This weekend we took advantage of the great off-season rates and stayed slope side at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which I learned has now been renamed “The Lodge at Spruce Peak”. My sister and her family were in the area and staying at the Lodge for a couple of days, so this gave us a chance to catch up with them as well stay right by the slopes for some easy access to skiing on Mt. Mansfield.
We arrived at the Lodge yesterday afternoon, dropped off the car, and then got settled into our room while we caught up with my sister’s family. This time we tried out one of the one bedroom suites, similar to what we’ve had in the past at places like the Tram Haus Lodge. It’s definitely nice to have a bit more space and the multiple rooms, especially now that the boys are older (and bigger). The additional space was also convenient for when my sister’s family came over to visit. During the evening we generally relaxed, the kids headed to the pool/hot tub area for a bit, and we all had a great dinner at the Hourglass Lounge. There was snowfall all the way down to the base elevations in the evening, and as we had dinner we’d occasionally see windy whiteouts from all the blowing snow. It looked quite wintry, but temperatures were fairly marginal at the base elevations, so there was really only a trace of accumulation visible by morning.
I was the only one planning to ski today, so after we checked out of our room and had breakfast at Solstice, E and the boys dropped me off at the Midway Lodge. There were probably two to three dozen cars in the Midway parking lots, and people were heading out from there for ski tours along various routes. Chin Clip Runout looked pretty quiet, and it, along with Switchback is one of my favorite ascent routes, so I headed that way and started skinning.
On my ascent, I observed that additional snow accumulations seemed rather minimal below about 2,500’ – there was a windswept inch or two that was really scattered around atop the old base, and much of that was probably there from Saturday’s snow. The new snow had collected in pockets here and there, but I didn’t really see any substantial consistency until I started getting into the upper half of the terrain. Around the 3,000’ mark I started getting some solid 6 to 7 inch depths of reasonably dense, dry snow along the climber’s right of Perry Merrill. I saw some folks continue their ascents up above the Gondola into the alpine via Cliff Trail Gully, but I was a bit leery of what coverage would be like with the new snow over previous melting among the rocks. If the new snow depths continued to increase above the 3,600’ range then it could have been quite nice up there.
“The deepest accumulations I found were up around 3,500’ along the skier’s right of Perry Merrill, where 7 to 9 inches was pretty typical in undisturbed areas.”
Being underwhelmed by the accumulations I’d seen on my ascent of the main Gondi terrain, I headed toward Cliff Trail for my descent. The deepest accumulations I found were up around 3,500’ along the skier’s right of Perry Merrill, where 7 to 9 inches was pretty typical in undisturbed areas. That was really nice, and while the depth gradually decreased as I headed down Cliff Trail, the skiing there was quite good throughout. There were a few tracks on the trail, but only a handful of skiers had been down at that point. I’d say that the junction with Nosedive at around 2,700’ was right about where the best snow petered out. The elevation was part of it, but the change to Nosedive with its more open nature and higher levels of skier traffic made for a very obvious break in the availability of the new snow. That would have been an excellent spot to stop a descent if one was looking to lap the best snow up high.
We’ve got some fairly cool days coming over the next week, so the new snow should stick around for a while up high, although the quality may deteriorate somewhat from the typical spring temperature cycling.
I was planning to head to Bolton Valley for a bit of touring this morning, but when I saw they were reporting about 4 inches overnight, whereas Stowe had early reports of 8 or 9 inches, I switched up my plans and decided to do a few lift-served runs at Stowe instead. My snow analyses from the morning indicated that the new snow had come in around 5% H2O, which was a setup for some great powder turns.
I had a bit of interesting serendipity on this morning’s outing. I parked in the upper Gondi lot, planning to do most of my skiing there, but I had a pass issue that required me to head over to Spruce. Once I’d gotten things straightened out with my pass, I decided to just roll with it and catch some runs while I was over there. I headed out to the lifts and noticed something surprising – the Sensation Quad was running, but the Sunny Spruce Quad was down. The reverse is common if there are wind issues, but certainly not the combination they had today (it turns out it wasn’t a wind issue, it was mechanical I guess). Anyway, with Sunny Spruce down, it was pretty much country club powder skiing on that terrain for the few folks that felt like accessing it. I did an initial run on Sensation, which was pretty quiet aside from the NorAm races, and got some of the first tracks down Spruce Line. After that I did a couple of laps on the vacant Sunny Spruce terrain, running a circuit with the Meadows Quad and Sensation Quad, and of course including a hike to the top of Spruce Peak each time to get in that extra powder and make up for the fact that I was riding lifts instead of skinning.
“It was skiing much deeper than a foot at times, and doing some checks I was getting powder depths of 22 to 24 inches.”
It was snowing nice fat flakes all morning, and the increases in snowfall intensity were often quite notable as you headed up in elevation. It typically wasn’t an intense pounding snow, but often nice and steady, and sometimes you’d have that fairly decent snowfall with sunshine at the same time. There were a couple of times with the perfect simultaneous combinations of flakes and sun that I had to stand there in awe and soak in the mountain scene. And it was all gorgeous upslope flakes – the 5% H2O I’d found in my morning snow analyses was probably about what we had where the snow wasn’t affected by any wind. It was simply great snow quality with some good right-side-up nature to it thanks to some dense snow that had fallen at the beginning of the storm cycle.
