Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry & Bolton Mountain 20FEB2012

An image of evergreens caked and buried with powder snow along the Catamount Ski Trail north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Despite this winter’s low snowfall so far, the snowpack is quite deep along the high elevations of the Catamount Ski Trail and Bolton Valley’s backcountry network.

A little fresh snow fell when we were out on our tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry yesterday, but in general we’ve been in between systems over the past couple days.  That’s presented a great opportunity to explore the backcountry with the boys though, and yesterday they completed their longest tour to date as we took them out to one of the glades along the Catamount Trail.  E and the boys had to head back to school today, but I had the holiday off and decided to do a tour similar to yesterday’s, with some additional exploration along the Catamount Trail past the glade we’d visited.

I parked down at the edge of the tennis court lots as usual, made my way up to the Wilderness Lift, and connected over to Heavenly Highway from the Wilderness Summit.  Snow conditions were very much like yesterday – I checked the depth of the powder atop the base snow along Heavenly Highway and found it to be around 9 to 10 inches.  The big change from yesterday was that there was nobody out on the backcountry network trails – Monday afternoon on a holiday weekend must have meant that most people had already headed home.

“It was so quiet that even
the nearly silent shuffling
of my skins through the snow
had me feeling like a marching
band crashing through a
sleepy town in the
middle of the night.”

Once past that first glade along the Catamount Trail, I was into what was for me, uncharted territory.  I continued along the trail, which gradually rose as it headed generally north-northwest toward Bolton Mountain.  One of the most impressive aspects of this part of the trail was seeing the impressive depths of snow that have built up, in what has really been a very low season for snowfall.  The general area below the Catamount Trail junction with Raven’s Wind, which is sheltered like parts of Heavenly Highway, revealed evergreens that were just choked, buried, and ensconced with snow.  Around every corner I was finding fantastic, gravity-defying deposits of powder.  Once past the junction with Raven’s Wind, which marks the last outpost of Bolton’s backcountry network, the Catamount Trail began to level off and skirt along the eastern edge of Bolton Mountain.  At over 3,300’ in elevation, this area marks the highest point on the entire Catamount Trail.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow above the Cotton Brook area connected to the Catamount Ski Trail and Bolton Valley's backcountry ski network in Vermont
Ski tracks leading to the Cotton Brook area provide a rough sense of the snow conditions out along the Catamount Trail today.

I contoured along the southeast face of Bolton Mountain as the trail switched to a northeasterly direction; I couldn’t see the summit of Bolton Mountain (3,680’) through all the evergreens, but the steep rise in the terrain off to my left let me know that it was looming up there about 400’ vertical feet above me.  As I continued to scan the elevated terrain to my left, I quickly noticed that the density of the evergreens had become sparser, and I began to see potential ski lines through the trees.  I eventually decided that I’d gone far enough out on the trail for the day, and chose a spot to ascend a bit and see if I could start my descent up in the trees above me.  The terrain was fairly steep, but there was that consolidated base below that top layer of powder, so I wasn’t wallowing in bottomless fluff as I broke trail.  With the evergreens all around me, the air was deathly still.  It was so quiet that even the nearly silent shuffling of my skins through the snow had me feeling like a marching band crashing through a sleepy town in the middle of the night.  I continued generally westward and upward, following what looked to be the most open lines through the trees.  The terrain began to flatten out ahead of me, and I could see on my GPS that I was approaching the Long Trail along the ridgeline; I decided that that was a good goal to mark as my turnaround point.  I know that I was very close to meeting up with the trail when I finally stopped my ascent, as I was definitely on the ridgeline and the land clearly began to drop off to the west.  I was tempted to go a little farther and make the trail connection, but it just didn’t seem worth it to lose elevation.  It was after 3:00 P.M., I was well away from the Catamount Trail, and I was alone.  It was at least generally downhill back to the Catamount Trail from my location, and there was no need to push my luck.

“Some trees even displayed that
hanging moss that I’ve often seen
in the mountains of the Pacific
Northwest and British Columbia…”

I stripped off my skins and reversed my course, traveling along generally flat, ridgeline terrain at first, and negotiation a steep south-facing gully as well.  When I’d finished crossing the flattest terrain and could see that I was about to begin the descent to the Catamount Trail, I stopped in a comfortable spot and pulled out some of my food supplies.  I ate a Clif Bar and had a couple rounds of the hot tomato soup that I’d packed in my thermos like yesterday.  That absolutely hit the spot.  I definitely needed the recharge after throwing in all that extra trail breaking on top of the ascent of the Catamount Trail.  The energy expenditure had been enough that I was getting a bit drained, and I definitely wanted something in the tank for the descent.  Once I stopped moving, the silence around me was redoubled, and it was indeed eerily quiet.  Such is the scene at times when one is alone in the deep woods of winter.

An image of a ski line through the trees above the Catamount Trail on Bolton Mountain, north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a line through the trees high on Bolton Mountain

I packed up my food and gear and began the real descent through the evergreens.  There were indeed some reasonably open spaces and nice turns, but it was steep enough that it really would have been better with deeper powder for the available tree spacing.  The 9 to 10 inches that were there were OK, but I’d say something around 18 inches would be more appropriate.  And, although the natural lines through the trees were good, they could be dramatically enhanced just by clearing off the all the dead branches that were still on the lower parts of the evergreens.  That would be a great off-season project for someone to tackle, and the process could continue right on down below the Catamount Trailas well, because the terrain just keeps going.  In any event, even in its natural state I’m keeping that terrain in mind for a place to visit after a reasonably big dump with depths of powder that will fit the pitch and spacing of the trees.

I popped out on the Catamount Trail and had begun to head back toward the resort, when I ran into the first pair of people I’d seen all day.  It was a couple of younger guys, and they asked me if I knew the area.  I said that I knew it fairly well, but when they asked me what lay to the north of where we were, I told them that that was out of my range of knowledge – I was currently the farthest north I’d ever been on this section of trail.  In terms of descents, I said that I’d recommend descending back in the Cotton Brook area if they were unsure of where they were, because I knew that one could ascend back out of there quite easily.  It was likely that one could traverse and get out from areas to the north as well, but one never knows just what the terrain would be like until they’re actually in there.  I’m not sure what they ended up doing, but since it was well after 3:00 P.M. by that point, I hope they made an appropriate choice.

An image of evergreens with snow and some hanging moss along the Catamount Trail north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Views of countless snow-covered evergreens and even hanging moss as I travel through the high elevations of the Catamount Trail

I was tempted to do a little extra exploration on my return trip, especially as I looked at the vast expanse of evergreens below me.  Some trees even displayed that hanging moss that I’ve often seen in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia; as if the deep snowpack wasn’t enough, the sight of the moss seemed to me like a real testament to just how much precipitation falls in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens.  As much as it would have been nice to poke around, ultimately I wasn’t willing to explore a descent down into the Cotton Brook area with the time of day, so I descended back toward the resort on the Catamount Trail itself.  The trail isn’t very wide, so the descent below Raven’s Wind was quite a hoot.  Let’s just say that I’m glad that I didn’t “run” into anyone ascending at that time of day.  It’s definitely an exhilarating descent back toward the main glade though if you can catch it without any uphill traffic.  I enjoyed a descent of the main glade back toward the Cotton Brook Trail junction, but despite the decent amount of powder, the combination of tracked snow, irregular surface underneath, and some previously work by the sun, made it rather challenging and nothing special in terms of flow.  It’s definitely time for another storm.

I cruised quickly back along the Catamount Trail to the Bryant Cabin area, and headed right onto Gardiner’s Lane and North Slope.  I was determined to find that glade that I’d missed with E and the boys yesterday, and after a bit of searching, I did.  I made another mental note on the entrance to set myself up for next time, and had a fun ride down through there.  When I finally got back down to the lower Nordic trails, I saw a couple of other people, but amazingly that was it for the entire tour of almost six miles.  I can’t wait for my next chance to get out in the farther reaches of the Catamount Trail and explore it further.

A Google Earth GPS map tracing of my tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic/backcountry network of ski trails and the Catamount Ski Trail in Vermont on February 20, 2012
The Google Earth GPS track for today’s tour

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 19FEB2012

An image of Jay skiing powder in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail past Bolton Valley Ski Resort's Nordic & Backcountry terrain
Enjoying some turns in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail

During yesterday’s outing at Bolton, we found decent powder above roughly the 2,000’ level, and ended up skiing several laps off Wilderness to take advantage of the good snow.  With that in mind, we decided to head out onto the backcountry network today to get in some additional powder skiing.  The plan was to begin by riding the Wilderness Lift for a quick elevation assist, then transit on Heavenly Highway to a glade along the Catamount Trail that I’d last skied on January 22nd, 2011I’ve brought Ty out on Heavenly Highway before, but this would be the first opportunity to get out there with the whole family at once, so that aspect was very exciting.  Dylan’s touring range has grown by leaps and bounds over the past couple of seasons, and it seemed like he was ready for a tour this size.  With a planned route that would encompass 4 to 5 miles, it would likely be the longest ski tour that either of the boys had done, but with a mile of distance and 1,000’ of vertical coming from the Wilderness Lift, it seemed manageable.  The boys each got two packs of GU energy gel, which were stashed in the side pockets of their ski pants to quickly mitigate any concerns about bonking out on the tour.  The boys both like the GU (at least the vanilla bean) a lot; we’ve found it helpful for mountain biking in the off season, and it worked quite well for Dylan on our ski tour at Pico in October.

