Bolton Valley, VT 24MAR2020

An image of Jay Telemark skiing in powder from Winter Storm Quincy in the Fanny Hill area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in powder from Winter Storm Quincy at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan out today getting some much needed exercise as we enjoy the fresh powder delivered by Winter Storm Quincy

Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of us have witnessed a dramatic change in daily life here in Northern Vermont as varying levels of social distancing and self-isolation are being practiced to slow the pandemic associated with COVID-19.  Measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 have been ramping up in the form of people doing extensive telecommuting, a state of emergency declared for Vermont back on the 13th,  the closing of bars and restaurants on the 17th, and beginning tomorrow at 5:00 P.M. an executive order to stay home/stay safe.

As of last week, the ski areas in the state had ceased operations, which obviously has the potential to be a blow to many employees and ancillary businesses.  All things considered, this timing hasn’t been too bad for the resorts, since they would all be tapering down winter services and staffing in the next few weeks to some degree anyway.  From the skier’s perspective, the timing of these resorts hasn’t been horrible either – weather has been in that spring doldrums stage for the past couple of weeks.  The usual thaw-freeze cycles that we get at this time of year have taken place, and we haven’t had any big storm cycles to resurface the slopes nor beautiful warm days with copious sunshine to soften them up.  We last skied back on the 8th for the BJAMS ski program at Stowe, and regardless of the ski area closings, there hasn’t been much to entice us out since then.

“Our initial forecast called for a total of 2 to 4 inches of accumulation, but after we picked up 2.6 inches of snow in just a half hour (an impressive snowfall rate of over 5 inches per hour) yesterday evening, it was obvious that we were going to get more.”

That situation began to change yesterday though, as Winter Storm Quincy moved into the area and began dropping snow.  I was returning from a meeting at work in the late afternoon, and the roads were already taking on some fresh accumulations.  As of my 6:00 P.M. snow observations at the house we’d already picked up a couple of inches of snow.  Our initial forecast called for a total of 2 to 4 inches of accumulation, but after we picked up 2.6 inches of snow in just a half hour (an impressive snowfall rate of over 5 inches per hour) yesterday evening, it was obvious that we were going to get more.  I got a text alert around 7:30 P.M. that we’ve been put under a Winter Storm Warning here in Washington County, no doubt due to the continued heavy snowfall.  By midnight, we’d picked up over 8 inches of snow at the house, composed of 0.65 inches of liquid equivalent.  This storm was definitely entering the realm of a decent resurfacing for the slopes.

Since the resort is not posting snow reports now that they’re closed, we didn’t have a sense for how much snow Bolton Valley picked up in the storm, but Dylan and I finally had time around late morning to head up for a ski tour.  On the way up the access road we stopped in at Timberline to check on the snow depth, and found about 7 inches of settled new accumulation at the base.  We also noted that there were a couple dozen cars in the parking lot from folks that were out ski touring.

I was unsure of the base depths at Timberline, and figured they would be more substantial at the main mountain, so we continued on up to the Village.  New snow depths were similar there, and indeed fairly similar all the way up to the Vista Summit.  So overall, there really didn’t seem to be much change in accumulation with respect to elevations – from what we saw today, even up above 3,000’ the storm totals looked about the same as what we picked up in the valley at 500’

A wide-angle image of Dylan skiing in powder from Winter Storm Quincy out on a ski tour at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan floats down through some of the powder today during our ski tour at Bolton Valley.

The turns we had today were very nice.  The powder was of medium to perhaps slightly higher density, and temperatures were well below freezing even in the Village at 2,000’.  The snow had a nice surfy consistency, with enough buoyancy for bottomless turns on even steep pitches in the black diamond range.  You could certainly hit bottom on the very steepest pitches, but we focused on medium-angle terrain and it was bottomless all the way.

“Despite the number of people up at the resort, it was clear that even resort ski touring is still a great activity for social distancing. As is typically the case, we actually saw only a few people while we were out on the hill, and you still never had to go within 50 feet of anyone if you didn’t want to.”

