2011-2012 Ski Season Summary

With everyone having their own unique perspective on skiing, some of which you can discover at supreme ski morzine skiing school. They tend to love skiing since they teach people how to do it! But combined with the multitude of weather-related factors involved in winter recreation in general, there’s usually ample room for debate about where a ski season sits relative to average. However, when it comes to the 2011-2012 ski season in Northern Vermont (and perhaps to an even greater extent in other parts of the Northeastern U.S.) most any metric would set it firmly in the lower half of seasons. Some key contributing factors to the outcome of the season were temperatures, which were above average for every month from October through May (specific monthly temperature departures are available in the monthly detail section), overall precipitation, which was well below average during that period, and as expected with that combination, snowfall that was well below average. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and indeed that was the case in Northern Vermont this past season. If numbers aren’t everything, perhaps timing is everything, and the snow machine of the Northern Greens exhibited some impeccable timing for some of the busiest ski periods when it came down to it. There was also a consistency and intensity in backside snows that seemed to heal just about every mixed precipitation event. So while I don’t think that the winter of 2011-2012 can be considered anything but below average around here, the bigger story might just be how “surprisingly good” it was. That story unfolds in the details below.

Snowfall: A very reliable and trustworthy indicator of just how poor the winter’s snowfall was for the general Northern Vermont area, is the data from the area’s first-order weather station at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington. Out of 127 years worth of data going back to the winter of 1884-1885, the 37.7″ of total snowfall in Burlington during 2011-2012 was the third lowest in their records (only 1912-1913 with 31.3″ and 1904-1905 with 32.0″ were lower). Interestingly this third lowest recorded snowfall obtained in 2011-2012 came right on the heels of Burlington’s third highest recorded snowfall of 128.4″ in 2010-2011. Relative to average snowfall, which for the 1884-2011 period of record in Burlington is 73.3″, 2011-2012 came in at just 51.4%. Burlington is the local first-order weather station for the area, but despite its proximity to the spine of the Northern Greens, the Champlain Valley’s snowfall doesn’t necessarily correlate with what goes on in the mountains. Looking next at Winooski Valley snowfall data obtained from our house, which sits right along the spine and is a decent representation of what happens in the mountain valleys of the Greens, we find that snowfall was well below average during all the key winter months, and our season total was 115.3″. Not surprisingly, this is the lowest snowfall total obtained in the six years that we have collected rigorous data at our location, and it’s almost two standard deviations below the mean (172.1 ± 31.5″) obtained from 2006-2011. However, at 67.0% of the average snowfall, it’s not quite as low as what Burlington experienced. Like the local mountains themselves, some spots in the mountain valleys have what Powderfreak refers to as a snowfall “insurance policy”, which comes in the form of upslope snow. Burlington and the Champlain Valley can get in on a bit of mesoscale weather action in the form of lake-effect snow from Lake Champlain, but it’s not a major contributor to snowfall due to the size and orientation of the lake. To the east of the Champlain Valley however, the upslope snow, sometimes referred to as Champlain Powder™, is what sets the snowfall in the Greens apart from areas that rely solely on synoptic precipitation. Interestingly, as we head up in elevation above our house in the valley, we find Bolton Valley reporting a very similar deviation from average snowfall compared to Burlington this season. Bolton recorded 159″ of snow this past season, which based on Bolton’s reported seasonal snowfall mean of 312″, comes in at just 51.0% of average. That amount of snow is extremely low for this area, and is more akin to what one might find in a typical season at Lake Louise Ski Area in Alberta vs. the spine of Vermont’s Northern Greens. The updated table with Bolton Valley’s snowfall from the past several seasons is added below, which illustrates the strong snowfall deviation from average seen in 2011-2012:

A table displaying the season snowfall totals at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont from the 2006-2007 season through the 2011-2012 season, as well as the average reported by the resort and the average during that period
Snowfall at Bolton Valley Resort during the 2011-2012 ski season (shown in blue) was extremely low, just half the average amount.

Although still well below average all around, there certainly was a trend toward slightly better snowfall as one continued to head north in the state, with the northward trend of 63.4% at Stowe, 66.6% at Smuggler’s Notch, and 71.5% at Jay Peak relative to average. A contributor to the low snowfall at the resorts was the fact that there was really only one big, multi-foot storm cycle during the heart of the season. That storm came at the end of February and dropped 40″ at Jay Peak, just on the heels of a couple smaller systems for a total in excess of 50″ of snow in just a few days. The resulting skiing was fantastic due the density gradient that was set up by the way it fell – 1 to 2 feet of dense snow came first, and it was topped off with another couple feet of champagne that finished at around 2% H2O. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake jumped from 49″ to 81″ during that period, and the icing on the cake was that the storm cleared right out to produce bluebird skies on Feb 26th. Unfortunately, one great storm doesn’t make a season. Based on estimations from my weather data, on average we should only expect one or two of those 40″+ storms per season, but they would typically be backed up by several 20″+ storms, and the deficiency of those is part of what left the overall snowfall lacking.

Tree Skiing: In the past I’ve used empirical data from trip reports to establish a mean date for the start of tree skiing in Northern/North-Central Vermont, and as I outlined in last year’s ski season summary, that analysis revealed a date of December 10th ± 13 days, with an average depth at the stake of 28.1 ± 6.5 inches. However, after a comment from Powderfreak back on December 12th, in which he indicated that he’d observed tree skiing on appropriate terrain at Stowe to start roughly when the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 24 inches, I decided to run an analysis using snowpack data from the stake. Instead of just the 15 to 20 seasons worth of ski trip reports that are available since the arrival of the internet era, there are almost 60 seasons worth of data available from the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Analysis of the stake data using the first date of attaining 24″ of snow depth or higher as the start of tree skiing, actually produced a very similar result (December 12th ± 19 days, with an average depth at the stake of 25.8 ± 2.7 inches) to what was obtained from the empirical data. With the date being so close to what I determined from the empirical data, I’m pretty confident that the date of attaining 24″ in the stake data will serve just as well in determining the average start of tree skiing, and the relative start date for individual seasons. With the median and mode for that analysis coming in quite close to the mean, the distribution seems normal, so the standard deviation in the data should have some predictive value. This “24-inch rule” isn’t meant to replace the traditional “40-inch rule“, but it’s there to compliment it as a more practical measure of when people actually start venturing into the trees in this area (the fact that it is corroborated by many years of empirical data can testify to that). The point at which the stake hits 24 inches is a decent mark for when appropriately maintained trees are going to start offering up good turns for those with the right skills and knowledge, whereas once the stake hits 40 inches, skiers can pretty much venture into most off-piste areas with a good degree of confidence. Between those two points is going to be a continuum of increasing access to off piste terrain. Moving from the 24″ depth to the 40” depth will typically take place during the month of December, with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaching the 40″ mark at the beginning of January on average.

So where did the 2011-2012 season stack up in terms of the start of tree skiing in Northern Vermont? Not surprisingly, when assessed by the new method of reaching 24″ at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, it’s down near the bottom of the pack. Below, I’ve added a scatter plot that I generated using the Mt. Mansfield snowpack data; the X-axis is a timeline spanning from October to January, and the blue stars represent the dates when 24 inches of snow depth was attained at the stake for the various years from 1954-2012. The red data point is for the 2011-2012 season (date of attaining 24″ = January 3rd, 2012), so the season is indeed more than one standard deviation on the late side (the large vertical line in the plot is the mean, and the small vertical lines are ± 1 standard deviation), although it actually isn’t as late a start as some seasons:

A scatter plot showing the date of attaining a 24-inch snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake in Vermont for the years 1954-2012
A scatter plot showing the date of attaining a 24-inch snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Each star represents a year from 1954-2012, and this year’s date of attaining a 24-inch snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake (January 3rd; indicated by the red star) is on the later side.

