This morning, Ty, E, and I headed up to Bolton Valley to check out the snow from Winter Storm Oaklee. The boys were both asleep as E and I were just about to leave to get in on some of the fresh powder, and we assumed they were just going to sleep in. Ty just happened to wake up at the right time, and he was excited to join us, so that was fortuitous timing for him!
Having clear skies, comfortable winter temperatures, and about a foot of fresh snow held the potential for some great skiing. Based on my snow density observations down at the house, the storm cycle progressed from denser 8-10% H2O snow into some impressive 2-4% H2O champagne, and indeed what we found out there at Bolton today was some very high quality powder. This was also the first chance for E to try out her new Rossignol Spicy 7 HD skis, and she was very happy with how they felt with today’s conditions.
The denser snow from the front end of the storm cycle wasn’t too evident underfoot actually, so the only major downside of today’s powder skiing was that it wasn’t quite bottomless. Depending on the pitch, you were certainly touching down on the subsurface, but on everything except for the steepest terrain, the powder turns were quite good. On moderate-angle terrain you could typically get by with 80-90% bottomless skiing, and because the powder was just so incredibly dry, you could ride it on lower angle terrain and it skied really well because of such low impedance.
Measurements throughout the morning revealed plenty of 8-12” powder depths, and we just ended up staying down at Timberline for our entire session because there was rarely a lift queue of note. A lot of trails weren’t open simply because the headwalls didn’t have quite enough snow to cover them up fully, but routes were available to traverse below them, and all that terrain was just loaded with quality powder. We generally stayed on piste because there was plenty of powder available there, and it was the better option anyway. Some off piste areas are dicey because of the recent warmth, but the off piste areas that are typically protected from the warmth and are well manicured were in great shape, so we did have some nice turns in those spots.
Storms like this are where one’s knowledge of their local hill really comes into play for putting together a fun session vs. one where you’re constantly dodging rocks and logs, wrecking your skis, or even worse, potentially wrecking yourself. Although we did spend most of our time on piste over the weekend because there was plenty of available powder there, our travels also brought us into some off piste lines that we trusted, and we found great turns in those areas.
From conversations with friends and colleagues who have skied in different spots in the Northern Greens over the past few days, it sounds like with respect to off piste turns, the farther north you go, the better the base gets. These next couple of bread and butter systems that are coming though this week should only help in that regard, and then we’ll have to see if that mixed system that’s farther out there in time can further substantiate the base.
We had comfortable temperatures in the 20s F, and found about 3 inches of new snow starting at the 1,200’ elevation. My initial plan was to head up to at least the Caribou Corner intersection, and then see how we felt at that point in terms of snow conditions and timing. Even at a casual, conversational pace, Ty and I were quickly at Caribou Corner, and I figured we could go on past to see what the snow looked like beyond the beaver ponds. Surface snow depths were generally in the 3-4” range, but we did find a few spots of up to 7” by the beaver ponds. We finally stopped our ascent around the Moose-ski trail on a local rise that set us up with an initial descent of relatively low angle pitches.
Even on low-angle terrain, we were still touching down to the base with any substantial edging, and only occasionally would be find just the right combination of snow depth and pitch where we could get in some bottomless turns. Those spots where you could make a gentle turn without much angulation were the ones that delivered.
A fun aspect of the day was interacting with the Husky that seems to live at that house/cabin that’s about 10 minutes up the hill along the Catamount Trail. It’s a really well-behaved dog that seems to interact nicely with most people who are out on that area of the network. On our ascent, we parted company with the Husky a few minutes after passing the house, when it joined a group of children who were sledding in a spot just below the Catamount Trail. On our descent, the Husky was right at the Bolton Lodge, and joined us for the rest of the descent back to the cabin, where we met the owner. What a great back yard that Husky has! With the Catamount Trail and Bolton’s Nordic and Backcountry Network right there, I bet there’s hardly even a shortage of people to play with.
This weekend’s forecast suggests the reverse of last weekend when it comes to temperatures. Whereas Sunday was the warmer day last time around, this weekend, Saturday is the day. We’ve had a couple of nice, milder days this past week with temperatures up around 40 F, and that spell continued into today. Tonight, the temperatures are expected to drop below zero F with the passage of a sharp cold front, and tomorrow’s highs are only in the single digits, so today was definitely the day to hit the slopes.