With many people not going to work right now as the state strives to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and a fresh dump of powder on the slopes, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how many people were out for turns.  The number of people touring seemed notable though – between Timberline and the Village, there were at least several dozen cars out there.  Where we really noticed that ski touring traffic was up was by the number of tracks on the trails.  D and I definitely had to work a bit to find trails that had only seen a few tracks, but we just poked around until we found them.  Fanny Hill delivered pretty nicely with only about four or five tracks on it and plenty of untouched snow.  Despite the number of people up at the resort, it was clear that even resort ski touring is still a great activity for social distancing.  As is typically the case, we actually saw only a few people while we were out on the hill, and you still never had to go within 50 feet of anyone if you didn’t want to.

An image of Jay from behind as he Telemark skis in powder from Winter Storm Quincy at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan was behind the lens of one of the cameras today as well, getting some shots of Dad when he had the chance.

There are a few early signs of another potential storm about a week out, but there’s nothing notable in the more immediate term, so we’ll be watching that timeframe to see if anything pops up.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 22FEB2020

An image of Ty powder skiing though a glade on Backcountry Trail Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty Telemark skiing in some powder on a sunny February day on the Backcountry Trail Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty drops into a line through some of the great snow we found today on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

Dylan and E were off to a sledding party this afternoon in Morrisville, but it was such a gorgeous day that getting out for a ski tour was definitely on my mind.  Ty had to work until noon, and was heading to a friend’s house at 4 P.M., but we definitely had enough time to sneak a tour in that window.  Once Ty was back and we’d gear up, we headed right to Bolton Valley.

You almost couldn’t ask for better weather today – we had blue skies, and temperatures at Village elevation were right around 30 F.  That’s nice and comfortable for touring, but not warm enough to really start adversely affecting the powder.  Visitation at the resort looked strong, but there were still available parking spots and we were able to get one right along the trails in the upper tennis court lot.

“The mountains have had several more inches of snow since then though, and today we really didn’t encounter any signs of that crust because it’s probably just buried deep enough.”

We toured over toward Holden’s Hollow today, and the theme was definitely efficiency.  Ty is in really great shape, so his pace is even faster than mine, and within about 25 minutes we were already in position for a descent.  Based on how fast we’d moved, I said we’d easily have time for a couple of laps, so we set up for an initial descent through a nice glade on the back side of the ridge.  Ty worked on deskinning with his skis still on, and was quite fast with it, so our transition speed only enhanced just how efficient and quick we were overall.

Ty cranking a turn in the powder on the Backcountry Trail Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe had first tracks for our descent of the glade, and the conditions were excellent.  I’d actually describe the conditions as even better than what we encountered last Saturday when I was out at Bolton with Dylan – and that already wasn’t too shabby.  The powder skiing on that outing with Dylan was decent, but there was a marginal buried crust present in some areas that knocked the overall feel down a notch.  The mountains have had several more inches of snow since then though, and today we really didn’t encounter any signs of that crust because it’s probably just buried deep enough.  Surface powder depths we found were right around 20 inches before getting down to the base, which is basically what we found last weekend.  The powder was more consistent today though with any crust buried deeper.  That 20 inches of powder is fairly settled at this point of course, so we’re not talking about sinking down 20 inches into fresh champagne, you’re more like 6 to 12 inches down in the powder, but the rest is serving as fantastic cushion above the base.  Our first run was on a fairly south-facing slope, but the trees offered a good amount of protection from the sun.  A few spots were just starting to get that first phase of the powder being affected by the sun, but those were few and far between.

An image of an untracked glade filled with powder snow on the Backcountry Skiing Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An unblemished canvas for Ty to get first tracks on our initial descent of the tour

Once we were back down at the Telemark Trail, we switched over for another ascent, and I was much more efficient at the transition, so told Ty I’d start the ascent and he could catch up.  This time, I broke trail through the powder beyond our previous lap, and headed up to the top to access the east side of the ridge.  Ty caught up to me just as I was cresting, so it worked out perfectly.

“Surface powder depths we found were right around 20 inches before getting down to the base, which is basically what we found last weekend.”

We descended in the C Bear Woods area that I’d visited back during my tour on the 1st of the month.  We had first tracks there as well, but the powder wasn’t quite as good as what we’d found on our first ascent – I think wind effects up on that part of the ridge were the main culprit.  The sun was also doing a bit more work on that snow, so in some areas it had lost a bit more of its winter fluff texture.

Back down at the bottom of that run, Ty and I skinned up for the final return to the car, and we found that we’d less than 90 minutes for the whole tour.  It was fun getting things done so efficiently, and we really weren’t even pushing ourselves, it was just overall solid pace and good transitions between skinning and skiing.

