Stowe, VT 22JAN2012

An image of Ty entering the Green Acres area of trees at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty dives into Green Acres today as we seek out powder on Stowe’s Spruce Peak

Temperatures started out quite cold this morning, way down around -10 F at the house.  Fortunately, it was warmer in the mountains, and the forecast called for temperatures topping out around 20 F today with clear skies.  Like many areas, Stowe had seen some warmth earlier in the week, and some crust had formed on the powder.  However, with 7 inches from the Thursday/Friday storm, and then another couple of inches yesterday, there were significant amounts of snow above that layer, and any firm snow was already starting to disappear into the snowpack.  Powderfreak indicated that the groomed terrain at Stowe was fun, but we were anxious to see just how good the snow was getting off piste.

Indeed it was sunny this afternoon at Stowe, and temperatures were warming right up as expected.  I had Ty, Dylan, and Jack skiing in my coaching group, with the additional of Alexia on her snowboard.  It always constrains things a bit when we have a snowboarder in the group, not because of ability, since Alexia can rip down just about anything, but snowboarder mobility for traversing and side-stepping is so much more limiting that I really have to think through our routes well ahead of time, or forego certain areas that might be difficult to deal with on a board.  My goal was to get the kids into the upper elevation terrain of Spruce Peak to see if we could make use of the new powder the mountain had picked up over the past few days, so we jumped right on the Sunny Spruce Quad and got ourselves over to Sensation.  There was a giant slalom race taking place on Main Street, so we got to watch some of the impressive racers carrying speed through the course.  Seeing all of the maintenance workers involved in the race really gave us an appreciation for how much time and effort it takes to maintain a good race course.  We could also see that there was plenty of fresh snow available below us in the Spruce Line area, so we put that on our hit list.  From the Sensation summit we dropped right into Green Acres, finding plenty of powder for the kids, and that continued with even more untouched snow as we dropped into Spruce Line.  These days with substantial racing on Main Street are a somewhat mixed blessing – terrain is a little more limited, but with so many people focused on the race, and some staying away from the area because of terrain limitations, there is the chance for some great powder to hang around untouched.  And the powder absolutely delivered today; despite the crust somewhere below, the higher elevations had plenty of new snow to give it a good covering and make for some excellent bottomless turns.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spruce Line Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Checking out the Spruce Line area from the Sensation Quad

With the superb snow we’d found, we opted for another run on Sensation, and this time we headed over to the steep terrain of Upper Smuggler’s.  The kids were able to rip it up, and Dylan got a great compliment about his skiing from a stranger we met along the way.  Dylan really has stepped up his game this season on all sorts of terrain, and we expect that it’s only going to continue.  I worked the kids down onto the open terrain above Meadows, and they had fun letting loose with their turns.  Even down at that low elevation the snow was really good, and it seems that once again, despite these warm episodes that keep popping up this season, the Northern Greens keep reeling in enough snow to make great skiing for the weekend.  We took the Alpine Double Chair, went through the Catwalk tunnel, and skied that terrain again because it was so good.

An image of Ty skiing in the open terrain above the Meadows trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dropping through the open terrain above Meadows today

I wasn’t sure if we wanted to leave the nice conditions we’d found on Spruce Peak, but eventually we decided that we needed to explore more terrain, so we headed to Mt. Mansfield and did some runs off the Gondola.  We worked in some Perry Merrill, Gondolier, and Switchback, and conditions were good enough that I brought the kids into the far skier’s right of the Tombo Woods.  It’s a bit tight in there, but not a problem for folks with skis and snowboards their size.  That’s steep, tight terrain there, and all the kids handled it well.  We topped the afternoon off with another Gondolier/Perry Merrill/Switchback assortment, and then finally had to pull away so that kids could get some hot chocolate and s’mores.

An image of a s'more being assembled at the fire pit in the center of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Careful assembly at s’more time

I’m glad we made it for the hot chocolate/s’mores session in the Spruce Peak Village this afternoon, because along with the food, we got to browse around and view all the ice sculptures from the recent competition.  The theme was obviously circus-related, and we got to see an impressive array of work – some of the artists must be professionals.  What was also inspirational was the level of creativity that was shown; although all the sculptures were based on the circus, everything was so diverse that we never saw the same thing twice.  We’ve seen ice sculptures in the village square before, but it almost seemed like this year’s contest was the biggest yet.  We’re already looking forward to what we’ll get to see next season!