For those that want the actual raw data from the above plot to see where specific seasons stacked up in terms of reaching that 24-inch mark at the stake, the numbers are available in my initial post with the plot in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather.

How did the 24-inch snowpack depth analysis compare to what we actually found on the ground this season? Since skiing natural snow terrain on piste began first, I’ll mention that momentarily before discussing the trees. I saw the first signs of people skiing natural snow trails this season on December 27th at Bolton, and coverage certainly looked sufficient on at least moderate terrain. The tracks I saw at that point already looked old, and I suspect that on piste natural snow coverage was actually sufficient the day before (December 26th), thanks to the Christmas Day storm. Bolton picked up close to a foot of snow from that storm, and at the end of the day on the 26th, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 14″. The first day that we actually ventured into the trees at Bolton Valley was December 29th, and as I stated in my report from that day, we only ventured in for one run because the base was just a little too thin to really ski with confidence in there and enjoy it. And, when the snowpack was measured at the Mt. Mansfield Stake later that afternoon, the depth was 21 inches, just a bit shy of that 24-inch mark. By the next day, we were skiing natural snow trails with more than enough coverage, but it wasn’t until January 7th at Bolton that I commented about some of the trees finally being ready after the boys and I skied Wilderness Woods. The measurement from the stake came in at 24 inches that afternoon, and we were clearly reaching another threshold of sorts, so attaining that 24-inch depth at the stake was indeed a decent measure for the start of tree skiing this season in our experience. Powderfreak and I have discussed how that 24-inch number is going to be quite rough, since a 24-inch depth attained mostly with fluff will represent something substantially different that a 24-inch depth attained with cement, but it looks like it’s going to be a reasonable approximation of when people start to take their initial forays into the trees and find the conditions good enough to stay there.

Looking at tree/off piste skiing for the season as a whole, there’s no question that it was curtailed relative to normal. The very late date of reaching 24 inches at the stake in the beginning of January (January 3rd) is 1.13 standard deviations beyond the mean according to the Mt. Mansfield snowpack analysis, putting it close to the bottom 10% of seasons. When this is coupled with the large amount of melting in Mid March due to record heat, which closed a lot of terrain, it equates to a tree skiing season that is roughly 2 ½ months long, compared to the more typical length of 4 to 5 months. The off piste season was certainly condensed, and while coverage was there to enable plenty of access in January (Stowe reached 100% open status by January 14th), tree skiing really seemed to take forever to hit its stride; to wit, the snowpack at the stake didn’t hit the 40-inch mark until the end of January.

Snow Quality: In last season’s summary, I checked my trip reports and found those days in which we were skiing powder, typically suggesting a fairly high level of snow quality, and those days in which powder skiing wasn’t available, often indicating some sort of thaw (or in one case this season, insufficient base depths). For the list of outings below, I’ve again placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, to reveal the temporal pattern associated with that categorization. Outings with an X may still be providing decent skiing such as wet snow, corn, etc. (or else we’d probably be doing something other than skiing) but aside from the spring period, there’s going to be a price to pay in terms of snow quality after these episodes when temperatures eventually cool back down. Chronologically, the first X appears for the outing on December 10th at Bolton Valley. The lack of powder skiing on that date wasn’t actually due to temperature fluctuations, but instead due to the fact that there just wasn’t enough natural snow; substantial snowfall was very slow in coming in early December. The natural snow depth up above 2,000′ in the Bolton Valley Village was still only 2-3″ at that point, so short of junkboarding, skiing was really restricted to just the limited terrain that had manmade snow. The next X appears on our Bolton Valley outing on December 31st, and it represented a notable bump in the winter weather. The holiday week wasn’t too cold, but it was certainly snowy like one would expect at Christmas time in Vermont, with three decent snowstorms totaling more than two feet of snow at the northern resorts (refer to the December entry in the detailed monthly section for more information). So there was indeed some great powder skiing during that stretch. The main factor that kept the overall quality of the skiing from being really outstanding was the lack of base. The natural snow terrain that was open was excellent, but there still hadn’t been enough snow to open the steepest terrain without snowmaking. The X in this case comes in at the tail end of the holiday period where there was a thaw. I described the skiing on New Year’s Eve as reminding me of the Pacific Northwest, with low hanging clouds on the mountains, and dense snow underfoot. I’m not sure how long the resulted firm snow conditions lasted, because three small to moderate storms came through the area that week, with the first one dropping a half foot of snow in the mountains. By the following Saturday there was powder skiing again for the weekend. From that point on there were no interruptions in powder skiing though to mid March – at least from our perspective; we don’t ski every day of course, but we did ski every weekend through that period. However, Powderfreak does ski just about every day of the season at Stowe, and he noted that there were only a few select days without powder. I’ll speak more about that at the end of this section. By far the section of the outings list that stands out the most is the second half of March – the dramatic change in conditions is quite obvious, with seven outings in a row marked with an X. Record warm weather came in with a vengeance in mid March, and it was all spring skiing until the weather cooled back down to normal levels and produced snowstorms for the final two thirds of April. We finally finished off our season with a couple of corn snow days in May, a point in the season where that type of snow is the norm.

The 2010-2011 ski season was the first one to which I applied this type of powder skiing analysis, and relative to what I thought it would look like, I was certainly surprised by the consistent availability of powder conditions once I saw the data lined up. But as surprised as I was with that result, the 2011-2012 analysis is even more astounding. Somehow there was good to great skiing every weekend/holiday period throughout most of the core ski season, despite the overwhelmingly warm temperatures and low snowfall. As I mentioned above in the snowfall section, Bolton Valley reported just 159″ of snow for their entire season. That’s ridiculously low – it’s half their usual snowfall, and we typically average more snow than that at our house, almost 3,000′ below the upper elevations of the resort where the snowfall measurements are taken. That amount of snow might suffice for some decent skiing in an environment like the high elevations of the Rockies with very consistent winter temperatures, but this season in Vermont was anything but that. There were temperature issues throughout the season, and January was a perfect example – at the end of the month, local meteorologist Roger Hill pointed out that we’d had seven January thaws. I had many ski weather-related conversations with Powderfreak in the 2011-2012 ski thread at American Weather’s New England Subforum about the surprisingly high quality of the skiing, and there was certainly consistency in conditions, but we also determined that it was an issue of timing. Snowfall was low, and spells of warm temperatures abundant, but storms were just timed well to ensure that most snow quality issues were remedied by the weekend. Although the season was warm on average, we didn’t have many big rain events, and any that we did have seemed to be quickly covered by backside snow. There was indeed something special about the timing though, because somehow we had weekend after weekend of nice skiing with powder on Bolton’s 159″ of snow. The detailed reports below and the monthly ski summaries that follow, provide the specifics of how it all went down, and the frequency and distribution of P in the outings list really speaks to that theme of “surprisingly good”:

P Pico, VT, Sunday 30OCT2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 23NOV2011
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 10DEC2011
P Stowe, VT, Saturday 17DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 23DEC2011 (A.M. Session)
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 23DEC2011 (P.M. Session)
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 24DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Tuesday 27DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 28DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 29DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 30DEC2011
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 31DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 07JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 08JAN2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 12JAN2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 14JAN2012
P Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT, Sunday 15JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 16JAN2012
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 21JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 22JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 29JAN2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 04FEB2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 05FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 11FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 18FEB2012
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Sunday 19FEB2012
P Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry & Bolton Mtn, VT, Monday 20FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 23FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 25FEB2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 26FEB2012
P Stowe, VT, Friday 02MAR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 03MAR2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 04MAR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 07MAR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 10MAR2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 11MAR2012
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 17MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 18MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Friday 23MAR2012
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 24MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 25MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Saturday 31MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 01APR2012
P Stowe, VT, Tuesday 10APR2012
P Jay Peak, VT, Thursday 12APR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 14APR2012
P Stowe, VT, Friday 27APR2012
P Stowe, VT, Saturday 28APR2012
X Jay Peak, VT, Saturday 12MAY2012
X Mount Washington, NH, Sunday 27MAY2012

Monthly Summaries for the 2011-2012 Ski Season:

An image of Erica skiing powder on the Birch Glades Trail at Pico Vermont - October 30, 2011
E enjoys some of the October powder at Pico after back to back storms set up some great ski conditions.

