Tag Archives: GPS Map

Lincoln Gap, VT 28FEB2015

An image of Ty on the skin track on a backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
Ty heads out on today’s backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area

Unlike last weekend, where Winter Storm Pandora provided fresh snow on both Saturday and Sunday, new snow this weekend isn’t really expected until tomorrow afternoon. It also hasn’t really been a particularly snowy week, with no new snow in five to six days. Snow preservation has continued to be great though, and that brought about some interest in heading for some backcountry turns. I’d come across an article about some of the skiing in the Lincoln Gap area at the Nor’easter Backcountry Blog, and it sounded like there was a lot of potential. Guru Gered had put plenty of detail into the report, as well as a map, so it was a good aid for getting the general lay of the land and some ideas of where to go for quality turns. One great aspect about today that I haven’t had on a lot of backcountry trips this season was the temperature – it looked like it was going to be up into the 20s F, which was going to feel like a warm spring day.

“It’s obvious that there’s a massing amount of ski terrain there on the east side of Lincoln Gap…”

An image of Lincoln Gap Road in Vermont at the winter closure area where the snow starts
Starting the tour at the Lincoln Gap Road closure area

E was taking care of Dylan and an afternoon birthday party at a friend’s house, but Ty was free, so we let the day warm up with the help of that almost March sun, and headed south toward Warren in the afternoon. The sunshine was brilliant as we made our way through the Mad River Valley and up Lincoln Gap Road. After a few miles, the plowing ended, and we found about a half dozen cars parked where the road closure and snow began. From one of the cars, a group of sledders was heading out to ride on the snowy road, which I suspect is a popular activity just the way folks like to do it on Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch.

“The powder was fantastic; certainly not super fresh, but there were no crusts of any kind and it was definitely super bottomless.”

Ty and I started skinning right up the road, which was well packed through what seemed to be a combination of human and mechanized traffic. Off to the left of the road, the land sloped down toward Lincoln Brook, and off to the right it sloped upward the slope of Mount Abraham. You could immediately see great ski terrain right up in that direction to the northwest, but based on Guru Gered’s report, we were planning to tour off on the southern side of the road. After about five minutes or so, we found a service road in that direction marked with a brown “66”, and an obvious skin track on it; it was clear that this was a common route for skiers. The road headed gently upward in a southerly direction, still paralleling Lincoln Brook, and since the land still fell away in that direction, there was no obvious yet to the terrain beyond it. After roughly another ten minutes, the brook narrowed somewhat, the road bent in that direction, and we approached the foot of the mountainsides now visible to our south.

“You also know that the terrain is pretty steep when you head over the handlebars for a crash into the powder, and wind up back on your feet after a full flip – Ty demonstrated that one for us.”

We met a couple there, who were out backcountry skiing with their young daughter – she was at the age where she was still riding in a pack (I can remember those days). We chatted for a bit, and the dad gave me an overview of the area. Above us to the west, we could see some fairly gentle slopes that formed the bottom of the drainage and headed up along the continuation of the brook. He said that a few skiers had been in there in the morning. We were informed that the main skin track wrapped back around the brook, heading east for a bit below the slopes above, and then turned more southward. We’d hit a sign marking the wilderness boundary, and from there you could continue south up that drainage where there were some options of trimmed lines as well as the streambed itself. From that point there was also the option to head back to the west and work your way up to the slopes right above us.

An image of a sign marking the boundary of the Breadloaf Wilderness Area in VermontWe thanked him and made our way along the main skin track that wrapped around the brook. The skin track was on a nice gradual grade that seemed to be an old logging road. Even after just a few minutes up that route, we could start to see some nice open lines dropping below us toward the brook. We hit the wilderness sign after about a mile of total distance, and based on time, we opted to head back west up above the slopes that would lead us back down to where met the family earlier. From that point the skin track went up and up and up (so it seemed) generally heading westward but with lots of switchbacks. We actually saw the family again, because they were heading up into that area as well and had taken a more direct skin track that eventually merged with the one we’d used. It seemed like it took forever, but we eventually hit the ridgeline above us as the terrain flattened out. One option of the skin track actually continued upward as the ridgeline continued to rise to the east, and that’s actually the way that the family was headed. I’m not sure exactly how much higher it went, since Ty and I took another track that headed along the ridgeline in a more westerly direction. We followed that for a few minutes until we came to where the previous skiers had started their descent. We could tell that this was generally going to get us back to the drainage where we’d started, and it looked like a decent option.