Although not quite as warm as yesterday’s highs in the 30s F, the forecast was for temperatures in the upper 20s F and generally clear skies, so weather wasn’t expected to be an issue on the tour.  The Wilderness Lift wasn’t opening until 10:00 A.M., so we had plenty of preparation time in the morning.  I cooked up a typical ski day big breakfast to ensure the boys would be maxed out on energy, and we loaded up all the gear.  Arriving up in the Village in the mid morning period, we found that the resort was hopping with holiday visitors.  I dropped E and the boys off at the ski patrol building at the base of Wilderness, and parked in the tennis court lot down along the Broadway trail.  The village lots were filling up fast, but they hadn’t overflowed into the tennis court lot yet; it was just me and a couple other cars parking for Nordic/backcountry activities.

I got my gear on and headed up to find E getting the skis ready and helping out the boys with theirs.  The boys’ Telemark skis are still in the three pin format, so getting them on can be a little tricky.  That process combined with having to negotiate a lift ride with a backcountry pack plus a child, makes it E’s least favorite part of one of these types of outings, but everyone got loaded, had a good ride, and disembarked at the Wilderness Summit without incident.  Once off the lift, E was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the tour.

We skied over to the Heavenly Highway entrance, and strapped on everyone’s skins for the undulating trip across to the Catamount Trail.  As we started along, E commented that it seemed like we could do this part without skins if we wanted, but having done parts of that myself before, I assured her that it was much more fun having the skins on.  There are enough dips and rolls that you appreciate not having to herring bone up every rise.  Dylan took point on our travels across Heavenly Highway, and actually kept a decent pace.  It wasn’t long before he decided that he wanted to remove his helmet to cool down a bit.

An image of Ty reaching up and putting his pole through a thick stack of powder atop a log on Heavenly Highway at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking out some of the thick snow formations created by the powder along Heavenly Highway

We found tremendous snow formations in the usual sheltered spots along the Heavenly Highway – some stacks of snow on the trees were two to three feet high, revealing just how much snow had built up from recent storms.  Ty probed one stack by punching his pole way up through it, and then Ty and Dylan had fun with another thick stack by knocking it off the tree to which it was attached.  Even though it’s been a low snow year, elevations up around 3,000’ have still taken on a lot of snow this season, and E was very impressed with how the snowy corridors through the trees made one feel like they were entering some sort of magical world.  It was the first time E had been up there, but I’m sure similar experiences by those in the past played a part in how the Heavenly Highway got its name.  We’d negotiated a few moderate drops in all the ups and downs of Heavenly Highway, and Ty was very proud that he’d been able to make some Telemark turns on those pitches – it’s certainly tough with the narrow confines and skins on the skis.

At the junction with Devil’s Drop we had to make a decision, whether to finish off our trip to the Catamount Trail on Heavenly Highway, or take on the quicker, but more challenging descent of Devil’s Drop trail.  I gave everyone an idea of what the two routes were like, and we all joked about the nearly polar opposite names of our two choices.  I pointed out that Heavenly Highway would finish off with terrain much like we’d seen up to that point, while Devil’s Drop was, true to its Machiavellian name, a fairly precipitous and tricky drop to negotiate on skis.  I figured that everyone would be able to handle it though, and the momentum quickly seemed to shift that way.  Before we knew it, Dylan was on his way down toward Devil’s Drop with the rest of the family in tow.  We didn’t take off our skins, which actually made the descent kind of fun as the extra friction combined to make it both difficult, sort of like day with sticky snow on the slopes, and easier, almost like having your car holding you back in low gear on a descent.  There were a couple of icy patches, and indeed the necessity of fitting skins so that one’s edges are left exposed was never demonstrated so well.  I’d say that some pitches on Devil’s Drop are easily in the range of 30 degrees or so, but fortunately the trail has switchbacks to avoid having to ski it at that pitch.  Ty did some impressive switchback short-cutting though, working his way through a steep slot that was much more challenging than I would want to take.  There are actually some nice options for skiing Devil’s Drop and getting some great powder turns, but with the time for transitioning the boys out of their skins and them back into them for the return to the ascent didn’t quite seem worth it.  Perhaps on a future trip we’ll add that feature into the tour.  At the bottom of Devil’s Drop, after what had seemed like a surprisingly challenging descent to me, I realized that I’d left my Telemark bindings in free pivot touring mode.  There’s much less stability in that mode than with the toes locked down – it explained why the drop felt extra challenging today, but I wished I’d realized it before the bottom!

Below Devil’s Drop we took a short snack break at the junction with the Catamount Trail, and I told the boys not to eat too much because we weren’t too far from our final destination where we planned to have lunch.  With our snack complete, Dylan continued on point, and led us on the Catamount Trail through the wide, flat col between the height of land containing the Devils’ Drop area to the east and the 3,300’ spur of Bolton Mountain to the west.  We cruised along through the flats thanks to Dylan’s abiding pace, entering back into the thicker trees in about 5 to 10 minutes and quickly coming to the north intersection with the Cotton Brook Trail.  There were lots of people out in that junction area today, and everyone seemed excited to see Ty and Dylan out there.  They got lots of encouragement from folks for undertaking such a substantial backcountry tour.

An image of Erica and Ty skinning up the Catamount Trail along the edge of a glade
E and Ty approach the top of our ascent along the Catamount Trail.

We came to the final leg of our ascent, and I was able to show E and the boys the glade that I was thinking of skiing with them.  Dylan continued in the lead, pushing up through the switchbacks along the glade.  I could tell that he was getting a little impatient and/or tired, but we let him know we were just minutes away from our stopping point, and he pushed on.  Ty was actually more impatient than Dylan at that point, and he clearly needed to be done with the ascent.  At the top of the glade we found a beautiful powdery spot overlooking the ski terrain and the Catamount Trail, and set everything down to have lunch.

An image of Jay having soup during lunch along the Catamount Trail
Dad finally gets that chance to sit down and enjoy lunch along the trail.

We’d packed a thermos full of tomato soup, and another full of hot chocolate, and I was really anxious to get some food and an energy recharge.  Before I could relax though, I wanted to finish putting away all the skins and preparing all the gear for the descent.  Ty and Dylan had clearly been more anxious for the end of the ascent than they were tired, because they were running around like animals having a big snowball fight, and E actually had to work on calming them down so that they weren’t too disruptive to other folks traveling on the trail.  The boys played on, but finally I’d taken care of the gear; I fashioned myself a nice soft seat in the powder, and kicked back with some hot soup.  I’d been waiting for that for quite a while.  To sweeten the scene, just as we’d arrived, it had begun to snow.  We had expected mostly clear skies earlier, but clouds moved in quickly, and before we knew it, big fat flakes were swirling all around us.  One never knows what Mother Nature will throw at them up at 3,000’ in the Northern Greens, but the beauty of the falling snow was certainly appreciated.  Sitting up there overlooking the glade with the fresh snow falling was quite a treat, and one of the folks passing by on the trail commented on what a great lunch spot it seemed to be.

An image of snow falling among the mountains and trees as viewed from the Catamount Trail beyond Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the snowy scene during lunch along the trail as big flakes of snow fall all around us

After a few rounds of soup, we were finally able to pull ourselves away from the superlative location for a descent of the glade.  We found several inches of powder atop the base, but I was surprised that the snow wasn’t quite up to the standards that I thought it was going to be.  There appeared to have been just enough traffic and or sun exposure that there was a bit of a crusty layer below the powder.  That made the skiing challenging in those spots, but I was able to sneak in some nice turns in areas of untracked snow.  Clearly I’m going to have to bring E and the boys back for another trip to experience the primo conditions that are often found there.

An image of Jay skiing powder in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail past Bolton Valley Ski Resort's Nordic & Backcountry terrain
Enjoying some turns in one of the glades off the Catamount Trail

Once back on the Catamount Trail, Dylan took the lead again, and I told him that he could cruise as fast as he wanted down the trail.  We came rocketing through the flats in the col, and Dylan continued to move along at a marvelous pace.  While it’s generally a gentle downhill glide, there are a few short rises and I couldn’t believe how fast we covered the ground.  The snow must have been a lot slower the last time I’d been out in that area, but before we knew it we were back at the intersection with Devil’s Drop where we’d had our first snack.  We cruised further down the trail, and as soon as Ty and Dylan saw the Bryant Cabin, they headed right toward it like a shot.  E and I hadn’t really planned to stop in there unless we needed to, but it was quickly obvious there was no way we were getting past it without a stop.  Getting a chance to play around in the cabin is clearly one of the favorite parts of these trips for Ty and Dylan.

