Tag Archives: Garmont Gara

Mt. Washington, NH 16MAY2017

An imae of Rob skiing Hillman's Highway on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Hillman’s Highway was the choice today for our trip to Mt. Washington

As the spring semester winds down, many of our graduating biochemistry majors here at UVM have been getting out to enjoy the remaining snow in the mountains of both New Hampshire and Vermont.  I’ve been hearing some fun reports, so when Rob invited me to join one of their Mt Washington adventures, I was definitely interested.  His plan was for the Tuesday of senior week, weather permitting of course.  My schedule looked good, so I was hopeful for the chance to commune with some of the seniors in the great outdoors before they’d begin departing after graduation.

“We could see that there had been some sloughing there due to the new snow, but the lower areas we could see looked quite settled and stable, and there had already been plenty of skier traffic in the gully.”

Mother Nature threw some rather interesting weather into the mix ahead of the planned trip, with Mt Washington picking up almost 3 feet of new snow at summit elevations over the past couple of days, and over a foot down at Hermit Lake.  That was a lot of new snow, and the avalanche report suggest that northerly winds would be loading the more southerly-facing gullies and cross-loading the east-facing ones.  Temperatures were expected to rise significantly today, which we knew would result in plenty of settling depending on elevation.  There seemed to be enough potential to find at least some level of safe skiing, so we decided that we’d check with the staff on scene in the Hermit Lake area, and the trip was on.

An image of water pouring from a gutter at the Hermit Lake Caretaker's Cabin near Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Meltwater pours from a gutter at the Hermit Lake Caretaker’s Cabin as rising temperatures melt off the recent snow.

Only Rob and Emily ended up being able to make the trip, but I met them at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, and after getting our gear together, we were on our way.  I’ve hiked up to the Tuckerman Ravine area many times, but with the new snow I decided to try a gear setup that I’ve never used before.  Instead of brining two pairs of boots (hiking boots and ski boots), I wanted to just wear my mid-weight Telemark boots for everything, hiking and skiing.  It turns out that the setup worked great; my Garmont Gara boots have got rubber Vibram soles so they were plenty comfortable and pliable on the ascent through a lot of dry, rocky terrain.  Ascending from Pinkham Notch at ~2,000’, we saw our first signs of snow at 2,650’, and at around 3,400’ the snow cover was continuous enough that I was able to start skinning there and made it right up to Hermit Lake.  The new foot or so of snow had certainly helped with the potential for skinning – coverage would have been somewhat less continuous on that last part of the ascent without it.

We assessed the snow/ski terrain situation from there, and while most of Hillman’s was visible with clouds just skimming the upper reaches, Tuckerman Ravine was generally socked in.  After consulting with the staff at Hermit Lake, and using what we could see, we decided that Hillman’s Highway was the way to go.  Most skiers we encountered seemed to be making the same decision.  We could see that there had been some sloughing there due to the new snow, but the lower areas we could see looked quite settled and stable, and there had already been plenty of skier traffic in the gully.

An image of Hillman's Highway on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire viewed from the Hermit Lake area
Hillman’s Highway from the Hermit Lake area

Emily and I skinned up the first part of gully, but around halfway it was just getting too steep and we had to switch to hiking.  Thankfully there was a nice boot ladder already in place on climber’s right.  I stopped around mid-gully where I figured I’d still get plenty of descent, and set myself in a good position with my camera.  Emily and Rob headed up to where the gully splits into a Y, and went a little farther up the climber’s right option before settling down in a sheltered area of rocks.  Above that point the snow hadn’t been skied and was a little questionable, and in that regard they were on the same page as other folks skiing in the area.

An image of Emily paused during a ski run on Hillman's Higway on Mt. Washington in New HampshireThe best skiing was in areas where there had been some skier traffic that got down to the older corn snow surface, and the toughest turns were in the mush that had settled down near the bottom of the gully.  The Sherburne Ski Trail had actually opened back up a bit with the new snow, and we were able to ski about a third of it before we had to cut back to the hiking trail.  After that the descent was quick, and we were back at the cars saying our goodbyes.