An image of Ty crashing in the powder on a backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
Ty making great use of that deep powder out there to cushion a spectacular fall with a full flip

We did a quick changeover to descent mode and were on our way down. There were the few tracks of other skiers in the general area, but there were plenty of fairly open trees all around, and you could spread out with plenty of space if you wanted to get away from signs of other tracks. The powder was fantastic; certainly not super fresh, but there were no crusts of any kind and it was definitely super bottomless. The terrain was steep, with plenty of shots of 25 or even 30 degrees, and you know the surface snow is seriously deep above the base when you can crank turns on those pitches and not touch a thing. There were good lines all over the place, and some of the most fun was riding the main streambed – everything is so buried in there under deep snow that there’s really nothing to worry about when the snowpack is like this. Ty was on fire with the Telemark turns, and I think he might have even been more consistent with them than me. He’s been doing cross country skiing in a program at school, and I think that’s gotten him even more attuned to his free heel work. If we had our druthers, we actually would have chosen a run with a shallower pitch than what we hit, since we’d been planning of something of a more intermediate pitch that really made for easy Telemark turns. But by the time we were done we’d realized that it didn’t matter; the powder was so consistent the tree spacing so good that even the steeper pitches had been working well.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of a backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area of Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour in the Lincoln Gap area

We eventually hit the bottom of the drainage, and headed down it to the right. We hadn’t known just how close we were to the service road, but were hit it in just a minute or two. From there it was a few minutes of gliding back to the car on the skin track. It’s obvious that there’s a massing amount of ski terrain there on the east side of Lincoln Gap, and much in line with what Guru Gered said in his report, there is a lot of prime hardwood skiing terrain out there. If you don’t have a couple feet of powder, I’m sure some of those steeper lines are tougher to ski, but there’s plenty of mellower terrain out there as well. I have no idea how long it would take to explore even half of the potential terrain that’s out there, but I’m sure it will be fun.

Bolton Notch, VT 01FEB2015

An image of ski tracks in backcountry powder in the Bolton Notch are of Vermont
The western slopes of the Northern Greens are chock full of powder right now.

Relative to yesterday, today’s forecast called for temperatures to be a couple of degrees warmer, but the reality was that the cold arctic air would still be in place, and temperatures would likely be in the single digits F in the mountains. Add some breezes, and the wind chills would be well below zero, so it was an easy call for E and Claire to once again cancel our BJAMS ski program at Stowe. E and the boys were happy to stay inside out of the cold, but I figured I’d take the opportunity to get out for a workout and make some turns. It’s still weather that’s better suited for self-powered ascents vs. riding lifts as far as I’m concerned, so I made plans for another backcountry ski tour.

“…it was easier than breaking trail through the powder, which was already in the 12-15″ range.”

I figured I’d go with a fairly quick tour today, something a bit closer to home and with modest vertical. I was impressed with the snow I found yesterday on my Dewey Mountain ski tour, so I figured I could stick with some west side skiing, and the Bolton Notch area came to mind. I know there’s plenty of skiing on the eastern slopes of Bolton Notch, as I’ve heard about if from friends and colleagues that live there. Many people who live on the east side of Bolton Notch Road simply hike up from their back yards and ski back down. The ridgeline up above stretches from the Oxbow Ridge area and Bolton Notch Peak in the north, to Stimson Mountain in the south, and just as it marks the eastern wall of Bolton Notch, it represents the western wall of the Bolton Valley area. I’ve skied down from the ridge on the Bolton Valley side, and when I’ve been up there on the ridge, I’ve even heard people just down below me on the Bolton Notch side. I suspected the people I heard were backcountry skiers, and figured that at some point I’d pick a day to check out that side of the ridge.

An image of the sign at the parking area for the Preston Pond Trails in Bolton VermontAlthough my preference was to explore the skiing options down below the ridge at the point where I’d heard people in the past, for my first exploration of the notch I planned to start a tour from wherever I found convenient parking. That turned out to be a couple miles north of where I was initially thinking, at the parking area for the Preston Pond Trails. The lot is at an elevation of ~1,200′ on the west side of the road, and although it’s fairly small and already had another car in it, there was plenty of room for another. So I’d found decent parking, but in reality, I wasn’t all that optimistic about the potential for skiing in that area. The terrain directly to my east featured the huge cliffs of Bolton Notch Peak looming over everything, and they were cliffs that were essentially sheer and unskiable. And as if that wasn’t enough, the terrain below the cliffs was fairly steep and littered with car to house size boulders, presumably large chunks of rock that had fallen from the cliffs above. The prospects for skiing looked much better about a quarter mile to the south, where the terrain was a bit mellower and not so full of boulders. For my first visit to the area though, my plan was to just look for a skin track and see where it led me.

