It was quite a gorgeous day out there today, with valley temperatures up around 60 F. That’s certainly well above average for February, but with such nice weather on a Saturday, Ty and I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to catch a few runs in the warm sun. We got up to the mountain in the mid-afternoon timeframe, and our timing was perfect, because just as we were about to load the Vista Quad, Jack caught us and we were able to spend the rest of the afternoon together.
We started off with a couple of runs on Spillway, which is always one of my favorites when we get soft spring snow like today. It’s got that nice steep pitch, and as usual there was that ridge of snow along the skier’s right that provides some especially nice turns. We rode the Snowflake Chair to go for a run in the Butterscotch Terrain Park, but for some reason the rope was up and the park was closed. We still got in some nice cruising on Sprig O’ Pine, and then headed back up for some steep turns on Hard Luck. Turns were also great there, very similar to what we found on Spillway.
The wind was really picking up at the end of the day when we headed back to the car, and we’ve had a storm come through with some rain that changed to snow this evening. Temperatures are going to drop back to more seasonable levels tomorrow, so it will probably be a day for the groomed terrain unless the mountains pick up substantial snow tonight.
On our drive to the mountain we noticed that there’s not actually a ton of snow down in the center of Stowe Village, but the snowpack builds as one heads up the mountain road, and it’s quite hearty once you get up to The Matterhorn around the 1,000’ elevation. The snow depths simply skyrocket after that, and Mansfield’s snowpack is quite impressive. This shouldn’t be too surprising with 52” at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, but it’s still great to get out there and experience it firsthand.
Today in our group we had many of the usual crew, like Jack, Dylan, Jonah, and Norris. Ken is still taking it easy due to his injury, so our new additions were Nolan and his kids Sophie and Evan. They fit right in with the group, so I suspect we’ll have a lot of fun whenever we’re together. After an initial run on Sunny Spruce, we quickly headed over to Mansfield to check out some steeper terrain. We skied the Bypass Chutes, as well as Goat and Starr from the top. While coverage isn’t yet perfect on those routes, it’s pretty darned good, and that says a lot if those steep pitches are reasonably covered. I was concerned about what the snow surfaces were going to be like with the cloudy conditions today, but the snow was beautifully soft at all elevations with temperatures in the 30s F. The Nosedive Glades were fantastic – and they’ve definitely done some additional clearing in there to enhance some of the lines. Overall, today was actually like being out there on one of those awesome soft days in April with the hefty snowpack. I’d say the main drawback on the hill today was the visibility, since we were in the clouds the whole time. In some elevation bands it was pea soup, but it was more reasonable than at many elevations.
We’ve actually got a storm coming into the area tomorrow evening that should bolster the snow pack even more. The storm is expected to have some mixed precipitation with it, but plenty of liquid equivalent, so it should really be a good shot to add to the season’s base.
Today was probably 20 degrees cooler than last Sunday, but it was still looking warm enough to offer some spring snow for Stowe’s final lift-served ski day of the season. We headed to the mountain in the mid-afternoon timeframe and found that the tail-gaiters were out again in full force in the Mansfield Parking Lot like last week. There was even a band playing off the deck of the Mountain Operations building. E forgot her coat, which had her pass in it, but she decided to just hang out in the car and get some work done since the boys and I only planned to do a few runs.
As Ty, Dylan and I rode the Fourrunner Quad, we could see that shaded locations on the upper mountain were really holding winter-like snow – or in this case icy frozen granular since we’ve had many a freeze-thaw cycle by this point. The air temperature was just a bit above the freezing mark at the top of the Fourrunner Quad, but with the strong April sun, only fully shaded areas were of any concern with respect to being to firm to hold a good edge. Everything else was soft corn snow like you’d expect to find in late April.
We took a trip down Nosedive and found coverage to be in great shape – there should be plenty of earned turns there well into May as usual. I’d say the same is generally true for the typical Lord/North Slope route as well. On our last run, the boys ski technique really degraded… on purpose as it turned out. They had loads of fun goofing around with poor technique and were incredibly impressed with how much more work it took to ski that way – especially in areas of soft snow.