A Google Earth Map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Ski Network on February 22nd, 2020 at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
GPS Tracking data mapped onto Google Earth for today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network

We’ve got another potential winter storm coming later this week, and it looks pretty nice for the mountains around here from what I’ve seen on the models.  The initial snow might be dense since it not an especially cold storm, but unless things change dramatically it looks like another nice shot of liquid equivalent for the snowpack.  Some of the models also show extended upslope snow on the back side of the cycle, which would be great to top off the powder skiing conditions.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 01FEB2020

An image of the logo on the Bolton Valley Backcountry promotional vehicle at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the C Bear Woods area sign on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
At the top of the C Bear Woods area today in the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

I was out on the slopes Sunday at Stowe during the recent protracted snowstorm that affected our area, and I got out again for a bit of night skiing on Thursday, but today was my first chance to really see how things had unfolded in the off piste areas.  I had a feeling that the storm was just what the local backcountry needed though, so I decided to make today’s outing a tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network.

Temperatures were really in a sweet spot today – they were just a bit below freezing, which meant that they were extremely comfortable, but not warm enough to ruin any of the powder.  I think a lot of people know that today was going to be spectacular out there, because even the lots down by the Nordic Center were filling up when I arrived around 10:00 A.M.  The upper tennis court lot was already filled, so I had to head to the lower one, but I got a nice trailside parking spot that let me gear up and jump right onto Broadway.

“The depths of powder I’d found down at the ~2,000’ Village level were generally in the 10-15” range, and up there in the 2,300-2,400’ elevation range I was finding a fairly consistent 16” of powder.”

I needed to pick up Ty from work at noon, so my plan was a quick tour out to the Holden’s Hollow area to get in some powder turns.  Consistent with the parking lots, there were people all over the Nordic trails, and a number heading out onto the backcountry trails as well.  Once I got up onto the Telemark Trail I didn’t see anyone else around however, and based on the skin track it looked like only about 3 or 4 people had even been out on that part of the network recently.

I had to break trail on the final stretch up to the ridgeline above Holden’s Hollow, and once I’d crested I found myself with a vast area of untracked snow below me.  The depths of powder I’d found down at the ~2,000’ Village level were generally in the 10-15” range, and up there in the 2,300-2,400’ elevation range I was finding a fairly consistent 16” of powder.

An image of the C Bear Wood area in the backcountry at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Getting ready for some untracked turns through the C Bear Woods area today.

As I switched over for the descent, I noticed a trail sign just down the ridgeline from me, and figured it was one of the markers for some of the Holden’s Hollow Glades.  Once I headed over to it though, I saw that it read “C Bear Woods”, and I realized it was a sign I’d never seen before.  The sign looks new, so it’s either an area that was recently updated for skiing, or perhaps folks just got around to putting up a sign.  Whatever the case, the glade below me was entirely untracked, and the powder was excellent.  As I encountered on Thursday, there was a bit of a crust buried within the pack in some spots, but in this case it was either absent or buried deep enough that it was inconsequential.

I was surprised to find that the run actually brought me down on the back side of the ridge, which would have been great for doing another lap, but unfortunately I didn’t have time.  I cut eastward through the trees and got myself over to the east side of the ridge where I was able to descend back to the Telemark Trail and Broadway with more untracked powder turns.

From the pump house/bridge area, I re-skinned my skis for my return to the Village – I’ve learned the investment of a couple minutes into putting on your skins is well worth it for that return trip with its slight uphill inclines.

A map with GPS tracking data on Google Earth for a ski tour on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth Map with GPS Tracking data of today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

When I got back to my car a bit before noon, even the lower tennis court lot had filled, and the parking lots in general looked packed to the gills.  The mountain was definitely doing a booming business, and I guess that shouldn’t be surprising on a midwinter Saturday with a recent resurfacing of the slopes, full operation, and perfect temperatures.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 18JAN2020

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in some January powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan below the Gotham City sign in the backcountry ski trail network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan in Gotham City during today’s ski tour as snow begins in association with Winter Storm Jacob

So far, this week has done a nice job of rejuvenating the local ski conditions, with a total of four storms expected to affect the area.  We had a couple of very minor storms earlier in the week that dropped a few inches in total for the mountains, and then a larger storm that hit the area on ThursdayThat one actually wound up being our largest storm of the season to date here at the house, dropping almost a foot of snow.