“The depth of the surface powder snow was actually getting pretty close to yesterday’s depths at times, up into the range of 18″ or more, but these elevations just didn’t have as substantial a base.”

As has been the case as of late, temperatures were in the single digits, so I quickly geared up and set out. Right across the road, I saw ski tracks heading up into the trees, so I figured that must be the standard skin track for the parking area and hopped on. Well, it didn’t turn out to be a well-established skin track, it was just a skin track made by one or two previous skiers, and it left a lot to be desired. I’m not sure what they person who made it was thinking, but they set it with some steep pitches and cruxes that required scrambling or holding onto trees to get up and through. It seemed to be heading up toward the unskiable terrain of the cliffs, and since it was rather poorly placed, I thought more than once about simply breaking off on my own to the south and contouring up in elevation more slowly. But, I stuck with the skin track because even though it was poorly done, it was easier than breaking trail through the powder, which was already in the 12-15″ range.

“The ski terrain wasn’t looking more promising in any direction – to the north it was cliffs and boulders, and to the south it was getting too flat.”

Finally, at around 1,700′, the skin track intersected with the VAST trail that runs through the notch area, and the prospects for getting to some decent skiing were looking a little better. The person who’d made the track appeared to have headed off to the south on the VAST trail, and this was good because this was the direction toward what looked like much better ski terrain. I headed up a rise on the VAST trail, and kept my eyes peeled for signs of the skin track heading back into the trees. Indeed after a few hundred feet, I saw the skin track head off to the left on what looked like an old logging road. The ski touring potential there were looking good, but after about five to ten minutes of additional skinning, it was becoming obvious that the skin track wasn’t really heading toward any primo ski terrain. It followed the logging roads in the area and was generally quite nice in terms of pitch, but it soon looked like whoever had made the track had descended right back down it. I gave it a few more minutes until I saw that the track’s creator clearly didn’t know where they were going. There were small side loops in the track and signs of doubling back where the person seemed to be surveilling the area. After some of these small loops, I could see that the person did eventually continue onward, but at an elevation of a bit below 2,000′ I decided to call it. The ski terrain wasn’t looking more promising in any direction – to the north it was cliffs and boulders, and to the south it was getting too flat. I’d already seen some options for turns near where I was, which actually might be the local sweet spot for ski potential in that immediate area.

“There were some nice open hardwoods in there, and I got some great powder turns.”

I had some soup, switched over for the descent, and began my way back down in the area of the skin track. I was able to veer off the track and get into some nice terrain for powder turns that would eventually return me safely to the track. It was my first chance to actually check out how the snow was skiing, and I was a little leery because the snow down at these elevations wasn’t as deep as what I’d been in yesterday up on Dewey Mountain. The depth of the surface powder snow was actually getting pretty close to yesterday’s depths at times, up into the range of 18″ or more, but these elevations just didn’t have as substantial a base. When I actually got turning though, I found that the overall combination of powder and base was more than sufficient, especially floating on 115 mm fat skis. And I have to say that the fluff there in the notch was of really high quality – definitely up to the standards of Champlain Powder™.

An image of a "Posted - Private Property" sign in the Bolton Notch area of VermontWhen I got back down to the VAST trail I decided that for the rest of the descent, I wasn’t going to go near the boulder-infested area in which I’d skinned up if I could help it. I opted to drop right from the VAST trail to Notch Road, or at least as straight down as the terrain and private property boundaries would let me. There were some nice open hardwoods in there, and I got some great powder turns. I had to navigate some ledges, but a shuffle to the left or right would usually get me to a mellower line around them. Unfortunately my direct descent was stopped when I ran into a “POSTED – PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign that belonged to one of the property owners below. I had to traverse above it, so I chose to go northward in the direction of the parking area. After a few minutes of traversing and skiing some lines, I saw that I’d soon be getting onto the property of a couple of additional houses, and fortunately, I found a nice area in between that seemed to be out of sight and off anyone’s property. That shot brought me right down to the road, where I strapped my skis on my pack and made the short walk back to my car.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from a backcountry ski tour in the Bolton Notch area of Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour in the Bolton Notch area

