The Alberta Clipper system in our area had already dropped 4 to 6 inches of snow yesterday, and as of this morning the totals were passing a foot up at Jay Peak, and Stowe wasn’t too far behind. Heading northward was definitely the way to go today. It was generally just cloudy at our house, but right as we were passing north out of Waterbury into Stowe, the precipitation started to come down more vigorously, and the precipitation was snow, or a mix of rain/snow even down in the valley. That’s a good sign for even better things going on up high, and indeed precipitation changed over to all snow just as we hit The Matterhorn at around 1,000’.
After a couple of sessions away, I was back with my regular group of BJAMS students today, which featured Luc, Ty, Wiley, Jonah, and Dylan. Our decision on where to go was easy based on my most recent beta, so we immediately high-tailed it over to the Gondi and headed up into the clouds. Our initial foray onto Gondolier revealed some very sweet snow – worlds better than what we’d encountered on the very same route just two weeks ago. I let the boys warm up on Gondolier for that first run before we thought about heading off piste, but boy was it tempting; short forays into the snow along the sides of the trail revealed a healthy 8-10” of medium-weight powder that skied like a dream – especially in this nightmare of a ski season. By the last third of the vertical, we found that the on piste snow got a bit firmer, and the powder got a bit thinner, but we’d already seen what we needed to see up top – it was definitely time to hit the trees.
“…short forays into the snow along the sides of the trail revealed a healthy 8-10” of medium-weight powder that skied like a dream – especially in this nightmare of a ski season.”
We worked the Gondola the whole afternoon, enjoying that great snow up top whenever possible and hitting lines in the Cliff Trail Trees, High Road Trees, Perry Merrill Trees, and Nosedive Glades. We even skied the top third of Ravine before we cut back to the piste to be on the safe side. It’s not an issue of rocks in there so much as we need just a bit more snow to put a deeper later above the ice – it is a streambed after all. We could see some great lines dropping into the top of the Hazelton Zone, and I’m sure they would have delivered for a few hundred vertical, but we knew that the turns would be tough by the bottom.
On the group dynamic side of things, I have to say I was very impressed with Jonah and Wiley. They were the most eager in the group when it came to hiking around a bit and they were definitely setting a tone for getting to the highest quality snow vs. easier access to the more typical surfaces. They have definitely figure out our group’s mindset and the current makeup of the team is really starting to mesh.
We finished off the day hitting the s’mores session and watching the ice skaters in the Spruce Peak Village, followed up by a lot of time on the Stowe Ice Slide with slide tricks and simultaneous bombardment by snowballs. All in all this latest little storm resulted in a great step up in conditions at the mountain. We’ve still got a long way to go to get anywhere near a normal base depth, but the snowpack depth at the Mansfield stake hit 30” for the first time this season so some ground is being gained. A couple more storms are in the pipeline this coming week, so we hope they can play out reasonably well the way these last couple did, and keep that snowpack growing.
Temperatures hovered below zero Fahrenheit for highs in the mountains last weekend, and without any major storms or ski program obligations due to the President’s Day holiday, there wasn’t much incentive to get out and ski; so we didn’t. This weekend though, things have been a bit more hospitable. An Alberta Clipper system has been moving along north of the international border since yesterday, and it dropped 4 to 6 inches of new snow for the Northern Vermont resorts overnight. Fresh snow and comfortable temperatures up in the 30s F certainly sounded appealing, so Dylan, E, and I headed up to Bolton Valley for some midday runs today.
A quick check of the Bolton Valley snow report revealed that even the Timberline area was open, and it would be our first chance to visit it for lift-served turns this season. We even thought of basing ourselves out of there, but ultimately decided to head all the way up to the main base to facilitate picking up some lunch at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery afterwards. Parking was fairly easy; even though it was 11:00 A.M. we only had to go down to the third tier in the main Village lot because there was only a moderate number of skiers at the resort.
We decided to check out as many sections of the mountain as possible to assess conditions, so we started with a quick trip up Snowflake to make our way toward Timberline. Timberline Lane and Timberline Run didn’t really inspire us with regard to conditions – it wasn’t great either on or off piste. Despite the mild weather, the groomed terrain was strangely hard, sort of that like that hard but wet surface that you can encounter on the lower slopes of Whistler Blackcomb. There was fresh powder off piste, but unfortunately below ~2,000’ it was just a bit too sticky to be fun. I was hoping that the surface conditions we’d encountered there were not going to be all the mountain had to offer today, and fortunately what we’d experienced was the worst we were going to see. We did a Timberline Mid Station run on Showtime because we could immediately tell as we rode the lift that the conditions looked nice. Indeed the turns were awesome on Showtime, because if featured soft packed snow that wasn’t at all sticky. I’m not sure what combination of grooming, timing, or skier traffic led to such disparate conditions on routes at equivalent elevations, but whatever the case, Showtime was great fun.
“Indeed Wilderness Lift Line held several inches of fresh powder in spots protected from the wind, and there were perhaps a dozen tracks on Lower Turnpike.”
We continued our tour by heading back to the main base and riding up the Vista Quad. Temperatures were below freezing up high and the powder was very much in midwinter form up there. We headed toward Alta Vista, and Dylan and I jumped into some of the dense trees off to the skier’s left to explore some lines. There’s not really much there because the evergreens are really dense, but with E spotting from the trail we found a couple of open spots to catch a few turns and there were 4 to 5 inches of protected powder in there that made the experience quite fun. Back on piste, skier’s left of Alta Vista before the first turn was filled in with 8 to 10 inches of soft snow, so we all enjoyed that.
We made our way over to Wilderness after that, figuring that traffic would be fairly light over there. Indeed Wilderness Lift Line held several inches of fresh powder in spots protected from the wind, and there were perhaps a dozen tracks on Lower Turnpike. The powder turns on Lower Turnpike were smooth and creamy, until about the last couple hundred feet above the Village where the temperature had risen enough to cause the powder to become sticky.