I suspected that the most recent storm wasn’t going to be quite enough to get the backcountry into perfect shape, but the forecast called for chilly temperatures topping out in the 10-15 F range, so earning some powder turns in the new snow seemed like the way to go.  Dylan joined me in my plan to head up and take a quick tour on some moderate terrain on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network.

A copy of the 2018-2019 Nordic and Backcountry trail map from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
This season’s update of Bolton Valley’s Nordic & Backcountry trail map is once again listing a lot of the glades.

“Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so.”

The idea for today’s tour was to head partway up the Bryant Trail, connect over to Gotham City, catch some turns in the Gun Sight area, and then finish off the run with some lower glades.  Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so.  There were some nice powder turns in that snow, but the base depths are very inconsistent.  In some spots the base snow was sufficiently deep, but in others there was little to no base, and obstacles like rocks and logs definitely needed to be avoided.  Dylan’s most memorable quote of the day came after he had an altercation with some sort of obstacle under the snow and took a tumble.  He was on Erica’s fat skis, and we were really hoping it wasn’t a rock.   D quickly reassured me… “It was a log”.

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan enjoying the shelter of the trees and nice powder on today’s backcountry ski tour

We’ve actually got our next significant weather system, Winter Storm Jacob, starting to affect the area this afternoon.  I’m not sure exactly when the snow from the storm first started to appear, but around 4:00 P.M. we were in Gotham City finishing our ascent, and I realized it was snowing.  It’s kind of fun when you’re touring in the forest like that with limited views and protection from the elements, and before you know it you’re getting covered with fresh snow.  The density of snow from this next storm will probably be on the high side, so it should make a solid contribution to the base to cover some of the obstacles we’ve been encountering.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of today’s tour on the Bolton Valley backcountry network

Stowe & Mt. Mansfield – Rock Garden, VT 21APR2019

An image from Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont showing a view of the Gondola and the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline with the Rock Garden area visible in the upper left
A view of the Rock Garden area near the treeline on Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
A view from up in the Rock Garden today near the start of my descent from the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline

Temperatures have been warming up over the past several days, and snow has just about melted out in most of the lower valleys, but there’s still feet upon feet of snow in the mountains.  After a fairly dreary Saturday, today was looking warm and pleasant, so the whole family headed off to Stowe in the afternoon for some spring turns.

The tailgating scene was in full force in the Mansfield Parking Lot, and the smell of burgers cooking on portable grills seemed to be everywhere.  Today was definitely the day to be out there with the glorious spring weather, and as the last official day of lift-served skiing, I’m sure the Stowe faithful were all happy to be going out on a high note.

An image of Tailgaters in the Mansfield parking lot at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Stowe Tailgaters

The four of us had our ski packs with us as we boarded the Fourrunner Quad, since one goal I’d had today was to check out the Rock Garden.  With the ample snowfall and overall pattern of storm cycles the Northern Greens have seen this season, it just seemed to fill in even better than usual, so this was certainly a spring to pay the area a visit.  As we’ve done before on other tours, the plan was to use the Fourrunner Quad for lift access, ski across through the Nosedive Glades, and then hike up Cliff Trail to get to the Gondola/Chin area.  We’d initially been excited to see that the Gondola was running when we arrived, which would make for even easier access to the alpine terrain near The Chin, but we soon saw that they were just clearing off the cabins from the Easter sunrise service.  As we took in the views of the Rock Garden from the Fourrunner Quad, I could see that it was no longer the large continuous snowfield that it had been just a few of weeks ago.  There were still plenty of skiable lines, but I wasn’t sure if the effort was going to be worth it for E and the boys.  So after an initial run all together, I split off to check it out on my own while they skied the Fourrunner terrain together.

My trip over toward the Gondola/Cliff House went smoothly, and I caught a good traverse through the Nosedive Glades over to Cliff Trail, even if the snow was a bit sticky in there at times.  I’d initially planned to hike up the Cliff Trail Gully and take the Mansfield ridgeline across to the top of the Rock Garden, but as I approached the last pitch of Perry Merrill, I could see that the Rock Garden was right above me after just a short jaunt through some trees.  It seemed silly to head up another route with such easy access.