While I was packing up at the car, the owner of the other vehicle arrived with her dog. She actually lives right on the road, and we began to talk skiing. She asked how it was, and I said that the snow was great, but the ski terrain, as I’d expected, was somewhat limited. Between the cliffs up above, areas of terrain that were too flat, areas of terrain that were of inconsistent slope and alternated between ledges and run outs, and the private property boundaries, it just wasn’t a prime backcountry ski spot. There were some very nice lines with open trees, but overall it wasn’t a lot of bang for your buck. I inquired about other parking areas on the road, and she couldn’t think of any immediately, but suggested to go to the Long Trail area. She said that once you got up above the VAST trail in that area, there were some nice lines. That is indeed back where I’d initially thought I’d find some good terrain, so I’ll likely try to find my way over there at some point in the future.

Dewey Mountain, VT 31JAN2015

An image showing some ski glades on Dewey Mountain in Northern Vermont
The glades on Dewey Mountain held some fantastic Champlain Powder today.

I’m sure there are many interesting stories that begin in a dark room, but in this case, the story begins in a darkroom. It was early June of 2010, and I was in the Pharmacology darkroom on the third floor of UVM’s Given Building. It must have been a popular day for western blotting, because I was in there with another guy as we both queued up some films for the developer. I can’t recall his name, but I think he knew I was a skier, and as he was as well, the conversation almost inevitably migrated in that direction. As backcountry skiing was discussed, he told me that I should check out the west face of Dewey Mountain sometime – he said you just drive up to the top of the road, put on your skins, and go up. It all sounded pretty straightforward from what I could tell. Being well entrenched in the warm season at that point, there was of course no way I was going to run off and check it out anytime soon, but I made a mental note and figured I’d check it out at some point in the future when the time was right. As one might expect, things happened to align, and that time was today.

“I was thankful to be able to use the track, because that powder was indeed deep – my checks were giving me measurements of 20-24″ of fluff.”

Our most recent snowfall in the Northern Greens came yesterday from Winter Storm Kari; it wasn’t an especially big storm up here, but much of the Champlain Valley picked up a half a foot of snow, and the west side resorts like Bolton Valley and Smuggler’s Notch received more than a foot. While yesterday’s temperatures were quite pleasant (and the skiing fantastic from what I hear), the storm pulled down more arctic air and was back into highs in the single digits F for the weekend. Combined with wind, temperatures would be well down into the negative numbers, and E and the boys had no interest in going out in that. I didn’t really feel like riding the lifts in those temperatures either, so another backcountry day was calling. I’d been a bit leery to head to the western slopes with the way they were lagging in snowpack earlier in the season, but with the way they cleaned up in this most recent storm, it seemed like the time had come. I had enough time to head out toward Underhill, so I figured I’d finally head to the top of the road and see what Dewey Mountain had to offer for snow and terrain.

“The best way to describe what’s up there is simply “steep and deep” terrain.”

It turns out that “the road” that you head to the top of, is Stevensville Road coming out of Underhill Center. There’s a fairly large parking area there, and I’d actually just visited it this past fall when Mark and I did a shuttle hike up to the ridge line of Mt. Mansfield and down to Underhill State Park. I’d never been there in the winter though, and it was an interesting drive. Even though this past storm wasn’t a big one, as I got into the upper elevations of Stevensville Road, I could see that they had a ton of snow, and it looked like a mini fluff bomb had gone off in the area. Delicate upslope Champlain Powder™ snow was piled on everything. The prospects for some powder skiing were looking very good.

An image of the Overland Cross-Country Ski Trail sign near the Stevensville parking lot outside Underhill Center in the Green Mountains of VermontThere were about a half dozen cars in the parking area as I geared up and hopped onto the skin track at the east end. It was really more than a skin track; there had been enough use that the trail was essentially packed. It reminded me of a narrower version of the Bryant Trail at Bolton Valley. It wasn’t long before I came to a junction that gave me the option to follow either the Overland X-C Ski Trail or the Nebraska Notch Trail. My initial assessment of the area on Google Earth had me planning on the Overland side, and with the vast preponderance of skin traffic heading in that direction, it sealed the deal. I did a few checks on the depth of the surface snow as I continued onward, and was getting measurements in the 15-16″ range. Even down in that 1,400′ to 1,500′ elevation range, the area had clearly been reeling in some good snows as of late.