Our run led us right down to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery where we picked up some sandwiches to bring home for lunch. With temperatures above freezing down in the Village, it felt more like a March or April day vs. February, but it was really nice to be able to change out of our ski boots at the car in comfort – unlike what it would have been last weekend (or the way things were much of last season). It looks like there are a couple more potential storms in the pipeline for this coming week, so we’ll see how they play out with respect to snow.
Unlike last weekend, where Winter Storm Pandora provided fresh snow on both Saturday and Sunday, new snow this weekend isn’t really expected until tomorrow afternoon. It also hasn’t really been a particularly snowy week, with no new snow in five to six days. Snow preservation has continued to be great though, and that brought about some interest in heading for some backcountry turns. I’d come across an article about some of the skiing in the Lincoln Gap area at the Nor’easter Backcountry Blog, and it sounded like there was a lot of potential. Guru Gered had put plenty of detail into the report, as well as a map, so it was a good aid for getting the general lay of the land and some ideas of where to go for quality turns. One great aspect about today that I haven’t had on a lot of backcountry trips this season was the temperature – it looked like it was going to be up into the 20s F, which was going to feel like a warm spring day.
“It’s obvious that there’s a massing amount of ski terrain there on the east side of Lincoln Gap…”
E was taking care of Dylan and an afternoon birthday party at a friend’s house, but Ty was free, so we let the day warm up with the help of that almost March sun, and headed south toward Warren in the afternoon. The sunshine was brilliant as we made our way through the Mad River Valley and up Lincoln Gap Road. After a few miles, the plowing ended, and we found about a half dozen cars parked where the road closure and snow began. From one of the cars, a group of sledders was heading out to ride on the snowy road, which I suspect is a popular activity just the way folks like to do it on Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch.
“The powder was fantastic; certainly not super fresh, but there were no crusts of any kind and it was definitely super bottomless.”
Ty and I started skinning right up the road, which was well packed through what seemed to be a combination of human and mechanized traffic. Off to the left of the road, the land sloped down toward Lincoln Brook, and off to the right it sloped upward the slope of Mount Abraham. You could immediately see great ski terrain right up in that direction to the northwest, but based on Guru Gered’s report, we were planning to tour off on the southern side of the road. After about five minutes or so, we found a service road in that direction marked with a brown “66”, and an obvious skin track on it; it was clear that this was a common route for skiers. The road headed gently upward in a southerly direction, still paralleling Lincoln Brook, and since the land still fell away in that direction, there was no obvious yet to the terrain beyond it. After roughly another ten minutes, the brook narrowed somewhat, the road bent in that direction, and we approached the foot of the mountainsides now visible to our south.
“You also know that the terrain is pretty steep when you head over the handlebars for a crash into the powder, and wind up back on your feet after a full flip – Ty demonstrated that one for us.”
We met a couple there, who were out backcountry skiing with their young daughter – she was at the age where she was still riding in a pack (I can remember those days). We chatted for a bit, and the dad gave me an overview of the area. Above us to the west, we could see some fairly gentle slopes that formed the bottom of the drainage and headed up along the continuation of the brook. He said that a few skiers had been in there in the morning. We were informed that the main skin track wrapped back around the brook, heading east for a bit below the slopes above, and then turned more southward. We’d hit a sign marking the wilderness boundary, and from there you could continue south up that drainage where there were some options of trimmed lines as well as the streambed itself. From that point there was also the option to head back to the west and work your way up to the slopes right above us.
We thanked him and made our way along the main skin track that wrapped around the brook. The skin track was on a nice gradual grade that seemed to be an old logging road. Even after just a few minutes up that route, we could start to see some nice open lines dropping below us toward the brook. We hit the wilderness sign after about a mile of total distance, and based on time, we opted to head back west up above the slopes that would lead us back down to where met the family earlier. From that point the skin track went up and up and up (so it seemed) generally heading westward but with lots of switchbacks. We actually saw the family again, because they were heading up into that area as well and had taken a more direct skin track that eventually merged with the one we’d used. It seemed like it took forever, but we eventually hit the ridgeline above us as the terrain flattened out. One option of the skin track actually continued upward as the ridgeline continued to rise to the east, and that’s actually the way that the family was headed. I’m not sure exactly how much higher it went, since Ty and I took another track that headed along the ridgeline in a more westerly direction. We followed that for a few minutes until we came to where the previous skiers had started their descent. We could tell that this was generally going to get us back to the drainage where we’d started, and it looked like a decent option.
We did a quick changeover to descent mode and were on our way down. There were the few tracks of other skiers in the general area, but there were plenty of fairly open trees all around, and you could spread out with plenty of space if you wanted to get away from signs of other tracks. The powder was fantastic; certainly not super fresh, but there were no crusts of any kind and it was definitely super bottomless. The terrain was steep, with plenty of shots of 25 or even 30 degrees, and you know the surface snow is seriously deep above the base when you can crank turns on those pitches and not touch a thing. There were good lines all over the place, and some of the most fun was riding the main streambed – everything is so buried in there under deep snow that there’s really nothing to worry about when the snowpack is like this. Ty was on fire with the Telemark turns, and I think he might have even been more consistent with them than me. He’s been doing cross country skiing in a program at school, and I think that’s gotten him even more attuned to his free heel work. If we had our druthers, we actually would have chosen a run with a shallower pitch than what we hit, since we’d been planning of something of a more intermediate pitch that really made for easy Telemark turns. But by the time we were done we’d realized that it didn’t matter; the powder was so consistent the tree spacing so good that even the steeper pitches had been working well.
We eventually hit the bottom of the drainage, and headed down it to the right. We hadn’t known just how close we were to the service road, but were hit it in just a minute or two. From there it was a few minutes of gliding back to the car on the skin track. It’s obvious that there’s a massing amount of ski terrain there on the east side of Lincoln Gap, and much in line with what Guru Gered said in his report, there is a lot of prime hardwood skiing terrain out there. If you don’t have a couple feet of powder, I’m sure some of those steeper lines are tougher to ski, but there’s plenty of mellower terrain out there as well. I have no idea how long it would take to explore even half of the potential terrain that’s out there, but I’m sure it will be fun.