Most off piste (and even some on piste) terrain I encountered was definitely delivering that 48-hour total of 13” that I’d seen in Stowe’s snow report. My first depth check of the day was in the Meadows East Glades, and my measurement came right in at 12 inches. I checked in spots off Upper Sterling and was typically getting 12-14”. I eventually got back over to the Gondola terrain and was really impressed with the skiing in the Bench Woods. It was skiing much deeper than a foot at times, and doing some checks I was getting powder depths of 22-24”. I did push through some sort of slightly thicker layer in those measurements, but it must not have been too sturdy because I was definitely skiing a lot of lines where the snow had that “up to the thighs” feeling. That’s typically in the two-foot realm vs. the one-foot realm. I found a sign I’d never seen in that area that said “Bob’s Rash”, and I have no idea how much of the terrain that sign was meant to cover, but the lines below it were beautifully steep and loaded with the kind of powder that billows up above your waist.
With Winter Storm Quiana brining the potential for mixed precipitation into the area today, we were a bit concerned about conditions for this afternoon’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe. Fortunately, we arrived at the resort around midday to find it snowing, and the overall conditions looked pretty sweet with the trails being topped off with some new dense snow. Ty and Dylan took an early run on Sunny Spruce, and came back with very positive comments about the conditions.
Today was a snowboarding day for me, and since it was the start of school vacation week, our number of participants in the program was lower than usual. My snowboard group was small to begin with, but when all was said and done it ended up being just me, Ty, and Dylan left. That was actually pretty convenient, so the three of us were excited for a fairly casual afternoon of riding.
We took an initial run off the Meadows Chair, and indeed the snow was quite good as the boys had said. The groomed slopes had plentiful packed powder, as well as some new loose snow on top from the snow that’s been falling today. We were a little worried about the winds, but we took a run on the Gondola and had some great turns on Switchback. Off piste we found plenty of deep snow, although it was pretty dense with a thick layer a few inches down in some spots.
We headed back to Spruce Peak for another run, and it turned out to be quite eventful. We were coming down from Sunny Spruce where West Run joins into East Run, and Ty caught the front edge of his snowboard and went down pretty hard. He hurt his shoulder bad enough that he took a ride down to first aid in a ski patrol sled, and after an X-ray at Copley Hospital we discovered that he’d broken his clavicle. It was a fairly gentle slope where it happened, but it was one of those cases where the collision was just right to cause the injury. Ty will certainly have a few weeks of healing to go through, but at least he’s got a positive attitude about it!
Since school was out of session due to vacation week, E’s been thinking about some sort of getaway for the family. Quebec City and Maine came up as possible destinations, but with the Green Mountains having just reeled in some great powder due to our recent upslope event, doing something more local seemed like an obvious choice. That decision was heavily reinforced after E and I skied some great powder at Bolton Valley yesterday, and after weighing a number of options we ultimately decided to head to Stowe for some earned turns and a stay at the Stowe Mountain Lodge. They’ve got some fantastic amenities, and the rates this time of year are great because they’re in between the winter and summer seasons.
We kicked things off this morning with a start at the Midway Lot, which had dozens of vehicles in it from folks with similar ideas. It was approaching mid-morning when we arrived, so I was surprised at how many people were heading right up Gondolier in the sun. With that morning sun and warming temperatures, I was leery of how well the winter snow would hold on the Gondola side. E and the boys and I opted to head toward Nosedive, which generally has much more protected snow when sun and warmth are a concern. The Nosedive area had certainly seen some skier and rider traffic already, and there was a nice double skin track in place that made for easy conversation and passing options during the ascent. Ty was feeling really good on the climb and cruised ahead of the rest of us, eventually waiting for us up around the 3,000’ mark. We joined up and topped out at the 3,300’ plateau just below the Nosedive switchbacks.
We stopped below the switchbacks because the snow quality was good, and the narrow width of the trail above that elevation meant that the snow was pretty much tracked out. The consistency of the snow had definitely changed substantially over the course of the ascent. At base elevations it was already getting rather wet with the rising temperatures, and by the time we finished our ascent it was fairly dry, dense powder. There wasn’t any sharp transition zone for the snow consistency, it had just changed ever so gradually with each step we’d ascended.
“The broad upper slopes of Nosedive definitely held the best snow we found today. The powder was dense, but dry, and there were plenty of areas of untracked snow to crank out some nice turns.”
The broad upper slopes of Nosedive definitely held the best snow we found today. The powder was dense, but dry, and there were plenty of areas of untracked snow to crank out some nice turns. The whole descent was definitely fun, although the last few hundred vertical feet, where we’d actually switched over to Lower National to get to some snow that had seen less traffic, held snow that had gotten pretty wet in the warming temperatures. The best snow could be found on the shady side of the trails, and I even jumped into the trees in several spots on the lower half of the run and found some excellent turns.
When the skiing was done, we checked in at the Stowe Mountain Lodge and had some appetizers at the Hourglass Lounge. E and the boys did some swimming, and we had dinner at Solstice, which was a real treat. They were taking part in Vermont Restaurant Week, and my first course was an amazing smoky tomato soup. The boys and I headed out later in the evening for some night swimming, which was definitely a bit thrilling in the chill of a cold clear evening. Naturally we spent a good amount of time in one of the hot tubs, although the pool was also a nice temperature for cooling back down a bit after that heat.
I think everyone would be up for doing a similar trip again in the future, especially if we can order up some of these late season April snowstorms atop such a deep snowpack!
There really wasn’t much lead up discussion on the American Weather Forum about the winter storm we’ve been having in the Northern Greens the past couple of days. That’s because, while it looked like the mountains would muster up some snow accumulation, the models hadn’t really suggested that we’d be getting TWO FEET of accumulation. But, once the snow levels dropped into the mountains, Mother Nature just continued to drive that moisture into the spine of the Greens, and it kept snowing. It’s been snowing continuously now for two straight days.
