I was busy with a bunch of work at the house today, but with the recent powder, a solid base below it, and afternoon blue skies with temperatures in the 20s F, it was just too nice of day not to get out. I decided to head to the mountain for a quick backcountry tour up to Bryant Cabin and down through some of numerous glades below it. The resort was really hoppin’ with visitors, and with the gorgeous afternoon and people probably making up for lost ski time during out slow December, it wasn’t surprising. Fortunately, I was quickly able to get a parking spot right along the Nordic trails in one of the tennis court lots.
I got on my way and checked the depth of the powder at Village level. Bolton Valley had reported 18 inches from the storm in their higher elevations, and I found that settled powder depths today at ~2,000’ were 10-12 inches. I could see that coverage was excellent as I skinned my way up the Bryant Trail; there really aren’t any concerns about bare spots on the main routes at this point. Up at the cabin at ~2,700 I found that the depth of the powder had bumped up a couple of inches to the 12-14” range. It was a gorgeous time to be out on the trails in that last hour before sunset, and I saw a few other Nordic and backcountry skiers out there enjoying the scene as well.
“I’ve got to say, you know the Northern Greens are a pretty sweet spot for snow when we’re currently running in the bottom 5% of ski seasons on terms of snowfall, and there’s still plentiful base and powder for midwinter-quality powder skiing.”
I took a descent route through several of my favorite glades in the North Slope/Gardiner’s Lane area including Grizzwald and Girl’s, others that I’m not sure of the names, and still others that I don’t think have names because they’re likely just areas of the forest that are naturally appropriate for skiing. The powder turns were fantastic; the base is plenty deep and the amount of powder for even blue and black pitches was plenty for bottomless floatation on my fat skis. I’ve got to say, you know the Northern Greens are a pretty sweet spot for snow when we’re currently running in the bottom 5% of ski seasons on terms of snowfall, and there’s still plentiful base and powder for midwinter-quality powder skiing. I suspect the very steepest terrain is probably not quite there yet in terms of coverage, but from what I skied, you’d almost never even guess that snowpack is only in the 2 to 3-foot range. The only hints I had that things weren’t quite at the typical Northern Greens midwinter depth were those instances where you might feel a slight pressure/bump where a log sits under the base, vs. never even knowing it exists. In any event, the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network is in great shape, so get out and enjoy it. There’s certainly something to be said for having the base elevation above 2,000’.
I managed to catch fresh tracks through various glades and tree areas all the way down to the bottom of World Cup, and then skied out and hiked to the Village to order up some sandwiches and pizza to bring back for E and the boys. They were busy and/or tired today so I didn’t pressure them much to head up to the mountain, especially since I was unsure of the conditions, but I definitely let them know how great it was when I got back.
The boys both ended up staying over at the Handler’s house last night, and we wouldn’t be picking them up until the Warren Miller ski movie (No Turning Back) in Stowe this evening, so that gave E and I a chance to get out for a bit of skiing together today. I got a really good sampling of the snow and glade conditions on my solo ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network yesterday, and I found some spots that I thought E would really like, so I planned on a mini tour that would let us focus on just those glades. The Gotham City area and the glades below that looked like a very good option; based on the pitch, tree spacing, and depth and consistency of the powder, it felt like a good fit for E’s off piste Telemark skills.
Temperatures were rising today ahead of our next incoming winter storm, and they were right around the freezing mark when we arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village at midday. The resort was absolutely packed with the cars of visitors; now that the temperatures were nice and comfortable, presumably everyone was making their holiday trips to the slopes. The Village lots were actually all full and they were parking people down at Timberline, but since we’d be visiting the Nordic side of the resort, we figured we’d be able to find something down by the Nordic Center. Even down there it took some creative parking to get a spot, but we managed one in the lowest tier of the main area.
We walked over to the tennis court area, strapped on our skis and began following a short skin track that others had made that quickly merged onto Broadway. From there it was up to the Bryant trail, where we stopped at the highest junction with World Cup to drop some layers and open some vents. We continued on Bryant up to the 2,400′ elevation, where we cut off over toward Coyote. There’s a skin track leading right up into Gotham City that I’d seen yesterday, and my estimates were that an elevation of ~2,400′ was just about right for getting there. Indeed we quickly found the skin track off Coyote, and it was just another few minutes up to Gotham City. They even have a sign now that welcomes you to the area. I’m not sure when it was, but at some point today I realized that Gotham City must of course be name after Ann Gotham of Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry. I’d initially thought that the name referred somehow to the Gotham City of Batman fame, but the link to Ann seems so obvious now.