D, E, and I headed up to Timberline today for a ski session in the late morning. The Timberline Quad seems to be back up to full capacity, so whatever repairs were needed must have been completed. With full capacity loading, there were occasionally a few people forming a lift queue, but it was mostly just walk-on service.
Today’s outing on the mountain had a somewhat Colorado feel – temperatures were above freezing in the 30s to near 40 F, but the air was dry, and the snow stayed relatively dry as well. There’s lots of loose, chopped up snow on the trails, and it really seems like we’re still just working with long-lasting leftovers from Winter Storm Landon. I guess with low levels of skier traffic at Timberline, and the resort leaving parts of the trails ungroomed, that snow is just sticking around. We had some sunny periods that really brightened up the session, and the snow got a bit sticky in a few spots, but in general I found even the sunniest areas of snow to be quite dry. Even among the sunshine there were a few flakes falling today, and the views across the lake were impressive with squalls dropping snow among the Adirondacks ahead of an approaching clipper system.
I was on my Atomic RT-86 Tele Skis with an 86 mm waist, but I think even something in the 90-100 mm range would have been nice out there today with all the loose snow. E was riding her old school Tele skis that have a 70 mm waist, and that lack of width just made it harder to negotiate the chop. We actually discussed a similar theme during our Bolton Valley outing back on the 30th, when E and I were skiing some leftover powder and chopped up snow at Timberline. It seemed like it was a good time to get E something wider for a daily Tele driver, so I ordered up a pair of Rossignol Spicy 7 HD skis. Those were delivered earlier this week, and we actually just visited OGE to get them mounted this afternoon. They should be a nice addition to her Tele quiver, and she can save her old skinniest Teles for real groomer days or early/late season situations with poor coverage.
We spent our time today on the main Timberline runs like Twice as Nice, Showtime, and Spell Binder, and despite some warm days this week, coverage is in pretty good shape for all those areas, which are all running on natural snow. Not surprisingly, the Spell Binder headwall is the place with some thin cover, but it’s hard to overstate just how important it was to get those inches of liquid equivalent put down by Winter Storm Landon last weekend. That really was an absolute game-changer on the season for the lower elevation slopes.
Temperatures definitely warmed up today relative to yesterday, so E and I headed out to Bolton Valley for an afternoon ski session. We spent our time at Timberline, since it’s only been open for about a week, and it allowed us to check out some of our favorite areas for the first time this season. We checked out Twice as Nice, where the on-piste conditions are excellent, as well as spots like the Corner Pocket Glades, Doug’s Woods, Doug’s Solitude, Doug’s Knob, Wood’s Hole, etc.
Conditions continue to be excellent, although the trails are getting pretty tracked up at this point, so we had to head a bit farther off piste for fresh snow. In line with the observations from my backcountry ski tour yesterday, we found powder depths at around 20 inches, even down to the 1,500’ – 2,000’ elevation range.
We were hoping for some afternoon sun, but we only had it very briefly before clouds moved in from the west and the light got flat. This made the action photography more challenging, but we still managed to get in some good sequences. It was a solid ending to the weekend that Mother Nature really turned into quite an extended break – many schools, like Dylan’s, had a four-day weekend with both Thursday and Friday off due to Winter Storm Landon.
With today’s high temperatures expected to be in the single digits F at elevation, touring seemed like the far better ski option, so I paid a visit to the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network. Overall ski conditions remain excellent thanks to the 1½ to 2 feet of snow that the local mountains just picked up from Winter Storm Landon, so despite the chilly temperatures, it’s time to get out there and make use of that great snow.
Today I toured over in the Holden’s Hollow area of the network, approaching from the back side of the ridge using the Telemark trail, and then sampling some descents on both the west and east sides. Today’s tour had me in the 2,000’ – 2,500’ elevation band, and I’d say total snowpack depths at those elevations are in the 2 to 3 foot range. In terms of surface snow, we’ve got enough different layers in the snowpack now, and they’re blending together enough, that it’s getting a bit tricky to actually decide what constitutes surface and subsurface snow/base. If you’re very delicate with your measuring, you can find a bit of a dense layer about 16 inches down. I think it’s safe to say that top section of the snowpack is the settled powder from Winter Storm Landon. The dense layer below that is presumably some denser precipitation, perhaps from the start of the storm when temperatures were coming down and there was a mix of rain and snow. Based on Powderfreak’s observations from Thursday, it doesn’t sound like there was too much rain at elevation, and since that layer is rather subtle, that would argue for that and/or a very good transition/blending with the drier snow above.