Temperatures were a degree or two above the freezing mark around in the lower mountain valleys at mid-morning when I was heading out today, and the precipitation was all snow, but accumulations were quite variable with the borderline freezing temperatures. We had about an inch on the ground here at the house on the Waterbury/Bolton line, and that tapered off to much more patchy accumulations in Waterbury and Waterbury Center. The accumulations picked back up again once I was into the Stowe Village area, fairly similar to what we had at the house. At The Matterhorn around the 1,000’ mark I’d say the snow depth was roughly 2 inches.
“…and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing.”
Just making that jump up to ~1,500’ at the base of the resort resulted in a huge increase in accumulations. My depth checks revealed ~10” of new snow at the base of the Gondola, and that measurement was fairly easy, since the old base had generally melted out down at that elevation. I skinned up Chin Clip Runout, since I like the grade, seclusion, and protection from any wind more than heading right up Gondolier. Actually though, winds today were pretty minimal in the lower mountain elevations, and with the temperature just a bit below freezing, it was really pleasant.
Above mid mountain I started to get into the snow guns, and I meandered here and there from Switchback to Gondolier to Perry Merrill following various skin tracks to see if there were any quiet areas. But aside from Chin Clip, they had guns running all over the place. It’s noisy and ruins the natural snow in spots, but of course the resort has to blow snow when it’s time. I actually only headed above the 3,000’ mark for the exercise and to see what was up at that elevation, because I knew the skiing was going to be much better below that point. The winds were howling on that last section of Upper Gondolier, and pounding snow from the storm combined with snow guns every 50 feet or so blasting out their little ice particles made it a virtual whiteout. It was absolutely miserable. If you’ve ever wondered why people are willing to pay a premium for really high quality alpine/backcountry/ski outerwear, there’s an example. It’s not as if it was even midwinter cold (somewhere in the 20s F), but with the snow guns added in, there was just so much liquid being blasted at you on the strong winds. Gear was thoroughly put to the test today. The skin track from the guy who was just a few minutes in front of me had absolutely vanished in that short amount of time. All I could think as I struggled up that final pitch was that if I was ever going to Tweet something at that point it would have been #itsbrutaloutthere. It was a major relief to be able to get out of the wind, snow, and the roar of the guns under the deck of the Cliff House.
Above the base elevations where the old snowpack had melted out, I did my best to try to measure on top of the old base snow/crust, and here’s the summary of my best estimates for settled accumulations from this event from the valley and up into the Gondi area below The Chin:
That last number there from the Cliff House is just an estimate because as is often the case, the wind made it really tough to find a representative spot for measurement.
“The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great.”
Anyway, as much as that last, wind-exposed stretch of Upper Gondolier was brutal on the ascent, the skiing was actually fine. But, just below that on Chin Clip was heavenly. The air was calm, the noise of the snow guns was gone, the plentiful flakes falling form the sky were friendly… and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing. I actually felt bad on the ascent for anyone that wasn’t skinning up because if you were trying to boot pack through this storm’s bounty, you were doing a lot of work. There’s no walking though airy dendrites out there right now, this is hard-workin’, blue-collar stuff that’s just been put down. Powderfreak is estimating this storm’s likely going to leave a couple inches of liquid equivalent all together. That’s a season starter right there. On my ascent I’d chatted with another guy near the bottom on Chin Clip Runout who was just coming down, and he said he never touched a thing below the snow… and he wasn’t kidding. On 115 mm boards I’d say I was sinking in about 8 to 10 inches on hard pressured turns on steep terrain. So you can imagine up high where there’s 20 inches of new stuff plus an old base below that, you aren’t touching anything. Even back down near the base elevations though, where the snowpack was dropping below a foot, there were no issues. The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great. I actually found a bit of upside-down snow at times on my descent, no doubt due to some changing densities throughout the storm, but even for Tele turns it wasn’t too notable within the scope of the overall snow that was available.
On the way back down into the valley on my drive home, I’d say that in general a bit more snow had accumulated during the morning/midday, but you could tell that the snow was struggling to accumulate too quickly with temperatures right around or slightly above the freezing mark. Surprisingly, back in Waterbury Center and Waterbury, there were very sparse accumulations if any, but then accumulations picked back up again once I head toward the house and into the mountains.
The weather pattern is actually looking active and potentially snowy going forward, so we’ll see what Mother Nature wants to give us. It would be really nice to get in even an average December after the past three running in the range of 50% of normal snowfall. Even normal would feel quite snowy with the way things have been the past few seasons.
Today was our annual training day for Stowe’s ski program with the local schools, and indeed it was a great one. We’ve often had fresh snow on these mid-December training days, but the past few days featured a cutoff nor’easter that delivered 2 to 2 ½ feet of snow to the Northern Vermont ski resorts. And, the snow wasn’t just fluff either; there were roughly three inches of liquid equivalent in that snow, so it was a major boost to the natural base depths. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just pushed past 30 inches with that storm, and it probably won’t be settling too much due to the density of the snow.
“…there was just so much of that deep packed powder that it didn’t even make you want to head off the beaten path for untracked snow.”
The forecast for today was looking great; with the low pressure system finally weakening, there was the chance for some sun, and temperatures would be in the 20s F. With the hefty amount of construction going on over at the Spruce Peak Base Area, the meeting place for today’s session was in the Midway Lodge. The space actually felt much better than the old day lodge where we would typically meet, and a lot of that seemed to be because the space was simply configured better. Everything was well organized when we arrived, and since we had almost an hour before we’d get together with our group, I headed over to the Spruce Peak Base for a bit to eat at the Great Room Grill. The new structure that’s going in over there is still at the stage of steel framework, but it should ultimately have plenty of space for the children’s programs and whatever else they’ll be putting in there.
