This weekend we took advantage of the great off-season rates and stayed slope side at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which I learned has now been renamed “The Lodge at Spruce Peak”. My sister and her family were in the area and staying at the Lodge for a couple of days, so this gave us a chance to catch up with them as well stay right by the slopes for some easy access to skiing on Mt. Mansfield.
We arrived at the Lodge yesterday afternoon, dropped off the car, and then got settled into our room while we caught up with my sister’s family. This time we tried out one of the one bedroom suites, similar to what we’ve had in the past at places like the Tram Haus Lodge. It’s definitely nice to have a bit more space and the multiple rooms, especially now that the boys are older (and bigger). The additional space was also convenient for when my sister’s family came over to visit. During the evening we generally relaxed, the kids headed to the pool/hot tub area for a bit, and we all had a great dinner at the Hourglass Lounge. There was snowfall all the way down to the base elevations in the evening, and as we had dinner we’d occasionally see windy whiteouts from all the blowing snow. It looked quite wintry, but temperatures were fairly marginal at the base elevations, so there was really only a trace of accumulation visible by morning.
I was the only one planning to ski today, so after we checked out of our room and had breakfast at Solstice, E and the boys dropped me off at the Midway Lodge. There were probably two to three dozen cars in the Midway parking lots, and people were heading out from there for ski tours along various routes. Chin Clip Runout looked pretty quiet, and it, along with Switchback is one of my favorite ascent routes, so I headed that way and started skinning.
On my ascent, I observed that additional snow accumulations seemed rather minimal below about 2,500’ – there was a windswept inch or two that was really scattered around atop the old base, and much of that was probably there from Saturday’s snow. The new snow had collected in pockets here and there, but I didn’t really see any substantial consistency until I started getting into the upper half of the terrain. Around the 3,000’ mark I started getting some solid 6 to 7 inch depths of reasonably dense, dry snow along the climber’s right of Perry Merrill. I saw some folks continue their ascents up above the Gondola into the alpine via Cliff Trail Gully, but I was a bit leery of what coverage would be like with the new snow over previous melting among the rocks. If the new snow depths continued to increase above the 3,600’ range then it could have been quite nice up there.
“The deepest accumulations I found were up around 3,500’ along the skier’s right of Perry Merrill, where 7 to 9 inches was pretty typical in undisturbed areas.”
Being underwhelmed by the accumulations I’d seen on my ascent of the main Gondi terrain, I headed toward Cliff Trail for my descent. The deepest accumulations I found were up around 3,500’ along the skier’s right of Perry Merrill, where 7 to 9 inches was pretty typical in undisturbed areas. That was really nice, and while the depth gradually decreased as I headed down Cliff Trail, the skiing there was quite good throughout. There were a few tracks on the trail, but only a handful of skiers had been down at that point. I’d say that the junction with Nosedive at around 2,700’ was right about where the best snow petered out. The elevation was part of it, but the change to Nosedive with its more open nature and higher levels of skier traffic made for a very obvious break in the availability of the new snow. That would have been an excellent spot to stop a descent if one was looking to lap the best snow up high.
We’ve got some fairly cool days coming over the next week, so the new snow should stick around for a while up high, although the quality may deteriorate somewhat from the typical spring temperature cycling.
We had some great weather for skiing last weekend, but I was fighting a cold and decided to recuperate vs. pushing myself too hard with a tour. The great weather has continued this week though, with a simply amazing stretch of sunny spring days, and this morning I had a bit of time to get out for a ski tour at Stowe.
These recent days of warm weather have been eating away at the snowpack of course, and on my trip to the mountain I didn’t encounter any snow until the resort’s main base elevations around 1,500’. I parked by Midway, and similar to about a half dozen or so other cars I saw, I was able to use the nice new parking area the resort has added just below the Midway Lodge. I’d never even noticed that parking lot before because it’s usually covered with snow, but it’s got some nice clean asphalt that makes it a very nice spot for changing gear and clothing well away from any spring muck.
Nosedive still has coverage right to the bottom at the Crossover trail, so I started skinning from there at ~1,650’, and made my way up to the junction with Cliff Trail at ~2,700’. Nosedive has continuous coverage all the way up to that point, and although I didn’t continue higher on Nosedive itself, I’d be surprised if there were any breaks in the snowpack at the higher elevations. For my tour, I decided to continue on toward the Cliff House because I saw that Perry Merrill looked to have almost continuous coverage, and the skiing there will typically run out before Nosedive. I had to take off my skis and walk for a couple hundred feet because that junction area of Cliff Trail with Nosedive has melted out, but after that I was able to skin all the way up to the Cliff House. The resort’s been clearing out some of the work roads as they get ready for summer, and that really transformed the area up near the Cliff House with massive snow piles on the sides of the trail and nothing in the middle.