October: Snowfall in the month of October is generally scant down at the elevation of our house (495′), and because we’re on the fringe of the cold season at that point, it’s not a great indicator of snowfall in the local mountains. The six year average I have in the valley is 0.9″ of snow for October, so by that measure, the 1.2″ of snow that we received in October 2011 was very typical. However, for the New England region as a whole, October 2011 would wind up being anything but typical. Back to back snowstorms hit New England at the end of the month, with the first one on October 27th dropping over a foot of snow at Killington to kick things off with gusto. That type of storm is pretty standard for the mountains of Vermont in October, but just a couple days later on the 29th, it was followed up by a second, larger storma record-breaking monster of an October snowstorm for Southern New England. Over 30 inches of snow fell in some locations, and those weren’t necessarily high elevation locales. Massive power outages ensued because leaves were still on the trees in those areas, and people were without power for up to two weeks. Ironically, despite the back-to-back snowstorms in New England, including an historic, 100-year event, Northern Vermont ended up with little if any snow from either of them. The lack of snowfall is seen easily in my 2011-2012 Waterbury/Mt. Mansfield snowpack plot – the only snow depth recorded on Mt. Mansfield for the entire month was 0.5″ on October 30th, and that is essentially invisible with the scale used. I don’t know what Mt. Mansfield averages for snow in October, but I’m sure what they got was well below average. As for the skiing though, what we couldn’t get in the Northern Greens was easily obtained about an hour south in the Central Greens. With the mountains of Central Vermont getting hit by both storms, we headed down to Pico with the boys for an outstanding day of turns in the powder. The back-to-back storms had essentially set up snow on snow, or powder atop a base. That’s a bit of a treat compared to the way October skiing on natural snow often plays out, so it was enjoyed by many. It almost seemed like half the ski population of Stowe had temporarily migrated south to access the great turns at Pico. So while in general, October was pleasant, mild, and nearly snowless in Northern Vermont (Burlington came in 2.0 degrees F above normal at the National Weather Service Office) some great skiing snuck in there a bit to the south.

An image of old ski tracks on the Sherman's Pass ski trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after a November snowstorm
Some November turns on Sherman’s thanks to our recent snowstorm

November: I’ll put November 2011 into perspective by looking at November 2010, in which the ski conditions were apparently poor enough that we didn’t ski once. Fortunately, that didn’t happen this season – even if just by a day. The near lack of snow in November 2010 could be considered demonstrative of typical November snowfall in the valley though, because up to that point it had truly been feast or famine since we moved to our current Waterbury location in 2006. However, this past November finally bucked that trend by coming in with 11.4″ of snow (128% of average) which is as close to “normal” snowfall as I’ve ever seen for the month based on my data. We had a couple of minor accumulating snowstorms early in the month, and then another mid month, but it was a storm near the end of the month that really produced 95% of our November valley snowfall. That storm dropped almost a foot of snow at the house, and got me to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns. In terms of skiing, options for catching the new snow atop a manmade base were rather limited because most of the local resorts were of course using their manmade snow to serve customers, but I headed up to Bolton Valley to see if the natural snow alone was enough for some turns. Since they don’t open until December, Bolton hadn’t yet made any snow by that point, but it turned out that the storm had dropped over a foot of snow up there, and it was dense enough that one didn’t need much of it to keep them off of whatever lay beneath. I enjoyed some decent turns, even if that outing wound up being the only one for the month. This past November was a decent step up from the previous couple of seasons with little to no snow, but we’ve still yet to have a very snowy November since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons; both those seasons delivered roughly 20″ of snow in the valley, and plenty more in the mountains. The general seasonal trend of warm weather continued right through the month as well; although much colder than October on an absolute basis, November was even warmer relative to its long range average, coming in 5.1 degrees above normal at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington.

An image of intricate, feathery patterns of frost on one of the windows of the main base lodge at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Holiday week frost delicately adorns one of the windows in the Bolton Valley base lodge.

December: The first two thirds of December simply felt like a continuation of November; the pre-holiday period was hampered by above average temperatures, but the more notable issue was the absence of significant storms. The Northern Greens were holding their own thanks to numerous small snowfalls, and these events were definitely enough to get us into some powder skiing, but they weren’t enough to really build a deep base of natural snow. The last third of the month was really the highlight in terms of snowfall. As the all-important holiday week approached, Central Vermont northward finally got into some moderate storms. The localized nature of these storms was good for highway travelers from down south, and one could hardly ask for better timing of fresh snow for the holiday week. Storm 1 hit on Friday the 23rd, dropping roughly half a foot from Killington northward, storm 2 was on the 25th, centered on Stowe where they received over a foot, and storm 3 began on the 27th, with totals again topping out around a foot. The skiing was quite good, indeed excellent by the end of the week as the snow from the storms continued to pile up, but the lack of snowfall earlier in the month meant that the natural base depths weren’t there like they would normally be. Fortunately, some natural snow terrain was open, but certainly not the steepest stuff, and the natural snowpack was still just a bit too lean to spend much time in the trees. In any event, we skied eight times during that holiday stretch, a sign that there was definitely some good skiing. With all the new snow, our local area certainly had it a lot better than many places in the country did during the holiday week, so in that regard we were lucky. I’m sure business was still down at the Vermont ski areas in general, but people may have been hearing about the holiday snow that Northern Vermont was getting, because Powderfreak posted on Christmas Eve how lodging space was still very tight in Stowe. Despite the snow in the northern half of Vermont though, the general talk around the region was how poor and snowless it was in general, so I’m sure many places lost some potential visitors due to that. Even with those moderate storms at the end of the month, when all was said and done, we still ended up quite low on snowfall down at the house; the 24.7″ we received was just 59% of our average for the past six seasons. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: With the slow start to snowfall, we didn’t even ski during the first weekend of the month, but we did get out for the other four. The second weekend was the one where there was no powder simply because there wasn’t enough snow. Temperatures were certainly above average as a whole (NWS in Burlington was +4.8 F on the month), but December mean temperatures start getting cold enough that even above average departures can still be sub-freezing and produce snow in the mountains . The third weekend of the month had some decent conditions at Stowe, and then the final two weekends sort of lose their definition with the big holiday week, and that period gets lumped together. Conditions for the holiday week were mostly wintry; strictly speaking though, the last weekend of the month did see a thaw, but in the context of the whole holiday week it was rather insignificant.

An image of Greg and some of the boys in our ski group on the Sensation Quad at Stowe Mountain Resort, with tracks visible in the powder on the lift line trail below
Greg and some of the boys riding Sensation today between laps in the powder below

January: We had 13 accumulating snowstorms at the house in January, which is quite decent and actually a bit above average in number, but as mentioned in the Snow Quality section of this season summary, we also had seven January thaws. These thaws didn’t mean torrential rains, but what we saw were many storms with mixed precipitation in the middle, cutting down on snow totals. The Northern Greens continuously made fantastic recoveries in snow conditions due to grabbing that upslope snow on the backside, so snow surfaces were quite nice in general, but in those first couple of weeks after the holiday storms, we got back into what Powderfreak calls “nickel and dime” snows. They kept surfaces fresh, but base depths built very slowly. Finally on the 12th, we got a more significant storm, which dropped two feet at Jay Peak, and roughly a foot and a half down through Sugarbush. That storm was an undeniably propitious event, and Stowe’s terrain was 100% open by January 14th. Again we saw Mother Nature pulling off some of her nice timing with that storm cycle, since it was just in time for the MLK weekend. I remember skiing great packed powder snow on Waterfall at Stowe on the 16th, and commenting to Powderfreak how astonished I was – it seems like that trail is hardly ever open even in a good season, and there we were skiing it with such premium snow in a very low snow season. We were fortunate to get that storm though, because after that it was back to nickel and dime storms with some of those similar mixed precipitation sandwich events with backside snows for the remainder of the month. Overall snowfall at the house was 32.6″, not quite as low as December, but still just 83% of average, so we weren’t making any gains on the low season snowfall. At +5.8 F, the deviation from normal temperatures at the Burlington NWS for January was even a degree higher than it had been for December. Like December though, normal January temperatures are cold enough that substantial snow can fall with positive departures like that. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: With eight days under our belts from the holiday week, and nothing returning the conditions to midwinter after our Pacific Northwest-style outing on December 31st, we didn’t ski on January 1st, but we did ski on all four of the full weekends during the month. As seen in the outings list above, powder was present throughout our trips to the mountain, which was pretty amazing considering all those thaws/mixed precipitation storms.