E and the boys are on winter break this week, so as he’s done in the past, Josh asked if we’d be interested in doing some photography up at Bolton Valley. The challenge this week has been choosing between the days that were forecast to be sunny but cold, or warmer but snowy. Unfortunately, the snowier days don’t make for the best photos, so with today’s forecast of relatively benign weather, it seemed like one of the better options. The main issue today was the temperatures; morning lows in the area were in the -20 to -30 F range, without even any wind, so Josh decided that an afternoon session would be the way to go. The forecast called for temperatures getting up into the teens F in the afternoon, at least in the valley elevations, and although it would be a bit colder in the mountains, winds were minimal so it seemed like it wasn’t going to be outrageously cold.
The others were able to head up around noon and start working with Josh on some shots around the Village, and I was able to get up to the resort around 1:00 P.M. for some on-slope work. The sky did have a covering of high, thin clouds, so it wasn’t especially blue in the afternoon, but there was indeed plenty of light. We started off with some classic Cobrass shots, and then moved on down to Timberline and did some shooting on Brandywine. There was also another family along for the session with their kids Fox, Summer, and Trevor, and I didn’t get to meet Fox because he was the youngest and didn’t head up the mountain, but the others were there with their dad they were all helpful as ski models. Josh and I did the photography, generally focusing on groomed shots without a lot of sky since it wasn’t especially blue. The groomed snow is in excellent condition as has been typical for many weeks now, and there’s powder everywhere off piste if you just jump off the sides of the trails. It was a fun time as usual, with the noticeable quiet of a midweek day at the resort. Temperatures were certainly in the single digits F up high, so that made things a little uncomfortable and Summer headed in a bit early with her dad.
It wasn’t an especially long session anyway, since Josh had to head off to do the afternoon snow report by 3:00 P.M., and the rest of us were happy to head into the lodge for snacks by that point. It looks like there’s another photo session in the works later in the week that might take advantage of some skies with a bit more blue, so hopefully they’ll be able to get some scenic shots that weren’t available today.
“I’m starting to give up on checking the surface snow depths for the time being because my 40+” pole simply disappears when I push it into the powder.”
It looked like a good day to kick things off early at Stowe ahead of our afternoon BJAMS ski program, so we headed over to the resort in the morning. When we arrived there was another round of snow falling, setting the mood for what would hopefully be a great day. E decided to hold off with skiing or riding until her coaching obligations in the afternoon to make sure that she didn’t work her injured toe too much today, so she relaxed in the Spruce Camp Base Lodge and did some ski program coordinating while the boys and I headed over to Mt. Mansfield to start the day on the slopes. This was definitely not a sleeper powder day. There was a queue almost out the Gondola building by 9:00 A.M., and the trails were already tracked out. Even all of the easy access trees seemed to have been hit, and not with just a couple of tracks We headed into the trees for powder, visiting Ravine, the Kitchen Wall, the Hazelton Zone, and then some new terrain off the western end of Spruce Peak.
“The snow was incredibly dry; the stack at our house came in at 3.5% H2O.”
The powder was fantastic, and temperatures in the 20s F felt so nice for a change. With powder so light and dry, it really didn’t keep you consistently off the subsurface in those areas that had been groomed or previously packed by skiers, but if you got into untraveled terrain, the fresh snow represented another beautiful Champagne Powder® icing on the soft cake that is the current snowpack. I’m starting to give up on checking the surface snow depths for the time being because my 40+” pole simply disappears when I push it into the powder. In any event, even where the subsurface was packed, there’s not much that compares to gliding through that kind of delicate cold snow.
“In any event, even where the subsurface was packed, there’s not much that compares to gliding through that kind of delicate cold snow.”
After lunch with E in the Great Room Grill, we met up with our group and got back out for some more. We did an Angel Food run, which yielded some large areas of fresh snow farther left, and then there were plenty of options for fresh tracks all around the return traverse as well. We visited the Kitchen Wall again, headed far to the south for a change of pace, and then dropped off Nosedive for a different approach to Hazelton. We got into some of those big, north-facing gullies that I’ve seen in the past and wanted to visit, so that was a nice accomplishment. With nine in the group there were certainly a few episodes of people getting stuck in the deep powder. In one instance, Ken lost a ski on an encounter with some obstacle, and it looked like we could be in for one of those incredibly long “ski search and rescue missions”. He was in a spot right where the terrain was starting to roll over and get steeper, and the powder out there is so bottomless, it was really going to be tough to track that ski down if it slid away under the surface. I was the only one within reasonable distance to be able to help, so within a couple of minutes of his initial searching I’d made it up to him and I prepared myself for a thorough and systematic process of probing the snow. Everyone else in the group was within 50 yards, but downhill, and with slopes that steep combined with powder that deep, they might as well have been on the moon. I was really wondering how we were going to manage everyone’s time. We were lucky though, within about a minute, I happened to look down the slope and saw his ski sticking up out of the snow. He quickly got it and we breathed a sign of relief – that’s the sort of stuff that can really slow down the group, and of course the odds of that stuff happening increase with each addition to the group. I’ve got to say though, the trip was really pretty efficient for as big as our group was. It’s definitely helpful that Ty and I have been in that area a few times now and have a feel for the lay of the land. One big advancement in my knowledge of the area today was in exploring some of those ridges and plateaus between the gullies. The gullies are typically the first areas to get tracks in them, since people are naturally drawn down into them by gravity. There is some excellent skiing on the ridges in between though, and they are typically untracked and yield some seriously steep and deep powder as the pitches drop back down into the gullies. I nailed some really sweet turns after helping Ken find his ski, so that was quite the reward.
We returned to Spruce around 3:00 P.M. to finish off the day, and mixed up a number of runs off Sunny Spruce, including the terrain that Ty and Dylan and I had explored earlier that morning. All the students really did well in the trees today, and they’re getting more and more comfortable as time goes on. If the snow continues to stay this good we’ll have some excellent options with the group in the coming weeks.
