Erica and I headed up to Bolton Valley this morning to potentially get in a bit more powder skiing ahead of today’s warming temperatures. The real warmth wasn’t expected to come into the area until later in the day today, but it was already above freezing at the base elevations when we began our tour around 9:00 A.M. or so.
The Wilderness skin track was in great shape, but the snow on Lower Turnpike definitely looked like it had been worked in a bit more compared to what I saw on yesterday’s tour. There were more people out touring in the area today, and we figured it was because so many more people had time off for Christmas Eve.
My initial plan was to tour up to near 3,000’ and get into some powder like yesterday, but E was looking for a shorter tour than that, and once we discovered that the powder was already getting somewhat wet, we just toured up to below the Cougar headwall as our apex.
Turns on the packed areas of Lower Turnpike were quite good, with just a touch of stickiness in spots. I occasionally checked out the powder along the sides of the trail, but it was starting to get wet enough that the packed areas were generally the better experience. Had I known that the rising temperatures had already affected the powder, I probably would have just brought midfats instead of my fat Tele skis.
We headed back to the car through the Village Circle, and were reminded again about the Mad Taco outpost right in the Village. We’re definitely going to have to take advantage of the opportunity to get some of their food from the Bolton site – that’s the closest Mad Taco branch for us.
Our area is going to be in the warm sector for much of the next storm coming into the area today, but we’ve got more chances for snow during the holiday week.
Today turned out to be sort of a bit of a midwinter gem, which is pretty nice considering winter just started. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so stunning, but with the recent snows, it was clearly a good day to head up to Bolton for a tour and check out how the powder had settled in.
In the morning, before any clouds rolled it, the sun and sky were simply brilliant. And that’s the first thing I noticed when I got out of the car at the mountain. And I couldn’t believe how hot the sun felt. We’re up near 45 N latitude, and this time of year is just about as low a sun angle as we get, so all I can think is that I’m just not used to actually having the sun shining on my face. I had a 23% VLT lens in my goggles, figuring that sure, it was sunny, but it’s late December way up here in the north. Well, I could have easily gone with something sub-10% VLT; it was that bright.
“The powder definitely exceeded expectations today – I found settled depths of roughly 5-7” above the subsurface at 2,000’, and many spots with 8-10” up near 3,000’.”
The powder definitely exceeded expectations today – I found settled depths of roughly 5-7” above the subsurface at 2,000’, and many spots with 8-10” up near 3,000’. I initially couldn’t figure out where all of it had come from, but then I realized that since the 4-5” from Winter Storm Gail, it’s just continued to snow with these past couple of smaller systems.
The Wilderness skin track was in excellent shape, and it almost looked like the resort had groomed the adjoining Turnpike trail because it was so smoothly packed. It’s possible that it was just very nicely packed by skier traffic, but for folks looking for groomed turns in the Wilderness area, it’s good to go.
Off the main route though, there was tons of untracked powder available, and it was definitely right-side-up, midwinter quality stuff. That synoptic snow from Winter Storm Gail, topped off with the drier snow from these last couple of systems has really put together a quality surface. Low-angle stuff is good to go, and even moderate-angle slopes are nice if the snow is protected from the wind and there hasn’t been any skier traffic. Above those angles though, the snowpack is definitely not ready yet; the base is just not deep enough.
It’s going to be interesting to see how things play out for this next week. This next storm looks to consolidate the base, and there are a couple of potential systems behind it that could make some nice conditions atop that if they came to fruition on the snowy side of things.
Up here in Northern Vermont, I hadn’t been expecting to ski this storm at all, but as the models revealed a more northward trend in guidance, it looked like we were going to get something out of it. Indeed, by midday I’d recorded over four inches of snow, and nearly half an inch of liquid equivalent from it. Snowfall with a half inch of liquid definitely has enough substance to get some floatation above the base, so I figured it was worth a quick tour to see how conditions were faring up at Bolton. They’ve got the extra elevation to potentially enhance the snowfall even more, but they’re also a few miles farther to the northwest of our site, and the farther north and west one went with this system the more the accumulations quickly drop off. Once up at the mountain, accumulations I found at 2,000’ in the Village were 4-5”, so roughly the same as what we picked up here at the house.
That was more than enough to make the powder skiing quite nice on low angle terrain though – on my 115 mm fat skis the turns were smooth and bottomless with the snow that had just fallen. We still haven’t had a big, 1”+ liquid equivalent storm affect the Northern Greens yet this season, so base snow is still pretty meager. There were a few inches of base snow left at 2,000’, with some variability and patchiness, but it’s still probably too inconsistent for steeper pitches or areas down around 1,500’. We’ve got a couple smaller round of snow in the forecast over the next couple of days though, so those should help bolster that overall snow in the higher elevations. Temperatures are expected to be single digits and even below zero F in the coming days, so snowmaking should be taking off as well to enhance the manmade base in areas of the resort.