An image of Ty skiing in heavy snowfall during a two-foot snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
It was storm skiing today at Bolton Valley.

February: There’s no question that February will go down as having the best skiing of the season in Northern Vermont, but the month certainly didn’t start out in a spectacular way. An initial half foot storm at the beginning of the month did a fantastic job of resurfacing the slopes after one of those January “sandwich” storms with mixed precipitation in the middle, and Mt. Mansfield continued to impress. Although still well below average in terms of both snowfall and snowpack, Northern Vermont was clearly doing extremely well in comparison to even Central Vermont by that point. After that initial modest snowfall event, our wishes for a weather pattern change that would get us away from all those mixed events were indeed answered, but perhaps not exactly in the manner we would have liked. Instead of switching over to more typical snowstorms, the precipitation basically shut off. Down at the house, we’d had just over half a foot of snow through the first three weeks of the month. For a month in which we average over 40″ of snow in the valley with a very low standard deviation of about 8 inches, we were staring at the potential for an amazingly low monthly snowfall total. Happily, the last week of the month ensured that February 2012 didn’t live on in infamy. We quickly picked up a couple of appetizer storms on the 21st and the 22nd, which didn’t produce much snow at the house, but delivered close to a foot in the mountains. It was on the 24th though that the big kahuna came through; that storm dropped up to 40″ in the northern mountains, with a total of over 50″ at Jay Peak for the three storms combined. It wasn’t just a fluff storm either; snow from that storm definitely fell “right side up”, and ski conditions were off the charts. So much snow fell so quickly though that the avalanche conditions got a bit tenuous in the backcountry. I saw mention that Jay Peak broke their 24-hour snowfall record during the storm, but since I see that listed as 42″, I don’t think that was actually topped with this storm. In any event, the natural snow depths made huge gains, and as mentioned above; that storm even brought the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake to an above average level. With a final storm total of 22.7″ at the house, it was our largest valley snowfall of the season. That one storm pretty much made the month in terms of our valley snowfall, but we still ended up with just 30.7″, which is 73% of average. The general presence of heat didn’t let up either, and the departure from normal at the NWS in Burlington again went up an entire degree from the previous month to reach +6.8 F. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: The great timing of storms continued, and even the reduced snowfall in the first ¾ of the month was enough to keep powder around; conditions certainly remained good as we moved through that first part of February. The big storm was wall to wall snow and timing hardly mattered, but it was a weekend event anyway, with storm day skiing on Saturday, and fresh powder and blue skies on Sunday. That weekend took the cake of course, but all four weekends of the month offered some great skiing.

An image of Dylan skiing an expanse of powder on the Spell Binder Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan roaming the expanse of Spell Binder

March: The first half of March felt like a continuation of that decent stretch at the end of February, even if we didn’t get any additional three to four foot storm cycles. Just a few days after the big February storm ended, another decent cycle came through heading into the 1st of the month, with close to a foot of additional snow at the northern resorts, and a foot and a half at the southern resorts. Amidst other freshening events, a storm on the 4th dropped about a half foot of snow, and then over a foot fell from a storm on the 9th that targeted the north-central resorts. The boost from the big February storm was felt in base depths and surface conditions, and you could feel that the season had really turned into what one would expect for March. Even as unseasonable warmth started to intrude and occasionally turn the powder wet through the first half of the month, there was usually enough time to get in turns for a good part of each day while the powder was still dry, and then more snow would come along to freshen things back up. The weather through that period was certainly on the warm side, but it was during the second half of the month when all hell broke loose with regard to temperatures. That expression is somewhat apt, because for March, it felt like that when five consecutive days of record temperatures with departures of +40 F hit the state from the 18th-22nd. Combined with the more moderate warmth during the rest of the month, the result was an incredible +12.2 F departure from the average March temperature at the NWS in Burlington. With almost no new snow in the valley during that warm second half of the month, March snowfall was a paltry 14.2″ at the house, just 60% of average. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: The list of ski outings from above shows the trend here quite well, the first two weekends offered powder conditions, and from then on it was spring skiing. However, powder had been available for every weekend or holiday period since the middle of December by the point at which the snow conditions flipped, and that’s a commendable three-month stretch for such a season. Beyond the middle of the month, X was the only way to describe the powder conditions until we finally got to April. There was decent corn snow and great weather during that second half of March, but it was so warm that trail counts dropped rapidly at many resorts; even the huge snowpack gains made by the northern resorts at the end of February were lost as the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake fell well below where it had been before the big climb. Despite the good spring skiing, it seemed like many resorts closed down simply because people had given up on winter by that point. The slow start and rapid end to winter seemed to take the wind out of everyone’s sails and, it had them looking to quickly put the season in the rearview mirror.

An image of two skiers ascending through deep snow via a skin track on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A pair of skiers ascending Nosedive this morning amidst the continued snowfall.

April: Temperatures for the month of April still came in above average (+1.2 F) at the National Weather Service in Burlington, but after the unprecedented warmth of March, that felt downright cool by comparison. Indeed April was more typical though, and some good skiing returned, even if the slightly warm temperatures kept the snow especially elevation dependent. With that trend, snowfall down at the house was almost insignificant, just 0.5 inches or 8% of average. That’s the least snowy April we’ve encountered in the six years that I’ve been monitoring snowfall at our location. Storms nailed the mountains with snow though, in the form of a minor event on the 4th of the month, then a big cutoff low dropping 2 to 2 ½ feet on the 9th. That snow was fairly dense and represented an unmitigated resurfacing of the slopes as one headed up in elevation. The skiing was great, at least in a Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete sort of way where it doesn’t take much to cover whatever is below, but it would have been even better if the March warmth hadn’t deteriorated the snowpack as much as it did. With most ski areas closed after March sapped people’s interest in the season, plenty of great earned turns were made, but at the resorts that had stayed open, there was also some excellent lift-served skiing. April finished off with one final storm at the end of the month, which was nothing like the big one earlier, but it dropped about a half foot in the upper elevations and that was enough for some final powder skiing before we moved on to May. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: While certainly not up to the level of April 2007, we did get to ski powder on all of our April days except April 1st. Most of what fell during the month for snow was rather dense, but it was still a nice reprieve to have fresh snow after the way March had gone. We only skied three of the five weekends that month, as half of our outings ended up being midweek.

An image of Jay skiing one of the snowfields on the east side of Mt. Washington on Memorial Day weekend 2012
Heading over to another snowfield to our north for some smooth turns on the untouched snow

May: After some tempering of the heat for April, Mother Nature was back at the stove for May, with a +5.3 F departure for the month at the NWS in Burlington. We didn’t have any accumulating snow in the valley, although that’s typically the case down at our elevation. There were actually no significant winter storms to speak of, but we did have one Vermont ski day on the 12th, enjoying the last of the corn snow up at Jay Peak. We took advantage of a Mother’s Day package that offered a chance to sample a lot of the new facilities up at the resort (water park, arcade, restaurants, etc.), and indeed taking in that smorgasbord of activities is an especially nice way to go when skiing is only going to be a minor part of a trip. Our other day in the month was actually out of state in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend, taking our traditional camping trip Auto Road ascent with the boys to ski the snowfields. The snowfields were somewhat on the lean side this year, but not bad considering what the region went through meteorologically during the winter season.