An image of icicles outside one of the windows of the Bryant Cabin on the Nordic & backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A window scene from up at the Bryant Cabin today

We pulled into the cabin, which was unoccupied and had no fire going in the woodstove, but with the fairly moderate outside temperature it was comfortable enough that the boys shed some layers.  We got into the hot chocolate and snacks for a while, and the boys played around in the upstairs area that they like so much.  We saw a couple of groups ascend the Bryant Trail and reach the cabin, but they congregated outside.  Eventually the hot chocolate was spent, and we geared up for the final descent leg of the trip to the car.

We headed out on Gardiner’s Lane and onto North Slope, and my intent was to take E and the boys down through the North Slope and Gardiner’s Lane glade combination that I’d visited a lot last season.  There hasn’t been a lot of traffic at the glade entrance though, so we sailed right past it and continued on North Slope.  We ran into Kurt Ries, who was part of a large group collecting at the top of one of the drops on North Slope.  Clearly they had a similar idea to us on this fine winter day.  Having missed the glade I’d initially planned to visit, we cut off North Slope and simply explored the woods below.  The snow was quite good, with 6+ inches of powder in many spots, and while we found a few good shots, there was nothing too outrageous in terms of providing an extensive amount of turns in open terrain.  We connected onto Gardiner’s Lane, and recounted the last time we’d skied it where Dylan had had some binding issues and I’d needed to carry him.  He talked about how much fun that had been, but I liked it better with him skiing.  We finished off with a run through the Telemark Practice Slope and the associated glades, and cruised down Broadway to the car.

A Google Earth image containing the GPS track from our ski tour on Bolton Valley's Nordic & Backcountry terrain - 19FEB2012
Today's 4.35-mile backcountry tour plotted on Google Earth, with the ascent tracks marked in red, descent tracks marked in green, and the Wilderness Lift assist marked in yellow

Checking the GPS at the car, it reported a tour length of 4.35 miles, with an overall elevation difference of 1,112’.  It was certainly the boys’ biggest tour to date, and they continued to have energy at the end because they were quickly playing on top of the snowbanks in the parking lot while E and I packed up the gear.  E said that she had a great time with her first trip on Heavenly Highway and the Catamount Trail beyond Bryant Cabin, and we saw plenty of opportunities for more exploration.  Hopefully next time we can get even softer conditions and nail the route through those lower glades.

Bolton Valley, VT 18FEB2012

An image of Ty skiing powder in the Outlaw Glades at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
As Ty demonstrates, the Outlaw Glades were really delivering the goods today at Bolton Valley.

For much of January the weather pattern in Northern Vermont featured winter storms with mixed precipitation.  The storms weren’t actually that bad in terms of how they affected the ski conditions, but with the mixed precipitation robbing some of the potential snowfall, they just didn’t have that oomph of full-blown winter storms.  So naturally everyone was excited when February rolled around and the weather pattern appeared to be undergoing a change.  The only problem was… it was a change to essentially no storms at all.  That’s good for a few days to perhaps a week if it comes with good snow preservation, but soon the powder gets harder to find, and the groomed snow just gets old.  We’d hit that point by last Saturday – the quote from Stephen was that the snow was “beaten down”, and I’d say he nailed the general demeanor of the slopes perfectly.  To put some numbers on it, through today (February 18th) we’ve had just 5.0 inches of snowfall at the house for the month… a month that averages roughly 45 inches of snow down here in the valley.  So when we got to mid February and it looked like the weather was going to switch back to the pattern of storms with mixed precipitation like we saw in January, I think there was some relief… we probably just didn’t know how good we had it before.  The storm ushering in this change started up on Thursday, and it was pretty weak on precipitation overall, but by this morning the local mountains were approaching a half foot of new snow, which was more than enough to whet our appetites for the slopes.  Powderfreak has been keeping us apprised of the conditions at Stowe, and based on his powdery pictures from yesterday, we knew that the good snow was out there.  Combined with a weather forecast of partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low to mid 30s F, it was looking like a mighty fine day to hit the slopes.

Bolton’s Timberline area finally opened last weekend, and although I suspected that the warmth this week was going to undermine the conditions on those lower elevation trails, we still wanted to base ourselves out of Timberline for the day due to the convenience it offers.  It’s a holiday weekend, so parking in the village and dealing with the main base would likely be a bit chaotic.  When we arrived at the Timberline Base (~1,500’) around mid morning today, the snow situation was actually looking a bit grim; the temperature was already in the mid 30s F and the snow surfaces looked like just a couple of inches of new snow over a refried base.  I was optimistic though; I knew the higher elevations would be in much better shape, and our real goal was to get ourselves over to the main base area and up to Wilderness.

Just as we were getting our gear on we saw Stephen and his crew at the base of the Timberline Quad.  I inquired about the snow conditions and Stephen didn’t sound enthusiastic.  I asked him if he’d been over to Wilderness yet and he said no, so I was still holding out hope.  While snow surfaces did look bland at first, they quickly improved as we rode up toward the Timberline Summit (~2,500’), and all my fears were allayed by the time we got off the lift.  I checked off the side of the trail and found a good 4 to 6 inches of powder there for the taking, with still more in some spots.  I even took a quick jaunt in the Timberline Run trees, and found the same stuff.  By this point I knew we were in for some good powder skiing, and I was more than happy to share this thought with E.  She was quite unimpressed with some of the off piste conditions last weekend, and her enthusiasm for today was painfully low at first.  As I passed by Lower Bentley on our way to the main base, I saw some great looking powder off to the side of the trail and really wanted to dive in, but our goal was Wilderness and we had to stay on task.

Stephen and his kids were all on board for a run in Snow Hole, so we hopped on the Wilderness Lift with a group plan in hand.  As we ascended through the Wilderness terrain, it was quickly obvious how good the snow was going to be.  We began to see tracks in the powder on the Wilderness Lift Line, and the depths were increasing nicely.  We found great snow in Snow Hole, a general 4 to 6 inches of powder outside of the high traffic areas where the snow had already been packed down.  The hobblebush is sticking out a couple of feet in the big open area up top though – it could probably use a trim this off season, but it’s presence is also just a function of the low snowpack this year.

Stephen, Thomas, Johannes, and Helena had to head in for lunch after that run, but E and the boys and I went up for another Wilderness run to hit Bolton Outlaw and its surroundings.  Bolton Outlaw had seen enough traffic that it unfortunately held a lot of slick areas, but the glades around it were fantastic.  The boys ripped up some of the fresh lines in there and the snow quality had everyone excited.  We poked around in some lower elevation glades as we descended back to the base, with some decent turns, but nothing quite up to the level of those Outlaw Glades.  The Wilderness Lift Line provided some nice turns though, consistent with the quality-looking snow we’d seen from the lift.

An image of Dylan skiing in the Outlaw Glades at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan enjoys some of that powder in the Outlaw Glades.
An image of Hot Chocolate topped with whipped cream at the James Moore Tavern at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A yummy addition to lunch in the Tavern today

The boys were already talking about lunch by the time we got back to the base, and we headed into the lodge with a plan to go to the James Moore Tavern.  Stephen and his group were ready to head back out onto the slopes, and had to leave by 1:00 P.M., but Ty and Dylan were just too hungry to be talked away from lunch.  The lodge was really hopping though with holiday business; we even had to wait about 10 minutes to get into the Tavern.  With the wait we had plenty of time to hang our ski stuff in the clothing area, and we made an impressive and compact assembly of all our gear, even the helmets.  Lunch was a fun time; we sat next to a mom and her toddler, who kept everyone entertained for the entire meal. The boys got some impressive-looking hot chocolates to start things off, and for me, lunch was an easy choice.  As soon as we entered the tavern I smelled that barbeque smell from the pulled pork sandwich, and my mind was immediately made up.  I’ve had it before, but this one was especially good.

An image of the pulled pork sanwich along with coleslaw and onion rings at the James Moore Taver at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I knew I was going with pulled pork as soon as I walked into the Tavern today.

We headed back out to the slopes after our filling lunch, and Wilderness was all we had on our minds; there was no lift queue, the snow was fantastic, and there was powder to ski.  Based on what we’d heard from Stephen about the Vista area, there was no need to go anywhere else.  We ran the same couple of runs that we’d hit earlier, and powder pickings were a little slimmer, but the snow was still quite good.  We did notice that areas of powder in the sun below about 2,500’ were getting a little thick, so presumably the freezing line was creeping up a bit in elevation.  Those Outlaw Glades were again the standout of the afternoon, and E said that she had her best Telemark turns of the day in there.