An image showing some potential ski terrain above the Overland Cross-Country Ski Trail on the west face of Dewey Mountain in Vermont
Catching views of skiable lines along the skin track accessed by the Overland Trail

After about a half mile, the blazed Overland Trail seemed to head off to the north across the local streambed, but I stayed on straight ahead following the majority of the skin traffic. The skin track meandered upward through hardwoods, and I could see that people descending in the area would sometimes head off to the sides of the trail and ski the surrounding powdery terrain. The skin track began to steepen, and at some point above the 2,000′ mark I began to get into more obvious glades. Based on the distribution of mature trees vs. hobblebush and striped maple saplings, it looked like the area had seen some pruning at some point in the past. The skin track steepened further, and very obvious ski lines through glades with mature trees became more apparent. I caught sight of a couple of women who were ascending the skin track ahead of me, and eventually caught up to them at an elevation of around 2,700′ as they were switching over for a descent. We were just hitting the evergreen line, and I could see why they would start a descent there, but as I could also see a good number of ski tracks coming down from the evergreens above, I decided to push on a bit farther. We exchanged greetings as I prepared to step up above the skin track to get around them, but they happily moved when they saw just how hard it was to step into the powder and go around the track. I was thankful to be able to use the track, because that powder was indeed deep – my checks were giving me measurements of 20-24″ of fluff. I continued on up into the evergreens for about another hundred vertical feet, following a mish mash of skin tracks and possibly descent tracks, until I found a nice spot to stop that looked like it would give me a good start to a run.

An image showing a skin track for backcountry skiing access among glades on the west face of Dewey Mountain in Vermont
Beautiful glades along one of the skin tracks on the west face of Dewey Mountain

I actually had a nice sheltered spot among some evergreens; it would have kept me well out of the wind, but I really hadn’t experienced any during the trip anyway. I poured some soup from my thermos to let it cool in the snow, and began the gear switch for the descent. It was definitely one of those “one skin at a time” types of transitions, as the powder was so light, fluffy, and deep, that it would be a hassle getting out of my skis entirely. I’m sure the temperature was somewhere below zero up there, and I made the switch to my heavier gear quickly before I began to cool down post-ascent. I had my soup, gathered my gear, and got set to push through the evergreens to look for a line.

“…it’s not the sort of terrain that would be great without sufficient snow – you’d be bottoming out all over the place.”

A little traversing through the evergreens was all it took, and I was into skiable terrain. The best way to describe what’s up there is simply “steep and deep” terrain. It’s indeed steep, probably 25 degrees or so, and you really want the deep because it’s not the sort of terrain that would be great without sufficient snow – you’d be bottoming out all over the place. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the current snowpack. The roughly two feet of powder up there provided plenty of cushion, as well as resistance. There’s plenty of spacing in the hardwoods, and you can open up the turns; even slower Telemark turns were comfortable thanks to the tree spacing and depth of the surface snow. Well, some credit in that department is definitely due to fat, rockered skis as well. Also, any concerns about west side base depths was pretty much erased on this outing – if there were no concerns on that really steep terrain, it’s not an issue. The steep terrain goes on for several hundred vertical feet before it starts to become more moderate. I hung to the left and continued downward, eventually finding a popular catch track that actually headed up a short incline and off to the skier’s left away from the area of the skin track. I suspected that this would work in some additional lines down to the skin track, but available daylight and air temperature suggested that it would be best to save that exploration for another time. I headed down through the various trees around the area of the skin track, and there were plenty of additional turns to be made. Eventually as the pitch of the terrain became shallower, the Overland Trail itself was the most practical route, with just occasional forays off into the powder as speed allowed.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from a backcountry ski tour on Dewey Mountain in Vermont
A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour on Dewey Mountain

One nice aspect about the current snow conditions up there is that they allowed for good skiing in both the steep terrain, as well as the more moderate terrain below – the depth of the powder decreased pretty well in concert with the terrain’s pitch. One could easily ski just some of the lower sections of terrain if the depth of powder didn’t suit the steep shots. In any event, thanks to the quality and depth of the snow, it was some pretty fantastic skiing for an exploration that started in a darkroom. I guess there might have been some nice symmetry to the report if I finished my run as darkness approached, but with these temperatures it’s not wise to push your luck being out there too late.