We’re getting another reprieve from the arctic air this weekend, but last night was still quite cold with temperatures well down into the negative Fahrenheit numbers. We gave the day some time to warm up, and then headed up to Bolton Valley’sTimberline area in the afternoon. The snow from our next system, Winter Storm Pandora, was slated to start up at some point in the afternoon today, and indeed the flakes began to fly right around 2:00 P.M. There’s nothing like riding the lift into the higher elevations just as a storm is ramping up, because it can really make the snowfall intensity jump up quite rapidly.
“You could still tell that the powder wasn’t absolutely pristine fresh stuff, since it had that settled look and didn’t explode like fresh champagne, but it was quite excellent in general. The boys checked the surface snow depth in the KP Glades and were getting back numbers in the 30″ range.”
Temperatures were in the middle teens F in the lower elevations of Timberline, but it definitely got colder as we headed up in elevation. For a warm up we hit Tattle Tale from the Timberline Summit, and the center of the headwall is still quite wind scoured as usual, but the sides held some great snow. You know the weather pattern has been good when even a steep, windswept slope like the top of Tattle Tale has that good snow that you can sink and edge into. It was actually nice to see Bolton Valley top all the Vermont ski areas and pull off a rogue foot of snow on Thursday, but there had definitely been a bit of wind since then that packed it down in exposed areas. Noticing that, we headed for the trees, and the settling and wind effects were notably less. You could still tell that the powder wasn’t absolutely pristine fresh stuff, since it had that settled look and didn’t explode like fresh champagne, but it was quite excellent in general. The boys checked the surface snow depth in the KP Glades and were getting back numbers in the 30″ range.
The four of us made our way over to the main mountain and headed up Vista. It got colder and colder as we headed up, and it had to be down in the single digits F up there with wind from the incoming storm to boot. Looking for something that would get the blood pumping and keep us out of the wind, we linked Buena Vista to Dynamite. The snow was excellent, but by the time we’d finished Dynamite, E was thinking of heading back to Timberline. She’s got a big toe that she tweaked a couple of weeks back when Tina’s family came up for skiing, and then she stressed it more when she was snowboarding on Sunday at BJAMS ski program. Between that and the cold, she said she just wasn’t grooving enough to ski the steep trees, and was thinking of warming up at the Timberline Base Lodge and then maybe doing some groomed skiing. Using the Deer Run route, we delivered her over to the top of Snowflake, where she headed down toward Timberline and the boys and I headed to the main base lodge to warm up for a bit before another Vista run. On the way we caught some nice powder in the Bonus Woods, fortunately finding that any issues from wind had been minimal.
The boys and I stopped up at Fireside Flatbread for some slices, and Dylan really had fun watching the cooks as they worked with dozens of balls of dough to turn them into those thin crusts. As we watched their slick routine, we made some mental notes for our next homemade pizza night. They let us know that $2 slices were starting at 4:00 P.M., which definitely got us thinking about grabbing some takeout on the way home.
The boys and I headed back out into the storm, and Pandora’s snowfall was definitely intensifying. Visibility had certainly been down to ¼ mile at times earlier on in the afternoon, but now it was pretty consistently in that range and we were dealing with some heavy snow. We headed up Vista and worked our way into the Villager Trees for some powder. The boys took a break during the run and bombed off one of the cliffs into the deep fluff below. It was a pretty good height of probably ten feet or so, and I was surprised that they both wanted to go jumping. But when the powder’s deep like it is now, it doesn’t really matter; any hard snow is way down there out of reach. They’d typically land and end up with just their head sticking out of the snow.
“We’ve had inch per hour snows much of the night since then, and if the mountains are getting hit even harder than we are down here, then it should be a good day of skiing tomorrow.”
We skied some nice powder lines back toward Timberline, and by the time we caught back up with E it was after 4:00 P.M. The staff was cleaning up the Timberline Base Lodge, so she’d headed to the car and was all set to meet us. It turns out that she just relaxed in the lodge and stayed warm instead of putting any additional stress on her toe. We’ll see how she’s doing tomorrow for skiing at Stowe.
While we were loading up the car it was really dumping. We ordered a couple of pizzas from Fireside Flatbread, and it was good that the plows were out because the road needed the attention. The intensity of the snowfall certainly lightened up as we headed back down into the valley, but there was two inches on the snowboards at the house when I did an analysis at 5:00 P.M. We’ve had inch per hour snows much of the night since then, and if the mountains are getting hit even harder than we are down here, then it should be a good day of skiing tomorrow.
The forecast for today had always been a cold one; earlier in the week it looked like high temperatures were going to be below zero F, even in the valleys. There’s no doubt about it, when the high temperatures don’t reach zero, that’s cold, even by Northern New England standards. When coupled with the vigorous winds from departing Winter Storm Neptune, wind chill values were going to be pushing into the -50 F range in the evening, and that’s just brutal. Fortunately, as the forecast was refined, the anticipated temperatures came up a bit, and the actual temperatures today turned out to reach around 10 F down at the house around midday before they really began to fall in the afternoon. With the forecast, my ski plans for today had always been to head into the protection of the backcountry instead of riding the lifts, and with the combination of temperatures and wind, it looked like there were going to be some “cold holds” for the lifts at the resorts anyway.
“It was easy to see that one could use the trail just like a road with switchbacks on a mountain pass and lap some great lines in that area.”
During my ski tour a couple of weeks ago at the northern end of Bolton Notch, I spoke with a woman who lives in the area, and she said to check out some of the ski terrain above the VAST trail farther south. When I thought about a good access point to the area, the VAST parking area along the Bolton Valley Access Road came to mind. The VAST trail from that point actually goes up and over the pass just north of Stimson Mountain, then drops down and contours along the east wall of the Bolton Notch area. The last time I’d done a ski tour originating from that VAST parking area, I’d quickly left the VAST trail and headed straight up to the ridge, so this would give me the chance to tour the terrain more proximal to the trail itself in Bolton Valley, and then connect right onto the VAST trail on the other side of the ridge to explore the ski options there. I’d also had this ski tour on the list for today because I knew that with the very low temperatures, I’d want something fairly quick and close to home, and this fit the bill.