We eventually decided to call it a day and headed over to Snowflake to get us back to Timberline.  We were actually thinking of doing an extra run off Snowflake, but there was a lift queue of a few minutes so we just decided to skip that plan.  A nice bonus on the trip back to Timberline though was Lower Tattle Tale.  For whatever reason, people had not been skiing it from the middle entrance, and the skier’s left held lots of powder.  I thought it might be too low in elevation to hold onto such good soft snow, but it was more than fine, it was sweet!  Judging by what we found on the trip back to the Timberline Base, I’d say that around 2,000’ was the elevation at which the powder really started to peter out.  The groomed trails began to get slick as well, so below that elevation was where temperatures must have gotten just a bit too far above freezing over the past couple of days.

Although temperatures had definitely stayed below freezing on the upper mountain, it was still above freezing when we got back to the car, so the lower elevation snow at Timberline will probably do a bit of temperature cycling tonight.  It seems like everything above 2,000’ is going to continue to be mighty fine though, so all the holiday visitors should keep on getting those good turns.  Based on the fantastic conditions we saw up high on Wilderness, we’re thinking of going for some backcountry skiing tomorrow – it looks like another comfortable midwinter day with sunshine, so there should be some opportunities for excellent earned turns.  We may also get a couple more of those mixed precipitation storms in the coming week, and even if they’re not perfect, at least they’ll keep the slopes fresh – and we’re going to appreciate that as much as we can.

Bolton Valley, VT 11FEB2012

An image of Dylan skiing some powder on the Lower Tattle Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Although we haven’t had snow in about a week, there’s still untracked powder out there for turns – Dylan enjoys some today on Bolton Valley’s Lower Tattle Tale

There’s been sufficient coverage for skiing at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area since at least mid January, and I made my first turns of the season there on January 15th, but apparently the resort hasn’t been confident in the ability of the snow to hold up to much skier traffic, because it wasn’t until yesterday that they started running the Timberline Quad.  It’s incredible to think that we’ve had such a late start to Timberline lift-serviced skiing, and similar things may have happened before, but certainly not in the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana.  At this point though, it’s just really nice to have the expansion to spread everyone out and open up some of our favorite terrain, so we were excited to get in on this first weekend day of Timberline lift service.

There’s the potential for cold temperatures and even some fresh snow as we move through the weekend, but today it was sunshine with temperatures in the 20s F.  We didn’t get up to the mountain until roughly 11:00 A.M., but the number of visitors was pretty light and parking spots were open right in the circle below the Timberline Lodge.  The parking was so easy that after dropping off E and the boys and all our gear at the, I parked the car and then walked over and began chatting with them – forgetting to even put on my ski boots.  We’re definitely still getting into our Timberline rhythm for the season.

We kicked off the day with a trip down Villager to Sure Shot, and then took the link onto Lower Tattle Tale to hopefully get into some powder.  Pickings were a little slim since we haven’t had fresh snow in a week, but some lines were still available and we shot some pictures of the boys getting into the untracked snow.  The powder was getting a touch stale after a week, but we weren’t complaining.  We jumped on Spur to get into some additional untracked snow on our trip back to the base, and then headed up again for a mid station run.  We took Wood’s Hole and worked our way down to check out the Corner Pocket Glades for the first time this season.  Coverage was more than sufficient, but the tracks of previous skiers combined with a mixture of shaded and sunny areas really produced a lot of variability in the powder and even the subsurface.  The challenging conditions had us quickly getting back out on Spell Binder, where surfaces were much more consistent.

An image of Erica skiing powder on the Lower Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E cruises along in some of the powder on Lower Tattle Tale.

The boys were already urging us to get lunch, so we hit the Timberline Lodge for a break.  The boys wanted to order from the grill, so Ty got a cheeseburger and fries, and Dylan went with chicken fingers and fries; it was a good thing too, because I overcooked today’s tomato soup and it was tasting rather smoky.  On a positive note though, our replacement Stanley® “bullet” vacuum bottle recently arrived, so we had a chance to test it out and it was keeping the soup incredibly hot.  Our other Stanley bullet that we’d had for several years had ceased to insulate (it probably had lost its vacuum), and indeed Stanley stands behind their lifetime warranty.  I called Stanley up, informed them about the loss of insulation in our bottle, answered a few questions, and said a new unit was on the way.  So, if there are others out that use any sort of Stanley insulating equipment for their ski outings, (or are thinking of getting one) know that the company is quite serious about that lifetime warranty.

On our way back out to the slopes after lunch, we gave Stephen a call and planned to meet up.  While we waited for him we basically repeated our first run from the day, but mixed in some Sure Shot Trees for variety.  We eventually met up with Stephen and Thomas and did that route yet again, but Stephen got spun around and had a fall on Sure Shot, so he didn’t join us for the powder on Lower Tattle Tale.  We peeked into the KP Glades, and they looked awesome, but we didn’t get a chance to head in.

We were done after that trip and headed home, but it had definitely been a good day on the slopes of Bolton Valley despite the recent lack of snowfall.  It doesn’t look like we’ll be at Stowe tomorrow, as E and Claire are canceling BJAMS ski program due to the expected combination of temperatures and wind; temperatures aren’t going to get out of the single digits, and wind chill values are going to be in the -40 F range.  I think we’ll all be happy enjoying the day inside tomorrow.

Stowe, VT 05FEB2012

An image of Mt. Mansfield capped with clouds and the ski trails near the Gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The view of Mt. Mansfield today from the Sunny Spruce Quad

Our first winter storm of February continued the good timing for weekend skiing by starting up for us on Friday, and we’d already picked up an inch of fluffy Champlain Powder™ at the house by Friday morning when I made my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS observations.  By yesterday morning we’d passed three inches of accumulation at the house, and the local mountains had reach a half foot of new powder, so things were looking good for the slopes.  Indeed we skied some fantastic powder conditions yesterday at Bolton Valley, especially when we headed over to the Timberline area.

“I’d put the snow conditions
that we encountered somewhere
in the good to great range;
skier traffic is all that
kept it from being as
outstanding as what we skied
at Timberline yesterday.”

This afternoon it was back to Stowe for turns, and much like yesterday, the morning low temperatures were cold at around zero F.  Fortunately, the forecast called for highs in the 20s F with clear skies, so we were looking forward to getting into some of the recent fresh snow.  Today is Super Bowl Sunday as well, and that can help to keep crowds lower as many people stay off the slopes to participate in parties.

We headed to the resort around midday, and the boys and I hooked up with Luke and Jack and got in a quick Alpine Double run on the open terrain above Meadows while we waited to see if Alexia was going to join the group.  I’d put the snow conditions that we encountered somewhere in the good to great range; skier traffic is all that kept it from being as outstanding as what we skied at Timberline yesterday.  Back at the base area, we still had no word on Alexia, so we did another lap and jumped into the trees to the skier’s left of the lift line.  There were no tracks in there at all, so the powder skiing was excellent.

An image of the Adventure Triple Chair and the Inspiration Trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont on Super Bowl Sunday 2012
The Inspiration trail at Stowe’s Spruce Peak Base Area on Super Bowl Sunday

After that lap we were finally able to meet up with Alexia, who was with her brother Jordan, their parents, and Claire.  We all got together as a large group and took Sunny Spruce over to Sensation.  Like last week, we saw plenty of great snow on Spruce Line, so those of the group that were feeling up for it took a run in there, mixed in with turns on Main Street.  We also found a good access point to the final pitch of the Sensation Lift Line and caught first tracks though there.  Our next Sensation run brought us over to Upper Smuggler’s for some steep turns, and we returned to the Spruce Peak Base to work our way over to the Mansfield side of the resort.  We spent the second half of the afternoon over there on the big mountain, starting off with a run of Perry Merrill/Rim Rock/Switchback and some of the associated trees.  We followed that up with a similar start, but worked our way over to High Road and tried out some lines in the trees down to Rim Rock that we’d never seen before.  We found plenty of nice snow in there, which isn’t surprising with the combination of elevation and protection from the sun and wind that the area offers.  The trees are mostly evergreens in there, and all that really needs to be done to create some nice additional lines is to trim off a lot of dead branches on the lower limbs.  After that enjoyable variation, we worked our way back across Gondolier to hit some more of the Switchback trees, and then the boys finished off the day with a couple of their requisite runs in the little terrain park off Midway.  A number of folks were up for après ski at the resort again today, and this time people gathered in the Spruce Camp Bar area to cap off the great weekend on the slopes.