The midweek system that brought nearly a foot of snow to the mountains had produced some excellent turns on Thursday, so I decided to head back up to the mountain today with E for a quick tour in the Wilderness area. Warmer weather is expected to move into the area over the next couple of days, so this morning seemed like the best time to get in on the remaining powder before it consolidated too much.
Being a weekend, there were a good number of people out on the hill, and we saw several groups using the Wilderness skin track and enjoying the nice weather. We toured up to around the Cougar area, and enjoyed a nice descent on Lower Turnpike. Much of the trail was skier-packed snow after a couple days of ski traffic, but it was a really nice packed surface with soft snow and temperatures in the lower 30s F. There was even powder remaining around on the sides of the trail that I was able to hop into for some floaty turns. The power was getting a little thick with warming temperatures, but it was definitely serviceable. There were certainly a few thin spots here and there, and one had to pick their spots for traversing the water bars, but obstacles were minimal enough that avoiding them could easily be worked into the flow of your turns for an enjoyable down mountain ride.
Yesterday, an upper-level disturbance/Alberta Clipper-style system began to affect our area, and as of this morning, Bolton Valley was reporting 4-8” of new snow in the past 24 hours, and 10” in the last 48 hours. Although we haven’t had too much base snow yet this season, those accumulations, as well as the view on the Bolton Valley Main Base Webcam, suggested that there was enough snow out there for a tour.
Temperatures up in the Bolton Valley Village were in the upper 20s F, and I generally found 7-10” inches of snow from the Village elevations upward. There’s decent substance to the snow (i.e. it’s not just fluff), but as expected, there’s really not too much base below that snow from what I saw. I just don’t think there was any dense snow, or rain-affected snow that had a chance to consolidate below these most recent accumulations. The snow quality is good though; the snowpack I encountered was right-side up with some medium weight density snow below fluffier powder on top.
Roughly 2,700’ was as high as my tour took me today, so I can’t provide observations above that level, but snow depths probably would have increased a bit more with elevation.
I’m surprised to see a depth of only 8” at the Mt. Mansfield Stake at 3,700’ as of the most recent report, but I’m not sure when that depth was last updated. Based on the amount of liquid equivalent that seemed to be in the snow, and the sub-freezing temperatures up there, this would likely be the start of the winter snowpack unless we get a really warm/wet, long-duration event. Consolidating the snow that’s there right now and/or adding some water to it would certainly help form a base. We certainly want to get in a decent synoptic winter storm to substantiate the base, but the mountains have got at least a minimal start with this system. I’m not sure if the snow we have in the valleys around here is quite enough to mark the start the season’s snowpack, but it’s possible. We’ll see what the next couple of weeks bring as we head into the busy holiday season.
Over the past couple of days, Winter Storm Gage brought several inches of snow to the area, so I headed up to the mountain today to sample the goods. We picked up close to an inch of liquid equivalent from the storm down at the house, so the mountains should have had at least that much as well. Bolton Valley was noting 5 inches in their official report, which was likely a fairly dense 5 inches. There was some mixed precipitation in the middle of the storm cycle, but it seemed like the slopes should have gotten a decent resurfacing with the mixed components sandwiched between a decent amount of snow.
Temperatures were really nice up at the mountain – they were right around 30 F, and with essentially no wind, it was very comfortable and calm. I was up in the late afternoon heading into twilight, so it was a relatively quiet period of the day and I walked right on the Vista Quad when I arrived. Although there was still plenty of light when I first got up to the mountain, light snow was in the air and we’re in late December, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before it would be dark enough for the slope lights to come on. I put a clear lens in my goggles, and that was really perfect for my twilight session.
The new snow was certainly a boon to the conditions. There were still slick areas, but there was a lot of loose snow throughout the trails as well. A check on the ungroomed areas from roughly mid mountain up revealed about 4 inches of powder, then a thick/crustier layer below that, then another 4 inches of snow above the base. Even the uppermost layer of snow was reasonably dense, so moderate angle terrain skied quite nicely. Finding the natural snow in decent shape, I ventured over toward Lower Turnpike and got some excellent powder turns. I would occasionally touch down to the harder layers below, so the turns were just a notch below what we experienced back on the 21st of the month.
“It’s a bit strange continuing to ski as 4:00 P.M. hits because it feels like everything should be closing up, but you just get to keep going – almost as if the resort forgot you were there.”