At the monthly level, the 2011-2012 ski season was a simply amazing stretch of positive temperature departures followed by even more positive temperature departures, and that trend has continued right into the summer, with June and July coming in at +1.9 F and +2.4 F respectively. August is currently coming in with a positive departure as well, and if it ends up staying that way, it will be the 17th month in a row in the positive departure streak for Burlington. Those departures are going to flip at some point, and it’s going to feel quite chilly by comparison. Despite that trend though, even when combined with below normal precipitation, the quality of the ski surfaces encountered this past season in Northern Vermont was quite good. I’m not sure if I’m willing to say better than average, since I don’t think surfaces were better than average at Bolton Valley, but I am willing to say that in our visits to Stowe this season, the typical on piste surfaces we encountered were actually better than the previous season. One thought is that the lack big storms in general also played out as a lack of notable rainstorms, which while generally infrequent in the heart of winter anyway, are likely more detrimental to the snow surfaces than more modest events with simply some mixed precipitation in the middle. The Northern Greens certainly showed throughout this past season that they have the ability to cover the back side of mixed precipitation events with additional snow quite effectively when there’s at least some moisture in the atmosphere to be wrung out. The fact that business was down somewhat at the resorts, may also have contributed to less skier traffic and slightly elevated on piste snow quality. Whatever the case, for a ski season that felt like an abysmal “perfect storm” of sorts with regard to temperatures and precipitation, 2011-2012 in Northern Vermont can certainly be described as “surprisingly good”.

2011-2012 Winter Weather Summary

Summer is moving along here in Northern Vermont, but at J&E Productions we’ve still been thinking about the winter of 2011-2012, and we’ve finally analyzed our reams of weather data and put together our 2011-2012 Winter Weather Summary. In this post I’ve hit on some of the highlights that came out of the data, and attached our various plots and graphs, but to get to the full data set, you can use the following link:

2011-2012 WINTER WEATHER SUMMARY

The first item that I’ll highlight from the winter of 2011-2012 is the monthly snowfall plot for our location. As meager as the snowfall was this season at our location (just 115.3” of snow, or 67.0% of our 2006-2011 average), the monthly distribution of snow did retain an aesthetically symmetrical look, peaking in January with February close behind:

A bar graph of the monthly snowfall at our location in Waterbury, Vermont for the 2011-2012 winter season
Snowfall at our house in Waterbury was relatively low during the 2011-2012 winter season, but the monthly distribution was quite symmetrical, peaking in January.

So although 2011-2012 will go down as our least snowy in the six years that we’ve been collecting snowfall here in Waterbury, the 67.0% of our 2006-2011 calculated average is relatively decent compared to the snowfall experienced at some of the first-order New England stations like Burlington (51.4%) or Boston (21.2%). These types of seasons happen, but next season is already closing in fast, and hopefully snowfall totals will be much improved.

The next piece of information is our updated yearly snow/snowfall data table, with the 2011-2012 season now included.

A table showing some key winter weather parameters for the 2006-2007 through 2011-2012 winter seasons at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
When compared to the previous five seasons, the 2011-2012 winter season at our house in Waterbury was the lowest in snowfall, maximum snow depth attained, and snowpack on the ground as assessed by snow depth days.

The table touches on some of the highlights (or in this case lowlights) from this past winter season (top data row of the table). The 2011-2012 winter season had the somewhat dubious honor of being the “worst” in our data set in three categories: total snowfall, maximum snow depth, and snow depth days (see the red entries in the top row). The snowfall and max snow depth values weren’t all that far from the runner up values, but the big standout was snow depth days, which was well below the next closest season. It’s amazing to see a number so far below the 1,000 day·inches mark, which speaks to the state of the snowpack this season. We still had continuous snowpack at the house for about three months (vs. the typical four months) but the big factor in the low snow depth days was that the snowpack just never got that deep. It sat around at a bit below the one foot mark for most of the season and just didn’t build beyond that except for a couple of periods in February/March:

A plot showing the snowpack depth during the winter of 2011-2012 at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
At our house in Waterbury, the 2011-2012 winter season featured a fairly meager snowpack that sat around the one-foot mark for much of the season, and topped out at just one and a half feet.

With only six seasons worth of data, the low snowfall this season did deal quite a blow to the overall calculated snowfall average, dropping it by almost 10 inches from up above 172 inches per season down to 162.7 inches per season. That’s probably Mother Nature at work getting to her real averages after some banner years. Even though two of the past six seasons have been up around 200 inches of snowfall, presumably that is going to happen only so often. Nonetheless, snow of any size will cause extremely cold temperatures. As a result, make sure your heating is working properly. If not a repair kc team will be able to ensure everything is in working order.

As for the rest of the parameters that I track in the table, they were either right around or slightly better than average this season. An interesting note is that the number of snowstorms this season (45) was right around average, so naturally with low snowfall, the amount of snowfall per storm had to take a hit. Indeed, while the average amount of snowfall per storm is typically up around 4 inches, this season it came out at just 2.6 inches, so there were clearly a lot of systems that were weak on snow. This average snowfall per storm was a huge deviation from the mean (almost 2 S.D.), so that must say something about the weather pattern during the past winter, even if I’m not exactly sure what it is at this point.

While the detailed reports of the 45 accumulating snowstorms from the past season are available with more information at the 2011-2012 winter weather summary page, they’ve also been posted here for quick access. If you know of a storm that interests you, you can head right to it. The reports are comprised of text, links, graphs, photos, etc., and much of the text is derived from my posts and dialog from the Americanwx.com New England regional forum. Thanks to the great features available on the forum, you can click on the icon associated with any quoted text in the report, and you’ll be linked right to that post its respective thread. Hopefully this will be useful for folks that are researching/reviewing winter storms. The list of linked winter storms observed at our house is listed below:

01. 10/29/11
02. 11/11/11
03. 11/17/11
04. 11/23/11
05. 12/02/11
06. 12/07/11
07. 12/09/11
08. 12/13/11
09. 12/17/11
10. 12/19/11
11. 12/21/11
12. 12/23/11
13. 12/25/11
14. 12/27/11
15. 12/30/11
16. 01/02/12
17. 01/05/12
18. 01/06/12
19. 01/10/12
20. 01/12/12
21. 01/17/12
22. 01/19/12
23. 01/21/12
24. 01/23/12
25. 01/26/12
26. 01/28/12
27. 01/29/12
28. 01/31/12
29. 02/03/12
30. 02/11/12
31. 02/13/12
32. 02/16/12
33. 02/21/12
34. 02/22/12
35. 02/24/12
36. 02/28/12
37. 02/29/12
38. 03/02/12
39. 03/04/12
40. 03/08/12
41. 03/09/12
42. 03/26/12
43. 03/28/12
44. 04/04/12
45. 04/26/12

Something new that we’ve also added this season is a gallery of our snow measurement devices in action, so other folks that measure snowfall may enjoy those images:

SNOWFALL MEASUREMENT PAGE

The various data charts and graphs from this season’s analysis can also be viewed in the gallery below:

Stowe, VT 26FEB2012

An image of Erica skiing deep powder on Spruce Line at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
E finding deep powder today on Spruce Line at Stowe

Our biggest storm cycle of the season to date finished up last night, with snow totals in the Northern Greens of 40” at Jay Peak, 36” at Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch, and 24” at Bolton Valley.  With additional snowfall from the two preceding storms of close to a foot, that put Jay Peak at over 50” of snow for the past few days, with the other mountains falling in line accordingly.  Large storms are often great at enhancing the ski conditions, but this storm was especially beneficial with the low snowfall and snowpack we’ve been dealing with so far this season; we hadn’t had a single one of these multi-foot storm cycles, and there’s no better way to catch up on the low season snowfall than getting those big mountain storms.  Even down at the house, we picked up close to two feet of snow from the storm; it was by far our largest snowfall of the season in the valley, and it pushed the total season snowfall to just shy of the 100” mark.