An image of ski tracks in the powder underneath the Sensation High Speed Quad Chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Fresh tracks underneath the Sensation Quad today

We’re in the heart of winter now, and although snowfall hasn’t been as prodigious as usual this season, the constant snowfall is adding up and the local backcountry is skiing well.  The skiing has definitely been good both on and off piste at the resorts over the past couple of weeks, and we’re thankful for that because it looks as though the immediate future will provide only minimal additions to what we’ve currently got down on the slopes.  The forecast suggests that a fairly quiet week of weather is coming for Northern Vermont, with just a couple of minor snow events.  There’s one round of snow expected to come through tomorrow night into Tuesday, and then another one expected for Friday.  If these storms do their usual thing with the mountains, it should work out just fine since there don’t appear to be any major warm air intrusions on the horizon.  It would be nice to have the new snow go right into enhancement instead of recovery from firm conditions due to mixed precipitation events, which seemed to be the pattern in much of January.  The scuttlebutt I hear from some of the meteorologists is that we have undergone a significant weather pattern change (I guess the lack of any mixed precipitation in the forecast this week is a testament to that), which will only offer minor events for now, but does hold the potential for some bigger systems down the road.  The base (both snow and skier) is definitely ready for some bigger dumps, and it would be nice to build it for spring.  We’ll see what Mother Nature offers in the coming month to set up the rest of the season.

Bolton Valley, VT 04FEB2012

An image of Jay Telemark skiing in the powder on Spell Binder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying some Telemark turns today in that Bolton Valley powder

If it seemed like we had a lot of mixed precipitation events in Northern Vermont this January… that’s because we did.  Many winter seasons will have some sort of January thaw, where the weather pattern shifts or resets and the temperature temporarily bumps above freezing, but according to Roger Hill, this year we had seven January thaws.  None of these storms posed snow coverage issues for the local mountains; they were just winter storms with snow on the front and back ends, but warm temperatures with mixed precipitation in the middle.  But even though they weren’t notable thaws for the mountains, each time the precipitation changed over to something other than snow, that was snow we weren’t stockpiling into the base depths for the season.  The mixed precipitation was substantiating the total liquid equivalent in the snowpack, but once temperatures came back down after warming, the potential for hard snow surfaces arose.    Fortunately, the Northern Greens worked their magic, pulling out enough snow on the back end of each storm to provide a decent shot of powder to get things back to normal.  Last weekend at Stowe was a perfect example; we didn’t think the skiing was going to be any good, but Mt. Mansfield pulled that Champlain Powder™ out of the sky, and we found ourselves making fluffy laps off the Sensation Quad on Sunday afternoon.

Our latest mixed precipitation event came through during the Tuesday through Thursday period this week; snow started up on Tuesday, warmer precipitation mixed in on Wednesday, and then everything was back to snow on Thursday.  There wasn’t much snow on the back end of that event, but sure enough, another system came through yesterday and today that dropped another half foot of powder in the mountains.  Over at Americanwx.com, Powderfreak posted text and pictures about the skiing at Stowe yesterday, so it looked like we were back in business in terms of powder skiing.

I was feeling down with a touch of stomach flu this morning, but we decided to head up to Bolton for some turns in the afternoon because the day was looking just too fantastic to miss.  There was bright sunshine, temperatures in the upper 20s F, and fresh snow to boot.  When Stephen called us around mid morning today, we let him know we’d be up to the mountain later, and that we were planning on making a special run for some extra fresh tracks.  With the Timberline Quad still not running, we decided to spot a car down there and catch a nice long run of powder from the Timberline Summit.  We let Stephen know about our plan, and with both Johannes and Helena in full day ski programs/lessons, he was totally free to join us.  Since we didn’t head up to the mountain last Saturday, we were eager to catch up with him and make some turns.

We parked a car at the Timberline Base, noticing about a half dozen other vehicles that were also there from people doing the same thing or earning turns, then dropped of our skis at the Village Circle and got a parking spot in the main Village lots.  The lots were pretty full, but since it was around 1:00 P.M., spots were opening up we were able to get one down near the recreation center.  E and I changed into our ski boots at the car, and the combination of sunshine and warm air was so mellifluous we could have just spent the entire afternoon right there.  We rang Stephen, who said he was just getting off the top of Wilderness and would meet us at the base.

An image of one of the Bolton Valley resort vehicles in the village circle with a coating of snow
A coating of snow covers one of the resort’s vehicles in the village circle this afternoon.

Ty wanted to do a warm up run on Snowflake, so we did, with a run through the Butterscotch Terrain Park as the boys often request.  There was powder available off to the skier’s right as usual, so Stephen, E and I naturally availed ourselves of that.  It was sometimes deep enough to get us floating, sometimes not, but even the subsurface was not half bad as Powderfreak had indicated; we were anticipating some very nice options over at Timberline.

With the warm up run out of the way, we could move on to getting ourselves over to Timberline.  We rode the Vista Quad and opted for the Cobrass route.  Stephen had warned us that the top, south-facing portion of Cobrass was icy, and he was right.  We had to pick out way through that, with even the normally soft skier’s right featuring little in the way of nice snow.  Once below that though, things improved on Cobrass Run, and improved even more once we got to Five Corners, where the skier’s right was filled with a delightful combination of powder and chowder.

An image of powder-coated snow whales on the Villager trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
We discovered a layer of glorious Champlain Powder atop the snow whales on Villager.

Finding ourselves at the Five Corners intersection, it was time to make our way up Villager.  Although the trip up to the Timberline Summit is relatively short, E and I had our skins so that we could carry the boys’ gear more easily.  I was in the process of strapping the boys’ skis to my pack, when Ty decided that he wanted to ascend with one ski on and one ski off.  I warned him that it might be a bit tiring and inefficient, but he actually made it look pretty easy.  The hike up Villager was glorious, with sunshine and temperatures in the 20s F just as advertised.  We even got the occasional sunshower of snow when a breeze would blow some of the delicate fluff out of the trees.  I was excited because despite the stomach ailment that had plagued me in the morning, I was feeling just about 100%.  On the hike I checked on the depths of the new snow, and throughout the ascent we generally found 5 to 7 inches of powder over the old base.  Previous rounds of snowmaking had produced some large whales up and down the trail, and now that they were coated with that beautiful blanked of fluff, the boys made good use of them for some sliding.  It was fun watching the powder explode around the boys as they slid off the huge mounds, knowing that we’d hopefully be skiing that same stuff soon.  In some leeward spots, we found up to 20 inches of powder that had blown in, and the breezes that put it there must have been quite gentle because it was just as light and fluffy as the powder that hadn’t seen any wind.  I took it as a good sign that we’d be able to find some excellent powder on the descent.

An image of Ty and Dylan sliding in powder off one of the snow whales on the Villager Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty and Dylan dive off one of the Villager snow whales as fluffy powder explodes around them.

At the Timberline Summit we took our time and enjoyed the weather, with the boys playing around in the snow near the summit station of the lift.  Eventually E and I finished getting the gear readied, and with Dylan anxious to start skiing, we got on our way with the descent.  We headed down Brandywine and Intro to get access to the trails below the mid station, and the powder was indeed very good; consistent with what we’d seen on the way up Villager, there was roughly a half foot of classic Champlain Powder™.  It wasn’t ultra light, so there was plenty of substance for a lot of floating, and even when you weren’t off the base, the subsurface was unblemished and reasonably soft such that even that skiing was great.  There were some areas that had been hit by wind up high, but we able to find good powder on most pitches and knew that the effects of the wind would be even less below the mid station.

An image of Erica skiing in the powder on Upper Brandywine on a sunny day at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E testing out the powder on Upper Brandywine near the beginning of our descent

I was going back and forth in my head about whether we should head for Twice as Nice, with its consistent pitch, or Spell Binder, with its lower traffic and steep headwall.  The headwall isn’t always the best option if we haven’t had a dump large enough to provide floatation in the steeps, but with the quality of the subsurface we’d observed, I decided we’d give it a shot.  It turned out to be a fantastic choice.  I headed down first, keeping to the skier’s right for the best snow at the top, and then cutting back left as I got into the lower part of the headwall.  Even with only midfat skis, speed got one floating, and the smooth, undisturbed nature of the subsurface with the quality fluff on top made for an impressive ride.  I pulled up a good distance below the headwall, and got out the Canon to catch the descents of the others.  The boys went first and were looking extremely good, carving some big, high-speed turns down the headwall.  In anticipation of the powder, we’d brought their fat skis, so with their light body weight, the girth of their skis, and the high speeds, they had no problem floating.  Seeing Dylan with the confidence to arc down the slope at high speed was especially exciting, and it’s obvious the strides he’s making in his skiing this season; sifting through today’s action shots and observing his form really bore that out.