We stopped our ascent in the middle of Gotham City to switch over for descending, and we were treated to sunshine peeking in and out from behind clouds as we enjoyed the mild air and snowy scene. We had some soup and hot chocolate, but they almost seemed out of place with the relatively mild weather. Despite the rising temperatures, the powder had appeared to hold up pretty well in areas we’d checked during our ascent, but we soon noticed that it was starting to stick to our skis in sunny areas. We knew we’d better get a move on lest the powder turn to mush on us.
We headed down by skiing a combination of Girls and Sasquash, and fortunately the powder was still decent in the more shaded areas. It was starting to turn in sunnier areas though, and when we got into some of the lower elevation glades below World Cup, it was definitely past its prime. Fortunately we’ve got a winter storm on the way this evening, with Winter Storm Warnings up for the Northern Greens. A good storm will make quick work of any adulterations to the powder in those lower elevations.
In any event, we got some good turns, hit four different glades in that short tour, and finished off on the Telemark Practice Slope. I bet one could easily do that tour in under an hour if they got right to it and didn’t pause to do other things. An efficient route for access might be just to go up Coyote, although I’m not sure if the skinning there would be quite as easy as on Bryant since it’s not used as much. We’ll definitely get back there with E, and hopefully the boys with even better snow, but it’s a great little tour that hits some beautiful ski terrain.
This evening we met up with the Handler’s and the boys at Bender’s Burritos on the Mountain Road in Stowe. Our family has been a few times now since Ty really likes burritos, but apparently it was a first visit for everyone but Jeff in his family. It’s a small place that seats maybe a dozen people, and we were worried that it might be packed with holiday visitors, but we essentially had it to ourselves. A memorable part of the experience was watching the end of the Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game, in which the Packers seemed to have it all locked up with just a little time to go, but the Seahawks made a ridiculous comeback to win the game. At one point the Bender’s staff was all out front at the counter, eyes riveted to the screen as they watched the dramatic conclusion of the game. Of most importance of course was the fact that the winner of the game could potential be playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I think everyone had a great meal – I got a fish burrito as I often do, going with the cod this time.
“An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up…”
The next phase of the evening was to head up to the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center at the resort to watch the latest Warren Miller ski movie, No Turning Back. We usually catch it in the fall at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, but we didn’t get a chance this year. It was just sort of luck when I found that it was playing at Spruce Peak because I was getting some links for another ski trip report. When Jeff found out about the movie, that set things in motion and he got us all tickets. I believe this showing of the movie is one of those put on by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, and it’s very unlike the Flynn Theater experience. Whereas that’s a real raucous affair filled with hundreds and hundreds of people, this was a much mellower time, with about a couple dozen of us in the entire theatre. They do have the intermission, but the only prize drawing is for the grand prize opportunity to win a ski trip. Another cool aspect of this showing was that they have free snacks and drinks for everyone – at intermission you just pop out into the lobby and grab your complimentary food. The movie was great, with a lot of depth in each feature as opposed to just the skiing. An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up; it’s worth a little more description as I wrap up this report.
Indeed the thing of greatest importance in the world of Vermont skiing this evening was the weather. This current storm has been potentially dicey in the Northeast, with areas off to the east of the Greens likely to see a lot of rain. But, here in Northern Vermont we’ve been in the game for a good shot of snow, and as of this evening it looks like that might be coming to fruition. When we left the house around 5:00 P.M. there wasn’t much going on, but we got into some light rain in the valley during the trip northward. While we were at Bender’s Burritos on the mountain road (elevation 750′), there was a little light rain, and when we left there around 6:30 P.M. the rain had picked up – it was actually freezing on some ground surfaces, but it was spotty so it must have only been those that were very cold. Upon heading up to the mountain to watch the movie, snow mixed in at roughly 1,200′ elevation. At the Spruce Peak Village (1,500′) the precipitation was all snow, and it was starting to come down at a really healthy clip. At intermission during the movie we could see that the snow was really picking up, and when we were leaving around 9:00 P.M. we were getting a real shellacking of dense snow; there was a good inch or so already down. It was snow all the way back to the house at that point, and a very isothermal 33 F on the car thermometer the entire trip. Here in Waterbury at 500′ I measured 1.2″ of snow as of 11:00 P.M. this evening and I’m planning to do a liquid analysis at midnight. Things are looking good for a day on the slopes tomorrow though.