Nebraska Valley, VT 25JAN2015

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on a backcountry ski outing in the Nebraska Valley area of Vermont
Gliding through some backcountry powder in the Nebraska Valley area today

The weather yesterday was very comfortable, with highs in the local mountains around 30 F at ski resort base elevations. Today was a different story though; mountain temperatures were expected to start in the single digits and drop in the afternoon to produce wind chills well below zero. With that forecast looming, E and Claire decided to cancel today’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe to avoid any frostbite issues with the students. The program can make up the session later in the spring anyway, hopefully on a nice warm day.

“The ski lines were obvious and everywhere, there’s no hunting around necessary if you’re looking for some moderate angle powder to ski.”

With the chilly forecast and some extra time in the afternoon, I decided to head out for a backcountry ski tour in the Nebraska Notch area. Some of the higher elevations of the Northern Greens did pick up as much as 4 to 6 inches of snow overnight, so that added a little extra incentive to get out and see how conditions were faring. I’ve wanted to do an exploratory tour near Nebraska Notch for a while, and I’m familiar with the tour highlighted in David Goodman’s book that starts on the west side of the notch. I’d been through some of that area this past summer when our family was on a backpacking trip with the Handler’s, so I thought that something on the east side would be a fun alternative. From Jacquie, I’d heard about the backcountry skiing potential above the overnight parking area near the Lake Mansfield Trout Club, so I decided I’d give that a shot. It’s a quick trip from our house in Waterbury, and I’d be able to take care of some necessary grocery shopping on the way home as well.

“I’m not sure how deep the base was, but surface powder was 13-14″ in the trees just above the parking area (~1,100′), and pushing two feet up high depending on prior wind and sun exposure in underlying layers.”

Heading up Nebraska Valley Road, I noticed that as I approached the 1,000′ elevation mark, the snowpack really took a jump. It went from the 8-12″ that we’ve currently got in many of the lower mountain valleys of the Northern Greens to something more, and you could really see how the higher elevations of the Nebraska Valley were holding the snow. I pulled into the lot for overnight recreational parking, and it was empty. There was probably space for 20 cars, but mine was it. I guess it’s just another one of those harbingers of the overuse and overcrowding associated with skiing in the Vermont backcountry. In any event, I could see an obvious, although apparently lightly used skin track off to the right heading up into the forest. More importantly, I could see the associated ski terrain looming right above me; well-spaced hardwoods appeared to fill the entire slope, and you could immediately see that there was some great skiing right down to the parking area.

An image showing a skin track heading off into the forest for backcountry skiing in the Nebraska Valley area of Vermont
An old skin track from the parking area marked an obvious route of ascent.

An image showing an old chain on a hook hanging from a tree along a backcountry skin track in the Nebraska Valley area of VermontThe skin track ascended through the hardwoods on what appeared to be an old logging road, and it sliced right through an impressive chunk of ski terrain. The ski lines were obvious and everywhere, there’s no hunting around necessary if you’re looking for some moderate-angle powder to ski. After looking at the area on Google Earth this morning, I’d decided to explore a drainage off to the northwest of the parking area, and conveniently that’s just where the logging road and skin track headed. After a few hundred feet of ascent I could see that there were a number of ski options, but three main ones were very evident: You could ski the logging road itself, which was relatively narrow and contained the skin track, but would serve up some decent turns. Much more expansive options were to either contour off to the east and make turns in the vast face of terrain containing the hardwoods, or head westward and ski steep gullies down into the drainage. I had plenty of time to survey the topography and decide on descent routes as I continued up the skin track; it’s set at a very nice, consistent pitch with none of these steep spots that might promote slipping.

An image of a "Tubbs Snowshoe Trail" blaze on a trail along the Sky Top Ridge on the north wall of the Nebraska Valley in the Green Mountains of VermontAt around 2,100′, evergreens began to mix in with the hardwoods, and the logging road gradually gave way to a skin track that worked its way more tightly through the forest and ascended small streambeds. By 2,500′ I was into exclusively evergreens, and the available snow was getting deeper. I’m not sure how deep the base was, but surface powder was 13-14″ in the trees just above the parking area (~1,100′), and pushing two feet up high depending on prior wind and sun exposure in underlying layers. I hit the ridge line (Sky Top Ridge east of Dewey Mountain) at an elevation of roughly 2,800′, and headed off to the east on the ridge line trail. Appropriately, the trail on the ridge is known as the Skytop Trail, and David Goodman’s Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont & New York book has a specific chapter on touring there. I found it marked with red blazes, but I also noticed a “Tubbs Snowshoe Trail” sign as well. I continued on the Skytop Trail for another few minutes until I hit a local high point where I decided to halt my ascent.