We got together with Joe and Emile from BJAMS for our ski group, and had Steve Dever as our instructor for today, who is actually Emile’s neighbor. Each year we seem to get a little something different out of the training session, and this year Steve spent a lot of time on techniques for safety, such as strategies for where to stop on the trail and how to position your body to ensure maximal visibility of oncoming skier traffic. On the technical side, we talked a lot about pole work and “finishing” turns with regard to speed control.
We were generally on piste today, but conditions were simply fantastic on the groomed runs as one might expect after two feet of dense snow. Those first couple of runs on Perry Merrill were simply divine as far as groomers go. We headed over to the Fourrunner Quad for the second half of the morning, skiing some of the usual routes out toward Sunrise. Steve stopped us above the Chapel Glades, pointing out how that was a great one to do with the kids, and the snow looked good enough that a number of our group headed in and met up with everyone else on the other side of the glade. I checked with my measurement pole and found 21 inches of snow there, so there was more than enough coverage. We’re well past the 24-inch mark at the stake, and the fact that so much of that is dense snow makes it even more substantial. Coverage really wasn’t an issue in there, and there were areas of packed snow where there had been enough skier traffic. There was plenty of powder in there was well though, so getting into the powder off piste is definitely an option on appropriate terrain now.
The sun was out a good bit this morning, and with temperatures probably around 30 F at the base, you couldn’t really ask for much more. You could certainly see the quality of the groomed snow drop a bit on the popular routes as the morning wore on, but there was just so much of that deep packed powder that it didn’t even make you want to head off the beaten path for untracked snow. If I’m not searching out powder to ski in, that’s a definite sign of some seriously good snow on piste. It was a little hard to pull away in the early afternoon, but we wanted to pick up the boys from Norris’ house in time for him to get off for his Nordic skiing program. The next snowstorm appears to be coming in the middle of the week, so we’ll see what we get out of that one.
With this new snow on top of the already decent snow I saw on my trip to the mountain Thursday, it sounded like ski conditions were going to be even better than what I’d experienced. E and Dylan and I headed north to BJAMS in Morrisville to help with the moving of some school library books and to pick up Ty from an overnighter at Kenny’s, so we got to see the changes in snowpack throughout the local mountain valleys. These last couple of storms that have targeted Mt. Mansfield have also targeted Stowe Village and points north, so from snow depths of an inch or two in Waterbury, the snowpack more than doubles in the Stowe/Morrisville area. After helping move some bins of books into the school’s new library area, we got Ty suited up, and he joined me and Dylan for a trip to Mt. Mansfield. Unfortunately E’s back has been a bit sore the past few days, so she decided not to stress it with skiing and stayed at school to work. Thus, it was just us boys for today’s ski tour.
Temperatures were a bit below freezing as we approached the Midway Lot at ~1,600′ near the base of the Gondola, and we could see plenty of activity over at the main Mansfield Base Area since it was Stowe’s opening day for lift-served skiing. The snow we found on the ground was definitely deeper than what I’d found at Midway on Thursday – a general 3 to 4 inches had turned into 5 to 6 inches. For today, I outfitted the boys with their alpine powder skis and Alpine Trekkers for skinning. We’ve still got to get skins for Ty’s new Telemark setup, but I’d prefer that they get a chance to ski on their alpines to get their season going anyway. The early season powder can be tricky, and I’d rather they just get the chance to have fun and not take on the added challenge of working on Telemark turns. I went with my fat Tele skis; they had worked quite well on Thursday, and the conditions were even more optimized for them today.
We followed a similar ascent route to the one I’d taken on Thursday – up Chin Clip Runout, onto Switchback and Gondolier, with some Perry Merrill thrown in as well. We finally stopped at around 3,500′ on Switchback because it didn’t look like there was much above that in the way of great snow. But, the boys had made the entire ascent, perhaps incentivized a bit by the fact that I told them they’d earn some sushi from Sushi Yoshi if they could manage it. That prize is sort of a win-win for everyone in the family, and they’re definitely at the stage that they can easily make that ascent now, but having that incentive there sure does keep everyone’s spirits high! While the snow surface contained a lot of wind slab where we stopped, just below that, the snow was deep and soft. The depth of the powder had increased by about an inch for every 500′ of vertical during most of our ascent, getting up to around the 8 to 9 inch range by 3,000′ or so, but above that it really jumped up. In areas out of the wind on the upper part of Switchback, we were finding 14 to 15 inches of settled snow, with pockets over two feet in depth. We knew that was the kind of snow where we’d really be able to lay into those powder turns and not worry about touching down on anything.
After a break at the top of our ascent, in which the boys took part in their nearly requisite play in the snow (this time in some deep stuff off in some nearby trees), we started down. That deep snow we’d seen up there on Switchback offered up some great powder turns as expected, and below that we just worked our way down the mountain choosing the best covered and least tracked routes we could find. We hit some nice powder on the skier’s left of Gondolier, and found a lot of good turns even lower down on Switchback. Coverage was indeed improved over what I’d seen Thursday, and the powder was staying fairly fluffy even though it was a day old. On the lift-served side of things, Stowe was offering 20 trails today, and it sounds like conditions were pretty decent due to the recent cold and snow. We’ve had some nice November conditions so far, and it looks like there may be some continued storminess this month – hopefully the snowpack can continue to grow.