Best… Bolton… backcountry… tour… ever. That’s really the only way to start this trip report, because even after years of exploring the backcountry around Bolton Valley, that’s what today’s tour was for me. I can’t say that this tour was tops in every category; the powder was fantastic, but there have been numerous days that top it, and E and the boys weren’t with me, so it was a solo outing. What made the tour so great though was the combination of great powder on all aspects, the good distances covered to provide a nice workout, but most importantly, the breadth of the backcountry network used and the substantial number and variety of glades visited. The tour spanned all the way from the alpine trails of Wilderness to the Cotton Brook area, and featured nine different glades. What also made the tour so outstanding was that I could use my knowledge of the area to connect all those glades very efficiently; in terms of powder turns that meant getting the most bang for my buck.
“…we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week.”
It’s a holiday weekend, which typically means lots of visitors to the ski resorts, and the forecast today called for fairly chilly temperatures in the single digits for the mountains. That’s a combination that just calls out for some backcountry touring, and that’s the plan that gradually evolved this past week as I watched the forecast. Although we haven’t had any huge storms in the past week or two, the snow out there in the Northern Greens is simply fantastic – we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week. And, the January weather just keeps all that powder pristine.
Ty was out at a dance until late last night, and friends came back to our house and stayed overnight to play with him and Dylan. I wasn’t about to pull them away from that this morning, and in fact, I wasn’t really planning to ask anyone if they wanted to ski with only single digits in the mountain forecast. I knew it was going to be one of those days where it could be uncomfortably cold if you didn’t keep moving, so going out by myself meant that I could keep the tour at whatever pace I chose. Knowing that I was going out solo also let me devise a more ambitious tour than if I was heading out with the whole family. After considered the many options, I decided that a lift-assisted tour out toward the Cotton Brook area would be a good option. There are glades farther to the north there that I’ve yet to explore, and at a decent pace, it looked like I’d be able to put together a solid tour out to that area and back in the three to four hour window of time I had.
The Wilderness Chair was scheduled to start running at 10:00 A.M., so I headed up to the mountain a bit after that and found that parking had reached the third tier of the main Village lot. That’s actually less than I’d expect for a Saturday on a holiday weekend, but I think the cold weather kept some folks away. I was able to wrap around and get a spot in the first tier, and then headed right over to the base of the Wilderness Chair to start my tour with a lift assist. Temperatures were certainly on the chilly side, probably somewhere in the single digits, but there was no wind, and that made quite a difference in terms of sitting out there lift. The lift ride gave me a chance to check out the on piste conditions, since I haven’t been to the resort since our trip back on the 4th of the month, and what I saw today looked really good. I didn’t hear any hard sounds as some snowboarders passed below me, and off in the Wilderness Woods to my left, I watched a boy glide through the powder in silence. I’d say ¾ of the terrain in Wilderness Woods was still untracked, so there was a lot of good skiing to be done there. I was even tempted to take a run, but keeping on track for my tour was a necessity.
From the Wilderness Summit I skied down the top of Peggy Dow’s to the junction with the backcountry network at Heavenly Highway. I let my momentum carry a bit of the way into the forest, and then stopped to put on my skins. At that point I definitely felt the cold – it had the bite of below zero cold up there around 3,000′, and having just sat on the lift for a while meant that I wasn’t producing much heat. As I got my skins on another skier appeared, coming from Heavenly Highway. We exchanged greetings and I saw that he was heading for a descent on the alpine terrain. I got my skins on quickly, and headed northward on the trail. My goal was to head down Devil’s Drop and get on the Catamount Trail, and I made good time through those high elevations. I checked the depth of the surface powder as I moved across the ridge line on Heavenly Highway, and generally I found about 13 inches. I saw a couple other skiers along the way toward Devil’s Drop, but as usual it was pretty quiet. For Devil’s Drop, I debated taking off my skins and really having some fun on the descent, but opted to just keep them on. I did switch my binding to ski mode so that I could make some Telemark and alpine turns as needed. I actually had first tracks Devil’s Drop, and if I’d been with others it probably would have been worth pulling off the skins and skiing it hard with some pictures.