I really enjoy these twilight sessions that you can get at Bolton Valley – it can be a very peaceful time of the day as many people have finished up their skiing and folks planning on the evening may not yet have arrived. It’s a bit strange continuing to ski as 4:00 P.M. hits because it feels like everything should be closing up, but you just get to keep going – almost as if the resort forgot you were there. The night skiing lights come on at some point, and the scenery around you changes by the minute as the daylight fades. It’s definitely a unique experience, which is certainly enhanced when you’ve got some new snow.
There’s another small system coming into the area tonight, with the potential for another few inches on top of what we’ve had. We’re hoping it makes for some nice New Year’s conditions!
There hasn’t been any new snow since our ski outing on Saturday, but Ty was planning to head up to the mountain for a bit of snowboarding with his friend Liam, so the rest of the family decided to get in a few runs as well.
I had to head into town for an errand in the morning, but I headed up to the mountain to meet everyone after that. Not seeing any of the family at the base of the lifts, I did a quick run off the Mid Mountain Chair and took the mellow Bear Run route to get a feel for the surfaces. The grooming had set the snow up pretty nicely – surfaces were moderately firm, but not bad thanks to relatively low skier traffic.
I’d checked my phone when I got off at Mid Mountain, and E and D let me know they were in the lodge, so I caught up with everyone there. We had snack, Liam and his family headed out, and our family decided to go for a run off Vista. E and D showed me where the best snow was located based on their previous runs, and it was in those areas where skiers had pushed the snow to edges. The spots provided some nice turns in a few inches of loose snow, and D really enjoyed carving it up on his new slalom skis.
Overall the mountain was very quiet today, presumably because folks know that it’s really just groomed runs for now until we get more snow. Fireside Flatbread wasn’t even open, but Bolton Valley will likely have everything going for the holiday week.
The next couple of weather systems (a smaller one on Friday, and then a larger one starting Sunday) in the flow have generally looked like mixed precipitation, but the back side of the second one seems to consistently show snow potential in the models. It’s interesting that some models like the ECMWF and CMC show more wintry potential in that second system, but the BTV NWS doesn’t even mention anything about that in their discussion, so I wouldn’t lend it much credence at this point. For now, I’d certainly watch that Monday/Tuesday period for potential ski options depending on how the back side of the storm cycle plays out.
“Lower Turnpike has a nice skier packed base with 4 to 6 inches of medium weight powder on it, and the areas of untracked snow offered fantastic turns.”
Although Ty was at work today, E and Dylan and I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to check out the new accumulations and overall conditions. Temperatures have been quite chilly over the past couple of days, with highs only around 10 F or so, but today they were getting nicely up into the 20s F in the afternoon.
Lift-served trail options are fairly limited right now since natural snow trails off Vista don’t have nearly enough snow to support those levels of skier traffic, but we rode the Vista Quad and eventually made our way over to Wilderness to see what the terrain over there offered With mostly skinning traffic on that part of the mountain, many areas on the lower slopes of Wilderness are in great shape. Lower Turnpike has a nice skier packed base with 4 to 6 inches of medium weight powder on it, and the areas of untracked snow offered fantastic turns. We only saw three folks skinning up during the course of our descent, so skier traffic seemed light, in line with the conditions we found.
We stopped in for some slices at Fireside Flatbread before leaving, and there was modest midafternoon crowd enjoying the atmosphere. The pizza was fantastic as always!
The forecast actually looks fairly benign over the course of the next week, but the weather models due hint at a couple of possibilities for snow. We’ll be watching to see if anything develops.
Last weekend, Winter Storm Ezekiel brought some hefty snowfall to the Northeastern U.S., with totals exceeding two feet in areas around Albany, NY and Southern Vermont. Up here in the northern part of the state we only picked up a few inches of snow from the storm, with totals falling off to almost nothing near the international border in a total reversal of the usual trend.
“My analyses at the house were revealing snow to water ratios of 50 to 1, and even as high as 85 to 1, so that’s incredibly dry powder with just 1 to 2% H2O content.”
The upslope snowfall on the back side of the Clipper looked like it would continue all day today, so I decided it was time for a quick trip up to the mountain to check out the new powder. Thanks to our cold November temperatures, Bolton Valley has actually been open for a couple of weeks now, and I hadn’t even picked up my season’s pass yet because I’ve been so busy. E and D were both a bit under the weather, and T was at work, so unfortunately they’ll have to wait until another trip to get themselves set up with their passes.