Today’s tour gave us the first chance to out the Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera that we’d brought along. The 7D Mark II is Canon’s new APS-C sports shooter, and it’s weather sealed extremely well, has a 65-point autofocus system that is among the best in the world, and is built like a tank… just the way you’d want a camera to be made for dealing with the elements. It’s got twice the frame rate, two and a half times the number of pixels, and usable ISO values roughly ten times higher than what my Canon EOS 30D has, which is not surprising considering it’s about five generations newer and a step up in Canon’s performance lineup. It really is built for just the type of shooting we do, and it certainly seemed to live up to its reputation today. Late afternoon light on a cloudy Vermont day in November will give the light sensitivity of any camera a challenge, but I was still able to shoot the boys at 1/1,600 of a second due to the high useable range of the ISO. And, the ability of that focusing system in the low light conditions was very impressive. I also got to test out the video with a short clip of the boys playing in the snow, and my Canon EOS 30D doesn’t even have the option of video. We’ll hopefully have many more chance to put the camera to use this season as we learn all of its nuances and find the settings that fit our needs.
I was a little concerned about the potential ski conditions at Stowe today based on what I’d seen at Bolton Valley in the morning, and asked E if she was thinking of cancelling the BJAMS ski program in the afternoon. But, she decided that the conditions looked reasonable enough to keep it scheduled and avoid having to do a make-up day next weekend. It was definitely the right call, because by the time we got to the mountain, any precipitation had shut off, and it looked like the conditions on Spruce Peak were excellent.
“There were still areas of untracked snow on the sides of trails, and it would just peel away beautifully with each turn, just like I’d encountered at Bolton.”
At Bolton valley in the morning, the lower half to two thirds of the main mountain was the place be, with those smooth turns in the fresh shot of dense snow. You generally wanted to be somewhere underneath the 2,500 – 2,800’ elevation range to get fresh tracks below the more substantial rain crust near the summits. The Sunny Spruce Quad covers the lower half to 2/3 of Spruce Peak, which would be in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range, so it was likely a good option. Indeed, any concerns about conditions on that terrain were removed when I took an initial run off the Sunny Spruce Quad with the boys. There were still areas of untracked snow on the sides of trails, and it would just peel away beautifully with each turn, just like I’d encountered at Bolton. The snow was so dense that it was easily bottomless and you weren’t touching down on any old surfaces. I’d traded in my fat Tele skis for some skinnier alpine skis, and I was definitely wishing I had some cambered fats like the boys did for smearing turns in that snow. We heard reports from others in our ski program who had ventured up higher to the top of the Sensation Quad at ~3,200’, and that turned out to be up into the crust elevations at that point, with ongoing freezing mist/rain that would coat your goggles. In general though, the precipitation that we’d seen in the morning had tapered off, so it was just cloudy for much of the afternoon. We joined up with E and Claire, who both had some free time to ski since there were so few participants at the program today, and we had a similarly great run off Sunny Spruce. The snow might have been just a touch heavier on that second run. It was either that, or I got that impression after not surfing quite as much untracked snow.
We didn’t stick around too long at Spruce because we were thinking of making a run down the Bruce Trail. However, when we got to the entrance at the top of the Bruce, we saw that not a soul had skied it. We could have had the entire trail to ourselves with first tracks, but between breaking trail through the high-elevation crust up top, and then potentially dealing with mushy, untracked snow down below, we didn’t think it was worth it. We took a run down Hayride instead, which had excellent, soft snow. Later, when we headed up to the top of the Gondola at ~3,600’, we could tell that the freezing level had definitely risen to bring those higher elevations more into play with respect to softening. You still didn’t want to break fresh lines up there because of the substantial crust, but stuff the people had skied was in great shape by that point and the on piste runs were excellent from top to bottom. We had great Perry Merrill and Gondolier runs; you could just carve so hard into the snow and it would hold and push right back. In between we had a good break at the Midway Lodge, where everyone got to rest those legs that were pushing hard through the new snow. I think that was our first stopover at Midway this season, and although E and Claire don’t get to head over there much with their usual ski groups, I let them know how quiet it typically was if they were looking for a peaceful place to give their students a ski break. We got some snacks and hung out by the fire, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any of Mitzi’s granola to buy. I mentioned it to Claire, and she pointed out a woman over by the ticket counter who was in fact Mitzi herself. On our last ride in the Gondola around 3:30 P.M., we were noting some sleet coming down. Normally that’s not a great sign relative to pure snow, but in this case it was a sign of some colder air somewhere up there in the higher elevations.
It was approaching 4:00 P.M. when we returned to Spruce Peak, but the boys managed to squeeze in one more run before the end of the day. Despite this past storm not being 100% snow, the conditions came together in a great way nonetheless. We may have some additional chances for snow coming in the next week or so, and we’ll have to see what kind of snow we’ll get out of them. Whatever the case, the base is in great shape for a nice long continuation of the season as we head into April and May.
I made my morning CoCoRaHS observations at 6:00 A.M., and after checking back in on the weather board and looking at some of the mountain web cams, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour. I couldn’t tell quite how low the snow line had gotten, but it was still below freezing in the higher elevations, and the precipitation had continued through the night. There was a good chance that a nice shot of snow had accumulated on Mt. Mansfield. I didn’t try convincing E or the boys to try to join me, since they were all still in bed, so I got into my ski clothes, let E know that I was on my way, and loaded up the car with my gear. I don’t typically find the ski gear vying for space with the baseball stuff in the back of the car, but it definitely was today. I headed off to the mountain around 7:30 A.M. or so, and temperatures throughout the mountain valleys in the Waterbury–Stowe area were in the lower 40s F on my drive. The precipitation was generally light rain until roughly the point where the electronic sign indicates the status of Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch, and not long after that, the rain became much heavier. The sign, by the way, read “NOTCH ROAD CLOSED… DUE TO SNOW”. The road through the notch tops out near 2,200’, so clearly the snow was accumulating at that elevation on paved surfaces. The temperature remained in the lower 40s F until that final rise above The Matterhorn to Stowe Mountain Resort, where they dropped into the upper 30s F.
“You could do laps up there from 2,500’ to 3,600’ and think it was midwinter.”