It was a nice way to close out the lift-served season on Mansfield, and we topped it off with an après ski stop at Sushi Yoshi. We had time to go for some hibachi, which was a good show as always! We’ve actually got some cooler weather coming into the area this week with a chance for a bit of snow in the mountains over the next couple of days. It should be fun to see exactly what happens with respect to snow, as it’s always an interesting piece of weather if it falls in any of the lower elevations when we get close to May.
The nice forecasts had been out there for a while, and folks knew that we had a fantastic weekend of weather on the way – one that would bring back the spring skiing after our winter-like interlude over that past couple of weeks. I was pretty busy with work in general since we’re near the end of the spring semester, but the whole family took some time this afternoon to catch a few runs at Stowe and enjoy the spring snow.
Temperatures were in the 60s F even at the mountain, so all the snow was well corned up, and of course the usual tail-gaiters were out in force in the Mansfield Parking Lot. The Fourrunner Quad is the only option for lift-service now, so we spent our time there with a couple of great trips down the bumps of Centerline to really get that spring groove going. One of the big highlights of the day was Dylan getting down in the corn snow so that he could be intentionally whitewashed – and of course the rest of the family all took advantage of that opportunity. Dylan just loved it, probably because he was overheating with the warm weather, which would be typical for the boy who’d be happy to wear shorts all year round if we’d let him.
That’s it for the lift-served season at Stowe, but there’s plenty of snow left on the trails, so hopefully we’ll have a chance to get out for some skinning if the weather cooperates. From what I can see it’s going to get a bit more active with respect to precipitation, but it looks like we’ll generally be seeing warm days and cool nights to keep the corn harvest in full swing.
Although the lowest elevations were softening in the April sun, Stowe’s terrain in the upper elevations of Mt. Mansfield appeared to hold onto winter snow all through the day yesterday. That got me thinking about taking a couple more runs in the powder today, and although Ty was a bit under the weather and E planned to stay home with him, Dylan was happy to go with me to see what we could find.
We couldn’t get out early, but we were able to head out to the mountain around midday. Even in the valleys, temperatures were holding at or below freezing despite lots of April sun, so we knew that at least the air temperature wasn’t going to be affecting the snow. Today was even sunnier than yesterday, and the high peaks like Mt. Mansfield were standing out brilliantly above the lower elevations. It was quite a sight to behold as we traveled along Route 100 east of the Green Mountain Spine.
Dylan and I followed my procedure from yesterday, parking in the Midway Lot and heading right up the Gondola. Since I knew coverage was fine in the Kitchen Wall area, we headed right there to see how the powder was faring in the highest lift-served elevations. I hadn’t actually taken the main Kitchen Wall Traverse yesterday, but I have to say it was one of the most challenging trips I’ve had through there. The snow pack is just that bit on the low side that keeps some extra stumps sticking out in a few places, so you really have to keep your eyes open for the best routes to use.
We were quickly able to tell that even up in those elevations, any snow in direct sunshine was turning mushy, so we picked a partially shaded line for Dylan and he dropped into one of the snowfields. He had some nice turns, but as we got down lower, even though we were predominantly in the trees, we encountered a lot of challenging, sticky snow wherever light was sneaking into the forest. Down in the Nosedive Glades we generally stuck to the main routes to avoid that type of snow, but we found plenty of good turns on lightly tracked or skier packed snow. We finished off with Nosedive, which had conditions similar to yesterday, with the snow quality being better the higher you were in elevation.
We knew the window for ample off piste skiing was just about closed with the way the powder was getting sticky, so we decided to stick with an on piste run down Gondolier. We debated going to Cliff Trail, but Dylan said we would be too tempted to head off piste and we’d end up paying for it if we got into mushy snow. We still managed to get sucked off piste below the switchback of Perry Merrill, and that was our most exciting adventure of the day. The snow was actually pretty well preserved because of the shady nature of the area, and we came upon a nice cliff band with an ice fall that will no doubt be a lot of fun when we have ample midwinter powder. Dylan and I were already planning to take our BJAMS ski group to the area next season. We had to sift our way through some denser evergreen areas to get back to Perry Merrill, but our navigation was good and we quickly got back on piste. We ran that run out with a combination of Perry Merrill and Gondolier, and that was enough to consider ourselves satiated for the day. We did get into a bit of corn snow near the bottom of Gondolier, and Dylan commented on how that was his favorite snow on the trail, so he’s definitely ready for full on spring conditions vs. the transitionary snow that appears on some of these spring days.