Past that denser band, you’re into another 6 to 8 inches of powder before you hit something more solid that can really serve as a potential base. That’s typically where I’d find that my poles could finally gain purchase, and it sounds like that’s similar over at Bretton Woods based on Alex’s comment yesterday here in the thread. Having backcountry baskets would probably help a little bit in that regard.
There are a couple of other dense bands down in the snow there that I could detect when probing carefully, but I’d say the solid base is down there in the 22 to 24-inch range for those low to mid elevations, and I’ve got an image of my pole hitting that approximate depth with this report. So if you’re first on an ascent and breaking in the skin track, plan on a good workout. Thankfully, most of the route for my tour had seen some previous traffic, and I only had to break one section with perhaps 100’ of vertical, but it was a good deal of extra work.
Right now in terms of the backcountry skiing around here, I’d argue that you really need black pitches or greater to have a reasonable descent without getting too bogged down or simply having to straight-line it too much. I was on 115 mm skis that I’d just waxed, and I still had to seek out those pitches if the snow was untracked. As long as you get the right pitch though, the powder skiing is excellent as one would imagine.
From several days out, the weather models suggested that Winter Storm Landon was going to target Northern New England with more than a foot of snow. Unlike last weekend’s Winter Storm Kenan, this wasn’t a coastal system that needed to line up perfectly and might affect only a small geographical area; this was a large overrunning system stretching up all the way from the Southwest, through the Midwest, and into the Northeast with an almost nation-wide swath of wintry precipitation. By Wednesday, it was obvious that Northern Vermont was on track for a solid snowfall, and late in the afternoon, I got a quick text from Dave that led to the following exchange:
Dave: “Any thoughts on this storm?”
Jay: “I would say 12”+ is a good bet for around here.”
With that, the plan was on. Dave was heading to Killington to ski on Thursday, and then he’d make his way up to our place to stay Thursday night, with the hope of being able to get some turns together on Friday. This was exciting, because Dave’s schedule and obligations haven’t really lined up for a visit in a while. A search on our website revealed that his last trip up for skiing was in 2018 when we skied Stowe on March 14th and Bolton Valley on March 15th.
When Dave got to our house late yesterday afternoon, he said that he’d almost bailed on skiing at Killington when he arrived there in the morning to find it raining. Thankfully, it was much more wintry up high on the mountain, and the conditions just got better as the day went on. He met up with another guy that was skiing solo, and ended up having a fantastic time roaming around and even getting some video shots with the guy’s camera.
“At our site, I recorded 6.0 inches of new snow from 6:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M., and then another 5.2 inches between 12:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. Our storm total at that point even down at the house was over a foot of new snow, and 1.4 inches of liquid equivalent, so it was clear that the storm was putting down a very solid resurfacing of the slopes.”
As expected, the snowfall really turned on around here yesterday evening. At our site, I recorded 6.0 inches of new snow from 6:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M., and then another 5.2 inches between 12:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. Our storm total at that point even down at the house was over a foot of new snow, and 1.4 inches of liquid equivalent, so it was clear that the storm was putting down a very solid resurfacing of the slopes. Between getting gear together, snow blowing the driveway, solidifying Dave’s ski plans, getting his ticket, and everything else that goes into a storm morning, it was quite busy. But we easily made it to the Vista Quad lineup for the planned 9:00 A.M. opening.
It was chilly out there on the mountain, with temperatures probably in the 10 F range. We were happy to discover that winds weren’t strong at all though, so there were no wind holds, and the lifts seemed to start right up at their planned times aside from the usual smaller delays of getting the later lifts rolling on a storm day. We were all set to head over toward Timberline on our second run, but we ran into a patroller on Cobrass who said that it wasn’t quite ready yet, so we gave it one more run and the timing worked out beautifully.