“Some exploring would have been fun, but with the time of day, cold temperatures, and being solo, there really wasn’t much margin for messing around.”

Up there on the ridge it was cold, noticeably colder than the 10 F at the parking area. I was out of the wind, but it wasn’t a temperature to hang around in. I poured some soup and let it cool a bit while I changed over for the descent. My plan was to head back down in the area of the skin track for that first chunk of the descent, since I hadn’t come across any obvious lines in other areas. Some exploring would have been fun, but with the time of day, cold temperatures, and being solo, there really wasn’t much margin for messing around. During the ascent I’d seen that there were plenty of steep, ledgy areas above the open hardwoods. Those ledges and some dense evergreens lay right below me, and from what I’d seen it would be very easy to get cliffed out up there. Any exploration of that terrain will have to wait for another time.

“Being south-facing, it’s not the kind of terrain that one would want to ski on sunny days when temperatures are getting marginal, but on a midwinter day like today, the snow was great.”

The descent up high along the general area of the skin track was very nice – the powder was deep and there were occasional options of ski lines that cut corners or veered away temporarily from the track. When I was back into the open areas of hardwoods, I cut left of the track following a previous skier’s lead, and traversed out into the face of terrain that sat well above the parking area. It was classic Vermont hardwood ski terrain; there weren’t any obvious maintained lines, but you didn’t need them. It was pretty much see it and ski it. The powder was a little shallower on some pitches, no doubt a function of that fact that the terrain faces south and can get plenty of sun due to the leafless deciduous trees. Being south-facing, it’s not the kind of terrain that one would want to ski on sunny days when temperatures are getting marginal, but on a midwinter day like today, the snow was great. I eventually ran into the skin track again, and cut to the other side as I saw some attractive ski lines heading in that direction. I finally had to do a short traverse to get back to the last pitch above the parking area, but with the open nature of the forest, navigation was pretty easy.

An image showing GPS data on Google Earth for a backcountry ski tour in the Nebraska Valley area of Vermont
The GPS tracking data of today’s backcountry ski tour in the Nebraska Valley of Vermont plotted on Google Earth

I’d say today was a great first visit to the area; those hardwoods are exceedingly skiable, with the main downside being that it’s south-facing, so the quality of the snow needs to be watched with respect to recent weather trends. The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now, and I only encountered the occasional underlying obstacle to contend with. As usual, if you throw another couple feet of base down, more and more lines will simply open up and get even cleaner as additional saplings and other trees get buried. On that note, there’s another winter storm (Juno) coming into the area over the next couple of days – it sounds like the bull’s-eye areas are down to the south, but it’s expected to give us a moderate shot of synoptic snow up here as well, which should further improve base depths.

Camel’s Hump – Monroe Trail, VT 08MAR2014

An image of ski tracks in one of the glades off the Monroe Trail  on the east side of Camel's Hump in Vermont
Out for some powder on the east side of Camel’s Hump today

It’s been a light week for snowfall here in the Northern Greens; since the storm that hit the area last Sunday, we’ve had generally cold and dry weather, with just one small round of snow in the Tuesday-Wednesday timeframe. That got me thinking about a backcountry tour for today. My initial inclination was to head northward, since as our snowy Sunday outing at Stowe confirmed, the northern mountains had really picked up the most snow, and accumulations tapered off as you headed southward. With that in mind, I was thinking of heading to Nebraska Notch for some turns. However, yesterday’s and today’s weather history also needed to be factored into the mix. Temperatures reached above freezing in some spots yesterday, and today was looking similar, so I figured that something sheltered and with relatively high elevation was the way to go for the best snow. I decided to head to some of the skiing around the Monroe Trail, on the Waterbury/Duxbury side of Camel’s Hump. I had planned to have Ty come with me, but at the last moment he decided that he didn’t want to skin today, so I said we’d head up to Bolton Valley for some lift-served turns when I got back from the tour.