An image of Dylan carving a huge arc down the headwall of the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan slices a huge high-speed arc through the powder on the Spell Binder headwall.
An image of Stephen cutting tracks through the powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen carving his way through the powder on Spell Binder today

Once below the headwall we all enjoyed a long run of powder cruising, gliding our way through the fluff that was most protected from the wind.  The dips and berms of the water bars were still occasionally visible, but fortunately the snowpack is well past the stage where they’re of much concern.  We did another couple rounds of photography, taking advantage of the great light and excellent snow.  The depth of the powder did decrease with elevation, but there were a few inches present even down to the 1,500’ level to make for quite a complete run.  If we’d had the time and the boys had had the inclination, it would have been fun to run some additional laps on the terrain, but the day was wearing on and since the Patriots were playing, we were thinking of watching some of the Super Bowl.  Stephen also had to pick up Johannes and Helena from their lessons… and let them know what they’d missed of course.

An image of Erica skiing a vast area of powder on the Spell Binder Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E enjoys the expanse of powder available on Spell Binder today.

We dropped Stephen off at the Village Circle and headed back to our car to complete the circuit.  We definitely need to get in more of these days, although I suspect Timberline will be opening soon.  There’s always spring though when the mountain shuts Timberline back down.  The weather pattern appears to be changing, and it looks like we’ll be trading in all the mixed events for something different.  Hopefully we can keep the precipitation coming in the form of snow.  E and I started up a two-day chili recipe yesterday, and the final stage was when it cooked in the crock pot today, so it was ready when we got home.  It was very good… very good – my only regret was that I had to take it easy due to what my stomach had been dealing with earlier.  Fortunately it stores very well!

2010-2011 Ski Season Summary

Having now compiled all our ski trip and winter storm summary reports for the ’10-’11 ski season, I’ve put together this season summary as a view of how things transpired from a Northern Vermont local perspective.  It’s interesting to note that for Burlington, winter ’10-‘11 was well above average for snowfall (128.4”, 175%), while out in the mountains at our house the deviation was much less (197”, 114%), and indeed in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens like Bolton it was even closer to average (330”, 106%), so ski resort snowfall around here was essentially average.  I actually made a chart for a post at Americanwx.com concerning the ’07-’08 season, which used Bolton’s snowfall from the past several seasons as a general indicator of how the snowfall has been in Northern Vermont:

A table showing the snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont from the 2006-2007 through to the 2010-2011 season

One can see from the chart that ’10-‘11 was basically average for snowfall, and that the amount of snow (330”) was identical to ’07-’08.  I would add that the general impression was that consistency of winter temperatures was a bit better than average in ’10-‘11 due to fewer warm events, so the quality of snow surfaces was higher.  I’m not sure how much better than average it was though, since it seems that during midwinter, the norm in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens is to have about one warm episode per month.  Also, since we were essentially out of the main track of synoptic storms until February, there wasn’t much in the way of moderate-density snowfall to resurface the slopes.  I try to address the consistency of temperatures/quality of the snow surfaces in the text below though, at least in the context of weekends; I should note that it’s possible there could have been some midweek weather issues that simply flew under the radar for me.  For the quality assessment I simply focused on whether or not we were skiing powder, because unless there is some sort of notable rise in temperatures, there is always powder available.

A monthly breakdown of snowfall and my perspective on the season follows below – you can click on each month (except November) and it should bring up that month’s posts in the J&E Productions Web Log.  I only have the monthly snowfall for my house and not the ski areas, but the percentages relative to average often parallel the mountains reasonably well, especially for Bolton which is right up above us:

October:  Pretty typical in that we got at least some snow for skiing; we had 1.0” of snow at the house.  October snowfall in the lower valleys is often minimal enough that the percentages aren’t all that relevant, but that number is 111% vs. the five year average since we’ve been at our house, so indeed that’s rather “normal”.

November:  Very poor; we got just 2.4” of snow at the house (29% of average) and I don’t really remember it, nor do I have any entries for that month in my ski log, so that says plenty right there.  I do have a vague recollection of storm after storm tracking to our north and west giving us mostly rain though, so that would explain the low snowfall total.  The lack of snowfall wasn’t necessarily a huge concern at the time since it was “only November”, but without good November snowfall, getting to appropriate base depths and excellent skiing in December can be that much harder.

December:  Quite normal, 46.0” of snow at the house (right about average at 102%).  Fortunately, even with minimal November snow we were skiing natural snow terrain by December 10th up at Bolton; the holiday period featured some decent skiing, with 7 outings for me during that stretch, indicating that the snow was obviously OK.  Bolton had picked up 4 feet of snow from the storm at the beginning of the month, however, a lot of that snow, as well as what fell later in the month, was upslope fluff.  So, even if one assumes a fairly average amount of snowfall for the mountains like we saw in the valley, the very dry nature of the snow meant that there was less liquid than usual, resulting in base depths that really didn’t build quickly.  The Boxing Day Storm was unfortunately the start of a pattern that would last the next five to six weeks, with the big synoptic storms staying well south of the region and pounding Southern New England, while northern areas remained on the fringe and essentially survived on fluff.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and out of the 12 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Friday, Dec 31st, so that suggests pretty consistent temperatures.

January:  We got 55.5” of snow at the house, which is above average (137%) in what can sometimes be a dry, midwinter month.  However, January was essentially a month-long continuation of the trend that started on Boxing Day, and we were living on mostly Northern Vermont Champlain Powder™ fluff.  We had a couple of good upslope storms in the early to mid part of the month (January 7th and January 12th) that made for some fine skiing, but obviously since so much of it was pixie dust, the base depths just could not build the way that they would with some synoptic storms.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, and out of 11 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Saturday, Jan 1st due to the warmth at the end of December.  So I think one could argue that weekend ski surface consistency through Dec/Jan was better than average with only one (instead of two) weekend-affecting warm up(s) for the two months.

February:  This is when the storm track finally shifted north and we got some notable synoptic storms; the first one was right on the 1st, and then we had a second storm on the 5th.  That first storm brought just over a foot of snow for us down in the valley, and was by far the largest for the month.  Thus there weren’t really any mega dumps based on my records from the house, but there was plenty of the usual good skiing at Bolton and even good skiing at Stowe.  Snowfall was 48.1”, which is roughly average at 108%.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Out of the 10 outings in my records, all 10 of them had powder skiing, so February was perfect in that regard.  However, while skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, we had to wait until Monday of the long weekend to ski because there had been some sort of warm-up.  So I’d say the month was pretty typical with at least that one warm-up.

March:  We continued to stay in the storm track for most of March, with our biggest valley snowfall of the season (25.0”) coming from the March 5th storm.  We did wind up with notably above average snowfall in the valley for the month (39.6”; 155%), essentially due to that one big storm and aided by the fact that what I’ve got for a March average could be a bit low due to very poor Marches in ’09 (12.6”) and ’10 (2.1”).  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and powder skiing was done on all those weekends, however, there was also notable infiltration of non-powder skiing days into the weekends.  Relative to the previous three months, only 9 of our 12 outings for March featured powder skiing, so while still a pretty good ratio, it was certainly a decrease.  Indeed there were multiple warm ups in the month because those three non-powder days were actually on three different weekends (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th weekends).  Fortunately, those weekends were somewhat redeemed by powder on the other day.  By March, especially toward the end, things may start to fall off a bit from the typical rate of one warm episode per month, but I would expect that with at least 3 individual warm ups in March, it was nothing great or even above average in terms of consistency.

April:  This was again quite a poor month in terms of snowfall and powder skiing; although snowfall correlation between our location down at the house and the mountains can really start to wane as one moves through April and snowfall becomes more and more elevation dependent.  Snowfall at the house was well below average for the month (4.4”; 61%).  We did at least start out the month with a snowstorm on the 1st and another one on the 4th; these events produced some good weekend powder skiing at Bolton and helped the mountain snowpack to surpass 100 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake.  However, the snowfall really fell off after that.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, but only 3 out of 9 days had powder and only 2 of the weekends had powder skiing.  People were excited because we had a relatively deep snowpack during the month and coverage stayed longer than normal, but after that first week the storm track had shifted to the north/west and it was just storm after storm that featured warmth and little to no snow, even for the mountains.  I commented on that trend in a post at Americanwx.com, since there can easily be feet of snow in the higher elevations in April, and instead of just some corn days or spring crud, we could have been skiing some great powder.

May:  The May skiing was good due to the healthy snowpack, and I did get out in the powder on the 6th for top to bottom skiing on Mansfield.  We didn’t get any snowfall at the house during the month, but May’s average snowfall numbers down at our elevation are pretty minimal like October, and with the high sun angle and warming as we approach the solstice I suspect even more removed from correlation with what the mountains see.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  I wouldn’t say May powder is consistent enough to worry about.  I only got out for two days during the month, but at least one was a powder day; the other day was a corn snow day at Bolton so that was also good even if there wasn’t fresh snow.