As I neared the bottom of Devil’s Drop I saw a group of eight skiers below heading northward on the Catamount Trail. That’s one of the larger groups I’ve seen out there, and then seemed pretty organized; as I caught up to them they all pulled over to the right in near unison and let me pass. Within another few minutes I’d passed Birch run and reached the border of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. I continued on a bit more until I was just below “The Glades”. My goal actual goal was down below, but I had the time and energy, and there were few tracks in The Glades, so I continued up to add another couple hundred vertical to my descent. That’s when I really started to warm up, and I had to hit the side zips on my pants and open the vents in my helmet. I actually think the air temperature was starting to warm a bit as well as southerly flow was starting to kick in ahead of our next storm. The ascent overall there was really quick though, and soon I was at the top of The Glades switching over to descent mode.
I hadn’t really gotten the feel of the skiing since I’d had my skins on at Devil’s Drop, but now I had them off and could dive into those turns in the Glades. The turns were excellent; there was a good foot or more of midwinter powder that easily kept me floating on my fat skis. I continued straight on below the Catamount trail onto “Randy’s”, which began with a modest pitch, and then dropped right off into a nice steep, open drainage. The pitch was close to 30 degrees in spots, and I can imagine this is quite a spot after big dumps of snow. The powder there was the deepest I’d seen on the day, but even that wasn’t quite enough to keep from touching down to the subsurface in a few spots because it was just so steep. That’s some really sweet terrain down there though, and there was just one or two other ski tracks in there, so the untracked lines were plentiful. Below that I got into “Great White Way”, where the pitch mellowed out a bit relative to Randy’s. The route just kept going, and as far as I understand, you can essentially take it all the way down to Waterbury Reservoir if you want, but after about 700-800′ of vertical I decided to call it a descent so that I could stay on track with the rest of my tour.
I skinned up along the edge of Great White Way, using a skin track that others had put in place. It would great to have a skin track that was totally out of the way of the trail, but the pitch is reasonable enough that you can head straight up the trail. As I approached Randy’s, the pitch really steepened of course, and the skin track had to make some pretty tight switchbacks. Fortunately, a more official, off trail skin track is quickly offered that heads up toward Birch Loop; there’s even a sign to let skiers know where that ascent route is, and it’s marked by blue blazes. That ascent was excellent, with a well-established skin track, and it delivers you right back that the Catamount trail just below The Glades.
“The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course.”
I left my skins on and zoomed across the flats toward Bryant Cabin. I didn’t stop inside, but instead continued along Gardiner’s Lane and up to North Slope to set up my final descent of the day. I stopped at the top of Upper JJ’s as my starting point. Since it was my final descent, I pulled out some tomato soup from my thermos, let it cool while I removed my skins, and then chugged the soup down and got on my way. The turns were beautiful, and I continued on Gardiner’s Lane, noting that there was a nice line above A1A that I hadn’t recalled seeing. I’ll have to check that out in the future. When I got to Grizzwald’s I found it completely untracked, and bounded my way down the steep pitch with some deep, fluffy turns. I contemplated a look at Alchemist, since it faces south and might be well preserved in this cold weather, but I saw what looked like just a track or two heading toward Gotham City and my skis just ended up pulling me that way. I skied Girls, and I think those might have been my favorite turns of the day. The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course. I hit two more glades on the descent before I was down to Broadway, but I don’t really know the names of those – the snow was good to the very last drop though.
I really can’t think of a tour I’ve done in the Bolton Valley backcountry that delivered such a huge amount of perfect turns in so many different areas, so this one really does go down as my best tour in that regard. The lift assist really allowed this tour to fit into a reasonable window of time while covering some good distances. There are really limitless combinations to do out there in terms of tours, but I know I’ll visit parts of this one again because it delivered so well.