Each year in December we head to Stowe for the training day that gets us ready for our school’s ski program. E is the director for the BJAMS program and typically takes care of the logistics on one of the weekend days, while a co-director would manage the other. In the past, when the boys were younger and couldn’t stay home alone, we’d either set up to have someone watch them, or split the two training days between us and each go alone. On those occasions, even though selecting the days was done well in advance, I always seemed to luck out and get the great conditions – comfortable temperatures, fresh powder, soft surfaces, etc., while E on the other hand would get refrozen crud, frigid temperatures, or whatever else you can think of that would make the ski experience less than stellar.
This year though, we were going to the training day together, and it looked like E was going to go for a ride on the luck train with me. Winter Storm Decima was marching across the country, and the timing looked just about perfect for a great powder day on Saturday. In fact, the National Weather Service Office in Burlington even felt strongly enough about it to incorporate a statement in their forecast discussion on Thursday:
“Should be a glorious powder day with mean snow ratios around 18-20:1 and temps gradually warming into the lower 20s valleys and upper teens mountains by early afternoon.”
By this morning, Winter Storm Decima had already begun to deliver snow as we headed off to the resort. The snowfall rates weren’t outrageous, but it was a good steady snow and you could see that little bit of extra spring in everyone’s step knowing that training day was going to feature fresh snow. As we gathered outside the Midway Lodge for the morning’s announcements, you could just see the snow piling up on the anxious skiers ready to get underway.
“There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day.”
We had Steve for our group leader, similar to some previous seasons, and he regaled us with his usual assortment of giving lessons to celebrities and assorted well-heeled folks. We did a quick first run off the Meadows Quad, and that was our first chance to experience the snow. Oh was it glorious! There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day. Stowe’s already hit 110 inches on the season, and we’re only about three weeks or so into it.
We had several runs on Spruce Peak before we broke for some lunch, then got a couple more runs in over on Mansfield. Even after a day of weekend ski traffic, conditions were still amazing in the afternoon even on the most heavily-used areas. The snow is deep-down good. The only downside today was the chill in the morning at elevation with the wind, but it was still a small price to pay for such consistently awesome conditions.
Today was our annual training day for Stowe’s ski program with the local schools, and indeed it was a great one. We’ve often had fresh snow on these mid-December training days, but the past few days featured a cutoff nor’easter that delivered 2 to 2 ½ feet of snow to the Northern Vermont ski resorts. And, the snow wasn’t just fluff either; there were roughly three inches of liquid equivalent in that snow, so it was a major boost to the natural base depths. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just pushed past 30 inches with that storm, and it probably won’t be settling too much due to the density of the snow.
“…there was just so much of that deep packed powder that it didn’t even make you want to head off the beaten path for untracked snow.”
The forecast for today was looking great; with the low pressure system finally weakening, there was the chance for some sun, and temperatures would be in the 20s F. With the hefty amount of construction going on over at the Spruce Peak Base Area, the meeting place for today’s session was in the Midway Lodge. The space actually felt much better than the old day lodge where we would typically meet, and a lot of that seemed to be because the space was simply configured better. Everything was well organized when we arrived, and since we had almost an hour before we’d get together with our group, I headed over to the Spruce Peak Base for a bit to eat at the Great Room Grill. The new structure that’s going in over there is still at the stage of steel framework, but it should ultimately have plenty of space for the children’s programs and whatever else they’ll be putting in there.
We got together with Joe and Emile from BJAMS for our ski group, and had Steve Dever as our instructor for today, who is actually Emile’s neighbor. Each year we seem to get a little something different out of the training session, and this year Steve spent a lot of time on techniques for safety, such as strategies for where to stop on the trail and how to position your body to ensure maximal visibility of oncoming skier traffic. On the technical side, we talked a lot about pole work and “finishing” turns with regard to speed control.
We were generally on piste today, but conditions were simply fantastic on the groomed runs as one might expect after two feet of dense snow. Those first couple of runs on Perry Merrill were simply divine as far as groomers go. We headed over to the Fourrunner Quad for the second half of the morning, skiing some of the usual routes out toward Sunrise. Steve stopped us above the Chapel Glades, pointing out how that was a great one to do with the kids, and the snow looked good enough that a number of our group headed in and met up with everyone else on the other side of the glade. I checked with my measurement pole and found 21 inches of snow there, so there was more than enough coverage. We’re well past the 24-inch mark at the stake, and the fact that so much of that is dense snow makes it even more substantial. Coverage really wasn’t an issue in there, and there were areas of packed snow where there had been enough skier traffic. There was plenty of powder in there was well though, so getting into the powder off piste is definitely an option on appropriate terrain now.