I was worried about a long wait to get my season’s pass, but once up at the mountain it turned out that picking it up was very quick. While I was walking toward the lodge from my car, I ran into a member of the resort staff who was checking in with everyone about picking up their passes. For pick up, he said to head right toward the Village Café, and they’d take care of everything. Indeed, there was only one person ahead of me picking up their pass, and it was very quick. The process of pick up and filling out the waiver was all done very efficiently on a handheld, wireless iPad-type device, and there was plenty of nice seating on couches in the lobby area so you could have a seat while you finished off the process.
Of course the greatest part of picking up my pass this year was the fact that Bolton has gone RFID!!! Dylan and I suspected it when we saw electronic gates by the lifts during a ski tour last month, but I can definitely say it’s for real. It’s so nice to be able to just stick the pass in my pocked (my Arc’teryx Sidewinder Jacket has a pocket on the sleeve that works perfectly) and I never have to mess with getting it out at the lifts. I tested out my pass at the Mid Mountain Chair and the process was perfectly smooth.
“I checked the total snowpack depth in that area and measured a healthy 27 inches, with about 20 inches of that being powder from recent storms, and the rest being base snow. Clearly Bolton has gotten clobbered from some these smaller systems we’ve had.”
In terms of skiing, my plan was to use an assist from the Mid Mountain Chair and head over to Wilderness to ski some of the fresh powder in that area. I figured there would be no one on the upper mountain without the Vista Quad running, but when I was traversing over on Fanny Hill, I ran into a patroller who was prepping the trail for opening because they were going to open Vista. He reminded me that I wasn’t on the designated uphill route, but thankfully let me continue on over since I was just about onto the Wilderness terrain. I checked the total snowpack depth in that area and measured a healthy 27 inches, with about 20 inches of that being powder from recent storms, and the rest being base snow. Clearly Bolton has gotten clobbered from some these smaller systems we’ve had.
Once connecting to the standard skinning route, I finished my ascent on Peggy Dow’s to the Wilderness ridgeline and got ready for some turns. Light snow with breaks of sun that had been with me on the last part of my ascent were replaced with a sudden change to a maelstrom of huge flakes coming down as I began to descend. I really didn’t have to venture far afield from Peggy Dow’s and Turnpike to find powder – there was plenty of it throughout the route because skier traffic had been low enough. Powder depths ranged from as much as 15 to 20 inches on the upper mountain, to typically 12 to 15 inches on the lower mountain, so even with the incredibly dry powder there was plenty of it to keep you floating. I’d brought my 115 mm fat skis and they were definitely the right tool for the job. I was surprised at how quickly my legs got cooked from making Telemark turns – they’d often be fried after just a dozen or so turns! I guess it has been roughly three weeks since I last skied, so my legs are clearly telling me they need to get back into ski shape. Today should get the process started though, and hopefully ski days will become more frequent as we move into December and we continue to get snow.
On the weather side, it looks like we’ve got a warm system to start off this next week, which will consolidate the snowpack somewhat, and then temperatures should cool down for midweek with potential for some moisture from the Great Lakes affecting the area. Then there’s the potential for another large system next weekend, but it will be a bit before we can figure out how much snow we might get from that one.
One approximate measure of when the potential natural snow/off piste skiing begins each season here in Northern Vermont is the date when the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaches 24 inches. This is by no means an exact date, especially since it’s possible to get great turns on just a few inches of snow if the snow is dense and the underlying surface is grass instead of rocks. You can indeed get by with much less than 24 inches of snowpack if the snow is very dense, but not if it’s all Champlain Powder™ fluff. Based on empirical observations and reports from skiers in the area each season though, hitting the 24” mark is reasonable for most situations.
With that preface, let’s take a look at where last season sits with regard the start of the natural snow/off piste skiing around here. By most accounts, last season started off with bang. Even in the local mountain valleys, the winter snowpack started as early as November 10th. That’s very early for the valleys, and when the valleys are doing well, the mountains certainly are too.
The updated plot for the 60+ seasons in the Mt. Mansfield Stake database is below, with last season represented by the red star:
Before I add a bit of context to last season’s start, here are the stats for the data set:
Mean: Dec 12th
Median: Dec 9th
Mode: Dec 16th
S.D.: 18.8 days
Entry of this year’s data point had no effect on the mean, mode, or S.D. (within a tenth of a day), but it did drop the median by one day from Dec 10th to Dec 9th.
The plot would suggest a reasonably good start, but nothing outrageous: last year’s 24” date was Nov 27th, which is only 0.78 S.D. ahead of the mean, so well within 1 S.D. That puts it in roughly the top 22% of seasons, so about 1 in 5 seasons will have a similar or earlier 24” date.