An image of an ice sculpture and onlookers  in the middle of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking in the ice sculptures today in the Spruce Peak Village

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21JAN2012

An image of Ty skiing a glade below the Heavenly Highway trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty glides through some Champlain Powder today in a glade below Heavenly Highway.

There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly.  And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further.  This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™.  With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns.  It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.

“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
water-content Champlain
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”

Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south.  The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning.  The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes.  My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers.  While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff.  Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled.  We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air.  Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are.   One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.

An image of Ty sledding in extremely dry, 2% water content powder at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
Champlain Powder comprised of just 2% water explodes around Ty this morning as he takes a run on one of the sledding hills at the house.

It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M.  We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent.  The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow.  Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots.  As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.

An image of an evergreen branch coated with super-dry, 2% water-content "Champlain Powder" along the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Branches along the Bryant trail coated with some of that 2% H2O “see-through” Champlain Powder

Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside.  They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there.  Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin.  I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse.  While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.

An image of the Bryant Cabin with smoke coming from the chimney on the Nordic/backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Smoke from the chimney foretold a warm welcome at the Bryant Cabin today

After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent.  We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane.  While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior.  The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed).  Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight.  The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.

 

An image of Ty skiing a glade near the World Cup trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing off the day in the backcountry glades with the golden light of the afternoon sun.

That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times.  Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch.  We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area.  We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side.  The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there.  We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup.  The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun.  It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.

Bolton Valley, VT 14JAN2012

An image of Dylan skiing powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan smiles away as he blasts through the powder at Bolton this afternoon.

The complex winter storm that has been affecting the region finally wound down today, and it’s been a great boon for the Vermont ski areas.  The storm began on Thursday morning when it delivered some fairly standard synoptic snowfall, and through Thursday evening we’d picked up 3.7 inches of 9.2% H2O snow at the house, with the mountains picking up about a half foot.  Thursday night into yesterday morning we were in the dry slot of the storm, and then yesterday afternoon the second round of snow began… and boy did it come on strong in the evening.  While the first half of the event had favored the eastern slopes of the Greens, the second half pounded the western slopes, and that was very evident as I headed home from Burlington on Friday evening.  Our bus took Route 2 instead of I-89 because of storm-related travel issues, and at one point yesterday evening at the house we picked up roughly 3 inches of snow in an hour.  After last night’s snow, the storm totals wound up at 11.7 inches for our location in the valley, and in the 1.5 foot range up in the mountains, with Jay Peak approaching 2 feet.  It was ultimately enough snow to get Stowe’s ski terrain 100% open.

The downside of the new snow was that cold air came with it – it was approximately 10 F this morning at the house, and 3 F up in the Village at Bolton Valley.  Fortunately, there wasn’t any wind, but we still brought hand and foot warmers for the boys in case they needed to take the edge off the chill while skiing.  E wasn’t all that impressed with the conditions on Sprig O’ Pine after their preliminary run while I parked the car, but I was hoping that was due to effects of the wind and the exposure of that terrain.  After a little debate, the boys decided that they were cold enough that they would head into the lodge to fire up some of the hand warmers and put them in their boots and gloves, and then we headed back out into the cold in search of more powder.

Leaving the Mid Mountain Lift, we quickly saw that the Enchanted Forest looked extremely powdery with little traffic up to that point, so we headed in.  We found the coverage and powder to be pretty nice, but in general the snow just felt a little “slow” with the cold temperatures.  With this in mind, we headed to Glades to get a little more pitch, and that helped move things along a little better.  Glades had seen a fair bit of traffic to track up the snow, but we found some good shots of untracked in the jug handle area.