The sun was out a good bit this morning, and with temperatures probably around 30 F at the base, you couldn’t really ask for much more. You could certainly see the quality of the groomed snow drop a bit on the popular routes as the morning wore on, but there was just so much of that deep packed powder that it didn’t even make you want to head off the beaten path for untracked snow. If I’m not searching out powder to ski in, that’s a definite sign of some seriously good snow on piste. It was a little hard to pull away in the early afternoon, but we wanted to pick up the boys from Norris’ house in time for him to get off for his Nordic skiing program. The next snowstorm appears to be coming in the middle of the week, so we’ll see what we get out of that one.
Based on the forecast, it looked like today was the pick of the weekend for spring skiing, offering sunshine and mountain temperatures in the 40s and 50s F depending on elevation. There was also a good freeze overnight last night, with temperatures down in the 20s F here at the house, so that bode well with respect to continued corn cycling. Our thermometer out back struggled to get out of the 30s F for the first part of the morning, but once we got past 9:00 A.M. it was moving into the 40s F, and a check on the temperatures at Stowe revealed that they were hitting similar levels. The snow had likely softened at all elevations by that point, so we headed off to the mountain.
“I’m looking for something nimble and flexible that is going to carve tight arcs, fit into tight spaces, and surf on soft snow.”
We suited up in the lodge and then I headed right up to the Stowe Toys Demo Center at the base of the Fourrunner Quad – I had a big day of checking out demo skis planned. It’s hard to find a day to spend demoing skis, since many Sundays during the season we’re out at Stowe with the BJAMS ski program, we’ve got plans with other people on the mountain, or we’re hoping to head into the alpine terrain or out into the sidecountry for powder. Our typical days with those types of focused runs aren’t conducive to swapping out skis every couple of laps on the lift. Today with E and the boys though, it going to be one of those casual spring outings with no real plans, and it looked demoing some pairs of skis would work.
I’ve actually needed to do an alpine ski demo day for quite a while, but it really hit me a couple of seasons ago on February 26th, 2012 at Stowe. It was a bluebird day after they’d just picked up three feet of snow, so I pulled out my alpine fat skis for the day – my Volkl CMH Explosivs. They’re a fully-cambered, 120/95/112 ski from the early 2000s, and like many Volkl skis, they really like to go straight and fast. These Explosivs have always felt that way to me, especially with the length – I’d gotten them in the 180 cm length, since E had gone with the 165 cm version, and it seemed like a reasonable choice for me at the time. I hadn’t minded that they weren’t overly nimble, since powder can give you a lot of leeway, but it was always frustrating to have to deal with them in tighter trees, and they were essentially making that type of terrain undesirable and far less fun than it should be. That powder day in February 2012 marked the first time I’d used the Explosivs in quite a while, and after spending so much time on shorter, much nimbler skis, their girth, length, and stiffness were oh so exceedingly apparent. While skiing Spruce Line that day, I went over a rise and dropped rather unexpectedly at high speed into the steepest pitch of the run. I wanted to check my speed, but the Explosivs just wouldn’t turn. I eventually had to bail into the snow to check my momentum, and the end result was happily unremarkable thanks to the slope being powdery and forgiving, but the skis had been feeling like heavy dogs on my feet all day, and that was definitely the last straw. I could easily see an accident arising due to the way those skis were handling. After that experience, I don’t think I’ve used them since, and my only alpine skis currently in use are my 108/70/101 Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots. They’re actually my on piste/carving skis, and they’re a joy to carve on, but that’s not really the type of skiing we spend much time doing. I’ve focused on my Telemark gear of the past few seasons, getting the cambered 127/86/113 Atomic RT-86 as my mid fat, and the more rockered 139/115/123 Black Diamond AMPerage as my powder/backcountry/fat ski. But, I’ve got nothing like either of those skis in my alpine gear, and alpine gear is what I’m typically on each Sunday when I’m coaching my BJAMS ski groups. Most of our ski days each season feature some form of powder, whether it’s on or off piste, and as I watch the boys drift and smear turns in the soft snow with their fat, rockered skis, I’m realizing that relative to the types of ski that are out there now, my Salomons are aren’t optimal for the kind of skiing we typically do.