The new snow was undoubtedly a solid resurfacing of the entire mountain at all elevations. Indeed, that 1.4 inches of liquid equivalent that we’d picked up at our house meant that the resort had at least that much, and you could feel it by the girth of the massive cushion beneath your skis. The snow had started out quite dense at the very initial stages of the storm as temperatures were still coming down, and then it seemed to settle down to roughly medium-weight powder for the bulk of the overnight accumulations. My 6:00 A.M. analyses revealed snow density at 9.4% H2O, which is solidly in that medium-weight powder category. There hadn’t really been any fluff at that point to set up an impressively right-side-up powder accumulation, so you were generally riding in that medium weight snow, and we found the best skiing on steeper terrain. Low angle slopes were just a bit on the slow side with the available snow density. Thankfully, with that 1 to 2 inches of liquid equivalent down, it was game on for even the steepest terrain, and steep areas that we hit such as Vermont 200, the Spell Binder headwall, and the Tattle Tale headwall all delivered. You could attack those pitches as aggressively as you wanted, without concern. Another great example of the resurfacing was hitting Cobrass on our second run to find that even the usual ledges and ice bulges were covered. Initially, I’d gone in with the usual strategy of negotiating those obstacles, but quickly saw that they were irrelevant, and I was able to ski like they weren’t even there. That’s the sign of a solid resurfacing. With depth checks, I was generally finding settled accumulations of about a foot at that stage of the storm, which I think was right in line with what the resort had noted in their morning report.
We actually skied with an associate from PeakRankings.com who was getting info for his report on Bolton Valley, so we showed him around for a few runs. His ski jacket has something like “WE RANK PEAKS” written in huge letters on the back, which quickly gets your attention and lets you know what he’s up to. We hooked up with him just as we were finally planning to head over to Timberline, so we showed him the Maria’s route to get there.
I had to head out around midday, but Dave and E did eventually catch up with Dylan and his friends out on the mountain for some skiing. When E texted to see if the boys were on the mountain, they couldn’t help but have some fun by replying with a picture saying “NO” that was an obvious shot of them riding the lift. The boys waited at the Vista Summit for the others to catch up, which shows a nice touch of class on a powder day. Dave and E said they had a great time that afternoon, and E even had a some sense of where they were going on the mountain. She recalled some trail names, and was remembering the character of many trails enough to give people an idea of what they were going to ski.
I have to give the boys a hard time for not getting out right at the start of the morning, but Dylan’s friend Parker did pull off a classic dual resort visit to really maximize a powder day. He headed to Stowe first thing for the typical “hour of power”, where you can get some good fresh runs before it’s all tracked up and the lift queues grow, and then he headed to low-key Bolton where you can enjoy powder for the rest of the day in peace. I’d say he’s wise beyond his years.
Dave said that his drive home to Boston was fine on I-89, but I-93 was tough with lots of people off the road. Those areas to the south apparently got a lot of mixed precipitation and it was quite a mess. We were all happy to be well north of that stuff up here.
I gotta say, the turns were really nice out there today.
Ty and Dylan had hit the mountain on Wednesday and reported nice soft conditions thanks to some warming temperatures, but then E was out Thursday night and said the snow was quite hard and icy, at least on piste where she had been skiing on the main mountain. I figured that made sense with temperatures cooling back down, and that’s what I thought would be the theme out there on the mountain today.
“Happy Saturday, Boltonites! Today is a great day to get some snow under your feet. We have 38 groomed trails for you this morning and tons of fresh snow still hiding in the woods. Yesterday afternoon there were sightings of 6 inch stashes of powder still in Sleepy Hollow woods and Bolton Outlaw woods!”
That sounded just a bit too good to pass up, and it tipped the scales to get me to head up to the hill.
We’d been getting snow this morning at the house, but it had just started to transition over to mixed precipitation while I was getting ready to head to the mountain in the early afternoon. The precipitation was generally sprinkles of light rain as I headed up to the Bolton Valley Access Road and eventually changed over to sleet as I rode the Wilderness Double Chair and got up near 3,000’. During my second run, the mixed precipitation decided to change back to snow, and there was a nice period with some big fat flakes coming down.
“…I was pleasantly surprised to find all that bottomless snow out there today. I was thus able to probe the depth of the entire snowpack, and was typically getting depths of 30-40” in the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range.”