I parked at the Midway Lodge (~1,600’), where the temperature was in the mid to upper 30s F, and the precipitation was generally snow, but certainly some rain as well, and the snow that was falling was of course incredibly wet. It was pretty nasty at that point, with 25 MPH winds and driven wet snow/rain. The snow wasn’t quite accumulating there, but it was close, and you could see the accumulations just a few hundred feet up the trails. The weather was nasty enough that I left my lens hood on my camera in its protective orientation, even when it went back in my pack. I rarely feel the need to do that, and typically flip it back around for storage, but that speaks to just how wet and windy that snow was to make me take that extra step to minimize the amount of precipitation getting on the lens filter.
In the Midway parking lot there were a few dozen vehicles belonging to skiers, and most of the people were heading up Gondolier, but my initial ascent was via Nosedive; it’s often a good bet for decent snow coverage and preservation in these early and late-season storms. Also, based on what I saw in the report from AdventureSkier.com last Sunday, it looked like there would be some decent base snow left in case the new snow depths were marginal. The first traces of snow accumulation on the ascent were at 1,800’, by 2,100’ there was generally complete coverage of the trail, and by ~2,200’ the depth was a couple of inches and it was consistent enough that I switched from hiking to skinning. Even with those couple inches of snow, I was beginning to experience some occasional slipping as I hiked, so it was nice to get the skis off the pack and on the snow where the skins had beautiful traction. There was a faint skin track from an earlier ascender, but it was intermixed with some of the descent tracks of skiers and a bit hard to follow. I met up with another guy that was making the Nosedive ascent, and we chatted a bit about skiing as we made our way up the mountain. He was just hiking in his boots with his skis on his back, which seemed like a bit more work as the snow got deeper and deeper, but it didn’t appear to slow him down too much. Listed below are the snow depths I found on the ascent of Nosedive with respect to elevation:
We stopped our ascent at 3,300’ because as we approached the switchbacks at the top of the trail we got some beta from a couple of skiers coming down Nosedive – they indicated that everything above that elevation in the switchbacks was scoured and really not worth it, and indeed that was obvious once we got to the landing below that final switchback at 3,300’. I’m going to call the average snow depth there 10” to be on the conservative side, but there were plenty of areas with 12”-15” of snow; there was just variability due to the effects of wind deposition. I stuck my measurement pole right in the snow in the center of that landing, and found 15” of snow depth. The guy that had ascended with me headed up just a bit higher to catch some turns along a drift of snow, so I pulled out the camera and got some action shots as he made his way down.
Before beginning my descent, I downed a packet of GU Energy Gel to see if it would provide that extra boost of energy to my legs to permit proficient and aggressive Telemark turns. I’ve noticed that after fairly long and/or quick ascents, my legs are often still recovering, and not to the stage where they can handle a lot of rigorous Telemark skiing right away. Alpine turns are typically no problem, since they’re easier and more stable to begin with, and after decades of alpine skiing, my muscles have the memory to really let them do it efficiently. But those Telemark turns take a lot more work, and it seemed like a little extra boost of quick energy would get me where I needed to be. So, I took a cue from the boys, who like to have a GU when they’re starting to fade while we’re biking or skiing – the Vanilla Bean flavor is a favorite among all of us. I usually don’t find that I need to worry about having enough energy on outings with the boys along; the pace is so slow that E and I usually don’t get drained. The boys certainly push themselves though, often needing some sort of recharge due to their smaller energy reserves, and when that’s the case, it’s GU to the rescue. On bigger, faster paced outings by myself though, I also feel the drain, and today I wanted to give a recuperative GU shot a try. I had the GU just a few minutes before my descent, and it absolutely worked. It helped give my legs that quick energy that they craved, and they had no trouble making Telemark turns. It was great having maximum powder to drive the legs, and while there’s no way to know exactly how my legs would have performed without the shot of GU, it was certainly my hero for today. I can still remember when I first learned about those energy gels back in the early 2,000s when Scott and Troy and their Dirtworld.com mountain biking team would use them. They’d strap them to their handlebars and down one on each lap to keep their energy up. With the way it performed today, I think a shot of GU before each earned descent is going to become part of the routine.
“There were plenty of
untracked lines to ski,
and it was dense, wall-
As for the snow conditions, indeed there was some leftover base snow on Nosedive, and that offered up great turns, but the new snow itself was extremely dense (probably 12-14% H2O or so) and as long as there was enough of it, there was no need for previous base because it kept you off of anything below. I caught some beautiful bottomless powder on the skier’s left below the switchbacks, and then a lot more on the skier’s right along the edge of the trail. The Telemark turns were definitely flowing, and despite the fact that it was dense snow that could easily have been challenging to ski, it wasn’t. I immediately thought back to that storm last year on April 10th. Mt. Mansfield picked up more than two feet of dense snow that covered everything, but it was quite a challenge to ski on the Teles. Sometimes you would punch through the snow too far, perhaps with one ski, making lateral balance tough, and fore-aft balance was also extremely challenging. It’s possible that there was snow of varying densities in that storm, with some less dense snow underneath the topmost layer. That’s “upside down” snow, which is typically more challenging to ski. It was after that storm that I really decided that I wanted some fat, rockered Telemark skis for powder, and eventually got the Black Diamond AMPerages. I can only wonder how they would have performed in that storm – they would have been nice today, but being unsure of the snow depths I went with my older Atomic RT-86 midfats, and there were no issues. Really, the most challenging aspect of today’s skiing was negotiating areas of thinner snow as you dropped in elevation. I was actually quite impressed with the quality of some of the powder skiing on Nosedive today, but little did I know it wasn’t even going to hold a candle to what was in store over at the Gondola.