Based on my experiences with a wide range of ski widths in the past few seasons, and thinking about a typical everyday ski for the type of skiing that we actually do, something with a waist in the 95-100 mm range was my target. After seeing many of the latest gear reviews, it sounded like the Rossignol Soul 7 was really taking a lot of the top spots. It appeared to be my kind of ski with its light weight and ability to make short turns, so it definitely piqued my interest. At 136/106/126, it was a little on the wider side of what I’d been thinking, but it was close enough, and I don’t mind going a bit on the wider side for the type of skiing we typically do, especially if the ski was as versatile as everyone seems to feel it is. With that said, I also planned to check out the Rossignol Sin 7, since it was the next width down in the series at 128/98/118. Between those two, and a comparison to similar models from other manufacturers, I figured I’d have a good idea of what I liked.
There’s a thing about demo gear though – the demo shops tend to sell it off. And this late in the season, that was a huge issue. It turned out that the demo shop had already sold all their Soul 7s, so those were entirely gone, and the only Sin 7 they had on hand was in a 180 cm length. I had really wanted the 172 cm or 164 cm (I’ve got little interest in long skis at this point for the type of skiing we typically do), but if the 180 cm was the only option, it would at least let me get a feel for them. According to everything I’ve read, the Sin 7 does run short with all that rocker, so I was intrigued to see how they performed at 180 cm. I also inquired about the next wider ski above the Soul 7 in Rossignol’s Freeride 7 series, the Rossignol Super 7. At 140/116/130, the profile is something more similar to my Black Diamond AMPerages that I have mounted Tele. Since I’ve already got my Salomons for carving, I’m leaning a bit on the wider side for the all around soft day ski that I’m seeking, and while the Super 7 is almost certainly wider than I want, I still wanted to try them out. I wanted to have a feel for all their skis in that 95-115 mm range of width. I was surprised to find out that they shop didn’t even carry them, and the guy that was helping me out in the demo shop said it’s too wide a ski if you ski on the “East Coast”. I’m not sure if he’s just supposed to say that, whether he actually believes it, or if there’s some other reason he’s supposed to go with that philosophy, but it was probably the first sign that we weren’t going to be quite on the same page with respect to our viewpoints on skiing. I’d expect someone from Stowe of all places to know that selecting ski width doesn’t work by drawing some arbitrary line down the middle of the country. Some of the ski magazines try to preach that sort of approach, and maybe it’s practical for a typical low snowfall resort run on manmade snow in the eastern U.S., but we’re talking about Northern Vermont, where snowfall is as much or more than many resorts in the Rockies. In any event, I was happy that they at least had a pair of the Sin 7s to try, so I got those set and headed for a run with E and the boys.
From the top of the Fourrunner Quad, we headed out along Ridge View, and holy cow could those Sin 7s carve! I’m not talking about carving well for a wider ski; I’m talking about carving as well as my Salomon carving skis. I was flabbergasted. Although awesome in powder, I’m fairly unimpressed with the way my 115 mm wide AMPerages carve when they’re out on hard snow. They’re really what I’m used to for skis above the width of my RT-86s in that 80-90 mm range, so that’s what I had to go with in terms of fatter skis’ ability to get out of the powder and onto firmer surfaces. Frankly, as much as I like my AMPerages for powder, even shallower accumulations of powder where their girth keeps you nicely off the subsurface, I can’t even believe that the concept of using them as an all around ski is even brought up – unless your home mountain is Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, or something equivalent, it just doesn’t seem practical based on the harder snow performance I’ve experienced. Granted, the Sin 7 is almost 20 mm narrower at the waist, but it literally felt like you weren’t giving up anything with them on the carving front, at least in the relatively soft corn snow we had today. I’m still smiling right now thinking about how much fun it was carving up that snow on the Sin 7. Next up on our run was a trip down Hayride, and they handled it nicely, carving smoothly as needed in the terrain that hadn’t bumped up, or slipping and sliding through the bumps with that soft shovel. In the bumps was where I could tell that I’d be happy to lose the extra length and come down to one of the shorter sizes, but I can only imagine how quick those 164 cm and 172 cm versions must be. On the next run I wanted to try them off piste, so we went through the Bypass Chutes and down into the Nosedive Glades. Even though we were heading off piste, the snow was great, not sticky like it can sometimes be on these spring days; areas that had already received a few turns were definitely the best, but even places without traffic were often decent. It was especially fun introducing E to the Nosedive Bypass area – I’m not sure if we’ve ever brought here out there before. We had a blast exploring the different chute options and routes down in the Nosedive Glades; I knew we’d be back there multiple times during the day. Again, the Sin 7 was a joy to ride, and my only thought was about what they would be like if they were even shorter. People can say all they want about how skis “run” short because of the rocker, and indeed they do, but that rocker is still never going to make a 180 cm ski fit sideways through a gap that is only 170 cm wide.