An image of the summit snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
A view of the summit snowfields of Mt. Washington from Hillman’s Highway after almost 3 feet of snow in the past few days

The new snow is going to get even better with a couple of freeze-thaw cycles, and it’s certainly bolstered the snowpack somewhat in the higher elevations.  Although they were in and out of the clouds, the summit snowfields looked really nice, so there should eventually be some excellent skiing up there with easy access as soon as the road opens back up.

Stowe, VT 25MAY2014

An image of Jay skiing the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont over Memorial Day Weekend
Out for some Memorial Day Weekend turns on Mt. Mansfield

This Memorial Day Weekend certainly hasn’t been like last year, with its two feet of new snow, but even from Waterbury one can see that Mt. Mansfield still has some of this season’s snow left on it, and with today’s great weather, it was hard to pass up the chance for some skiing. We’d actually been keeping our eyes on the weather over at Mt. Washington for a potential trip to ski the summit snowfields this weekend, but the forecast for nice weather didn’t end up being quite solid enough for us to make the commitment. Of course, being around at home meant that the opportunity was there for some local turns. I thought last week’s ski trip with E and the boys might be our last turns on Mansfield for the season, but that wasn’t the case… at least for me. Even last week, the skiing payoff relative to the hike was getting pretty marginal for the rest of the family, so although I did a perfunctory check to see if any of them wanted to go, I would have been surprised if any of them said yes. This time of year, it’s typically a good idea to go into a ski tour with the intention of enjoying the hike itself, because it’s often a big part of the outing relative to the skiing. If either of the boys had wanted to go on today’s tour, they would have had their work cut out for them, because I knew that it would require at least 1,000’ vertical of hiking before hitting decent snow. They barely have the patience for earning turns when the skiing is top to bottom, so all that hiking before getting to the snow wouldn’t be well received.

“You can get a nice 300’ or
so of vertical out of it, and
if you wanted something
to lap with the best turns,
that would be the place.”

After some midday yard work with the boys, I finally headed off to Stowe in the mid afternoon. The valley temperatures were generally in the mid 70s F, and the skies were mostly clear aside from a few clouds here and there, and a surprising number of leftover contrails. From Waterbury Center I could already see patches of snow left on Mt. Mansfield near the Cliff House, so I knew that the Nosedive area would have snow. I parked in the Midway Lot at 1,600’ where I saw a few other cars, but very little activity aside from the occasional group of hikers. Temperatures were still warm, so my setup for the ascent was a short sleeve polypro T-shirt, shorts, and socks/Tele boots, and I packed my ski pants, a long sleeve polypro shirt, and my gloves in my pack for later use. I’ve been very impressed with just how flexible my Garmont Garas have been these past few warm, spring-style outings. Throw them in walk mode and add temperatures like today, and it’s like walking in a pair of stiff hiking boots. They’ve got Vibram soles, so the grip is nice on most surfaces. They certainly don’t match up to the a pair of good hiking boots when trying to hop from boulder to boulder working one’s way across alpine areas of Mt. Washington, but for traipsing around on the generally grassy or slightly rocky slopes below tree line, you can hardly tell that they’re there. For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times. Of course I probably make up for some of the weight savings carrying camera gear, but the light weight of Telemark skis and bindings also cuts down on the pounds.

An image of thunderclouds off to the east in New Hampshire as viewed from near the Octagon summit building at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the mountain views of storm clouds off to the east
An image of a trout lily wildflower in spring on the Nosedive ski trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Signs of spring during the hike

As far as the snow goes, there were a couple of piles here and there even down near the base, but nothing of real consequence. I didn’t start to see more consistent patches on Nosedive until I got up around the 2,100’ mark at the junction with National. What I did get to see in the lower elevations was the appearance of wildflowers, including what looked like some trout lilies on their way toward opening up. Even though we had some rain yesterday, Nosedive was really pretty dry aside from areas in close proximity to snow patches or the occasional water bar with meltwater, so that made the hiking especially easy. The mid afternoon sun was still quite strong during my ascent, so I hiked in the shade when possible. As for the insects, all I saw was the occasional mosquito, so that made for a pleasurable ascent on that front. The presence of patchy snow off to climber’s left was all that I saw until I got up near 2,600’, and just below the intersection of Cliff Trail I saw the first area of coverage across the whole width of the trail. That was only an isolated section, and it was back to grass for a while above there, but once I got up to ~2,900’ I got into the nearly continuous snow, and there was even some snow remaining in the trees on both sides of the trail. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just up above that location at ~3,700’ was down to only two inches as of today’s report, although it was certainly deeper in those areas of trees I saw. I continued my ascent all the way up to roughly 3,600’ because the snow just kept going. There were a couple more breaks, but they were small enough that it kept me interested in reaching the top pile near the junction with the Toll Road (which is definitely open – I saw a car on its way down while I was up there).