An image of Erica in a Telemark turn in the fresh snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E arcing through a Telemark turn in the fresh snow on Bolton Valley's Glades trail

The snow was decent, but none of us really seemed to be grooving, and Ty appeared especially glum and ornery about the day up to that point.  It turned out that his hands were still cold despite the hand warmers, so we decided to make another trip inside and have lunch in the process.  When we got into the lodge, we were astonished to discover that all the hand warmers the boys were using were stone cold.  That was extremely disconcerting, as we’d bough a big box of them at Costco, and were expecting them to work.  We fiddled around with them for a bit, and I also headed down to the ski shop and bought a couple packets of a different brand for comparison.  The new packets fired up right away and got quite hot.  With a little more shaking and processing we were actually able to get our original packets going as well, but they didn’t cook like the new ones, they just seemed to be of the “slow burn” variety and only got up to lukewarm relative to the hot ones.  Once we were done with lunch, we hooked the boys up with a combination of the “slow” and “fast burn” varieties of hand warmers, and headed out to see if we could finally get that groove going.

To get some challenge and potentially find Ty some “satisfying” turns, we headed up on the Vista Quad and descended via Vermont 200.  That turned out to be a good choice, with generally great coverage, lots of good snow, and only a couple of icy ledges to navigate.  Ty definitely got some of the turns he had been seeking, and everyone enjoyed the challenge and powder/chowder we found.  Below Mid Mountain we headed back to Glades and hit the jug handle area as we’d done before.  Both boys seemed to have fun ripping that up.

An image of Ty skiing fresh powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Ty cruising through that fresh powder in the Villager Trees

To continue with the positive energy, we sought out some untracked snow in the Villager Trees, and found an impressive snowpack for what has been a slow season for snowfall – I stuck my measurement pole in a representative protected area at ~2,600’ and got a depth measurement of 30 inches.  While we explored around, the boys amused themselves by taking down some huge icicles from one of the ledges.  On the descent, the powder was deep and thoroughly bottomless, and while many fun turns were made, the powder was almost too deep for some of the pitches in there.  The turns were so good though that we were able to call it a day after that and finished off with more powder on the sides of Lower Bentley.  It had actually gotten sunny and warmed up a bit as well, into the high single digits, and with the hand warmers cranking the boys didn’t have any more issues with the cold.  Back at the car we found out that the “fast burn” hand warmers had already burned themselves out after just a couple of hours, while those of the “slow burn” variety were still going.  At that point everything seemed to make sense – a combination of the two types would really be optimal.  So after a slow start today, things really picked up and we managed some decent powder from what has been the biggest winter storm of the season up to this point.

Bolton Valley, VT 07JAN2012

An image of Dylan skiing powder on the Wilderness Lift Line at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan enjoying the powder at Wilderness

There weren’t any large snowstorms in Northern Vermont over the past week, but we did have three small storms that brought a total of 4.8 inches of snow to the house and probably a half foot or so to the mountains.  Today was again expected to be one of those comfortable days in the 30s F, and since it appeared as though there was some warming in the middle elevations based on Powderfreak’s early morning report from Stowe, we got a relatively early start in case the powder on the lower mountain was going to thicken too much with the warming temperatures.

I checked in on the temperature history for the Bolton Valley Weather Station at 2,100’, and it had only gotten up to 35 F overnight at that elevation.  As we drove up the Bolton Valley Access Road around 9:30 A.M., we could see that the mid level temperature inversion was in effect though; at the house (500’), the temperature was around freezing, and it was 37 F in the village (2,100’).  That still wasn’t too bad depending on how dry the air was, and it was likely cooler than that above the base elevations.

A plot of the temperatures from a weather station at the base of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont 07JAN2012
Temperatures at the base of Bolton Valley rose to 35 F overnight, and the mid to upper 30s F during the day today, but the summit elevations stayed below freezing and the powder remained light and dry on the upper half of the mountain.