I popped back into the shop, told the guys about my very favorable impressions of the Sin 7, and inquired about what else I could try that would be similar to those. After some hemming and hawing about not having much available in the 170 cm range because that seemed to be what everyone wanted and had purchased, I got the Dynastar Cham 97 (133/97/113) in a 172 cm length. The guy in the demo shop said that he actually liked these better than the Sin 7, so based on our initial interactions, perhaps I should have been suspicious about how they’d appeal to me. I could tell as soon as I clicked my boots into them that they were stiffer than the Sin 7. For some people that might be a plus, but it’s not something I find to be a necessity in my skis, and I’m finding now that if often detracts from their versatility for my purposes. I wasn’t immediately excited by the stiffness, but I still had to see how the Cham 97 was going to behave in action, so we headed up for another run.
The boys were anxious for some lunch, and wanted to eat up at the Octagon, so we stopped in there for a midday meal. I didn’t think they’d have the selection of food that we’d get down in the main lodge, but they really have some excellent options up there now. I got a nice seared tuna wrap that seemed to have some sort of tzatziki sauce, and it really hit the spot, while E got a turkey wrap with turkey, bacon, apple butter, green apples, arugula, and probably more, but that’s all that she could remember. We order the wraps at the register along with some hot dogs for the boys, and they brought them right over to us at our table once they were prepared. The Octagon was definitely hoppin’ today with the beautiful weather, but we got a nice window seat near the deck and it was a great time. It was little breezy outside at times, but a lot of people chose to sit out there as well.
It was sort of strange to have the Cham 97s out there at the ski racks during lunch without even having ridden them yet, but it was nice to be able to jump right on them as soon as we were done eating. We took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes so that I could put them through their paces. It was nice to drop some length from the Sin 7 as we worked our way through those steep, narrow chutes, so that was a plus. However, even in the shorter length and essentially the same width (dropping to 97 mm vs. the 98 mm on the Sin 7s), the Cham 97s were slower edge to edge and just not as nimble all around. Once we got out onto Nosedive and I did some carving on groomed corn snow, I could certainly see that they carved much better than my more tradition CMH Explosivs which have a similar 95 mm underfoot, but they were nowhere near being on the same snappy level as the Sin 7. One fun aspect of the Cham 97 that was noted by Dylan, was the fact that the shovels of the skis looked like chainsaws, so he was having fun trying to stay away from the fronts of my skis while we were in the tighter confines of some of the Bypass Chutes, lest he get cut in half. One run on the Cham 97s was enough though, because it was simply no contest against the Sin 7, so I popped into the demo shop for my next pair.
The third ski I tried was the K2 Annex 98 (131/98/119) in a 170 length – these were lots of fun, and seemed very close to the Sin 7 in terms of what I was looking for. I rode them for two runs, first a run that Dylan requested over toward the Mountain Triple via Ridge View and Sunrise, and then another through the Bypass Chutes. Carving was very reminiscent of the Sin 7, easy and smooth, and they were also fun in the tighter confines of the Bypass Chutes and Nosedive Glades. I still gave the personal preference edge to the Sin 7, especially considering that I’d tried it a 180 cm ski, but the K2 Annex 98 was certainly in the running.