The sunny weather and soft spring skiing from yesterday carried right into the second half of the weekend as we visited Stowe this afternoon for the BJAMS ski program. Ken’s tweaked knee from last Sunday was diagnosed as a sprained MCL, so I’ve heard he’ll be off skis for four weeks while it heals. Erica had to do a bunch of shuffling around of today’s groups due to various absences this week, and I actually wound up with a group of 10 students. That’s a substantial group even with both Ken and I to manage it together, but fortunately Big Luke was able to step in for his dad and give us a reasonable ratio of coaches to students. All told then with students and coaches, our group was a dozen strong, and I suspected that anywhere we went with our crazy crew… people were definitely going to know that we were around.
“There’s not too much else to say about today’s skiing – the snow is in spring mode and so are the students, so it’s simply bumps, and jumps… and more jumps.”
There was no question about the softness of the snow today at any elevation, and with my group ready promptly and raring to go at startup time, we headed right over to the Gondi for a sampling of its terrain. I could see that there were plenty of bumps on Gondolier, so we tackled that first with a quick photo session in one of the first bump lines. From there were moved over to the Fourrunner Quad and it was lap after lap with spring snow and visits to the terrain parks due to very high demand within the group. By around 3:00 P.M. it was time to head back to Spruce for the s’mores session, and everyone finished the day off with what appears to be becoming the customary “post s’mores free skiing session” off the Sunny Spruce Quad. I think almost all the skiers in the group, even Big Luke, dropped their poles for their final runs. And with our snowboarders Cole and Ryan as part of the crew, I may have been the only person left with poles at the end of the day. Those huge snow whales on West Slope are still going strong, and as you can imagine it was quite a raucous time out there on that terrain with the afternoon sun and continued soft snow.
I finished up a bit early and was able to hike up for a bunch of extra photos on West Slope, and man what a treat it was to be able to photograph with so… much… light! I had the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM out for the first time in a while, and was able to run at a shutter speed of 1/8000 sec and still stay down around ISO 100. The bright March sun on glaring snow was almost too much, and I nearly had to stop down a bit to avoid overexposing the images. For now though, it worked out at F/2.8 once I got all my settings tweaked, so hopefully folks will enjoy the sampling of action shots I’ve put with the report. One of my favorite images from the day was definitely Big Luke in the Tyro Terrain Park – he actually requested the shot, so I had plenty of time to set it up just the way I wanted. He aired it out and I think he’ll be pleased with the result.
There’s not too much else to say about today’s skiing – the snow is in spring mode and so are the students, so it’s simply bumps, and jumps… and more jumps. We’ll see what next weekend brings, but the weather models are certainly showing murmurings of a potential winter storm about a week out. We’ll have to see if we can finally get one of these to take a decent track or whether we’ll get another one of the many raw deals we’ve had this season, but I suspect the winter weather enthusiasts are going to have an interesting week of model watching to see what this potential storm does.
Today was a sunny, spring-like day in Northern Vermont, with temperatures in the 50s F in the valleys and snow corning up nicely on the mountain slopes. Dylan’s friend Cole was coming over in the mid to late afternoon to stay for the night, and since he had his snowboard for tomorrow’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe, we headed up to Bolton Valley for a few sunset runs.
There was still probably an hour of daylight left when we arrived, and after a quick warmup run on Beech Seal off the Mid Mountain Chair, we headed up to the Vista Summit. We just missed our chance to catch Hard Luck before patrol closed it for the night, but it looked quite nice with the soft spring snow. On our next run we did get to hit Alta Vista, and the skier’s left that often holds powder was again delivering the goods in the form of beautiful spring corn snow. I’d say that was my favorite area of the day, and I heard Cole mention how he liked it as well. I was worried that the snow would start to tighten up as the sun went down, but it stayed quite soft at least up to the point we left at around 6:00 P.M.
Aside from the skiing, one of the most fun parts of the day was playing with the spring snow while we rode the chair, tossing snowballs from one side of the chair, up and over the tow cable, to be caught by the person at the other end. Our record was 8 in a row before that snowball finally disintegrated, but the boys are already excited to try it some more tomorrow at Stowe – it looks like we’ve got another find spring day on the way tomorrow based on the forecast.