Temperatures had already dropped a few degrees at the house by the time I got on my way up to the Bolton Valley area, and the thermometer was right around the 0 F mark when I pulled into the VAST parking lot. The wind there in the somewhat open surroundings exacerbated the cold temperature, so I got my gear on quickly and headed right onto the VAST trail and into the protection of the trees. After a few minutes I hit the first big turn southward, and since this is where I’d broken off the VAST trail the last time I was there, it was new to me from that point on. I actually wish I’d headed that way sooner than this tour, because there are some nice ski options all around there on the slopes surrounding the VAST trail. It was easy to see that one could use the trail just like a road with switchbacks on a mountain pass and lap some great lines in that area. I noted a number of great areas to drop in as I wound my way up the ascent, and I eventually hit the pass over the ridge line at an elevation of ~1,750′.
As I broke out of the shelter of the leeward side of the ridgeline, the winds picked right up, probably hitting 20-25 MPH at times. Fortunately that was short lived because I was quickly back down the other side into the shelter of trees. At the pass there’s an obvious height of land just to the south in the direction of Stimson Mountain, and to the north the terrain rises more gradually as the ridgeline gains elevation. I continued on the VAST trail, heading northward, just checking out the potential ski terrain in the surrounding trees and planning to go as far as time would allow. All told I probably covered about a mile or so of distance as I headed northward on that side of the ridgeline. I generally focused on the potential ski terrain above the trail, since that would make for the most convenient setup in terms of finishing at the trail, but I did look at the terrain below as well. The makeup of the forest varied quite a bit along the route, and I assume that depended on the tree composition, and probably more importantly, how old the trees were with respect to the last time the land was logged. There were some nice open areas of trees in the first few minutes north of the pass, although those lines down to the VAST trail itself were relatively short since the trail was just leaving the ridgeline. Beyond that, the next five to ten minutes along the route revealed denser foliage that didn’t seem to offer too many great lines. After that point though, there was another extended section where tree spacing and underbrush looked quite good, and I did see a couple of ski tracks here and there from people that had skied some of the lines. Those lines were definitely longer that those up near the pass, since the VAST trial was a bit lower and the ridgeline had risen. The trees with decent potential went on for a while, but gradually gave way again to denser undergrowth at the stage where I finally turned around to make my way back up to the pass. Throughout my out and back on the west side of the ridge, I hadn’t taken any breaks aside from snapping an occasional photo or GPS tagging a promising line, and the constant movement was definitely a benefit. I was shooting pictures with the 7D2, and definitely appreciating the fact that it’s got the integrated GPS and automatically tags the images locations for future reference. Simply snapping an image and knowing it’s got the exact coordinate embedded is much faster than dealing with the full GPS unit all the time, and that’s appreciated on days like these when you don’t want to stop moving for long. My left toes were just on the verge of getting cold when I was on the generally easier, more downhill travel northward, so it was obvious that I needed to keep the blood pumping.
I retraced my way back southward on the VAST trail, and regaining the pass, I continued just a bit down on the leeward side to get out of the wind and then switched over for the final descent back down to the car. I checked the depth of the surface snow and it was over two feet up there, so that bode well for the descent. The air definitely felt like it was getting colder as darkness approached and that northwest wind continued to transport more arctic air into the region, so I stuck with the theme of moving quickly. I’d kept in mind some of the best looking ski lines when I’d made my initial ascent up that east side of the ridge, so I went with turns along the VAST trail itself at first, before finally diving into some open hardwoods off to the skier’s left. The powder was great, with my only complaint being that the skiing was slower than it could have been simply due to the very cold temperatures. I caught back up to the VAST trail at the next switchback, and the mixed up turns on and off the trail from that point downward. I actually saw a group of skiers coming down through one of the very open areas above the final descent to the parking area. It was interesting that I saw them out there, because in all the miles I covered, I didn’t see a single snowmachine. I’m not sure if folks were staying in because of the cold weather, but they definitely weren’t out there on their sleds on that part of the VAST network this afternoon. I had seen one snowmobile trailer in the parking lot when I’d arrived, but it was gone by the time I got back to the car.
The wind was picking up and it felt especially cold back at the car; I’m sure the wind chill was well below zero. I started the engine warming while I put away my gear, and got rolling as soon as possible. As much as this cold air has been awesome for powder and general snow preservation, one of these days we’ll be back into some reasonably warm air (like yesterday), and that’s going to be nice. One of these days I’d like to explore terrain in the Bolton Notch area farther to the north near the Long Trail, so that’s on the list for a future trip, but there were definitely some nice ski lines at this southern end as well, and the access is very quick thanks to their proximity to the parking area.
“Even down at that elevation, the snowpack was running at roughly 20″ on the level, and starting from the fluffy powder on top, there were gradually denser layers as you went down.”
We’re currently under the influence of Winter Storm Neptune, and although the snow has generally been light here in Northern Vermont, it’s still putting down a fresh coat of powder on the snowpack and generally keeping things quite wintry. Light snow from the morning had tapered down a bit as I headed off in the afternoon toward Richmond, and I cruised westward with the car thermometer showing temperatures generally in the mid to upper teens F. Although I wasn’t familiar with the location of the Chittenden County Fish & Game Club parking area, I’d plugged a nearby address into the car’s GPS, and once I got close, I found the entry to the game club well signed. The road was nicely maintained, and in the parking area I found a couple of other cars there that belonged to people who were using the shooting range. Beyond that initial parking area, the road was plowed for another couple hundred feet, but the plowing abruptly stopped so the parking near the shooting range ended up being the best option for parking the car to start the tour.
As I geared up, the snowfall began to intensify and the flakes became larger, so the storm was definitely on an uptick. Occasionally I’d hear the sound of gunfire coming from the range, and it was pretty loud since I was only 50 feet away or so. I wasn’t exactly sure where to go to start my tour, but I certainly wasn’t heading southward anywhere near the shooting range, and with Robbins Mountain looming off to my east, the partially plowed road that headed in that direction seemed like the logical choice. I’d initially had some concerns about the snowpack in the lower elevations of Robbins Mountain, since the parking area is at an elevation of only 750′, but those concerns were allayed as soon as I started skinning along and took a few depth measurements. Even down at that elevation, the snowpack was running at roughly 20″ on the level, and starting from the fluffy powder on top, there were gradually denser layers as you went down. So indeed the snowpack there at the base is just about the same as what we’ve got at our house at 500′ in the Winooski Valley, and since the snow depth was only going to increase with elevation, I knew there wouldn’t be any problems with snow coverage.