The resort had finally opened up the Snowflake Lift for the season, so I dropped E and the boys off there to let them take a run or two while I parked the car and got changed.  When I finally met back up with them, they’d already taken a couple of runs, and the boys were really enjoying the skiing in the Butterscotch Terrain Park.  The mountain hasn’t even created the big jumps yet, but they’ve started to amass snow in the area, and there are some knolls and steep drops.  Ty enjoyed taking them at speed and sailing a good distance while being just inches off the ground.  The embryonic terrain features were nice, but I was more interested in powder along the edge of the park.  There were a couple inches of new snow atop the base, and it was skiing nicely – there certainly weren’t any temperature issues with the powder at that point.  We met up with Stephen and his group of Helena and Thomas, as well as Claire and her group of Luke and others, and took a few runs in that area before finally deciding to check out the higher elevations.

An image of Erica skiing a couple inches of fresh powder along the edge of the Butterscotch Terrain Park at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
E enjoying some of the powder along the edge of the Butterscotch Terrain Park

From the Vista Summit we decided to head down Alta Vista, and this is actually where I found some of the best turns of the day.  I checked out the snow on the skier’s far left, and found an impressive accumulation composed of the recent rounds of powder, bolstered by snow that people had pushed off the trail.  I told the others in the group to check it out as well, because it was really impressive.  We’ve certainly had some good skiing so far this season, but it was something about the combination of steep, soft turns along that left side spine that really hit that next level.  As I was composing my thoughts about the turns I’d just had in an effort to crystallize a description, Ty, who had followed my advice to take that line, came to a stop at the bottom of the steep pitch and said, “That was really satisfying!”  I must have laughed out loud.  That was the perfect description of that skiing – Ty had really nailed it.  It was steep enough, and deep enough, and fast enough, that is just hit that combination that we hadn’t seem too much of yet.  The mantra for the day became that “satisfying” line, and we deemed Alta Vista as our “go to” run from the top.  Obviously, with the great snow we’d found, temperatures were not at all an issue up at the top of the mountain; it was easily below freezing and the snow was staying light and dry.

We headed over to Wilderness next to get into some untracked powder, and found that a few hundred feet lower the snow was still holding up well.  The boys were in really good spirits after the great skiing we’d found on Alta Vista, and they next hit some untracked areas on the Wilderness Lift Line.  Ty caught a nice jump on his line, and Dylan finished off his line with an impressive straight-line, figure-11 schuss.  It was really nice to see him being so aggressive, although he did have an unfortunate end when he came into a water bar that wasn’t quite filled to the brim with snow and took a tumble in the powder.  Fortunately, the biggest issue ended up being all the cold powder that got under his clothes.  Below that, E had some really nice Telemark turns in the open areas of powder; the powder was a little dense, but without the effects of the wind, the snow was easier to manage than what we’d encountered last Friday.  The boys and I popped into Wilderness Woods, and coverage is clearly adequate based on how heavily they had been skied.  Still, one can’t quite go around with reckless abandon in there yet, and a big synoptic dump of snow is what’s needed to get that area to the next level of coverage with more comfortable skiing.  Farther along, we ventured onto Lower Turnpike.  Just like we’d seen last Friday, the kids were still there having a session on that backcountry kicker.  There was still plenty of untracked snow to be found, although now that we were on the lower half of the mountain we could feel it getting thicker due to temperatures a bit above freezing.

An image of Ty catching air amidst the powder on the Wilderness Lift Line at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty catching a little air on the Wilderness Lift Line

The boys called for lunch, so we headed into the lodge.  Surprisingly, even though the holidays were over, the lodge was much more crowded than we’d found on our previous Bolton outing a week ago on New Year’s Eve.  That day had low clouds on the upper mountain that probably kept a lot of people away, but a big factor in the number of visitors today was probably the fact that all the season-long kids programs were starting up.  After a quick look for a table, we just decided that we’d grab a quick bite in the James Moore Tavern instead.  It was our first time in the tavern this season and we had a pleasant lunch with the usual great atmosphere.  The tavern was really filling up by the time we were done, so it looks like they were doing some really good business.  Stephen popped into the tavern during lunch and said that he’d be free in the afternoon for some skiing; Helena was going to take a lesson, and Johannes would still be in his Mountain Explorers group for the remainder of the day.