Based on my tour of the Bolton Valley backcountry yesterday, I didn’t anticipate skiing much powder today with our BJAMS ski group today at Stowe, and therefore I packed narrower skis for me and the boys. I’d say it was the right call, because we spent most of our time on piste, and aside from our initial runs on the softened slopes of lower Spruce Peak, the snow we found was roughly 20% decent and 80% crap.
Fortunately for us, we did start out on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak for the beginning of this afternoon’s session, and off the Sunny Spruce Quad the snow had softened in the sun from top to bottom. The boys had taken some earlier runs, and announced that we should head for Freddie’s Chute. I couldn’t believe that they were serious, because Freddie’s has all natural snow, faces south, and is loaded with ledges and rocks that quickly catch the sun and burn out the snow. Low and behold though, the coverage was there, so even though we haven’t had any really great winter storm cycles in the past few weeks (or at all this season for that matter) the storms of mixed precipitation that we have had are substantiating the snowpack in the mountains to some degree.
After some good turns on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak, we decided to do a few runs off the Sensation Quad. I hadn’t taken the group there at all this season, so it seemed like a good day to do it with no plans for our typical Mansfield powder explorations. I was actually surprised to see all of Spruce Line open for business aside from the initial headwall, and that’s amazing because patrol never seems to open that even when we have a ton of snow. We decided to make our way there by dropping into Green Acres, and that was where we undeniably found some of the best snow of the day. The high elevation and evergreen protection kept the snow soft and powdery in there, and it was deep enough that it was one of the few times today that I wished I’d brought wider skis. Spruce Line had some good shots, but the snow was generally dense or wind-packed, so while good, there wasn’t any of the powdery snow that we’d found in Green Acres. We did some additional runs off Sensation, hitting Sterling, Upper Smugglers, and Main Street Headwall, but they were all generally a mess of ice and firm snow with decent surfaces few and far between. Ken’s description of the worst areas was “plate ice”, which is that glare ice that’s got no redeeming qualities aside from the novelty of seeing the treads of the groomers carved into it. It’s just hideous stuff that really nobody in their right mind should have to ski.
Clouds were moving in at times, and with afternoon temperatures cooling down, snow that had softened in the sun was starting to firm up, so we headed back down to the lower slopes to finish off the day. We did a few more laps off the Sunny Spruce Quad, and even down there the snow wasn’t as soft as it was earlier, so it was changing from corn to frozen granular and becoming much less inspiring. We found that a number of us have similar boot sized and we started to switch around skis – I got to try Jack’s 163 cm Nordica Bad Mind skis (120-84-109), and that was a lot of fun because unlike my Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots, they’ve got some edge. I stayed on them for the rest of the day, and I thank Jack for the demo. Not only did his skis have edges, but they’ve only got a half season on them, so they’ve still got plenty of pop in them unlike my Salomons that are over a decade old.
As the boys finished off the last few runs on their own, Ken and I took a run through the Ridge Glades and down in the glades below along the right of East Run. Some of that terrain off to the side of East Run is really steep, probably 35 degrees, and in horrible shape. Ken came into one of those steep lines very aggressively and had a pretty big tumble where his equipment went everywhere. He was generally OK, although he did say he tweaked his knee a bit and something popped, so he’s going to have to assess how things go over the next few days to see if it’s anything serious. That area of trees definitely fit in with the general 20% decent/80% crap, where there was probably 20% decent snow on the whole slope, and the rest was a combination of ice, roots, stumps, dirt, and whatever else isn’t snow – it’s just hideous. We do appear to have some snow coming into the area tomorrow, so hopefully that will add a bit more to the snowpack in areas that need it.
On our ski outing yesterday we got a taste of the current backcountry conditions at Bolton Valley, and today we got to see how the lift-served terrain at Stowe has been fairing since the snows from Winter Storm Petros. With additional snows falling overnight from another moderate system skirting the northern border of Vermont, conditions were improving dramatically the farther north one went. We had students in our group from Wolcott and Hyde Park that had picked up 4 inches of snow at their houses, and Jay Peak saw another 7 to 10 inches overnight.
