t accumulate the snow well due to wind, melting, or some other effect. Here’s the summary of the depths I found on the Gondola side ascending via Cliff Trail:
“…at times it was dense enough that you’d be smearing turns right on the surface.”
I had another GU and got ready for my descent. Even that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill had great coverage comprised of that dense snow. Typically you’d sink in a few to several inches, but at times it was dense enough that you’d be smearing turns right on the surface. It took a moment to adapt when that was happening, but somehow the variability in the turns didn’t seem to disrupt the flow of the skiing – it was just really fun. I almost headed back down Cliff Trail since the coverage was so complete, but there were already a couple of tracks on it, and it’s fairly narrow, so I opted to check out Perry Merrill instead. I was hoping it would live up to the coverage I’d seen on Cliff Trail, and indeed it was just as good, if not even a bit better. There were plenty of untracked lines to ski, and it was dense, wall-to-wall snow, all the way down to 2,500’. You could do laps up there from 2,500’ to 3,600’ and think it was midwinter. The snow certainly wasn’t fluffy VermontChamplain Powder™, it was dense Sierra Cement, but it wasn’t wet or sticky. It made for plenty of base and just skied really well – it was right near the top on quality that I’ve experienced relative to many similar early and late-season dense-snow events. Sinking into the snow only a few inches or so was inconsequential compared to the fact that you didn’t have to worry about hitting anything underneath and you could just let it rip.
I stopped my descent at around 2,300’, as the snow was down to about 4” and it was getting notably wetter. You could probably go down to around 2,100’ easily if you had your rock skis. I hiked down the last 700’ back to the Midway Lodge, and the last vestiges of snow disappeared right around 1,800’ just like I’d seen over on Nosedive. The precipitation was snow down to just a couple hundred feet above the base, and back down at the lodge it was mostly rain with some snow mixed in at times. There were some really good bursts of snow on my descent, even in the lower elevations. The temperature had increased a few degrees to ~40 F at the base, but it was midday at that point, so that was still quite impressive.
Overall, I was really excited about how my equipment and supplies performed on this tour. My Gore-Tex did its job in keeping me dry, despite the driving rain and snow. My skins held like glue even in the wet snow, and hiking both up and down in my Telemark boots was a joy. I remembered to put them in walk mode for the walking sections (and put them back in ski mode for the descents) and it was almost like being in my hiking boots. And then there was the GU. It really quickened my recovery for the descents, and I’m going to be keeping that on the tour menu going forward. The boys won’t be able to borrow GU from me as easily though when they need it. While the GU certainly did its thing, I’m sure my stop off at Dunkin Donuts to fuel up before the tour also helped. I was feeling so great when I got home at midday, that I was ready to go for another round of skiing if E and the boys wanted to. It was still nasty and rainy outside, and not really conducive to doing too much else, but we had some fantastic winter powder skiing sitting up there in the high country. I couldn’t convince them to go though, so they unfortunately missed out this time. We did get some quality time indoors though, which I’m guessing a lot of families were doing this weekend. Ty, Dylan and I had a great round of “The Settlers of Catan” while E did a bit of shopping. It was quite a storm though, with Whiteface and other areas of the high peaks really cleaning up and putting out some amazing pictures.
Monday update: The clouds cleared out today to produce crystal blue skies, and naturally that revealed some amazing vistas of the spring foliage and snow-capped peaks everywhere. Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump were topped with white, shimmering in the strong sun of late May, and the high peaks of the Adirondacks were brilliant. We traveled around from Waterbury to Vergennes to Cambridge doing various activities, so we took in numerous vantages of the Greens and Adirondacks. It turned out to be a spectacular Northern New England Day for the holiday, almost as if Mother Nature was trying to strike as sharp a contrast as possible against the recently departed storm.