An image of some leftover snow on the Nosedive ski trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont over Memorial Day Weekend
The bottom section of today’s snow on Nosedive

At the top I could definitely feel the ascent, so I downed a GU and cracked open and Odwalla smoothie that I’d been saving for the top. Between the amounts of sugar in those, recovery and rejuvenation were quick. I moseyed around up there for a bit and got a few pictures, and then geared up for the descent. If you’ve ever wondered about why you’ve got full side zippers on your ski pants, well here’s one of those perfect situations that call for them. You don’t spend time taking off you ski boots to get your pants on, you open up those zippers, strap on your pants, and off you go. The first big section of snow right at the top of Nosedive was just a big mound, with pretty dirty snow, but the snow on the second corner was a bit better, and then better again on the third. The best area of snow though is that one leading down to 2,900’. It’s the longest area without a gap, and it’s got some of the smoothest snow. You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place. The consistency of the corn snow was great, although that almost seems to be a given on the remaining snow at this time of the year unless it’s just too cold to soften it at all. It was a bit dirty in spots as one might expect, and there were some sun cups and other aberrations, but especially on that lower snowfield area, the turns were quite smooth.

“For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and
hike down comfortably in
one pair of boots makes everything so much easier,
both in terms of weight and
ascent/descent transition times.”

After the bottom of that section, I strapped the skis on once more for that area below the junction with Cliff Trail, and then hiked out the rest of the run. The down hike was very quick, with the generally dry, grassy trail making for great traction, and it was only about 15 minutes or so from that last area I skied to get back to the car. I actually heard a band playing during the final few hundred feet of my descent, and after swinging through the Spruce Peak Base Area on my way home, it seemed like there was a wedding event going on. They certainly got a great day for it. The long-lasting light is great on these days as we approach the solstice – it was already after 7:00 P.M. by the time I was at the car, but there was plenty of light left. I hit the grocery store on the way home, and then we cooked outside and had dinner and some time at the fire pit. It’s really nice to have some of that local snow hanging around to get in some skiing over the holiday – and as much fun as it was to have the two feet of fresh snow last year, the weather in the valleys wasn’t great for outdoor activities, so this type of Memorial Day Weekend is also pretty sweet.

An image of Erica, Dylan, and Ty by the fire pit in Waterbury Vermont
Today’s weather made for a great evening outside.

Stowe, VT 20APR2013

An image of Erica skiing spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
On the spring snow today at Stowe

We almost did a little skiing at Stowe on Thursday this week, but it was just starting to rain when we stopped in at the mountain around midday, and with E and the boys a bit under the weather, we decided to hold off.  The weather was much better today, so we headed up to Mansfield in the afternoon to make a few turns.  Temperatures were up around 50 F in the mountain valleys, and the sky was a mix of clouds and sun, so it seemed like a reasonable spring skiing day.  It was only in the 40s F at the base of the mountain, but that was still more than warm enough to soften up the slopes.