“…when I later saw how deep the snow was and how steep this vehicle could ascend despite such deep snow, it had to be something with tracks on it.”
As I followed the plowed road I found myself skinning through some of the fish and game club’s facilities, noting the deep stacks of snow that sat atop everything, and I worked my way toward what seemed to be a gate at the far end of the complex. With the temperature near 20 F, it was feeling downright balmy compared to some of the ski tours I’ve done in the past few weeks, so it was really a gorgeous midwinter day. At the gate there was an opening off to the side for foot traffic, and I saw what appeared to be one track from someone on snowshoes. Beyond the gate I was on what appeared to be a service road, and it had seen some interesting traffic. The tracks I saw appeared to come from a wide vehicle, and at that point it could have been a jeep, but when I later saw how deep the snow was and how steep this vehicle could ascend despite such deep snow, it had to be something with tracks on it. Whatever it was, it gave me a semi-packed track to use for skinning, and that helped a lot because it would have been quite a slog through that deep powder without it.
“…the spacing of the trees was so good, and the snow surface so consistently smooth and unadulterated by anything below, that you could have enough confidence to make whatever turns you wanted.”
It was pleasant skinning along the service road with light snow falling and no wind, and after about a half mile the service road forked. The right fork seemed to continue contouring along and slightly up to the south, and it actually had a set of ski tracks on it. The other fork interested me much more though, since it headed east toward the higher elevations, so I opted for that route. Following that fork, the road meandered generally to the east, with switchbacks at times to keep the pitch moderate. I was actually amazed at some of the pitches that the vehicle making those tracks had climbed, so it must really be built for dealing with deep snow. At around 1,700′ the vehicle tracks finally stopped, and a single track continued on. The track was so old and buried that it was hard to tell what it was, but it certainly could have been an old skin track.
“The trees were so open with respect to underbrush that I wondered if the area was part of the successional cuts that are made in the area as part of the wildlife management.”
Not long after the single track began, the road took a sharp left and headed north. A quick look at the overall terrain and vegetation in the area made it obvious that that wasn’t the way for me to go. The underbrush was denser in that direction, and the terrain looked like it would head into more ledges. My thoughts were drawn much more to the south, since on the ascent I’d seen what appeared to be some excellent open terrain a few hundred feet off in that direction. Coincidentally, or more likely not, the single track that I was on seemed to head in just that direction. It wasn’t obvious that it was a skin track, and it actually seemed more like a game track, but it went exactly where I wanted to go, so I followed it. Within a few moments I was into the open trees that I’d seen, and boy did that look like some good ski terrain. The trees were so open with respect to underbrush that I wondered if the area was part of the successional cuts that are made in the area as part of the wildlife management. The terrain wasn’t overly steep, but it looked like it would offer up some really nice turns, especially in conjunction with the fantastic snow that was underfoot. I continued to follow the track up through the open trees, and with the path the track took, it really could have been made by a skier. It seemed to skirt right along the top of some of the more open sections of woods, seeming to pick the perfect line to get to the apex of that terrain. A few hundred feet above me I could see where the terrain began to steepen dramatically, and based on my elevation I knew that was the final headwall leading up to the ridge extending south from Robbins Mountain. I expected that the trees would get to tight and or brushy once I hit the headwall, because that’s sometimes what happens as the composition of the forest changes, so I was getting set to find a good spot for my transition as soon as I reached the top of the open trees below.
When I finally approached the headwall though, I had to reconsider my initial plans of not skiing it; what I saw above me was just too good to pass up. The trees continued to be quite open for another hundred vertical feet before ledges took over, so I had to head up a bit more. That terrain would make for a great start to the ski run. The ascent track I’d been following didn’t go that way, so I had to break trail, and it was somewhat slow going with the pitch of that slope and the depth of the snow. I clicked up my rarely used, tall heel lifts, and kept at it. The pitch was easily 25 to 30 degrees, and though I made switchbacks it was a slog through that powder. I did some depth checks and the surface snow was pushing three feet of depth, so even with the floatation of 115 mm fat skis I was down a good distance in that snow. I thought I’d catch another hundred feet of vertical or so out of that ascent, and be just below the steep and ledge terrain of the headwall, but as I continued to ascent, a beautiful gully full of nicely spaced birches appeared to the southeast. It actually ascended all the way up to the ridgeline, slicing to the northeast through the ledges, and it was almost as if Mother Nature had made a passageway to permit skiing down from the ridgeline. I had to keep going because there was no way I was going to miss the chance to tag the ridgeline and ski that beautiful gully. So after a bit, or perhaps more, of additional work, I reached the ridgeline.
“Those turns through the birch glade and then the lower reaches of the headwall were deep and smooth, and you almost couldn’t ask for better snow.”
When I got to the ridgeline I had some flashbacks of my most recent trip to Robbins Mountain with James. It was nice up there though, with very little wind and good temperatures. I had some food, and switched over for the descent. My depth checks continued to reveal snow depths approaching three feet up there, so even on the steepest pitches there were no concerns about snow coverage. Those turns through the birch glade and then the lower reaches of the headwall were deep and smooth, and you almost couldn’t ask for better snow. The powder had an excellent density gradient, and you could cut into it as hard as you wanted. The only things to watch out for were obvious big logs, which you could easily see. I mixed it up with both Telemark and alpine turns, but the spacing of the trees was so good, and the snow surface so consistently smooth and unadulterated by anything below, that you could have enough confidence to make whatever turns you wanted. Below the headwall I got into the very open hardwoods, and the skiing was mellower, but oh so good. The coverage and general consistency of the snowpack, and the lack of (or perhaps buried nature of) underbrush means that you can just let the skis run and run and you’ll just keep finding that great ski terrain appears.