Bolton definitely got in on that Thursday snow, and I think my wife must have just been on those wind scoured trails on the front face of the main mountain, because that’s not at all what I experienced at Wilderness. The groomed slopes were quiet, and the off piste was covered with up to a foot of dense powder. That seems like more fresh snow than there really should have been based on the snow report, so I’m not sure what to think. I also couldn’t even find any signs of crust below the most recent snows, so I’m not sure what to think about that either. I probed all over the place in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ elevation range, and the only real crust I found was a bit of sun crust on the surface of the snow in a couple of exposed areas. Maybe this was one of those setups where the new snow comes in, starts out wet, and bonds to any crust below to sort of remove the demarcation of that layer a bit. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised to find all that bottomless snow out there today. I was thus able to probe the depth of the entire snowpack, and was typically getting depths of 30-40” in the 2,500’-3,000’ elevation range. That makes decent sense, with the snowpack now at 55” on Mansfield at 3,700’.
I spent my entire session at Wilderness this afternoon, and the Wilderness sidecountry and nearby backcountry terrain have actually seen a decent amount of skier traffic. Seeing that, and being alone with plenty of time to explore whatever I wanted, I decided to go a bit farther afield, hitting a lot of terrain beyond White Rabbit, Snow Hole, and Jamie’s. Being on mid fat Tele gear, I figured I’d just see where my travels took me in search of untracked powder, and if I ended up on the backcountry network, I’d just skate my way back to the Wilderness Chair as needed. It actually ended up being a bit of a revelation with regard to traveling in that area, because on my first run, I hit Gardiner’s Lane, and then simply followed it until I came to the junction with Snow Hole. All it took was probably 60 seconds to herring bone up to the Snow Hole return to the Wilderness Chair, so as long as you’re on something with good mobility like reasonably light Tele gear, you can easily return to the base of the Wilderness Chair. I even discovered a new area in my explorations today called “Branches” off to the right of Snow Hole. I guess people are always putting in their own little areas out on the backcountry network, so I don’t know how long that’s been around, but it’s always fun to find new areas for skiing that you didn’t know about.
The weather was quite a contrast between yesterday and today – yesterday was relatively low visibility with constant snowfall, but today there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The basin area had definitely picked up more snow since I’d left yesterday, but it was most notable above the road elevation (~1,500’). Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today. If one considers how dry that snow was, and whatever settling occurred, that was obviously another impressive shot of snow overnight.
Based on my adventures yesterday, I had no plans to bring E and the boys way up toward the east face of Big Jay; the terrain is really too steep for efficient skinning, and there’s so much great ski terrain in Big Jay Basin itself, that there was little point anyway. As I mentioned in yesterday’s report, during the approach, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the main skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. It was interesting guiding the family around today though, as the situation with visible routes was quite different. There had been a lot more skier traffic, so there were skin tracks and descent tracks all over the place, and the obvious distinction of those skin track routes had been obliterated. There were so many ski tracks and descent tracks around that the most efficient one’s I’d taken yesterday got missed in a couple of places, but they were all generally leading to where we wanted to go.
“Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today”
The skiing, as expected, was excellent. We topped out at an elevation of roughly 2,700’ in the basin, and worked our way generally back toward the parking area following the typical routes. There was plenty of powder, although since the area had seen additional skier traffic, we didn’t quite have the run of the place like I did yesterday, and we had to move around a bit more for fresh lines. I brought up the idea of just skiing straight down the basin to Route 242 and making the short walk back to the car on the road, because I saw some people that seemed to have taken that approach on my outing yesterday. E and the boys wanted to hit some of that open terrain that’s available near the bottom of the approach though, so we headed that way. Heading straight down out of the basin will be something I’ll have to try on a future trip, but it could be a nice way to avoid having to traverse to the right as much during the ascent and get a more direct fall line run.
Since the trip is an hour or so from home, we used it as an opportunity to get Dylan some of his required driving hours, and that was a win-win. There was still some snow to navigate on the roads so that he could work on dealing with slushy areas, but it was probably good that he wasn’t dealing with the heavy snowfall and low visibility that I had frequently encountered yesterday.