An image of our mailbox in Waterbury, Vermont in the morning with a fresh stack of snow from overnight snowfall
Snow stacking up in the valley from this storm

Yesterday we headed up to Bolton Valley during the meat of the storm, with snow falling at rates of 1-3”/hr.  We didn’t do a tremendous amount of skiing since all the major lifts were on wind hold, but we did get in some fun powder turns off the Mid Mountain Lift, and got to be out in the storm while it buried the resort.  The snowfall had continued until around midnight, but clearing skies quickly followed.  The sunshine this morning spoke of the crisp, clear weather that was forecast for today, and with three feet of new snow at Stowe, we headed off to the mountain fairly early to get the most of what were likely to be fantastic ski conditions.  It was one of those days where choice of ski was easy… everybody went fat.  E and I even got off our Telemark skis and took the opportunity to pull out our alpine CMH fatties for the day.

An image of Mt. Mansfield and some of Stowe Mountain Resort's snowy ski trails as we approach on the Mountain Road
The glorious view as we approached Mt. Mansfield this morning
An image of Dylan skiing some deep powder in the sunshine above the Meadows Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan, going waist deep above Meadows this morning

We arrived at Spruce Peak around 9:00 A.M., and could see that people were already laying down some tracks in the powder fields above Meadows.  The snow looked absolutely glorious in the sun, and the temperatures were in the teens, so there certainly wasn’t going to be any melting.  Since the open slopes above Meadows are some of our favorite runs, E and the boys and I hopped on the Sunny Spruce Quad and headed right that way.  I skied down first to set up for some pictures, and found roughly two feet of dry, bottomless powder over a base of even more soft snow – it was just what one would expect to find after multiple feet of snowfall in the past few days.  I’m sure the snow settled a little overnight, but my density analyses from yesterday at the house revealed six hour accumulations of 7.1 inches of 3.8% H2O snow during the day, followed up by 8.4 inches of 2.1% H2O snow during the evening.  Simply put, that’s some serious world class powder for skiing, and coupled with the amounts that fell in the higher elevations, that’s some snow quality that is certainly well up there even in the realm of our local Champlain Powder™ standards.  Once I pulled out the camera, E and the boys followed my lead with some awesome turns; there were some previous tracks on the slope, but it was pretty hard to make a bad choice of line.

An image of Jay skiing deep powder in the Ridge Run trees on Spruce Peak at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Catching deep turns in the Ridge Run trees

For our next round of turns we decided to check out the top of Spruce Peak, so we made our way over to the Sensation Quad.  We headed down in the Main Street area, and eventually started exploring novel regions of trees since it was the kind of day where you could hit terrain of almost any pitch or tree density.  We descended into some steep trees that led down to one of the on-mountain maintenance buildings along Main Street, with little idea of what it would be like, and not surprisingly there were some great lines down through the center of the steep streambed that drained the area.  Seeing the snow on Spruce Line as we rode the lift had us venture there on the next run, and the traffic had been so minimal in many areas that we got some really long shots of untracked snow.  The entirety of the line was open for skiing, and indeed there are some very steep shots in there that we’d never skied before.  They really kept us on our toes, and I was sent for quite a ride when I unknowingly came into one of the steep sections at high speed.  We shared the run with a small group of Telemark skiers, who were having a hoot watching Ty and Dylan play around in the deep snow.  Next time up it was Upper Smuggler’s, catching the steep terrain on its bottom section, where we connected to Ridge Run and some of the precipitous lines in the nearby trees that Mike Cannon had shown us in the past.  People had certainly skied those main shots by then, but just a little venturing afield revealed the acres of untracked snow that lay in the trees.  And boy that powder was deep – it was a very good idea to try catching the traverses set up by others, because wading through the snow on your own took a good deal more time and effort.

An image of Dylan cruising through the powder below the Sensation Quad Chairlift at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan cruising though the fresh fluff below the Sensation Quad

We’d burned through the morning at that point, and it was time to get fueled up for the boy’s afternoon school program session.  We ate at the Great Room Grill, and were joined by some of the other BJAMS families.  I got myself an order of the fish tacos, which were again quite good, and I noticed that Molly had some sushi.  It turns out that they have sushi available at the Great Room Grill in a refrigerated case, so I am definitely going to have to check that out as an option when we’re there.  It would be amazing if they started offering it freshly prepared at one of the stations (I bet it would be a hit if it the quality was decent) but I can’t wait to try what they’ve got anyway.

During lunch, E had swapped her alpine gear for her snowboard gear, as she’d be instructing snowboarding for the rest of the day, but Ty and Dylan and I kept our fat skis on and got ready for the afternoon with a warm up run on West Smuggler’s and West Slope.  Back up at the base we met up with Claire, Luke, and Jack to fill out our group, and we took everyone back to Sensation so could hit the great powder on Spruce Line.  There were a few more tracks since the morning, but it really hadn’t seen that much additional traffic.  We tackled Upper Smuggler’s on the next run, enjoying the way that the bountiful fresh snow had resurfaced even the steepest terrain.  Even with the three feet of snow it was still possible to occasionally encounter the subsurface though, showing just how much snow it takes to cover some of the high angle terrain.  We cut across to Ridge Run, where some of the boys dropped into the steep slopes of the Ridge Run trees.  I dove into the trees as well, and ski cutting across steep pitches easily set off big sloughs of the deep snow – I wasn’t surprised to hear that avalanche warnings had been put out for the Mt. Mansfield/Smuggler’s Notch area.

We finished off the afternoon over on Mansfield, where I introduced everyone to the Chin Clip Streambed.  In terms of their abilities, everyone in the group is more than ready for what it has to offer, but I’ve been waiting for the base depths to build to the point where they could enjoy it thoroughly without concern about rocks and the frozen waterfalls.  With this big storm and the couple smaller ones that came before it bumping the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake from roughly four feet midweek to almost seven feet now, it was time.  I guided everyone to the entrance, and we dove in.  Even for Claire it was a fairly novel experience, as she recalled skiing it once, but it must have been a decade ago.  The boys ripped it up, launching jumps off the terrain features and half pipe-like walls of the drainage.  Even Luke, who’s probably the most novice in terms of off piste skiing, was looking really good and handling the steep drops smoothly.  Claire was definitely challenged by some of the waterfalls and steep, tight areas, but she had a blast.  I can’t recall the last time I’d been in that streambed, but the skiing was as amazing as always.  There are definitely some advantages to coaching the young advanced group in terms of terrain selection.  Most folks are aware of Stowe’s long, continuous vertical drop, and it was obvious today when at one point in the streambed run Ty asked, “Does this thing ever end?”  All the boys seemed to be of similar mind, and there was no question that they were getting their fill of turns and challenge; indeed it does seem like that streambed simply goes on forever – in a good way.

An image of Claire atop one of the waterfalls in the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Claire atop one of the frozen waterfalls in the Chin Clip Streambed today

After the romp through the streambed, we hit the gondola again and did a run on Chin Clip proper.  The bump lines were delicious and soft, and the boys got worked hard for another descent.  With the early afternoon runs on Spruce topped off with a few thousand vertical feet of steep bumps and off piste in the afternoon, all the boys were cooked.  Ty and Dylan, with the additional morning full of powder runs, were especially spent and when we headed back to the Spruce Peak Village they called an afternoon and hit the s’mores at the fire pit.  Jack and Luke were game for one more run, so I joined them for a run on West Run/West Slope.  It was a good mellow finish to an exciting day enjoying what has clearly been the storm of the season up to this point.