“The snow quality overall was excellent though, as we’ve obviously had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles by this point and the snow if very much in prime “corn” form.”
For my descent I continued on to the other side of the Cliff House and hit Upper Gondolier, then connected onto Perry Merrill lower down. Perry Merrill has just a couple of breaks in the continuity of its snow, although one is about 100 feet long and is best navigated by taking off your skis. The snow quality overall was excellent though, as we’ve obviously had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles by this point and the snow if very much in prime “corn” form.
Each year in December we head to Stowe for the training day that gets us ready for our school’s ski program. E is the director for the BJAMS program and typically takes care of the logistics on one of the weekend days, while a co-director would manage the other. In the past, when the boys were younger and couldn’t stay home alone, we’d either set up to have someone watch them, or split the two training days between us and each go alone. On those occasions, even though selecting the days was done well in advance, I always seemed to luck out and get the great conditions – comfortable temperatures, fresh powder, soft surfaces, etc., while E on the other hand would get refrozen crud, frigid temperatures, or whatever else you can think of that would make the ski experience less than stellar.
This year though, we were going to the training day together, and it looked like E was going to go for a ride on the luck train with me. Winter Storm Decima was marching across the country, and the timing looked just about perfect for a great powder day on Saturday. In fact, the National Weather Service Office in Burlington even felt strongly enough about it to incorporate a statement in their forecast discussion on Thursday:
“Should be a glorious powder day with mean snow ratios around 18-20:1 and temps gradually warming into the lower 20s valleys and upper teens mountains by early afternoon.”
By this morning, Winter Storm Decima had already begun to deliver snow as we headed off to the resort. The snowfall rates weren’t outrageous, but it was a good steady snow and you could see that little bit of extra spring in everyone’s step knowing that training day was going to feature fresh snow. As we gathered outside the Midway Lodge for the morning’s announcements, you could just see the snow piling up on the anxious skiers ready to get underway.
“There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day.”
We had Steve for our group leader, similar to some previous seasons, and he regaled us with his usual assortment of giving lessons to celebrities and assorted well-heeled folks. We did a quick first run off the Meadows Quad, and that was our first chance to experience the snow. Oh was it glorious! There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day. Stowe’s already hit 110 inches on the season, and we’re only about three weeks or so into it.
We had several runs on Spruce Peak before we broke for some lunch, then got a couple more runs in over on Mansfield. Even after a day of weekend ski traffic, conditions were still amazing in the afternoon even on the most heavily-used areas. The snow is deep-down good. The only downside today was the chill in the morning at elevation with the wind, but it was still a small price to pay for such consistently awesome conditions.
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.
It was a Telemark day for the family yesterday at Stowe, but today was an alpine day for the boys, in line with plans to hit some steep and challenging terrain. We were hoping to introduce Dylan and E to some of the Bypass Chutes that Ty and I had skied last Saturday, with additional plans to head over to the Gondola area of Mt. Mansfield and potentially up to some of the steep alpine terrain of The Chin. The weather was looking pretty good, with clear blue skies and fairly seasonable temperatures. E had tweaked her back a bit the other day, so she ultimately decided that the best course of action would be to rest it, and I took the boys off to the mountain in the mid afternoon. On our drive, the one thing I quickly noticed was that today’s temperatures were actually a bit colder than yesterday’s – whereas it was roughly 50 F in the lower mountain valleys yesterday, today I was seeing numbers more in the mid 40s F. The car thermometer was reading just 39 F when we arrived at the base of Mansfield, and that got me a little concerned about the snow surfaces, since yesterday’s slightly warmer temperatures were already somewhat marginal with the softening. Today had 100% sunshine though, so I was hoping that could make a difference.
As soon as we arrived in the Mansfield Parking Lot, it was obvious that the number of people at the resort was nothing like what we’d encountered yesterday afternoon. Yesterday we just pulled up and grabbed a parking spot in the first row, directly in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge, but today I didn’t see a single open spot in the entirety of the east side of the lot. I eventually decided that it would just be easier to park over in the Midway Lot at the Gondola, since we’d be finishing our day there. Even over there though, there was a healthy amount of vehicles, so the resort was definitely drawing a crowd for its last official day. As we made our way over to the base of the Fourrunner Quad, we witnessed the incredible sea of vehicles and skiers that filled the Mansfield Parking Lot. The sights and sounds were simply everywhere, there was one source of music that was so loud that it sounded like a live band was playing. I even heard someone mention something to that effect a bit later, but didn’t know if it was true. Anyway, that’s what happens when you combine that last day of Stowe lift service with weather like we had today.
“It was still reasonably
good corn snow, and
fortunately it improved
with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation.”