An image from inside the James Moore Tavern at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Some ski area ambiance from inside the James Moore Tavern at lunch today

After lunch we did a Mid Mountain run on Beech Seal, and some precipitation started to fall.  We actually thought it might be rain at first, but it was just a bit of sleet that soon transitioned over to snow.  We met up with Stephen and Thomas, and enjoyed the fresh round of snowfall as we rode the Vista Quad and headed toward the summit.  The snow was gradually transformed into higher quality flakes as time and elevation passed, and it was snowing hard enough on the upper half of the mountain that we put up our hoods to keep from getting covered.  I was riding the chair with Ty and Dylan, and we all had fun with various methods of capturing snowflakes in our mouths.  The snow didn’t last too long, but at least it put down a coating and brought in and extra dose of winter spirit.

An image of Ty catching snowflakes on his tongue while we ride the Vista Quad Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty going for some snowflakes during one of our rides on the Vista Quad today

We introduced Stephen and Thomas to what we’d found on Alta Vista, and then headed back over to Wilderness.  It had warmed a bit more, so the turns in the untracked snow on Lower Turnpike were more challenging, and we learned that we’d definitely been smart when we’d hit it as early as possible.  While the skiing was still manageable, it was getting sticky enough that it wasn’t quite worth making the trek all the way over there, especially when contrasted to the way the snow was staying so cold in the higher elevations up on Alta Vista.  With that thought in our heads, we headed back up for another go at Alta Vista.  Ty actually nailed the steep, “satisfying” section better than me on that one, although I came right back at him and said that I’d like to see him handle it with some quality Telemark turns.  On the lower mountain, E and I opted for the steeper turns on Beech Seal, while Thomas and the boys took Bear Run for its jumps.  Even with the good snow, we were done at that point, so we skied on down to the road and headed to the car.  I think Ty would agree that it was a pretty “satisfying” day – we got a taste of steep, natural snow and we’re ready for Mother Nature to deliver something that will allow more access to more.  There could be a substantial storm in the later part of the upcoming week, so we’ll just have to see how that plays out.  The mountain is primed and ready with respectable base snow at all elevations, even down to Timberline, so a big synoptic dump could open a lot of terrain.

Bolton Valley, VT 31DEC2011

An image of the main upper mountain at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont with low clouds
Today had a bit of a Pacific Northwest flavor on the mountain, with low clouds and soft snow.

We knew that today was going to be a big day up at the mountain.  Kenny and his family just returned home yesterday from holidays in New York City, and the plan was to get together with us for some skiing at Bolton.  A couple close friends of their family were coming to ski as well, and with Stephen and his crew up for the morning, that made a total of 15 people with whom we were likely to ski.  With varying abilities and instructional goals, everyone wasn’t necessarily going to be skiing together all at once, but with eight kids, the outing was likely to be quite a mettlesome affair.

The day started off with good timing; we arrived right around the same time as Kenny and his family, so assembling in the lodge and getting day tickets for those that needed them was an easy process.  The pre-arranged plan was for E and Uncle Forrest to provide a bit of instruction to Marlene and Ashley in the Mighty Mite area so that they could get their feet wet on their first outing of the season.  Meanwhile, Jeff and I took all the kids up the Mid Mountain Lift so that Kenny, Liana, and Isabella could do a few laps and get their turns flowing.  After just a couple of runs their turns and control were really coming along, although we did have to keep Kenny from playing too hard with Ty and Dylan in the jumps and other terrain along the edge of the trail until he was ready.  Helena quickly joined up with us, and after watching the other kids working on their turns, I was especially impressed at how confident and fluid she looked in her turning.  Soon, our ranks swelled a bit more as Stephen, Johannes and Thomas joined us for a bit.  Temperatures were in the mid 30s F, so the snow softened nicely and was perfect for digging in an edge.  I was once again impressed at just how good Bear Run is for folks that are working on their turns; there are a couple of slightly steeper spots, but none that are overwhelming, and the trail really meanders down the mountain at a fairly consistent and friendly pitch.