Dylan said that he was starting to feel his legs getting tired after those runs, so he and E decided to hit the lodge, but I had time for a couple more runs, and I wanted to make the most of my ski demo day. Ty said that his legs were feeling great, so he stuck with me for more turns. When I inquired about the next ski in the demo shop that time, I let them know that it was OK to go a bit farther afield of the type of ski that I was focused on, and they decided to hook me up with a 170 cm Volkl Mantra (132/98/118). I’ve definitely heard about the Mantra, since it’s been around for years, and the demo guys were saying that this would be one that would require a bit more muscling around relative to the others I’d been skiing. Imagine that, a Volkl ski with stiffness and such – I think we’ve seen that before! I took a run over by the Mountain Triple with a more cruising theme as we’d done before, and just opened up the Mantras. Well, those things just flew! They were an impressively fast, powerful ski. That was a lot of fun, even if I pushed it a bit into the scary zone at times with the high speeds. Fortunately, the trails were getting pretty empty as we approached the end of the day, so it was easy to let it rip from edge to edge on the runs. Ty was happy that I was going Mach 5 down the trails, because he likes to do that sometimes… or more like all the time if we give him the chance. Anyway, those Mantras were a lot of fun, in a stiffer, less forgiving, take charge, longer turn sort of way. I knew going in that they were not what I was looking for in new skis, but they’ll be great if that’s the sort of skiing you like.
I’d mentioned to the demo guys that I wanted to try something with full rocker, and the ski that they had on hand that I could try was a 170 cm Volkl RTM 81 (126/81/108). For me, a fully rockered ski with no camber is about smearing turns, drifting, and all that, so it seemed weird to think of it in a Volkl. The RTM 81 also has a narrower, 81 mm waist that what I’d been skiing. That seems more like a waist for carving, so I was flummoxed as to what the ski was actually meant to do. Ty and I took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes and the Nosedive Glades to see if the full rocker would help with drifting and sliding through those tight spaces. It was fine, but it didn’t really seem as though that was what it was meant to do. I want to float on top of the snow if I’m going to be smearing turns and sliding sideways, and in a relative sense, these skis didn’t really have the width to excel at that. I did find that they were awesomely fun to carve when we got out on Nosedive. Talking with the guy in the demo shop later, I asked him what the target audience was for such a ski, and he said something to the effect of “Oh, only about 50% of the people that walk in here and ski at this mountain.” I couldn’t figure that out – people want a relatively skinny, fully rockered ski – for what? Based on my conversations throughout the day, I certainly didn’t get the impression that the shop guy and the typical clientele he spoke of are out there on rockered boards so that they can smear and drift turns in the soft snow more easily, but I guess you never know. Later, after looking online for some info on the ski, it appears as though the Volkl RTM 81 is more of a front side carver. I guess it was once again that theme of me not really being on the same wavelength as the guy in the shop. I always thought that camber was what one wanted for carving, so I’m not sure why full rocker is put into a carving ski, and a Volkl to boot. Anyway, they were fun to carve, that sort of ski would be interesting to try in firm conditions to see what they do.
“At least based on the skis I tried, it was fairly easy to come away from the day with the Sin 7 as the clear front runner for my purposes.”
At least based on the skis I tried, it was fairly easy to come away from the day with the Sin 7 as the clear front runner for my purposes. I’m looking for something nimble and flexible that is going to carve tight arcs, fit into tight spaces, and surf on soft snow. The 180 cm length I tried was fine, but I’d definitely go for the 172 cm, or even the 164 cm. Officially I’m in the 172 cm range for my weight, but I’d certainly consider going with the 164 cm, even though everyone says to go longer. I’ve yet to encounter a ski that is too short for what I want, but I can’t say the same for skis that are annoyingly long, and I’m happy to get rid of extra length. I’ve encountered none of the disadvantages that people speak of with regard to shorter skis as my skis have gotten shorter and wider. That’s the shape of the tool for the type of skiing we typically do – soft snow, with short-radius turns in smaller spaces.
Prior to this outing, I’d only tried out skis on demo days, and the one thing I did learn today was that if you want to try demo skis from a shop while having a full selection of models and sizes available, you should shoot for the first half of the season. The guy at Stowe Toys said that they actually started selling off their gear in the middle of February. I’m thankful that they had at least one Sin 7 pair left on hand, because that ski really seemed to best hit the sweet spot I was looking for. Unfortunately, I still don’t know what the Soul 7 feels like, but I’m sold enough on the feel and fit of the Sin 7 that I think they would be a fantastic everyday ski for our typical soft conditions, and having another alpine pair of something wider like my AMPerages for bigger days might work. Actually, at almost 100 mm underfoot, I’m sure the Sin 7 would work fine for everything if I was going to try to go with just one pair of alpine skis. As much fun as fat skis are in powder, they’re far from mandatory.