My drive up toward the Jay Peak area gave me a chance to see what had happened with respect to accumulations from Winter Storm Viola thus far. The Froude Numbers have been forecast to be relatively low, meaning that the western slopes were more likely to pick up accumulations than areas east of the spine, and indeed my travels showed that there have definitely been some notable differences in snowfall around the area. The rounds of fluff we’ve been getting here along the spine at our house have covered up the old snow pretty well, and monitoring that aesthetic during my travels today turned out to be a decent way to see who’d recently gotten snow. Heading east from our place, accumulations definitely dropped off toward the Waterbury Village area, and indeed, all along through the east slope towns of Waterbury Center, Stowe, and Morrisville, there really hadn’t been much new snow that I could see. Either that, or what’s fallen had sublimated and disappeared quickly off the snow banks. I’m sure accumulations increase as one heads westward up the mountain road and Mt. Mansfield, but down in Stowe Village, I could see that they need a refresher. There was still light snow falling in all those east side towns, but once I left Morrisville and rose up into the Hyde Park area, the increase in snowfall intensity was obvious. That continued right on through Eden. The snowfall was squally, and quite heavy at times, and I was continually having to turn on my headlights and fogs when I’d get into those more intense areas of snowfall. That increased snowfall definitely showed itself with accumulations – up in that area, all the roadside snowbanks were covered up with a solid coating of new snow. I’d say the snow was in general a bit less through Belvidere and Montgomery Center, but once I headed toward the pass on Route 242… well, we know what happens up there. Even from just a quick glance at the side of the road, it was obvious that even down at the roadside elevations, a lot more snow had fallen than I’d seen anywhere else on my drive.
As we’d done on our last backcountry ski trip in the area, I parked at the lower access lot on the east side of the pass to start my tour. The elevation there is about 1,500’ and right from the start of the tour, I was finding 8-12” of new champagne atop the older snow. Above 2,000’ there was 12-16” of accumulation.
I was also checking snowpack depths along my tour, and I was already getting 40” snowpack readings at just 2,000’. On top of that, it snowed the whole time I was there – most of the time it was what I’d call moderate, probably in the 0.5”/hr range, but there were also stints where it bumped up to the 1”/hr range. The snowfall was typically large, upslope-style flakes, which can make it a little tough to gauge the snowfall rate because they just stack up so fast.
It’s firsthand experiences like this though that have me rolling my eyes every time somebody gets going with the smack talk about Jay Peak and their snow reporting. My actual experiences reveal again, and again, and again that they really get a ridiculous amount of snow in that area.
My ski tour had me on Big Jay itself, and in the Big Jay Basin area today, and that southeast side of Jay Peak really seemed to be the epicenter for this shot of continuing snowfall. I can’t say when all of it fell, and I believe I only saw 3” new on the snow report for the resort this morning when I checked. Reports I heard about said that the resort side of the peak didn’t pick up nearly what the east side did, so the Jay Peak cloud was dropping its bounty there. Whatever the setup has been in terms of wind direction and Froude, etc., that Big Jay Basin area today was definitely getting hit. Something similar was going on with Hyde Park and Eden as well, to a lesser degree of course.
Indeed, my numerous checks on the snowpack today revealed that the area definitely avoided any real crust from Winter Storm Uri, so obviously that’s going to help a lot with respect to the quality of the subsurface. The resort reported 6-8” from that storm, and although there wasn’t a crust, that snow was still dense. The skiing was indeed fantastic with as much as 16” of that champagne powder in that area, but compared to last weekend, one can definitely nitpick a bit on the quality of the powder skiing. This most recent snow is so ridiculously light that it’s easy to get down to the dense Winter Storm Uri snow if you’re on more than moderate/blue pitch. Then you get to that region of dense snow, and if you pressure hard enough, you’ll collapse that layer a bit because the powder below it is less dense. Essentially, the snowpack’s got an upside down issue with respect to those second and third layers down. We’re very much talking first-world powder problems here of course, but I figured it would be good to get the beta out there for anyone else thinking of heading out. Naturally, going as fat as you can will help with respect to staying up in the champagne layer, and heck, if it dumps more tonight, that surface layer of powder will be bolstered to make it even better.
Relative to Big Jay, I could definitely see the convenience of hitting Little Jay when coming from that lower parking lot on Route 242. Last time I was up there with the family in the general Big Jay Basin area, we actually did head more toward Little Jay, and we were in that drainage between Big Jay and Little Jay. I specifically went out today with the intention of just making turns in Big Jay Basin, but I left the option open to head up toward the main lines from Big Jay (in that general Jailbird Chute area) depending on what skin tracks were in place. There turned out to be a well-established skin track that headed right to that area, so my plan was to continue on it until it either disappeared, or I felt that ascending on skins was getting pointless.