We hadn’t done too many runs before Isabella (the youngest of course) insisted that she needed more challenge.  The routine of Bear Run was already making her impatient and she wanted to hit something else.  It felt like everyone was ready, so we stepped it up next with the recently-opened Beech Seal.  Everyone did fine, although there was no question that the increased pitch put a little more pressure on the less advanced children – Isabella definitely got lazy toward the bottom and stopped making here turns.  Jeff and I both got on her case for that.  In any event, the snow was just as soft as we’d encountered on Bear Run, and it was really nice to hit that steeper pitch and really sink the edges into the snow.

We met up with the folks who had been on the Mighty Mite around that time, and learned that instruction had gone well; Marlene was working her way toward parallel turns with wedge Christies, and Ashley was working on various aspects of her wedge.  The only issue is that there had been a big pause due to adjustment needs in their leased/rented boots.  Even though their boots were from another shop, the folks in the Bolton Valley rental area were great with assistance with fitting, and figured out exactly the adjustment that was giving them all their discomfort with that specific boot model.  Knowing how painful the situation had been, big kudos go out to the shop folks for saving the day.

With the Mighty Mite crew joining us, we did some additional trips down Bear Run that allowed Marlene to ski with the kids – she was looking really good with her parallel turns and seemed to be having a great time.  Naturally with the huge group, everyone’s pace wasn’t quite the same, so Jeff and I had let Ty and Kenny run circuits at their own speed.  Liana did the same thing, and although they don’t typically do a lot of time at the resort alone, they took care of themselves quite well.

Finally, we had progressed to the point that we decided to do a run off the Vista Quad – Ashley had gone in for a break, but everyone else in the group was heading up.  Ty had been excited to get to the upper mountain, and had been talking it up enough to Kenny that he was getting excited as well.  Since there was the potential for more challenge, I’m sure Isabella was happy as well.  While we’d been below cloud level on the lower mountain, the Vista Peak area was socked in, and it was very impressive just how thick the clouds were.  We started with the full Sherman’s Pass route to make it as easy as possible on everyone that was working on their turns.  The kids played in all the jumps along the edges of the trail and had a blast.  On-slope visibility was difficult at the top of the mountain, but those thick clouds tapered off well before we even got down to the Mid Mountain level.

With that run under everyone’s belts, it was easy to get a consensus to break for lunch; Stephen and his crew had to leave by 1:00 P.M., so they had gone in to eat earlier, but we still had quite a large group.  Despite the soft snow, the cloudy weather and potential for a few showers seemed to keep many people home, so that meant neither the slopes nor lodge were crowded – that was good news for our group at prime lunch time.  Personally, I thought the conditions were great; it felt like classic Pacific Northwest ski conditions in the lower elevations – a little heavy on the clouds and moisture in the air, but it was more than made up for by very comfortable temperatures and soft snow.  In any event, we had any easy time getting all the tables we needed for the large group upstairs on the lodge.  The kids took care of the hunger they’d accumulated with all those morning runs, and charged themselves up for the afternoon.  Later, when I asked Ty about things he remembered from the day, he spoke of the awesome cheeseburger he had for lunch… so obviously it made an impression.  Oh, and he also mentioned Kenny’s pizza, which seemed to disappear quickly.

An image of various people from our group having lunch in the base lodge at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Enjoying lunch with our big group in the base lodge

We were right back on the quad in the afternoon, and although I wasn’t sure how ready everyone was for more challenging options beyond Sherman’s Pass, Jeff made the executive decision of heading down Bull Run.  Technically I think it’s labeled a beginner run, but it’s got some more challenging sections, including that last dive down to Mid Mountain that would probably be rated advanced on its own.  The pitch made it difficult for the girls to commit to their turns, especially since it’s a natural snow trail and coverage was a little thin to further constrain the line options.  I helped by carrying Isabella through the crux, and Liana took that section by sliding on her back in the soft snow.  Everyone seemed to have a really good time though, and they were laughing about it as we slid across the Mid Mountain area.  The clouds had lowered pretty far by the afternoon, even below Mid Mountain, so many folks were calling it an early afternoon.  While the reduced visibility can be great for working on your balance if you’ve reached a certain level of skiing, it can make it quite difficult when you’re first starting out.  I heard one guy in the lodge mention that he only did a couple of runs because he just couldn’t see well enough to be confident in his skiing.