“…the snowpack, snow surfaces, temperatures, terrain… it all came together to set up some primo spring skiing.”
The overall ski experience today was simply great – the snowpack, snow surfaces, temperatures, terrain… it all came together to set up some primo spring skiing. One complaint would be that there were lift queues for the Fourrunner Quad; it was weird to be waiting in a lift queue in mid April, but with great conditions and only a couple of lifts running, I guess that can happen. For the boys, it was a chance to ski with both E and I on Mansfield without the time constraints and other obligations that happen on many ski program days. On a number of runs, we used the great bumps on Lower National to work on those technical aspects of turns like timing, pole work, rotation, etc. that moguls really bring out. Dylan showed us some impressive runs through there as he continued to refine his upper and lower body separation, and for Ty, who has always naturally had great technique with his poles, we kept him thinking about it as we’d noticed that he tends to let it laps at times. Although they had their fat skis today for the soft snow, you could really see how the rocker in the skis let them slide right through the moguls with whatever amount of carve or slarve the immediate environment required. We all took turns following each other, and I had a great time on Dylan’s Heels watching him make those little personal choices about which line or angle was the best fit as the run progressed. One of Dylan’s favorite accomplishments of the day was actually up in the Nosedive Glades, where he laid down this beautiful drift of close to 180 degrees around one of the trees. It was one of those spontaneous situations where he came upon the right snow and terrain, and it just happened so smoothly that it was a thing of beauty. We actually kept looking for that spot on subsequent runs to recreate the drift, but never seemed to quite find it. We could sort of tell though that it was one of those situations where the spontaneity of the first encounter played into the experience, and you can never quite recreate it anyway. It was a great move though, and seeing him do it couldn’t have been more apt on a day when I was trying out all the sets of wider, rockered skis that give one the ability to put those types of moves into action more easily.
We capped off the afternoon with a trip to Sushi Yoshi, where Ty was able to get his sushi fix, or at least a partial fix, since it’s been hard to find the limit on his consumption. I did get to eat a few pieces without losing my hands to the fray on the sushi board. We’re now eyeing the potential for a winter storm around midweek, so we’ll see if we can get some powder infused into this April. E and the boys have the week off, so we may be able to take advantage of the storm with some family skiing if it comes together.
“…a healthy layer of smooth, dense snow that offered up some great turns and did a nice job of covering the subsurface.”
E and Dylan had midday communion practice, but Ty and I planned to ski, and I’d alerted Ty about the potential for some fresh snow earlier in the week. He was definitely ready for some skiing, but I was still torn about whether or not to head out first thing in the morning. Either the snow was going to be good and wintry from the get go because it was soft and sufficient to cover up the old subsurface, or we’d have to wait for it to soften up. We told E and Dylan that we might just end up doing a run or two if the snow wasn’t good, and Ty was definitely prepared for the worst. I brought both fat and mid-fat Telemark skis for me, and fat alpines and Telemark skis for Ty – we also brought out skins and ski packs in case we got ambitious and wanted to earn some untracked powder over on the upper part of the Gondola area.
Ultimately we went with a mid morning start, finding temperatures in the mid 30s F at the base of Mansfield. The snow on the lowest slopes of the mountain had clearly softened into something nice based on the sounds (or lack of them) we heard from the lift, but up in the higher elevations, the temperature was below freezing and the quality of the skiing was still a mystery. The top half of the mountain remained in the clouds, and appeared to be well protected from any warming effects of the sun. We started off the day’s explorations near Ridgeview, and with a few quick samplings off piste it was quickly evident that the high-elevation snow was not some hard, refrozen amalgam of immovable ice, but a healthy layer of smooth, dense, sugary powder that offered up some great turns and did a nice job of covering the subsurface. Discovering this, we quickly dove into the trees toward Toll Road, and Ty was immediately captivated by the quality of the turns. He confirmed that we wouldn’t be going home after just one run. We found ourselves certainly more “on” than “in” the powder, based on the density, but the turns were silky smooth and skiing the trees was like mid winter. We worked our way down through a series of gladed areas on the various tiers of Upper Toll Road, before reaching Sunrise. Ty is always talking about how much he likes Toll Road, more for the glades that cut the switchbacks than anything else, and with the discovery of all these new lines it’s becoming even more attractive. We’ll have to find a way to get in there more often; perhaps I’ll have to capitalize on Ty’s requests. We dove back into the Sunrise Trees, and continued into the Chapel Glades, with good snow all the way to the Chapel. The snow really started to transition to a wetter, spring-style consistency below that point, and going was slowed on Lower Tyro. We did catch some nice, albeit somewhat sloppy and wet, fresh tracks down there though. After the experience of that first run, I was ever so close to grabbing my fat skis off the car and switching to them, but the mid-fats were getting the job done and I decided to save the time.