Bolton Valley, VT 25FEB2012

An image of Ty skiing in heavy snowfall during a two-foot snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
It was storm skiing today at Bolton Valley

We’re currently in the midst of what could be one of our largest snowstorms of the season here in Northern Vermont, with multiple feet of snow possible for the higher elevations along the spine of the Greens.  Earlier this week, the mountains already picked up about a foot of snow from the combination of two storms, one on Tuesday/Wednesday, and another on Thursday, so a substantial dump from this storm will really have conditions going off.  The current storm actually started up in this area midday yesterday, and I saw a fresh inch of snow on the ground in Burlington when I left around 4:00 P.M.  We’d received up a couple of inches of snow at the house as of 6:00 P.M., and thanks to inch an hour snowfall, we picked up another quick couple of inches through 8:00 P.M. before the precipitation tapered off overnight.

This morning, temperatures were around the freezing mark down in the valley, and little snow was actually falling at our house, but the mountains were getting pounded with upslope flakes.  Powderfreak sent in a report to Americanwx.com this morning indicating that it was a total whiteout at Stowe Mountain Resort.  So much snow had fallen overnight that snowmobiles and even snowcats were having difficulty getting up the mountain.  The upslope power of the Northern Greens was in full effect.

Looking through the windshield at heavy snowfall we make the ascent of the Bolton Valley Access Road toward Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ascending into the higher elevations of Northern Vermont today revealed a world of heavy snowfall and challenging driving conditions.

Not surprisingly, heavy snowfall was hitting Bolton Valley as well, but high winds meant that all the chairlifts were on wind hold at the resort, and employees were stationed at the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road to save people the hassle of driving up if they didn’t know about the weather delays.  We’d all brought our Telemark skis and skins and were planning to earn turns as needed, so when we reached the bottom of the access road we let the employees know that we’d be earning turns and they waved us through.  Having old tires with minimal tread, even the Subaru struggled to get up the steep S-curve on the access road this morning, and a big part of that was because the snow was falling so quickly that the plows couldn’t really keep up.  Fortunately, we were able to get up to the Village safely.  The snow was indeed falling very heavily up above 2,000’ in the Village; I’d estimate that was coming down in the range of 1 to 3 inches per hour.

An image of cars parked in the Bolton Valley Village under heavy snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
When we finally arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village this morning, we were greeted by snowfall pounding down at rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour.

Dylan had to use the restroom right when we arrived in the Village, so E and the boys headed up to the base lodge quickly with some of the Telemark gear, while I finished suiting up and got the rest of the gear together.  Just as I was about to head up to the lodge as well, I got a call from E that the Mid Mountain Lift was running, so I grabbed the boys’ alpine gear for them to use.  It was quite a load with three pairs of skis, two pairs of poles, and a couple sets of boots, but I managed to get everything up to the lodge, and indeed the Mid Mountain Lift was humming along serving at least a little vertical to happy skiers and riders.

Dylan’s stomach was bothering him a bit, so E hung out inside with him while Ty and I headed out for a few Mid Mountain runs.  Outside the lodge at the ski racks, we met up with Jason, who had just come down from Wilderness with another one of the instructors.  He said there was indeed a lot of snow up there in the higher elevations – enough that you wanted to stick to terrain with good pitch if possible.  The wind was also strong, so that was having an effect on the distribution of the snow.  Heading to the upper mountain would have been my plan as well, but it’s still a lot of work for the boys at this stage, so sticking to lift-served terrain on the bottom half of the mountain was the way to go.  We’re already very excited about how far the boys have come in terms of ascending for skiing, but it’s going to be fun to see what things are like as their skills and stamina continue to increase.

An image taken while riding the Mid Mountain Chair at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont showing heavy snowfall obscuring the view
Riding the Mid Mountain Chair during the storm

Ty suggested Enchanted Forest for our first run off Mid Mountain, and the snow was excellent, but only the steepest spots were really good for skiing in the deep powder, so we headed back to Beech Seal to finish off the run.  Acknowledging the need for steeper pitches, I took Ty over to the Butterscotch Terrain Park via Deer Run.  We did get some nice turns in the park on the steep pitches on the back side of the features, but some of the best turns were actually on that steep pitch where Deer Run drops down to Sprig O’ Pine.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos there, but I pulled out the camera and got some nice shots of Ty skiing of the terrain park features amidst the very heavy snowfall.

The intense snowfall from the storm was lots of fun to witness, but the strong winds that came with it were much less enjoyable.  The winds were from the west/northwest, so riding the chair was no problem, but they really bit into you when you headed down the west-facing runs.  Thus it wasn’t too long before Ty and I were ready for a lunch break.  Dylan had actually fallen asleep while we’d been outside, but he woke up once we were back inside; he was feeling much better and was ready for lunch.  We headed upstairs and had lunch near the Fireside Flatbread area; crowds were pretty minimal with so many people being turned back at the base of the access road, so it was very quiet up there.

A view out the window of the base lodge at very heavy snowfall hitting Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the view of the tremendously heavy snowfall during lunch

The four of us headed back out for a few more runs after lunch, starting with a run down Glades since Ty and I hadn’t checked it out earlier.  The steeper terrain at the top was sufficient for some decent powder skiing, although that meant that it was getting plenty of traffic, so fresh tracks were a little harder to come by.  We also checked out Beech Seal, since it’s got reasonably steep terrain at the top.  It was also fine for turns, but it’s pretty exposed to the west wind and that took away from the experience.  It continued to snow, so it was hard to pull away from the slopes, but the wind was unabated and we eventually decided it was time to take off the skis and save some energy for tomorrow, which looks like it’s going to be a memorable one.  We had also promised the boys that they could do some swimming at the sports center after they skied, so they were anxious to get down to the pool.

An image of Ty and Dylan playing in the snow near the base lodge during a big snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The boys hit the snow for some fun while E and I pack up the ski gear

The pool at the sports center was hopping with many visitors that had decided to stay inside out of the storm, and while E and the boys swam, I took the opportunity to tour around the Village and get some photographs of the snow.  I got some great images of where the fluffy Champlain Powder™ had accumulated with fantastic loft in sheltered locations such as on the leeward side of the Courtside 2 Condos, and in other spots I got some cool shots of the dramatic drifting caused by the wind.  I found cars in the parking lots that sat through the whole storm and had virtually disappeared beneath the snow.  Even in some of those drifted areas though, the snow often managed to retain incredible loft.  One could walk through some waist or chest deep drifted areas where the snow would simply dissolve around you as you went through it.  The snow was actually letting up for a time while I toured around the Village, and there were some points where it almost appeared as though the storm was over, but it always seemed to make a resurgence.  The breaks in the blizzard-like conditions certainly helped with the photography though.

An image of deep snow accumulating on the Courtside 2 Condominiums during a big snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the snowy sights as I walk around the Bolton Valley Village in the afternoon

At the end of the afternoon, our descent of the access road was much easier than the ascent had been; the snow wasn’t falling quite as hard, so presumably the plows could keep pace.  When we’d left the house earlier in the day, it wasn’t really snowing, so we were very curious to see if anything had gone on down in the valley while we were away.  That question was answered pretty quickly when we found that the snow in the driveway was now a foot deep, and 7.1 inches of new snow had accumulated on the snowboard while we were at the mountain.  I took a core sample from atop the snowboard and the snow came in at a density of 3.8% H2O.  But the storm isn’t done delivering Champlain Powder™ just yet; through 10:30 P.M. this evening we picked up an additional 8.4 inches of 2.1% H2O powder, and it’s still going.  We’ve now received over 20 inches from this storm down here in the valley, and the mountains will likely double that amount; it looks like tomorrow at Stowe is going to be simply off the hook!

Third and largest snowstorm on the way today for Vermont

An image of the Winter Weather Advisories Map for February 24-25, 2012 from the National Weather Service Office In Burlington, Vermont
The National Weather Service in Burlington has put out Winter Weather Advisories and Winter Storm Warnings for the upcoming winter storm in our area.