I had no time limits, and plenty of energy left in the tank with the shortened ascent, so I skied down to the junction of Nosedive and Cliff Trail, and continued my tour by skinning up Cliff Trail. Within a few moments of starting my ascent, it was obvious that snow depths were substantially greater on Cliff Trail than they were on Nosedive at equivalent elevations. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was heading toward the Gondola, or because Cliff Trail offers better protection from the wind, but coverage was deep, wall-to-wall. Unlike what I’d seen on most of Nosedive, there were no signs of whatever lay beneath the snow. It wasn’t an illusion either; the depth at 3,000’ on Cliff Trail was 11”, vs. the 8” on Nosedive. The snow just continued to increase as I ascended toward the Gondola, there was 12”+ by the junction with Perry Merrill at 3,400’, and 12” – 15” easily up at the Cliff House. That’s on the conservative side for what you could find up there, and in general the snow depth was somewhat deceptive because you didn’t sink much into the dense snow. But right in the middle of Perry Merrill just beyond the Cliff House I measured 22” of new snow in flat terrain with no drifting. The usual measurement off the top of the picnic tables was deceptive as well – there was about a half foot of snow on the tables, but you could tell that the snow was much deeper because the table’s seats were just about buried. I measured in the open space between the tables and got a depth of 18”, so presumably the tops of the tables didn’t accumulate the snow well due to wind, melting, or some other effect. Here’s the summary of the depths I found on the Gondola side ascending via Cliff Trail:
“…at times it was dense enough that you’d be smearing turns right on the surface.”
I had another GU and got ready for my descent. Even that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill had great coverage comprised of that dense snow. Typically you’d sink in a few to several inches, but at times it was dense enough that you’d be smearing turns right on the surface. It took a moment to adapt when that was happening, but somehow the variability in the turns didn’t seem to disrupt the flow of the skiing – it was just really fun. I almost headed back down Cliff Trail since the coverage was so complete, but there were already a couple of tracks on it, and it’s fairly narrow, so I opted to check out Perry Merrill instead. I was hoping it would live up to the coverage I’d seen on Cliff Trail, and indeed it was just as good, if not even a bit better. There were plenty of untracked lines to ski, and it was dense, wall-to-wall snow, all the way down to 2,500’. You could do laps up there from 2,500’ to 3,600’ and think it was midwinter. The snow certainly wasn’t fluffy VermontChamplain Powder™, it was dense Sierra Cement, but it wasn’t wet or sticky. It made for plenty of base and just skied really well – it was right near the top on quality that I’ve experienced relative to many similar early and late-season dense-snow events. Sinking into the snow only a few inches or so was inconsequential compared to the fact that you didn’t have to worry about hitting anything underneath and you could just let it rip.
I stopped my descent at around 2,300’, as the snow was down to about 4” and it was getting notably wetter. You could probably go down to around 2,100’ easily if you had your rock skis. I hiked down the last 700’ back to the Midway Lodge, and the last vestiges of snow disappeared right around 1,800’ just like I’d seen over on Nosedive. The precipitation was snow down to just a couple hundred feet above the base, and back down at the lodge it was mostly rain with some snow mixed in at times. There were some really good bursts of snow on my descent, even in the lower elevations. The temperature had increased a few degrees to ~40 F at the base, but it was midday at that point, so that was still quite impressive.
Overall, I was really excited about how my equipment and supplies performed on this tour. My Gore-Tex did its job in keeping me dry, despite the driving rain and snow. My skins held like glue even in the wet snow, and hiking both up and down in my Telemark boots was a joy. I remembered to put them in walk mode for the walking sections (and put them back in ski mode for the descents) and it was almost like being in my hiking boots. And then there was the GU. It really quickened my recovery for the descents, and I’m going to be keeping that on the tour menu going forward. The boys won’t be able to borrow GU from me as easily though when they need it. While the GU certainly did its thing, I’m sure my stop off at Dunkin Donuts to fuel up before the tour also helped. I was feeling so great when I got home at midday, that I was ready to go for another round of skiing if E and the boys wanted to. It was still nasty and rainy outside, and not really conducive to doing too much else, but we had some fantastic winter powder skiing sitting up there in the high country. I couldn’t convince them to go though, so they unfortunately missed out this time. We did get some quality time indoors though, which I’m guessing a lot of families were doing this weekend. Ty, Dylan and I had a great round of “The Settlers of Catan” while E did a bit of shopping. It was quite a storm though, with Whiteface and other areas of the high peaks really cleaning up and putting out some amazing pictures.
Monday update: The clouds cleared out today to produce crystal blue skies, and naturally that revealed some amazing vistas of the spring foliage and snow-capped peaks everywhere. Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump were topped with white, shimmering in the strong sun of late May, and the high peaks of the Adirondacks were brilliant. We traveled around from Waterbury to Vergennes to Cambridge doing various activities, so we took in numerous vantages of the Greens and Adirondacks. It turned out to be a spectacular Northern New England Day for the holiday, almost as if Mother Nature was trying to strike as sharp a contrast as possible against the recently departed storm.
It was a Telemark day for the family yesterday at Stowe, but today was an alpine day for the boys, in line with plans to hit some steep and challenging terrain. We were hoping to introduce Dylan and E to some of the Bypass Chutes that Ty and I had skied last Saturday, with additional plans to head over to the Gondola area of Mt. Mansfield and potentially up to some of the steep alpine terrain of The Chin. The weather was looking pretty good, with clear blue skies and fairly seasonable temperatures. E had tweaked her back a bit the other day, so she ultimately decided that the best course of action would be to rest it, and I took the boys off to the mountain in the mid afternoon. On our drive, the one thing I quickly noticed was that today’s temperatures were actually a bit colder than yesterday’s – whereas it was roughly 50 F in the lower mountain valleys yesterday, today I was seeing numbers more in the mid 40s F. The car thermometer was reading just 39 F when we arrived at the base of Mansfield, and that got me a little concerned about the snow surfaces, since yesterday’s slightly warmer temperatures were already somewhat marginal with the softening. Today had 100% sunshine though, so I was hoping that could make a difference.