While the 24” date is a nice snapshot for the start of the natural/off piste season, there are of course a number of other factors to take into account that made last November more impressive than that number alone:
1) Near miss: If you look at the raw November stake depth data (posted below), you can see that the snow depth at the stake reached 23” on Nov 21st. That’s as close of a miss as you can get to hitting 24”, so even as of the 21st of the month, the snowpack had essentially hit that two-foot level. Getting to that level by the 21st brings a season past 1 S.D. and into that top ~15% of seasons. That’s not a huge bump in this regard, but having nearly an extra week of borderline two-foot snowpack at that part of the season could easily mean an entire additional weekend of natural snow skiing potential.
2) No going back: This is a much bigger feather in last season’s cap. Even from about mid-month, the snowpack never really took a major hit, and once it did hit that 24” mark on Nov 27th, there was really no going back. It sailed past 24” and just kept climbing as you can see in the numbers at the end of the month. I haven’t added the December numbers below, but even with the lackluster December we had, the snowpack never dropped below ~40”. That can’t be said for all of the seasons on the left side of the plot (certainly not Mr. October out there in front, which was the 2006-2007 season – he was back to 0” at the stake by mid-November).
3) Snow-depth days: I haven’t calculated this for any November with the stake data, but it will obviously be a good integrative measure of how much snow was on the ground for the start of the season. I’m sure last November would have a solid ranking if I put those data together.
So, if we look into that left side of the plot, do we have any other recent seasons in there that we can use for comparison to last season?
Actually, that lone star (Nov 25th) just to the left of the red star for last season is for 2007-2008. We know that was a solid season around here. The snowpack began building in the first week of November, and there was really no going back there either. Unlike this past season, that solid November was followed up by a stellar December (almost 70” of snow here at the house) and the Mansfield snowpack was hitting five feet by the holidays. With a solid December, last season certainly would have given 2007-2008 a run, but instead it was languishing at around 40” at the stake during the holiday period.
With regard to some of the other stars up at that end of the plot:
The two compatriots of last season on the plot, those other two stars on Nov 27th, are 1997-1998 and 1977-1978. 1997-1998 looks pretty solid with a snowpack start in the first week of November, and snowpack at about that five-foot mark by the holiday period. There’s also a nice-looking bonus stretch of snow at the end of October, with snow at the stake for almost the last third of the month, and the depth peaking at 16”. Checking my archives, I actually went for some lift-served skiing at Sugarbush on Oct 28th, so that speaks to that period snow being a bit of something special. 1977-1978 was before my time around here, but it looks a bit tamer. There was nothing in October, then snowpack began to build around mid-November and was getting around the four-foot mark by the holidays.
The two stars right at Nov 20th are interestingly, back-to-back seasons of 1967-1968 and 1968-1969. Both had a little October snow, and then a snowpack start in the first week of November. Both had pretty steady climbs right through November and December, with 1967-1968 getting to around 40” for the holiday period, and 1968-1969 hitting a very robust 6+ feet of snowpack for the holidays. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, as that was just the start of a season that would become legend.
The star at Nov 18th is 1965-1966, and the progression looks sort of like 1967-1968. That’s quite a 4-year stretch of good early seasons from ’65-’66 to ’68-’69 with those three solid starts.
The star at Nov 16th is 1980-1981. That season is interesting in that the snowpack started building on Oct 20th and sailed right into November without ever going back to zero. Snowpack was 4+ feet for the holidays, but the rest of the season looks modest (relatively speaking) with the snowpack depth never getting above 6 feet.
The star on Nov 14th is for something more recent: 2003-2004. I was out in Montana for that one, but snowpack started building in the second week of November, it was 4+ feet at the holidays, and hit the 100” mark in March.
The star on Nov 13th is for 1976-1977. That looks like an impressive start, with snowpack taking hold in the second half of October, climbing right through November, and hitting roughly the 4-foot mark for the holidays. The stake didn’t quite top out at 100” that season, but it did pretty well topping out at 94”.
The final early star I haven’t mentioned yet is the one on Nov 11th, that’s for the 1990-1991 season. It seems like the only other boom and bust start to go with Mr. October (2006-2007). There was a little inkling of snow at the end of October and start of November, but snowpack started building at the end of the first week of the month and topped out at a very impressive 45” on Nov 14th! It was a downhill slide after that though. The snowpack never went lower than 9” but there were only 12-18” on the ground for the holiday period, and on Dec 30th it dropped from 18” to 13”, so that must have been quite a dagger in the holiday week (I guess that depends on whether it was a nice spring skiing day or a nasty rainstorm). The rest of that season seemed pretty blasé because the snowpack never even hit 5 feet. I don’t recall much about that season, but I’m assuming there was nothing too remarkable.