At roughly the 1,300′ elevation I finally merged my way back onto the service road and skin track, and from there on down I stuck close to the track. I still made occasional turns in the powder, but being near the track was really helpful as the pitch of the terrain lessened. Following the general area of the service road ensured an efficient runout and exit from the tour, because the powder out there right now is just too deep to keep up speed if you don’t have that necessary pitch. I was able to make a quick descent right back to the parking area thanks to the service road and my skin track. I’d say that a good way to cycle that terrain would be to head down to that 1,300′ level and catch the skin track back up, and then simply hit the runout at the end of the ski session. Surface snow depths of 6-12″ of powder would be fine for everything but the headwall area, and you could probably ski some additional mellow pitches if the snow was in that state. It’s really hard to complain about the current snowpack though, it so deep and soft that it’s hard to say enough about how well it skis. With good access and some great open terrain, I’d say that RMWMA zone is a nice option when the snowpack on the lower elevations of the west slopes is sufficient. When I got home I told E that it would be a good spot for her and the boys, so hopefully I’ll get them out there one of these days so that they can see what it’s like.
The snow from long-duration Winter Storm Marcus continued overnight, and although it was just an inch or so down here at the house and a few inches up in the mountains, the snow had substantially higher density than the fluff we received yesterday. Both James and Tom heeded the call I put out earlier in the week with regard to skiing, so they would be joining us for the afternoon at Stowe. It was actually great that they were able to make it today, because Ken wasn’t going to be there and they could help with managing my ski group during the BJAMS ski program.
“…untracked lines were just ridiculously deep with two to three feet of powder just like we found yesterday at Bolton Valley.”
The guys arrive at our house well ahead of the planned 10:00 A.M. meet up, so we had some time to catch up while our family got our ski gear together. We were on the way to Stowe by about 10:30 A.M. or so, and there was steady snowfall, but it was light enough that well-traveled roads were generally showing blacktop. We had time for some lunch in the Great Room Grill with E and the boys, and Chris even showed up to hang out and have some food before he headed back down to Massachusetts.
“The snow just keeps piling on there, and the terrain has that feeling of skiing an alpine bowl in an area that keeps getting hit by repeated storm cycles.”
We went out for an early run before program time, and checked out the open terrain above Meadows. The snow just keeps piling on there, and the terrain has that feeling of skiing an alpine bowl in an area that keeps getting hit by repeated storm cycles. The powder has been somewhat cut up by skiers, so it’s nice to have a ski with some girth that can hold its own as the variations in the surface snow try to toss you around at speed. What a great warm-up run that was though; it gave us a good feeling for what we’d be able to find out there today.
“I don’t know how he was able to fit all that stuff in his ski jacket, but I made me remember how much fun it is to have Bursey on board when it comes to food.”
Luc was sick, and Elizabeth was going to be joining our group, so it looked like it would be a total of seven students that James, Tom, and I had in our charge. We took one more run on the Meadows Chair while we waited for Jack to arrive, and then crossed over to Mansfield via the Over Easy. As we stood at the Gondola summit and I asked the kids where they wanted to go, “the Middle of Nowhere” was quickly heard from multiple voices. So, off we went toward Nosedive and into the trees. Conditions were great as one would expect, and with the three of us adults we were able to pretty easily keep tabs on the group. A technique I like to use is to watch for students that break away from the pack and take alternate lines, and then follow them. Wiley often does this during his runs as he searches out good lines and good powder, and I got to follow him through a nice section of terrain. We made more good use of the three coaches when we got to Nosedive and some of the group wanted to dive back into the trees and some wanted to stay on trail. I guided the off piste group through some of the trees on the skiers left of Nosedive, while James and Tom offered to take care of the on piste group as they continued to warm up. It was back into the trees again for some of us as we approached Liftline, and boy, untracked lines were just ridiculously deep with two to three feet of powder even down in some of the lowest elevations, just like we found yesterday at Bolton Valley.
We made our way to the Fourrunner Quad and by the time we got to the top some freezing fog was wreaking havoc with everyone’s goggles. Jonah asked if we could head into the Octagon to have a snack and take care of that visibility issue, so it was break time. Tom pulled out the trail mix, banana bread, and whatever else he had on board and we had a darned good feast. I don’t know how he was able to fit all that stuff in his ski jacket, but I made me remember how much fun it is to have Bursey on board when it comes to food. Everyone’s goggles had been thoroughly thawed and wiped by the time we headed back out into the weather.
I’d seen good coverage on Upper National, so we combined that with a run down Goat. Conditions are excellent, but not perfect as you can still find icy areas on the back of some moguls due to Stowe’s fairly heavy skier traffic. All the kids handled the steep terrain on that run very well though, and after that, it was obvious that Elizabeth could handle both the trees and steep terrain that our group often visits. It was my first time skiing Goat since the microburst took down all those trees along the left, and the damage is very impressive one you’re up close and personal with it. It’s probably going to take a while for that damage to regenerate. One of the best parts of the run was getting into the beautiful bump lines of Lower National. It gave us all a chance to work on pole timing with the kids, and those bump lines are just some much fun because the lower pitch of the trail keeps them tighter, smoother, and the snow quality so much better.
We finished off our runs on the Quad with a Nosedive Bypass down through the Nosedive Glades. Once down through the Bypass Chutes, Tom decided that he was getting a bit too tired to keep up at the kids pace, and told us to head on down and he’d catch up with us later. It’s been at least a couple of years since he’s skied the sort of stuff we were hitting today, so it’s not surprising that it felt like a challenging pace. He chose the perfect spot to stop for a rest though; he was just entering the glades with a quiet snow filtering down. I suggested he hang out for a while and soak in the scene while he rested, and later he told me that’s exactly what he did. As the end of the day approached and he was getting tired, he was able to head through the terrain at his own pace with stops as required, and it sounded like a good way to finish things off. As for the rest of the crew, James and I brought them once again through the bumps on Lower National to work on that type of skiing and help with the timing of their poles. James and I got to play follow-the-leader with Dylan through the bumps, and he showed impressive control as James really dropped his speed and massaged his way through the bump lines. James and I later talked about how much fun those bumps are and how the amount of effort needed to ski them is so minimal when you do it right.