As soon as we arrived in the Mansfield Parking Lot, it was obvious that the number of people at the resort was nothing like what we’d encountered yesterday afternoon. Yesterday we just pulled up and grabbed a parking spot in the first row, directly in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge, but today I didn’t see a single open spot in the entirety of the east side of the lot. I eventually decided that it would just be easier to park over in the Midway Lot at the Gondola, since we’d be finishing our day there. Even over there though, there was a healthy amount of vehicles, so the resort was definitely drawing a crowd for its last official day. As we made our way over to the base of the Fourrunner Quad, we witnessed the incredible sea of vehicles and skiers that filled the Mansfield Parking Lot. The sights and sounds were simply everywhere, there was one source of music that was so loud that it sounded like a live band was playing. I even heard someone mention something to that effect a bit later, but didn’t know if it was true. Anyway, that’s what happens when you combine that last day of Stowe lift service with weather like we had today.
“It was still reasonably
good corn snow, and
fortunately it improved
with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation.”
Up at the summit of the Fourrunner Quad it was certainly a bit chilly, and I suspect that the temperature was right around the freezing mark. I thought about doing a run on some of the quad terrain before making our way over to the Gondola, but decided that it was best to get going early so we’d have maximal time for whatever touring we wanted to do. The snow seemed at least somewhat softened in the sun from what we could see below us on our trip up the quad, but as soon as we dropped onto Nosedive, we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency. We saw that the upper entrance to Bypass was roped, presumably because of the firm snow surface. The trip down those next couple of pitches of Nosedive was quite hairy, and I wouldn’t have recommended it for anyone like us that doesn’t keep their edges sharp. We picked our way down with some survival skiing to find that even the next entrance to the Nosedive Glades was roped off. Access over to Rimrock was only available once the pitch flattened out a bit, and we got our butts off Nosedive as soon as possible.
Based on the snow surfaces, I didn’t think there was much sense in heading above tree line, but the ascent over to the top of the Gondola still looked viable, so we set our sights on that. To make it easy on the boys, especially since they’ve been under the weather a bit this past week, I took care of carrying their skis for them. I skinned with my skis, and attached theirs to my pack. We actually encountered a number of people heading over to the Gondola via Rim Rock, they were keeping that aggressive traverse that would let them reach High Road and maximize their vertical. We were heading higher than that though, since we continued up Cliff Trail once we got to that High Road intersection. After a break at that intersection, we continued on up with the Cliff Trail ascent, and even though it’s just an intermediate pitch, it looked daunting to the boys compared to what we’d just traversed. It really went quickly though, it felt like we began to see the top of Cliff Trail just after ascending the first steep pitch, and even with the boys somewhat beleaguered pace due to recent fought illness, it couldn’t have taken much more than 10 minutes. We could still see some sunlit terrain above us at that point, so after a quick break, we continued on a bit more and finally stopped our ascent up near the flats leading to the Cliff House. In terms of both sunshine and slope, there wasn’t much point in going beyond the first big pitch of Perry Merrill. We could hear, and in some cases see, people picking their way down through the Rock Garden and other, even steeper lines off the Mansfield ridgeline, and it sounded horrible up there. That terrain is shaded, high in elevation, and steep. It looked like it was worse than what we’d found on Nosedive, and that experience was already going down as serving up the most hellacious ski conditions we’d encountered all season. At least the snow was being well-preserved for future use, but it had me longing for the fresh snow that Ty and I got to play in last weekend.
“…we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency.”
The boys finished with a final snack and some roughhousing in the snow off to the side of the trail as we enjoyed some sun, and then we were off for some turns. We stuck to as much sunny terrain as we could, descending on Perry Merrill and then to Gondolier on the skier’s left. The snow was only marginally softened, so it was OK, but like yesterday, not really as great as the sunshine might suggest. It was still reasonably good corn snow, and fortunately it improved with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation. All I can say is that the upside of the minimal softening is that even down in those lower elevations below the alpine, the preservation of the snowpack was looking quite good. I was happy for E though, as she’d made the right call in staying home and resting her back. Although she missed a fun bit of hiking and touring, which gave us a nice workout, she certainly hadn’t missed out on any extraordinary (or even ordinary for that matter) spring skiing.
For the final half of the descent on Gondolier, we used my camera (Canon EOS 30D) and E’s camera (Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS) between the three of us and played “Shootout”. It’s a contest in which everyone skis in front of the cameras, but also gets behind the cameras to serve as photographers. The goal is to see who can get the shot of the day in both the photographer and skier roles. E’s point and shoot camera does have a decent high speed shooting mode that runs at 7.8 FPS in low (~3 megapixels) resolution, and it does a decent job of capturing images, even if you can’t really view your subject the way you can with a DSLR. The big downside of her camera is that the focus, exposure, and other parameters are set on the first shot and remain fixed – also, you have to stop shooting to adjust the zoom. For sports photography, this represents a serious disadvantage compared to the DSLR that is rapidly adjusting all these for every high speed shot, and even though it’s only shooting at 5 FPS, it’s going at full resolution and is attempting to optimize the picture every time. Also, you can zoom on the fly and keep filling the frame with the skier if you want. E pointed out that I had a huge advantage using the DSLR (since it’s big, the boys don’t typically use it), so it was a bit uneven in that regard, but we’ll see how things come out in the end.