It’s been over four years since I last visited the Monroe Trail area of Camel’s Hump for skiing. On that outing, I followed the Monroe Trail up to the large cliffs beneath the peak of Camel’s Hump, then traversed somewhat northward to set up for a descent fairly distant from the trail and toward the glades that drop down near the trailhead. I got in some good skiing in the trees, but really just caught the end of the glades, so I knew there would be more lines to explore. This time, my plan was to simply skin up one of the descent tracks made by skiers coming down through the glades, since it would save a lot of time traversing around up high to find the best starting points.

I headed out from the house a bit before noon, and temperatures were in the mid 30s F. The temperature fell as I headed up Camel’s Hump Road, dropping to 31 F by the time I reached the winter parking area at ~1,200’. Just a couple hundred feet below the parking area, I’d seen the first flakes of snow from a small system that was expected to come through in the afternoon. From the trailhead at ~1,500’, I skinned up the Monroe Trail for a few more minutes and then as the trail started to bend southward, I jumped onto one of the ski tracks coming down out of the obvious glades in the terrain above. The tracks traversed northward for a bit, but then gradually began to make a more direct ascent up toward the east face of Camel’s Hump. I was a little worried about the snow quality, because although it was below freezing and most snow that wasn’t in the sun was still wintry and dry, there were only a few inches of powder above an old crust. I wasn’t quite sure how that was going to ski. But, the snow got better and better as I ascended, with the powder on top of any crust getting deeper and deeper. It was really nice skinning though – the temperatures were just below freezing, the wind was calm, and light snow was falling in association with the afternoon’s storm. I hiked in just a vest over my polypropylene base layer, and quickly had my hat off as well.

As I ascended, it became obvious that the lower parts of the glades represented a common track to regain the Monroe Trail, but in the higher elevations, there were a number of interconnected glades from which to choose. About halfway through the ascent, I stuck with a glade that was generally on the skier’s right of the area that had seen very little traffic. There was just one very old descent track in it, and that track was actually hard to find at times because so much snow had fallen on it since it had been made. I knew that there were other glades around to my north, because I saw a couple of skiers descending in that area. After generally rejoining with tracks from some of the other glades, I traveled for a bit through more gently sloped terrain until I hit the trail for the Camel’s Hump Challenge at roughly 2,800’. I followed that northward a bit more until I topped out around the 3,000’ mark in some of the upper glades just below the Cliffs of Camel’s Hump. The quality of the snow had definitely improved up at that elevation, with any crust buried below several inches of powder.

I had a snack, switched my gear over, and then began my descent. There were some decent turns above the Camel’s Hump Challenge Trail, but the best turns were definitely when I got onto that lesser used glade below that point. The highest quality snow was in the top half of the vertical, and with my fat skis it was generally soft, bottomless turns. On the lower half of the descent, even my fat skis weren’t enough to always keep me floating, as the depth of the powder decreased to just a few inches; to best handle any partially tracked and/or narrower sections of terrain, I had to inject a lot more alpine turns into the mix vs. just Telemark turns. I did venture off the main glade that I was on at times, and there was plenty of skiing to be had right in the natural trees all around. I saw one other skier as I was descending – he was ascending through the glades as I’d done. He and his dog moved out of the way when he saw me off in the trees beyond the glade, but after I let him know that I was solo and nobody else would be coming down behind me, he quickly resumed his ascent.

Just as I’d experienced on my last outing in the area, from the bottom of the glades it was an easy downhill ski on the Monroe Trail itself. I was even able to catch some turns in the powder off to the side of the snow-covered roadway below the trailhead, then shouldered my skis to walk the last tenth of a mile back to the parking area. The temperature was 31 F just as it had been when I arrived, and the light snow had mostly tapered off down at that elevation. Despite the deeper snow and lack of a defined skin track in the glades relative to the beautifully packed nature of the Monroe Trail, I almost wonder if it’s more efficient to ascend in some cases because it’s a much shorter distance due to the way the Monroe Trail wraps around so far to the south. In terms of preserving the powder and ascending if the unconsolidated snow is deep and there aren’t many descent tracks, the Monroe Trail is the way to go, but now that I’ve gone up via both routes, I’d say they are both pretty convenient options. Hopefully I can get E and the boys along on one of these Monroe Trail trips – now that I’ve had a couple of sessions out there, I think I could guide them on a great tour.

A Google Earth map with GPS data from a ski tour in Vermont on the east face of Camel's Hump in the area of the Monroe Trail
The GPS data from today’s backcountry ski tour overlaid onto Google Earth