Ken and I had a fairly large group with 7 students today, and based on the way the snow had played out yesterday at Bolton, we immediately took everyone to the top of the Gondola and into the lower reaches of the Kitchen Wall terrain to get a feel for how the powder was skiing. The snow was excellent, with a good 6 to 8 inches of midwinter powder for everyone to enjoy. The students commented on numerous occasions how good the snow was. The best powder lasted down to about the 3,000’ mark before it began to get thinner and a bit wetter. At that point we’d stick to the trails, where conditions varied from midwinter snow to spring like, to ice, depending on elevation and aspect.
The kids had liked the first run so much that on our next one we took the high Kitchen Wall traverse and dropped into the untracked powder in one of the snowfields. There was a good 8-12” of snow up there, so bottomless turns were the norm. Even down below in the evergreens we found plenty of untracked lines and the kids’ overall energy was very positive. One line that we found ended up taking us basically through a cave, and you had to do some major body contortions to pull that line off smoothly.
Ken was thinking of paying a visit to Ravine, and I told him that we’d likely be able to ski the top ¼ at least based on what we found last week. We were all amazed to find the top entrance absolutely untracked at 3:00 P.M. on a Sunday afternoon, so some of the boys dropped in, and we eventually found out why it was being left alone. There was nice powder on top, but presumably some of the rain from Winter Storm Petros had wrecked the subsurface. It was a moonscape under there, so after skiing the available powder for a few hundred yards, we switched out to Gondolier for the rest of the run.
Unfortunately for Ken, he really brought the wrong pair of skis today. He was at Sugarbush yesterday where he found bulletproof conditions and struggled on skis with no edges. Anticipating the same thing today, he brought his freshly-sharpened, skinny, 195 cm old-school cruising skis. He couldn’t believe that we were skiing almost a foot of powder up high, and his long, skinny skis were essentially the exact opposite of what he would have liked to have in tight, powder-filled trees. We joked about how we used to ski everything on such skis, no matter how tight, but the new shorter, fatter, rockered, twin-tipped boards are so superior, and one can forget how much work it takes to push around those long sticks.
We finished off the day over at Spruce Peak, where areas in the sun were already turning to spring corn snow. The resort had made some huge snow whales on West Slope, and everyone was lapping those, which held soft snow and some great contours and drops. It’s definitely starting to feel like spring with the lasting sunlight we’ve got, but apparently we’ve still got some winter storm to come – the forecast suggests we’ve got three potential storms this week, so it should be interesting to see where things stand next weekend. Right now the Mt. Mansfield Stake is at 34”, so if things break right perhaps we’ll hit that magic 40” mark that means that most of the off piste terrain is reasonably well covered.
E was short on instructors for our BJAMS ski program at Stowe today, so I took on a different group than my usual cadre of experts. I was with Jack, Emma, and Nolan, who are beginner skiers making generally wedge turns. Dylan came along to help me, and Nolan’s brother Lucas was also able to assist. Although our three beginning students have ridden the Inspiration Chair already, I started them off by ascending the small slope up to the magic carpet to let the kids work on edging. We proceeded with a couple of magic carpet runs to check speed control and wedge turns. That went swimmingly, so we moved to Inspiration and worked on wedge turns until everyone had successfully complete the short course of gates that was set up there. Then, it was on to the Meadows Chair.
Today’s visit to the Meadows Chair was the first for Jack and Emma, so naturally that was very exciting for them. Nolan was able to stick with his brother Lucas, which meant that Dylan and I were able to work with the others and give them specific attention. We took the easiest route down from the top of the Meadows Chair, which included some of the gentle terrain features (banked slalom, humps, spines) that the resort has set up for beginners. Both of the kids did a great job (Jack loves the banked slalom), and this was aided by the superb snow conditions that were available today – temperatures in the 30s F created snow that was beautifully soft but not mushy. Jack and Emma are both pretty much at the Stem Christi stage now, and I was able to start working with Emma on that during our last run after Jack had to leave. She’s in fact already done those types of turns before and is certainly ready to improve upon them, so I think she’ll only be incorporating more and more parallel components into her skiing as the next few weeks progress.
It looks like the coming week will be generally mild with some mixed precipitation, so I suspect the slopes will generally be soft until temperatures drop to more February-like levels. At that point surfaces will likely tighten up, so hopefully plenty of new snow will be on the way.