June:  Our only day in June was outside VT on the East Snowfields on Mt. Washington, and the snowfield was probably smaller than usual for that time of year due to the below average Mt. Washington snowfall for the season.  There actually had been some frozen precipitation in the northern mountains leading up to that day, but we were skiing corn snow.

So in terms of overall snowfall, the two above average months of January and March were basically counteracted by the two below average months of November and April, and with the rest of the months being about average, the snowfall for the season ends up… about average.  Some plusses were better than average snowpack in April and May, but that’s somewhat counteracted by the lower than average snowpack in November, December, and January.  It looks like there was an uptick in consistency in the December-January period due to just that one notable warm-up, but with February and March coming in probably about average in that category, and while November is not especially consistent in terms of temperatures, even in the higher elevations, it must have been below average to get so little snow for the month.  So taking the trends of consistency as an aggregate from November through April, I wouldn’t say that there was a massive improvement in temperature consistency/snow quality for this area.  Something that I have noticed around here is that having a few more storms with mixed precipitation is not necessarily a huge detractor in terms of snow quality.  The ’07-’08 season was a good example of this.  We were right in the storm track, so if we did receive some mixed precipitation, there was often another storm on its heels so quickly, that old snow surfaces were covered up.  It felt like we were right in the storm track for most of that winter, except that we had a relatively poor April with little snowfall (we picked up just 1.6” of snow at the house, even less than this past April).  It is interesting to note that winter ’07-’08 (consistently stormy from November through March) and winter ’10-’11 (biggest synoptic storms focused on just February and March) provide quite disparate examples of how to get to very similar seasonal snowfall totals (203.2” and 197.0” respectively at the house, and 330” and 330” respectively up on the mountain).

Tree skiing:  While working on some web page material, I came across the post I made about the average date for the start of Northern Vermont tree skiing, so I decided to add in the ’10-’11 data and see how the season compared.  In my initial analysis through the ’09-’10 season, the average start date for tree skiing was December 9th ± 13 days with an average of 28.2 ± 6.8 inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake.  In terms of my personal log of outings from last season, I’ve got a start date of December 18th, 2010 for tree skiing, and the addition of these data alters the averages very slightly, bringing the date one day later to December 10th ± 13 days, and the average snowpack down a tenth of an inch to 28.1 ± 6.5 inches.  So in terms of the ’10-’11 season, the start to tree skiing was slightly late in that it started about a week later than the mean date I’ve calculated.  With the horrible November in terms of snowfall, and much of the December snowfall being dry fluff, the late start is not too surprising.  However, the date is well within one standard deviation, so in that sense the start to tree skiing was another parameter of the season that was basically “average”.

On that temperature consistency/snow quality note, I was curious about the powder skiing we did throughout the season, so I checked my reports.  For the list of outings below, I placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, so it shows the pattern of when we did have powder, and when we did not.  Links to the text and pictures for all the individual reports are available below if people want more details about the depth/consistency of the snow, or one can also step through the J&E Productions web log, which has an entry for each outing.  It’s interesting to note that starting at the beginning of the season in October and continuing through to March 26th, there were only four days (December 31st at Bolton Valley, January 1st on the Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry Network, March 5th at Cochran’s, and March 20th at Stowe) where we weren’t skiing powder.  Strangely enough, I’ve never looked at a season in that way before, but it did give me an even greater appreciation for just how much powder there is to ski around here.  After March 26th, the powder skiing really trickled off this season, although there were still at least a few days in there.  I’m not sure how this season compares to others since I’ve never looked at one like this before, but I suspect most other “average” seasons would look similar for the way we ski, and with our pattern of skiing there might be similar patterns even in seasons that deviate more from average snowfall.

Stowe, VT, Saturday 16OCT10
Stowe, VT, Sunday 05DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 10DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 11DEC10
Stowe, VT, Sunday 12DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 18DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 19DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 23DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 24DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Monday 27DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Tuesday 28DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 30DEC10
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 31DEC10
X  Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 01JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 08JAN11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 08JAN11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 09JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 13JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 15JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 16JAN11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Monday 17JAN11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 22JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 29JAN11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 30JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 03FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 05FEB11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 06FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 12FEB11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 13FEB11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Monday 21FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 25FEB11
Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT, Saturday 26FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 26FEB11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 27FEB11
X  Cochran’s, VT, Saturday 05MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 06MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Monday 07MAR11
Stowe, VT, Tuesday 08MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 12MAR11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 13MAR11
Monroe’s Sugarin’, Barton, VT, Saturday 19MAR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 20MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 23MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 25MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 26MAR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 27MAR11
P  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 02APR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 03APR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 07APR11
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 09APR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 10APR11
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 17APR11
X  Stowe, VT, Tuesday 19APR11
X  Sugarbush, VT, Friday 22APR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 23APR11
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 01MAY11
Stowe, VT, Friday 06MAY11
X  Mount Washington, NH, Saturday 04JUN11

So yeah, long story short, pretty average season in my book.  On that note, since we’ve been back from Montana, the only season we’ve had with substantial snowfall deviation from average for Northern Vermont was a negative one in ’09-’10 as I show in that table of Bolton Valley snowfall near the top of the post.  There definitely hasn’t been anything like what many parts of the Western U.S. saw last season, but as I look at the list of outings above there’s still been plenty of great skiing.

Bolton Valley, VT 24FEB2009

An image of Jay jumping into deep powder on the Duva Horn trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Today you just aired it out wherever you wanted… it didn’t matter.

E and the boys are off from school this week, so I joined them for a day up on the mountain yesterday.  Heading up to ski was pretty much a no brainer – it looked to be almost a carbon copy of Saturday, with another foot or so of upslope Champlain Powder™ overnight to finish off another three-foot storm cycle, and the clouds pulling away to leave blue skies and perfect temperatures.  Bolton Valley had just finished off a run featuring six feet of snow in six days, which doesn’t happen all that often… anywhere.

We hit up many of our usual haunts in the Timberline area, but also got in a few runs in the Adam’s Solitude/Wild Woods out of bounds areas, which we’d yet to visit this season.  I don’t visit those areas all that often, but I was absolutely floored by how protected the accumulated snow was over there.  Amazingly delicate accumulations of Northern Vermont’s famed upslope snow had settled on everything, apparently defying gravity by even accumulating laterally and growing off the sides of trees.  All it seemed to take was the slightest imperfection on a surface to catch a few crystals, and then they would apparently grab hands and just go nuts.  I’m not sure if the area is always protected like that, but I’ll sure be on the lookout with future storms.  My final overnight accumulation of snow down at the house for that event had come in at 2.4% H2O, which is not all that uncommon for upslope snow in our sheltered valley location, but there really were areas up near the top of Adam’s Solitude where the snow was like air.  I’d be skiing along through the usual bottomless powder and I’d hit pockets where it would feel like the bottom had literally dropped out because the snow became so airy.  It almost felt like I was hitting small tree wells, but it was just the settling pattern of the powder.  Anyway, it was quite an experience.  I’ve skied a lot of cold smoke snow between Vermont and our years out in Montana, and yesterday snow now sets the standard.  I can remember a day at Smugg’s several years back that featured snow as airy as yesterday’s, but it was only about 6 to 12 inches deep and not bottomless, so the experience wasn’t quite the same.

An image of Ty skiing some of the incredibly light "Champlain Powder" in Vermont on the Adam's Solitude trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort
Ty out there on Adam’s Solitude getting a taste of that Champlain Powder today

I wanted to bring E and the boys over to explore some areas on the main mountain, but the day at Timberline was so packed full of runs that we just never had the chance to get over there.  We did manage to meet up with Stephen and his kids for a final run down Adam’s Solitude.  It was a first time out there for them, so it was quite an introduction to that terrain.  I worked a bit with Ty and E on getting their body positioning more compact when they are in the air.  They’ve still got some work to do, but it was one of those days where you didn’t mind having to try, try again on those kinds of tasks.  The rest of the images from yesterday can be found below in the gallery, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.

Bolton Valley, VT 21FEB2009

An image of Erica skiing in neck deep snow in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
As E demonstrates, today was one of those day when you could go neck deep… if you’re into that sort of thing.

The numbers are in, and they indicate that Bolton Valley picked up a solid three feet of snow from our latest storm cycle, with the final 12 inches of upslope fluff coming in overnight to set the table for a fantastic Saturday.  The day started off a little cloudy and breezy, but by midday we were left with warm sunshine to make for one of the best ski days of the season.  We arrived up at the Timberline Quad for the 8:30 A.M. opening, and in classic Bolton Valley style the powder day lineup was comprised of a whopping three chairs worth of people.  The first hour or two of the morning were pretty quiet in the Timberline area, at least in terms of numbers of visitors, although generally not in the voices of those of us that were there.  By 10:00 or 11:00 A.M. more visitors started to arrive.

“The deep powder
also let Ty engage
in his own personal
huck fest ’09.”