On the next run I decided it was time to introduce Ty to the Bypass Chutes. He’d never been in there before that I can recall, but I told him that it was like doing the Kitchen Wall traverse in the opposite direction. We traversed high, and saw a lot of good lines. The snow was definitely the deepest of the day out there, and when we finally hit an area where my depth checks revealed 11 inches of new snow, it was time to ride. I couldn’t believe how deep the snow was in that area, but you could see that it was likely spillover from the ice cliffs above. Mt. Mansfield always seems to find a way to deliver the goods. Ty hiked up a bit higher than me to get a good starting point, and then let it rip down a beautiful line, while I shots some photos. Some other skiers who were on the traverse below us stopped to watch the show, and gave him props for his turns. Ty was definitely loving his first experience in the Bypass Chutes; it’s totally his kind of terrain. The trip through various steep cutes continued, until we reached Rimrock. We worked our way over to check out the Gondola area next, and eventually got back into that springtime snow as we dropped in elevation. One nice aspect of this recent storm made itself apparent though – the sleet that fell really isn’t all that different than corn snow, so it really made a quick transition to something other than mush. There were still sticky areas due to the recent snow, but overall that snow was transitioning to a nice spring snow much quicker than dry, fine-grained powder would.
“…the turns were
silky smooth and
skiing the trees
was like mid
We had a good lunch in the Mansfield Base Lodge, and by the time we got back out, the clouds had risen up to near the peaks, and it was really starting to warm up. There were even some breaks in the clouds off to the east and it was starting to turn into a partly sunny day. The freezing level had climbed all the way to the top of the Fourrunner Quad. We did get back into the Upper Toll Road Glades, but the snow was much wetter than it had been, and we spent most of the run back on the trails. Although not quite up to the level it was before, the skiing was still decent, but Ty was pretty tired and we called it a day. We’ve got more precipitation falling this evening though, and with temperatures in the 30s F down here in the valley, it’s going to be frozen up high. The snowpack at the stake continues to sit in that 70-80 inch range, and coverage remains excellent at Stowe all the way down to the lowest elevations. I suspect the mountain could be sitting at roughly 100% open if they really had the traffic to warrant it.
Some of the Northern Vermont ski areas have picked up close to (or in the case of Jay Peak, substantially more than) a foot of snow in the past seven days, and while that’s actually a fairly modest pace for snow accrual in the mountains this time of year, it’s helped to get surfaces back to packed powder since they hardened up last week. The snow has generally been dry and fluffy, so even with all that accumulation it hasn’t been a thorough resurfacing for all slopes. However, my explorations Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network revealed that the powder is building and there are some nice turns to be had. Temperatures were expected to be in the single digits in the highest elevations today, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some sidecountry exploration instead of riding lifts. And, since Claire and I have been talking about bringing our Stowe ski group for a trip on the Bruce Trail one of these days, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for some reconnaissance. There’s no doubt that everyone in the group is ready for the skiing on the Bruce, but I still wanted to familiarize myself with the route to ensure that the trip would go smoothly with all the boys in tow.
“In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range.”
Temperatures hovered right around 10 F all the way to the base of the resort, and there was sun and no wind, so it wasn’t feeling too frigid at the point. The resort had snow guns going on various trails, no doubt taking advantage of the temperatures to bolster base depths that were probably brought down a bit by the warmth earlier in the month. I rode the Fourrunner Quad with a guy who had already been out for some runs, and he said the conditions were quite good. Listening to the turns of the skiers below us, it did sound pretty quiet. I could see the occasional icy spot, but the surface seemed to be mostly packed powder just as the snow report had indicated. The snow over the past week has definitely been having an effect in terms of softening up surfaces.
“While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest.”