An image of snowboarders riding the Vista Quad Chair in heavy fog at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Clouds enveloped the mountain peaks today and visibilities dropped to incredibly low levels on the upper mountain.

With the clouds lowering the way they were, after a couple of quad runs we decided to finish off with Mid Mountain Lift to keep us below the densest clouds.  People were excited to check out Glades, and although I was a little worried about the uneven terrain or potential coverage issues for the beginners, I quickly acquiesced.  Coverage wasn’t too bad, but not quite to the level it was when it opened up on December 30th, 2006.  I bring up that day because the 2006-2007 season started slowly, very much like this one – it wasn’t until the end of December that natural snow terrain really started to open up.  So, even with the early season coverage on Glades, Ty, Dylan and Kenny ate it up; the huge leap in skiing that Kenny had made that day was most evident as I watched him easily hang with Ty and Dylan.  The boys schussed the run so fast that we had time to hit the Waffle Cabin at the base while we waited for the girls.  The boys had already finished their waffle by the time everyone else arrived, but E said all of the girls had done really well – it just took time as she coached them on how to deal with uneven terrain by taking it one turn at a time, and there were a couple of small tumbles that just required a lot of time for reassembly.  It had been a great day for Kenny and his family all around, and it looks like they’ll hit the ground running when ski program starts up next week at Stowe.

2010-2011 Ski Season Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolton Valley, VT 26MAR2011

Image of Jay skiing in powder
Jay comes into view skiing some of the beautiful powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley.

The upslope snow has been rolling in, and although we haven’t had a ton of snow from this event yet, snow surfaces are getting a nice freshening.  This morning down at the house we were on our way toward picking up a quick additional inch of snow to put us at 2.8 inches for this end of the week event, and 9 inches for the week.  Bolton was reporting 13 inches over that span, with the snow continuing to fall.  Today we were back up at the mountain again for an afternoon session with Stephen and his kids, and for the first half of the afternoon it was snowing at a good clip.  Everyone joined in for a run on Spell Binder, and using the knowledge about the aspects with best snow that the boys and I had learned yesterday, there were some really awesome bottomless turns available on the skier’s left.  Even with just a few inches of additional snow, the skiing took quite a jump up in quality.  We found the same snow setup on Tattle Tale, and all three boys had fun ripping up the powder in their own way.  We gave Johannes first tracks on one line, and he decided that a figure 11 was the way to go, while Ty and Dylan accented his line with some curves.  We’re starting to nickname Johannes “11”.  For the full text and all the pictures, click through to the Bolton Valley trip report from today.

Stowe, VT 27FEB2011

Image of Dylan skiing powder at Stowe
Dylan getting buried in powder in the trees around Freddie's Chute

We were up at Stowe today for our usual Sunday session, and since it’s the tail end of vacation week, many people were absent.  Our group had just Ty, Jack, and Dylan, but we also had Mike Cannon as one of the group’s coaches, and with his immense knowledge of Spruce and Mansfield he brought us to plenty of great shots.  Not too surprisingly, we found conditions to be much like Bolton’s, with untouched areas typically yielding between 12 to 18 inches of powder thanks to our recent storm.  We skied glade after glade with Mike, and the steepest and highest traffic areas are certainly down to the firm base leftover from those couple of warm days a bit over a week ago.  However, outside of those spots it was easy to find areas with either untracked or soft chowder.  To read the full text and see all the pictures, check out the full Stowe report from today.

Bolton Valley, VT 26FEB2011

Image of Dylan skiing powder
Dylan blasting the powder in Doug's Solitude

After earning turns and skiing with Stephen and Johannes in the early morning, I headed back to the house for a bit after that session, picked up E and the boys, and we caught up with Stephen and Johannes later in the morning to hit the powder for the rest of the day.  We had some light snow and sunshowers in the later morning and early afternoon from yet another small weather system that was pushing through, and then more sunshine as the afternoon wore on.  We got into plenty of that famous Vermont fluff, and all the boys seemed to have a good time.  Click through to see all the picture and read the full report from today at Bolton.