“…fortunately he was just enjoying (although perhaps “enjoying” is too positive a word) a deep state of being tired at the end of the ski day.”
We returned back to the Spruce Peak Base to ensure we got everyone in on time, and most of the students did a couple more runs on Sunny Spruce before they called it a day. The last couple of runs featured some speed runs by the boys of course, but they love that stuff. Back in the base lodge, E told me that she had seen Tom crashed out in one of the chairs, and before she knew it was him she thought, “Boy, that guy looks tired!” It sounded like it was pretty funny when she found out it was actually Tom. She feared he’d gotten hurt, but fortunately he was just enjoying (although perhaps “enjoying” is too positive a word) a deep state of being tired at the end of the ski day. He might feel that tomorrow though, but hopefully we can get him to come out again for another coaching session.
On Wednesday I sent out a ski alert message to the regional members of the 311 crew concerning the upcoming weekend. Although there wasn’t a massive winter storm cycle brewing, it didn’t matter; conditions on the slopes have been so consistently excellent that when combined with temperatures rising to near 20 F in the valleys, it was prime time for getting some turns. I learned that E’s sister Tina was planning to come up with her family for some skiing this weekend as well, so their timing was excellent. Chris pretty quickly answered my alert and said that he’d be able to catch up with us for skiing on Saturday, so it looked like we’d have a fun group for the slopes.
“Up around the 2,700′ elevation level I measured 36 inches of powder above the base, so you can image how that run went.”
The Friday night forecast called for about an inch of snow due to a weak disturbance approaching from the Great Lakes, so I expected that we’d at least have a little something to top off the slopes in the morning. I began to get a little suspicious though when we’d picked up nearly an inch down in the valley as of 11:00 P.M., and by midnight the snow was coming down at an inch per hour. I knew that up at the mountain they’d be getting at least as much as we got down here, but would they be getting one of those Green Mountain surprises where you find a foot of snow on the ground the next morning?
“My CoCoRaHS analyses here at the house were consistently showing snow densities in the 2% H2O range, so we were going to be able to get Tina’s family a taste of some real Champlain Powder™.”
It seems like we just went through this routine a couple of days ago, but when I checked the morning snow report, indeed the Northern and Central Greens had worked some of that magic to produce accumulations of up to a foot. Up at Bolton Valley they were reporting 9″ new, and that would certainly change the dynamics of the day a bit and give it a more “powder day” atmosphere instead of just a good day out on the slopes. My CoCoRaHS analyses here at the house were consistently showing snow densities in the 2% H2O range, so we were going to be able to get Tina’s family a taste of some real Champlain Powder™.
We made it up to Timberline just as lift service was getting going, and there were only a few cars in the lot. The resort was actually trying a new parking method in which people were directed to enter at the far entrance and come back toward the main parking areas, but it was a bit confusing and we ended up going in the usual route by accident. It worked out fine though, and the attendant said that he suspected the switch would be tough when we’re so used to the usual entrance. Temperatures were decent, somewhere in the teens F, and wind was nonexistent, so prospects for a reasonably comfortable ski day were looking good.
We could see that there had been some grooming on the lower slopes of Timberline during the overnight snow, so we visited Tattle Tale and Spell Binder to start off. Their headwalls don’t typically get groomed, so they offered a good combination of pitch and powder. Both headwalls had some scoured snow in the middle, right near the top, but all around they offered up some great snow. It wasn’t completely bottomless since the powder was just so dry, but you were still doing a lot of floating. Riley and Nikki were sending up some huge sprays of snow with their snowboards. Everyone was pretty jazzed by those runs, as the quality of the powder was simply top notch. At one point Riley was blasting through the powder and shouted out “I love this real snow!”, since it was a bit of a change from what he is often riding on in New Jersey. It took some getting used to taking on those face shots though, and he found out that riding without your goggles down is a good way to get a brain or face freeze from the powder billowing up there. Riley got the photo of the morning though, with an image of him snowboarding with his goggles up and eyes closed as the powder blasted into his face.
We headed to the main mountain next, and the kids were ready for a bit of warming in the lodge. We were upstairs when I got a call from Chris that he had arrived, and we let him know where to meet us. My goal was to get Tim and the kids over to Wilderness Woods for some mellow tree skiing, so we used the Vista Quad to connect over that way. There had been some traffic in there by that point, but the surface and subsurface snow were excellent and the kids really enjoyed poking around in there.
People were starting to think about lunch, so we went back up Vista and did a long run down to Timberline. The trails were more tracked of course, but fresher snow could be found along the edges. The Timberline Lodge was really hoppin’, and it was one of the busiest days I’ve ever seen in there. The length of the line for the cafeteria suggested that it was a great day for the resort in that department.
For the afternoon it was into the trees, with a couple of runs through various glades in the Wood’s Hole complex. There was lots of deep snow, and Riley struggled at times if he got bogged down because he was on a snowboard. He got pretty frustrated and probably worn out from extracting himself from the powder, so he took a break in the lodge before he and Tim eventually decided to head back to the main mountain with the goal of letting him get some time in the terrain park. Dylan was just about done for the day after a couple of woods runs, but he joined Chris and me for one more in the KP Glades and he’s glad he did. We found him a great line that produced some really deep turns and great photos. I checked the depth of the powder in there at around 2,000′ and found it at 29 inches. That’s bottomless. Dylan was even noticing how exceptionally deep the powder was, and he commented on how he could feel the way his fat skis were keeping him afloat.
“I checked the depth of the powder in there at around 2,000′ and found it at 29 inches. That’s bottomless.”
Dylan called it a day, but Chris and I went off for one more run in the Villager Trees. Up around the 2,700′ elevation level I measured 36 inches of powder above the base, so you can image how that run went. I’d definitely say that was the run of the day; it was very much fat ski city. Floating through three feet of Vermont’s finest fluff was a great way to finish off the day, but Mother Nature apparently isn’t done with piling it on yet. A Winter Storm Warning begins at 1:00 A.M. tonight and there’s potentially another 12-18″ on the way thanks to Winter Storm Marcus, which is supposed to last for 3 or 4 days.