An image of the women's Scarpa T2 Eco Telemark boot

One item of note today was that it was E’s first chance to try out her new Telemark ski boots that she bought a couple of weeks ago.  After almost six seasons of using the $50 boots that she picked up at the South Burlington Ski Swap, it was finally time to up the fit and performance level of her Telemark footwear.  Her boots had always been just a bit on the large side, and she’d just either worn some thicker socks or dealt with the minor inconvenience, but when she got some fatter Telemark skis this season (Black Diamond Element) with a width of 115 mm underfoot, the fit became a real concern.  There weren’t any serious issues in untracked powder, but as firmer or more uneven surfaces were encountered, the slop in the boot was clearly making things difficult.  Relative to a narrow-waisted ski, getting a wide ski like that on edge takes more pressure, and if you don’t have a snug fit in your boot, you’re potentially going to have problems when you encounter groomed or other firm surfaces.  Since I have the standard, slightly stiffer version of her ski (Black Diamond AMPerage) I could feel the extra force required to get the ski up on edge when encountering groomed surfaces, but I found the inconvenience fairly trivial in a good-fitting boot.  With that in mind, E got a gift certificate from Outdoor Gear Exchange for her birthday last month so the she could go and get the boot that she liked best without thinking about the price; she’s more than paid her dues the past six seasons in her current boots.  E’s birthday has always been timely for ski-related gear, and as is typical, all the current boots are on sale now that we’re near the end of the ski season.  After a solid boot-fitting session with one of the associates, she found the Scarpa Women’s T2 Eco to be the perfect fit.  It’s a three-buckle boot with a power strap, similar to my Garmont Garas.  It looks like they’ll be a great boot for the combination of lift-served and backcountry skiing that we do.  It’s also interesting to note that Scarpa T2s were the Telemark boots we tried back in 2002 at Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana on our first day of Telemark skiing ever.  We had no other reference at that point, but liked the boots a lot.

“As for conditions on the
hill, they were a mixture
of corn snow bordering
on loose granular at the
very top, which blended to
a softer corn snow below.”

While we were getting changed in the lodge, Ty found an Easter egg in his Telemark boots, and we realized that it’s been a few weeks since he’s been out on his Telemark skis.  While Dylan had last used his Telemark skis for our trip down the Bruce Trail on March 31st, for Ty it’s been since back in mid March when the boys and I skinned over to Wilderness at Bolton for fresh tracks.  That’s over a month that he’s been off his Telemark gear, so indeed it was good that he was getting out for an opportunity to keep working on his skills.

As for conditions on the hill, they were a mixture of corn snow bordering on loose granular at the very top, which blended to a softer corn snow below.  I enjoyed the snow a lot, being able to really bite in and carve, although Ty and Dylan felt like they were being pushed around in the soft snow at times.  The major downside I found today was that it wasn’t quite warm enough to really soften up the subsurface to where I like it, so there were occasional encounters with firm patches.  Both boys were still feeling the effects of being under the weather this week and they didn’t really have their usual levels of energy.  With the combination of low energy and what they found to be challenging snow, they ended up going pretty minimal on the number of Telemark turns they made.  They stuck with alpine most of the time, but at least they got a bit of Tele practice and were out in the fresh air.

“Those were
some very
smooth turns.”

E immediately noticed the security and stability in her new boots.  They were noticeably harder to flex than her old boots, but of course these are new, and her old ones must have seen a decade worth of ski seasons… and they had cracks in the bellows as well.  The rigidity and support in her new boots must be light years ahead of what she had.  E was quite impressed with the increased control she had with the new boots, she said that she could feel the soft snow wanting to push her skis around, but she could overpower that more easily and direct her skis wherever she wanted.  She said that she couldn’t do that to nearly the same degree with her old boots.

An image of Erica skiing in spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont as she tries out the Scarpa Women's T2 Eco Telemark ski boots
The new boots in action

By our second run, temperatures seemed like they were cooling, because the snow was beginning to tighten up near the summit of the Fourrunner Quad.  By that point the boys had had enough skiing anyway, as they were feeling tired.  One can always tell when Ty is tired, because he’ll take a seat or lie down when we stop on the trail.  He used to do that a lot when he was much younger since he didn’t have any stamina, but if we see it frequently now, we know he’s getting tapped out.  We did finish that next run on quite a high note by catching some untracked corn snow on Lower Gulch.  Those were some very smooth turns.  On a weather-related note, we were very surprised to find that it was actually snowing at times this afternoon, despite the fairly warm temperatures.  Clearly some colder air has moved in at the higher elevations to support the snow we saw, because that’s the only type of precipitation that fell.

So E had a great experience with her new boots today, and I think it’s going to be interesting as she tries them out under different conditions, and eventually on her fat, powder skis.  It seems like they’re going to give her much more control, but we’ll just have to see what the combination of boots and skis is like.  I realize now that after checking them out more closely, that her old boots are actually only a two-buckle model with a power strap; they seem like they might be some Scarpa T3s, and an old well-used T3 from a decade ago is going to be a dramatically different boot than a modern T2.  I’m sure we’ll have more boot updates as we move ahead in the spring skiing season.