On today’s tour, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. I was heading to the right toward Big Jay Basin, but the left option would have been a good choice for the Little Jay area.
“…right from the start of the tour, I was finding 8-12” of new champagne atop the older snow. Above 2,000’ there was 12-16” of accumulation.”
As I approached the 3,000’ elevation mark on Big Jay today, the ascent was starting to get pretty silly on skins because progress was just so slow. It was around that point when I found myself sidestepping up a steep, narrow area between some trees where the person setting the skin track had essentially done the same. It was basically just a ski’s width area, so you really couldn’t even make any sort of switchback. That was the point where I knew I wasn’t going to push too much longer on the ascent. The skin track still continued a bit farther, and I stuck with it a little while longer until the track really just became hard to follow in the packed snow of the main chute area. I followed a skin track (perhaps the same one, perhaps not) off to climber’s right briefly before that seemed to disappear, and then I decided I would stop my ascent as soon as I found a reasonable spot for deskinning. I side-stepped up about an extra 30 feet or so through fairly deep powder to a nice sheltered spot where I deskinned and had a snack.
I’d been there for just a few minutes when a group of five skiers, ascending on skins, appeared below me. They said hi, and thanked me for setting the skin track. I let them know that I was just following an old one made by others and was stopping where I was. It seemed like they were just going to stop there as well, but they started breaking their own trail above me and continued pushing on. I actually debated putting my skins back on and following now that someone else was breaking trail, but after watching them get maybe another 50 feet or so over the course of 5 to 10 minutes, I knew I’d made the right choice. As a group, I think they were having fun together with respect to the challenge of trying it on skins, and that’s probably the way to approach it.
I wanted to get back down into the lower basin because the powder skiing was far better down there anyway, simply because it’s just so steep up on that face of Big Jay. You’re not getting bottomless turns up there unless there’s 2 to 3 feet of powder. The 12-16” of champagne was really nice up there, but you want even more for that upper terrain. Overall it’s some fantastic steep skiing of course, but I was on fat Tele gear and planning for undisturbed powder on more blueish and blackish pitches, not semi-tracked super steeps.
So where I topped out was in the 3,000’ – 3,100’ elevation range, and I’d argue that it was already boot pack territory. Boot packing up there would also be quite slow though because you’re pushing up very steep terrain with lots of powder. It would be a serious slog through the snow once you were off your skis if someone hadn’t already broken trail, although you could stick to the more packed snow in some of the main chutes and that might offer some efficiency. I don’t know how far that group of five went, but if they were going all the way to the summit at ~3,800’, it must have been a lot of work. I’m sure one can make it up to the Big Jay summit by skinning that route, but it’s probably something to do if you’ve got a lot of time and want the challenge, it’s certainly not the efficient way to go. I do wonder if there’s an approach from the Little Jay side that perhaps gets it done in a practical way.
One definite theme out there today was a lot of visages of the sun through moderate to heavy snow with big flakes. It was pounding snow a lot on both my tour and my drive, so it made for some nice, snowy scenes.
“…the powder I found was so exquisitely good, that I had to get E out there for some turns as well.”
Thanks to my explorations on trails like Moose-Ski and Grand View, I knew the most efficient and direct approach route to the Buchanan Shelter was to simply take the Catamount Trail to Beaver Pond. I’d taken this as my final route out on yesterday’s tour, and it really worked well as a rather direct and efficient gravity traverse back to the car. Indeed, it was quite the efficient route for the approach today, and it’s such a gradual incline that before you know it, you’ve gained several hundred feet of elevation.
During yesterday’s tour, I was pressed for time, so on my descent from the Buchanan Shelter, I had to stick near Upper Beaver Pond. Today we had plenty of time, so we were able to explore more to the east to find the best lines. There’s plenty of open forest for turns, and we were able to pick some fantastic lines that brought us right back down on Deer Run near the junction with Beaver Pond. We also had plenty of time to enjoy additional turns in some of the low-angle powder on the return to the car.
The powder was just as excellent today as it was yesterday, so it was a great ski outing. And, the fact that it just ended up being the two of us was sort of neat in the context of Valentine’s Day.