From the quad summit I headed over to the top of the Bruce Trail – a few tracks indicated that some skiers had already skied it today, but I dropped in via an alternate entrance to get an untracked line. The line was pretty steep and I was definitely touching down on the subsurface, but I could tell that I’d be able to get in some good powder turns on some lower angle terrain. The top part of the Bruce wasn’t really all that inspiring today – it’s pretty steep, a lot of pitches face southward, and it’s narrower than I’d thought it would be. I’d say it’s only 10 to 12 feet wide on average in the upper sections, which means that in reality it’s going to be tracked out and packed down after just a few skiers hit it. With its somewhat southern aspect making for spots of poor coverage here and there, it skied even narrower today. The snow was generally skier packed, so my fat Telemark skis were indeed feeling slow edge to edge, and I had to throw in a good number of alpine turns to fit in some of those small spaces dictated by the trail width and coverage.
While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest. The trail is notably wider in that area, and there are a lot more glade options for venturing off the sides of the main route. In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range. All those depths were definitely enough for some nice powder turns on moderate angle terrain though. With the narrow nature of the Bruce Trail in the top sections, it’s really not a trail that’s going to offer up much in terms of fresh powder, so those looking for a sidecountry experience with real untracked snow would probably be best served by using the Bruce as a jumping off point for explorations of the Ranch Valley. The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now (right around the 40” mark), but I could see a multitude of ski options all around during my descent. I noted a couple of potential areas for exploration up in the evergreen areas, but choices really exploded once down in the hardwoods. It would be easy to make a day of it out there, or, ski the resort in the morning and then tour out in the Ranch Valley in the afternoon and finish off the day by skiing out to Route 108.
At around the 1,500’ elevation, I entered the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center. This is the part I’d been concerned about in terms of making the correct choices to get out to Route 108 and the Matterhorn. It turns out that it’s much easier than I’d thought; you simply stay on the Bruce, and Burt Trails, following the signs that say “Ski Lift”. Even though you may not be planning to head back to the Toll House Lift, those “Ski Lift” signs are the way to go. Eventually you’ll get to a junction where following the “Ski Lift” route is a very obvious (and somewhat arduous looking) uphill, so you won’t want to go that way. By that point there are signs that indicate “Route 108”, and those will get you right out to the Matterhorn area. At every intersection you essentially go straight through, so in a worst case scenario, go with that. The trek through Stowe’s Nordic trails, and a small portion of the trails that belong to the Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center, is slightly downhill, but there’s plenty of poling and skating to be done. I was happy to have my Telemark gear, even if I looked funny with my skis being three times the width of the other Nordic skiers ambling around on the trails. I generally took it slow and enjoyed the scenery, which included some marvelous views of the Ranch Brook. The brook had that winter look with some flowing water, but also lots of ice, and snow pillows covering the rocks.
The final leg of the descent on Ranch Brook Road brings your right out on the “Ski Inn” driveway, next door to the Matterhorn, and across the street from The Notchbrook Convenience Store. I had time before the next uphill Mountain Road Shuttle arrived, so I stopped into the Matterhorn to get some sushi… only to discover that they don’t have sushi on Mondays. Clearly I’m going to have to hit the Bruce again with the boys on a different day so that we can finish that part of the adventure. So instead, I popped across the street to the store and got a snack before catching the shuttle back up to my car in the Mt. Mansfield lot. One thing I should note about the shuttle – the ski slots on the outside are still fairly old school, so if you’ve got fat and/or twin tip skis, you might have to bring them on the bus with you. Apparently that happens a lot, because the driver immediately knew what my issue was when I inquired. Missing out on the sushi, I did stop off at Harvest Market for a couple of samosas on the way home, and that definitely filled the void. So, today’s outing offered up some good turns in the powder, and was certainly a successful reconnaissance. The route down to the Matterhorn is easy, and I can tell that the biggest hurdle is going to be getting the boys through the flatter terrain at the end of the run. If that’s the toughest part we have to deal with though, it should be a lot of fun.
Weather-wise, the day turned out much warmer than the forecast seemed to suggest – it was 20 F once I was back down in the valley, and before I’d realized that, I couldn’t figure out why it felt so comfortable. The sunny skies from earlier in the day had clouded over ahead of another small snowfall event that’s supposed to hit us tonight into tomorrow – these are the sorts of storms we’ve got for now until something bigger comes along, but at least we’re getting something.