Up at the summit of the Fourrunner Quad it was certainly a bit chilly, and I suspect that the temperature was right around the freezing mark. I thought about doing a run on some of the quad terrain before making our way over to the Gondola, but decided that it was best to get going early so we’d have maximal time for whatever touring we wanted to do. The snow seemed at least somewhat softened in the sun from what we could see below us on our trip up the quad, but as soon as we dropped onto Nosedive, we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency. We saw that the upper entrance to Bypass was roped, presumably because of the firm snow surface. The trip down those next couple of pitches of Nosedive was quite hairy, and I wouldn’t have recommended it for anyone like us that doesn’t keep their edges sharp. We picked our way down with some survival skiing to find that even the next entrance to the Nosedive Glades was roped off. Access over to Rimrock was only available once the pitch flattened out a bit, and we got our butts off Nosedive as soon as possible.
Based on the snow surfaces, I didn’t think there was much sense in heading above tree line, but the ascent over to the top of the Gondola still looked viable, so we set our sights on that. To make it easy on the boys, especially since they’ve been under the weather a bit this past week, I took care of carrying their skis for them. I skinned with my skis, and attached theirs to my pack. We actually encountered a number of people heading over to the Gondola via Rim Rock, they were keeping that aggressive traverse that would let them reach High Road and maximize their vertical. We were heading higher than that though, since we continued up Cliff Trail once we got to that High Road intersection. After a break at that intersection, we continued on up with the Cliff Trail ascent, and even though it’s just an intermediate pitch, it looked daunting to the boys compared to what we’d just traversed. It really went quickly though, it felt like we began to see the top of Cliff Trail just after ascending the first steep pitch, and even with the boys somewhat beleaguered pace due to recent fought illness, it couldn’t have taken much more than 10 minutes. We could still see some sunlit terrain above us at that point, so after a quick break, we continued on a bit more and finally stopped our ascent up near the flats leading to the Cliff House. In terms of both sunshine and slope, there wasn’t much point in going beyond the first big pitch of Perry Merrill. We could hear, and in some cases see, people picking their way down through the Rock Garden and other, even steeper lines off the Mansfield ridgeline, and it sounded horrible up there. That terrain is shaded, high in elevation, and steep. It looked like it was worse than what we’d found on Nosedive, and that experience was already going down as serving up the most hellacious ski conditions we’d encountered all season. At least the snow was being well-preserved for future use, but it had me longing for the fresh snow that Ty and I got to play in last weekend.
“…we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency.”
The boys finished with a final snack and some roughhousing in the snow off to the side of the trail as we enjoyed some sun, and then we were off for some turns. We stuck to as much sunny terrain as we could, descending on Perry Merrill and then to Gondolier on the skier’s left. The snow was only marginally softened, so it was OK, but like yesterday, not really as great as the sunshine might suggest. It was still reasonably good corn snow, and fortunately it improved with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation. All I can say is that the upside of the minimal softening is that even down in those lower elevations below the alpine, the preservation of the snowpack was looking quite good. I was happy for E though, as she’d made the right call in staying home and resting her back. Although she missed a fun bit of hiking and touring, which gave us a nice workout, she certainly hadn’t missed out on any extraordinary (or even ordinary for that matter) spring skiing.
For the final half of the descent on Gondolier, we used my camera (Canon EOS 30D) and E’s camera (Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS) between the three of us and played “Shootout”. It’s a contest in which everyone skis in front of the cameras, but also gets behind the cameras to serve as photographers. The goal is to see who can get the shot of the day in both the photographer and skier roles. E’s point and shoot camera does have a decent high speed shooting mode that runs at 7.8 FPS in low (~3 megapixels) resolution, and it does a decent job of capturing images, even if you can’t really view your subject the way you can with a DSLR. The big downside of her camera is that the focus, exposure, and other parameters are set on the first shot and remain fixed – also, you have to stop shooting to adjust the zoom. For sports photography, this represents a serious disadvantage compared to the DSLR that is rapidly adjusting all these for every high speed shot, and even though it’s only shooting at 5 FPS, it’s going at full resolution and is attempting to optimize the picture every time. Also, you can zoom on the fly and keep filling the frame with the skier if you want. E pointed out that I had a huge advantage using the DSLR (since it’s big, the boys don’t typically use it), so it was a bit uneven in that regard, but we’ll see how things come out in the end.
Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield. Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling. There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F. That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’. I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse. It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.
“The snow was definitely all winter up there…”
I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing. There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today. If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring. As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road. The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.
I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off. I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”. There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles. However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow. That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there. On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear. Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’. Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow. I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.
I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns. The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds. I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me. The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over. I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully. I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully. By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.
I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them. I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing. The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent. Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before. It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel. The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there. I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff. The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’. It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick. Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations. I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier. Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around. I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was. The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions. We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures. It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.