While the trails only contained about a foot of powder in areas that had seen skier traffic over the past couple of days, many off piste locations that hadn’t seen visitors on Thursday or Friday held the entirety of the storm in and undisturbed stack.  Before heading up to the mountain this morning we joked about losing Dylan in the deep snow, but fortunately that didn’t happen.  The good thing about the snow was that it was quite dry (my analysis on the overnight accumulation at the house was 3.7% H2O); even the boys could get down in it and really have a fun time experiencing the depth.  We met up with Dave and his friend Jo at 10:00 A.M., and my colleague Stephen and his son Johannes early in the afternoon, and all eight of us managed to do a couple of great runs on Twice as Nice together.

An image of Dave skiing in deep powder in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dave stopped in today for some of his usual Bolton Valley activities

For Ty it was a day of notable improvements in his skiing.  With the fantastic depths of powder in the off piste, he was able to start charging steep slopes more aggressively than I’ve seen up to this point.  E and I had indicated to both boys that they would want to ski steeper terrain than usual today because the deep powder would be slowing them down.  They weren’t very receptive to this idea at first.  However, by the end of the day Ty had really changed his tune and was actually seeking out some of the steepest lines so he could tackle them.  Dylan had quickly picked up on the idea as well.

An image of Ty peering over a cliff in the Wood's Hole Glades area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont as he prepares to jump off
Peering over the steep edge of a drop… decisions, decisions.

The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09.  I’d been saving up a nice 5 to 10 foot drop with a sloped landing that Dave and I had discovered in the Villager Trees a couple weeks back, and with feet of new powder it was ready to be plundered again.  Ty likes to do jumps on his skis, but this type of a drop was in a league he’d never really tackled before, so I was curious to see his reaction.  When we arrived at the top of the drop, he was certainly intimidated by the height and confirmed that he didn’t want to hit it.  We didn’t want to force him, but we had Mom drop it and demonstrate how easy it was with such deep powder.  After seeing that, he didn’t immediately change his tune, but we could see that the wheels were turning.  Later in the day we were in the Wood’s Hole Glades and Ty somehow found himself atop a rather big rock.  He dropped a pretty rugged looking line, and with that his confidence was building.  I asked him if he’d be interested in joining Dave and I in dropping another small cliff on the next run and he said yes.  We gave him first shot at the drop in the freshest powder, while E shot pictures from below.  He wasn’t willing to carry a lot speed going into it, but he dropped right off and did an awesome job.  At the end of the day when we were in the lodge, he indicated that he wanted to go out for one more run.  He insisted that we hit the first drop that we’d shown him earlier in the day, the one that Mom had done.  He said he was now ready for it.  He had no trepidation this time around, and dropped it as soon as I was in position with the camera and gave him the go ahead.  When we got back to the lodge he even told E that he’d done a better job on it than she had.

An image of Ty dropping into powder off a cliff in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Those landings from the drops started to get smoother and smoother today for Ty

Dylan also had quite a day, blasting lots of powder lines with the most consistency that I’ve seen from him all year.  He plowed through every mellow or steep nook and cranny that we dragged him into, and his powder skiing is now becoming reliable enough that we don’t have to worry much about bringing him into any of the typical areas that we’d ski as a family.  It appears as though a mounting topic with Dylan is the use of ski poles.  Ty didn’t start using poles until his 4/5-year old season (last year), but it looks like Dylan is about ready.  After I broke a wayward stick off of a tree today in the Wood’s Hole Glades, Dylan proceeded to bring it with him for the rest of the run and use as a pole.  Back on the trail, E told Dylan how he should be using the stick in terms of planting, and he easily coordinated the timing of planting and turning.  We may have to start phasing in poles for him the way we did with Ty.  Dylan also skied what was perhaps his biggest day to date, racking up over 8,000’ of vertical.  He was clearly on his last legs when we came down through the Twice as Nice Glades near the end of the day though; he just couldn’t handle the steepest pitches anymore and I had to help him down the final one.

An image of three-year old Dylan skiing the powder on the Sure Shot trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Little Dylan making his own advances in figuring out the powder today

When I finally downloaded the images from my camera this evening, I discovered that I’d taken 479 shots throughout the day, but I managed to whittle it down to 21 that made the final cut.  In some cases, the culling process involved skipping over some really nice waist-deep powder shots in favor of some even better chest and neck-deep ones, but sometimes that the way it goes!  Images from the day are in the gallery below, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.

Bolton Valley, VT 19FEB2009

An image looking down the Vermont 200 trail filled with powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Bolton is starting off this storm cycle with about a foot of powder to greet midweek visitors.

By the time I’d left the house (495’) at 7:30 A.M. this morning, we’d picked up 0.6 additional inches of snow since the 6:00 A.M. snowboard clearing, bringing the event total to 4.1 inches.  It had been snowing lightly at the house when I left, but when I arrived up at the Bolton Valley Village area (2,100’) it was snowing moderately and still accumulating.  The mountain had reported 7 inches of new snow as of their 6:45 A.M. update, but I suspected I’d find a bit more based on the way it was coming down.  The lifts weren’t going to start loading until 9:00 A.M., so I kicked off the morning off by skinning for some turns, taking the route straight up Beech Seal.  I first checked the consistency of the snow near the base area; I couldn’t quite make a snowball out of it in my hand, so I guess I’d describe it as medium weight powder.  Beech Seal had been groomed at some point earlier, but I found about 2 to 4 inches of additional new snow on top of the groomed base.

“…today Spillway
offered up some
gorgeous steep
powder.”

When I reached mid mountain (2,500’) I checked the depth of the powder in an undisturbed location and it came in right at 12 inches.  That should represent the combination of powder from last week’s midweek system (~6 inches) as well as whatever had come down up to that point with this new event, so that seemed reasonable.  Wind doesn’t appear to have been much a factor with this system, so getting measurements was easy.  I was thinking of skinning up in the Cobrass area, but there was enough powder to keep me following one of the snowmobile tracks for my ascent.  At about 9:00 A.M. I’d reached the top of Vermont 200 (~3,000’), and when I checked the depth of the new snow there I found that it was at 9 inches.

“It was really nice
to see all the visitors
getting rewarded with
such a splendid day
on the slopes.”

I enjoyed first tracks down Vermont 200, and this new round of snow had settled in nicely.  The medium-density powder was just what the doctor had ordered in terms of getting the windswept steeps back into shape.  I was on my Telemark skis, and found that the consistency of the snow made for really easy turns.  After my initial descent I stayed around for some rides on the lift, and unquestionably the trail pick of the day for me was Spillway.  Usually I avoid it like the plague between its man-made snow, exposure to the wind, and traffic, but today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder.  The fact that it has seen grooming in the past made the subsurface the most consistent and provided lots of nice bottomless turns, and since there didn’t appear to be much wind with this event, there were no issues on that front.  I had to hit it twice because it was so good, and I’d say it was better than even Hard Luck or Vermont 200.  The Wilderness Lift opened right around 10:00 A.M., and I was fortunate to catch one of the first few chairs.  The way the steeper trails had been skiing so nicely, I opted for Bolton Outlaw from the Wilderness Summit, and it was in great shape.  After that descent I traversed back toward the main mountain.  I followed a random set of tracks off New Sherman’s Pass and found a nice region of glades that I’d never explored before.

An image looking down the Bolton Outlaw trail with fresh snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Things were looking great on Bolton Outlaw today

The mountain definitely had more than its usual midweek handful of people this morning.  A lot of the extra folks I saw were children, and I think some of the schools in the Northeast have vacation right now because I heard what sounded like a Boston-style accent on a couple of occasions.  It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.

The moderate snowfall had gradually tapered off through the morning, and when I left the mountain around 10:40 A.M. there was just light snow and the temperature at my car (~2,100’) was 34 F.   The temperature stayed fairly stable through most of the descent down the Bolton Valley Access Road, but at the bottom (340’) it was up to 35 F.  The precipitation was light snow as I drove westward through the Winooski Valley to the center of Richmond.  The temperature there was up to 36 F however, and I was surprised to see that Richmond appeared to have picked up little if any snow from this event.  When I’d reached the I-89 rest area in Williston, the temperature was up to 37 F and the precipitation was over to rain, which was coming down at moderate intensity for a while.  In the South Burlington area the temperature was up to 38 F, and when I finally arrived at the UVM campus it had hit 39 F.

Bolton Valley was officially reporting 8 inches from this event as of their 10:05 A.M. update, so I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting into Scott’s 10-20” inch prediction range with some upslopeIt sounds like this is one of the best upslope setups we’ve seen this season, so it should be fun to see how it plays out for the mountains and even the mountain valleys over the next couple of days.  It’s expected to start up tonight so I’ll certainly report on whatever makes it down to our elevation in Waterbury.  Images from today can be found in the gallery below, and full size versions are also available in the report to SkiVT-L from today.