With our recent return to wintrier weather, three storms have been in the forecast, and thus far each one has been topping the previous one in terms of mountain snowfall.  The first one came through Tuesday night into yesterday, and dropped 1.7” of snow here at the house and a few inches in the mountains.  The second system started up yesterday, and while we picked up 0.5″ at our house in the valley, it was definitely a step up in accumulation for the northern mountains.  With the addition of this second storm, two-day snow totals are just shy of the 1 foot mark at some of the Northern resorts like Jay Peak and Smuggler’s Notch, with totals tapering to the 5 to 8-inch range in the Sugarbush through Stowe stretch of the spine.  I caught some turns yesterday at Bolton and the skiing was already excellent.  The third storm in this triumvirate is expected to start today, and depending on how it plays out with the mountain upslope snow, another 1 to 2 feet could be added in the mountains on top of what was already received from the first two storms.  Winter Storm Warnings are up for many areas, and this morning’s Storm Total Snowfall Map from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington is added below.  In any event, with the moderate density snow already down from the first two systems, whatever this storm delivers, the potential is there for a great weekend on the slopes.

The Storm Total Snowfall Forecast map for the morning of February 24, 2012 for the upcoming winter storm - 1 to 2 additional feet of snow are expected in the mountains.
The Storm Total Snowfall Forecast map for the morning of February 24, 2012 for the upcoming winter storm – 1 to 2 additional feet of snow are expected in the mountains.

Snow totals from this storm were quite impressive.  I’ve put together the north to south snowfall totals I’ve seen from the Vermont ski areas for this storm (list 1) and the sum of all three storms we’ve had since midweek (list 2).

Storm 3
Jay Peak: 40”
Smuggler’s Notch: 36”
Stowe: 36”
Bolton Valley: 24”
Mad River Glen: 20”
Sugarbush: 23”
Pico: 15”
Killington: 15”
Okemo: 6”
Bromley: 6”
Magic Mountain: 6”
Stratton: 8”
Mount Snow: 3”

Storms 1, 2 & 3 Combined
Jay Peak: 51”
Smuggler’s Notch: 46”
Stowe: 44”
Bolton Valley: 29”
Mad River Glen: 26”
Sugarbush: 28”
Pico: 17”
Killington: 17”
Okemo: 8”
Bromley: 8”
Magic Mountain: 10”
Stratton: 9”
Mount Snow: 5”

As is often the case, there’s a very clear north to south gradient for snowfall, this time with the northern resorts measuring in feet, while the southern resorts are measuring in inches.  This was a great enhancement to the snow depths in the northern and central resorts, and it looks like roughly 2 inches of liquid went into the snowpack on Mansfield.  You know it’s a decent storm cycle period when the depth of snowpack at the stake goes from a below average 49 inches on Wednesday, to an above average 81 inches as of today.

For more full details on this storm, head to the detailed report at the winter weather section of our website.

Bolton Valley, VT 23FEB2012

An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Snowflake Bentley trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching some fresh tracks down from the top of Snowflake Bentley today

After a slow stretch of winter weather for much of February, the last third of the month has been picking up in that department.  Three systems have been forecast to come through the area, each one with the potential for more snow in the mountains.  The first one came through Tuesday night into yesterday, and dropped 1.7” of snow here at the house and a few inches in the mountains.  The second system started up yesterday, and as of this morning we’d only picked up some rain here in the valley, but it was definitely a step up in accumulation for the northern mountains.

With only rain down here in the valley, it was difficult to assess what the mountains had picked up for snow around 6:00 A.M. when I was trying to make the decision about taking some runs, but fortunately Stowe was out with a nice early report indicating at least 5” up high.  With fairly high snow levels, I wasn’t surprised to see that it was a steep accumulation gradient with elevation; Stowe was only reporting 1” new at the base.  Still, the high-elevation number of 5” was enough for me to suspect that the main mountain at Bolton, which is all at 2,000’+, would be in great shape, so I prepared my gear and decided to stop in up at the mountain on the way to Burlington.

It was interesting to find that it was actually snowing way down at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’), but there was just a skiff of new white there.  In fact, the snow line for getting into to good snow was actually pretty high.  Even up at 1,000’ on the access road I’d say there wasn’t much more than a dusting of new snow, and there was probably only an inch up at the Timberline Base at 1,500’.  In the Village at 2,100’ I found 2-3” of new snow on the ground, although that was probably the accumulation from the last two days because the cars that appeared to have spent the night in the lot probably had an inch or so on them.  The temperature there at the main base was 31 F, and light snow was falling.

I was only about 30 minutes away from the opening of the Vista Quad when I started skinning up the mountain, so I stuck to the Wilderness side to stay out of the way of any potential downhill traffic.  Wilderness wasn’t scheduled to open until 10:00 A.M., so I had a good cushion of time.  The 2-3” of snow I’d seen at the base grew to 4-5” at ~2,500’ as I headed up Fanny Hill.  I made my way toward Upper Crossover, and stopped my ascent at the top of Bolton Outlaw.  Up there at around 3,000’, new snow depths were in the 5-6” range.  It was past 8:30 A.M. by that point, and I was just starting to hear the hoots and hollers of folks descending off Vista, so I didn’t linger long before I dropped in to see how the turns were going to be.

The powder was medium weight, not sticky at all, but with plenty of substance.  Still, I was touching down in spots, so it wasn’t completely bottomless with the steepness of Bolton Outlaw.  Turns were great though, and if this is just a taste of what’s to come when the third storm gets here, the next couple of days are going to be great on the slopes.  I continued on down to the Wilderness Lift Line, where turns became bottomless with the slightly lesser pitch.  Nobody had been down to Wilderness by that point, so it was first tracks all the way down until I merged into the Vista Trails.

An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Wilderness Lift Line at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching first tracks on the Wilderness Lift Line today

I decided to stick around for another couple lift-served runs, and first hit Hard Luck.  It had seen a few tracks, but the turns were excellent.  I cut through to Show Off, which was untracked at the point, and the turns were generally bottomless.  I finished off with a run below the Vista Quad above the Jungle Jib.  I opted for Vermont 200 on my next run, where I actually found the snow depths topping out around 7”.  I hit some woods, and then cut across on Deer Run to get to the top of Snowflake.  I combined the top part of Snowflake Bentley, which was about half groomed and provided some nice turns, with Lower Foxy, which allowed me to ski past the Wentworth Condos and out the access road.  The powder was excellent almost all the way back down to the main base, although I’d say the last couple hundred vertical were just a little thick – certainly enough that I noticed.  It was easy to see that the main mountain was the place to be though; dropping down to the elevations of Wilderness would likely have seen a dramatic decrease in both the quantity and quality of the powder.

A dusting of snow is seen on the mulch surround the "UVM" bushes at the University of Vermont
A touch of snow remained among the "UVM bushes" this morning.

The temperature was still at 31 F when I was leaving the mountain, and the light snow continued to fall as it has the entire time I was at the mountain.  The temperature was in the mid 30s F back down in the Winooski Valley, and on the way into Burlington, I saw that there were actually pockets of accumulation even in the lower elevations, with a decent coating in Richmond, and another good coating at the I-89 rest area in Williston.  There were even a few pockets of accumulation visible at UVM.

With the addition of this second storm, two-day snow totals are just shy of the 1 foot mark at some of the Northern resorts like Jay Peak and Smuggler’s Notch, with totals tapering to the 5 to 8-inch range in the Sugarbush through Stowe stretch of the spine.  So, we’ve already had a nice couple of appetizers leading up to the third storm, which is expected to start tomorrow.  Winter Storm Warnings are up for the mountains and mountain valleys, with 6 to 10 inches of snow expected through 7 A.M. Saturday, and then additional upslope snow on top of that.  If the third storm comes through as expected, it should be a great weekend out on the slopes.

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.