The toughest part of ascending the Rock Garden was catching the occasional post hole in the snow.  For the most part, the snow was consolidated, but every so often I’d hit that spot where my foot would punch through and I’d be up to my thigh.  Thankfully, once I got into the open areas of the Rock Garden, I found a boot pack that someone had made, and that made things substantially easier.  There was still the occasional post hole, but having pre-made, consolidated footholds really took care of most of it.

Gaining the Mansfield ridgeline at the top of the Rock Garden, I found three other skiers who were just getting ready for their descent.  As they headed down, I recharged myself with a snack, and took in the views.  Although it’s not as obvious as some of the others, the Rock Garden really is a lot like the various other southeastern-facing gullies on this part of Mt. Mansfield.  Similar to those, it gets filled by the prevailing northwesterly winds, and it’s protected from the late day sun, so it preserves snow well.  The west face of the gully isn’t quite as sheer as some of the others though, so it’s able to hold snow and take on that snowfield appearance that’s different that the narrower gullies.

“The lines were certainly more limited than they were a few weeks ago, but there were still a variety of choices through the buried and emerging trees… and of course rocks as well.”

For my descent through the Rock Garden, I started out in the main throat of the gully, and then cut right as the snowpack would allow, to take in some steeper turns along the headwall below the Mansfield ridgeline.  The lines were certainly more limited than they were a few weeks ago, but there were still a variety of choices through the buried and emerging trees… and of course rocks as well.  The snow was definitely corn, and I didn’t have to worry about any post-holing on my skis, but the surface was irregular due to the natural melting patterns up there.  The best snow surfaces and smoothest turns of my descent were actually once I got down into the upper parts of Perry Merrill.  The snow was evenly packed and there’s been little skier traffic of late.  I was able to open it up and use the entire trail to arc some big wide turns as I often like to do in those wide sections of Perry Merrill when I have it to myself.

I’d kept in touch with E and the boys by updating them on my progress with a few text messages indicating my tour mileage and location.  And, just as I was reaching Perry Merrill on my descent they let me know that they were at the car, so I gave them an update and told them that I’d be down soon.

A Google Earth map with GPS Tracking data from a ski tour of the Rock Garden in the Mt. Mansfield alpine above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS Tracking data from today’s ski tour involving the Rock Garden in the Mt. Mansfield alpine near Stowe Mountain Resort

The tailgating was rolling right along as I got back to the car, and I took in more of the sights while packing up my gear.  That’s a wrap on the lift-served ski season at Stowe, but there’s still a ton of snow left, so now it’s time to move on to 100% human-powered ascents of Mt. Mansfield.  There even appear to be some snow chances coming up over the next week or so, and we’ll be watching to see if Mother Nature decides to send along any more April powder for us.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 18FEB2019

An image of snow falling in the Village at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a glade in the Holden's Hollow area in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Vestiges of a couple old ski tracks in some of the glades I skied today on the back side of the Holden’s Hollow area

Today was another one of those days where I really hadn’t expected to ski.  We had a great lift-served family ski day on Saturday, and then I went on a backcountry reconnaissance tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail and Woodward Mountain yesterday, so I’d already had a decent dose of weekend skiing.  Today was going to be a bit chillier, and I was happy to simply catch up on some work at home, but Mother Nature seemed to have other plans.  It snowed all morning at our house in Waterbury, with big, fluffy, champagne flakes, and we’d picked up 3 to 4 inches of new snow by noontime.  If it was snowing like that down at our house, I could only imagine what might be going on 2,000’ higher up at the mountain, so I decided that I should do a quick ski tour and find out.

With a short Bolton Valley tour in mind, I decided to follow up on a tour I’d made with E and the boys about a month ago.  On that tour we wrapped around to the back side of Holden’s Hollow, and there were some nice glades in that area that I wanted to explore.  Now that I’m familiar with the layout there, I know that’s a great setup for a quick tour.

“I ripped off my skins and cruised through some of the back side glades in 10 to 12 inches of pristine powder.”

It was still snowing rather vigorously when I got up to the mountain, and it was hard to tell exactly how much new snow had fallen over the previous layers of powder, but it seemed to be at least as much as we’d picked up down at the house.  The approach section of the tour along Broadway went smoothly, and I’d quickly wrapped around on the Telemark trail and reached the ridgeline in the Holden’s Hollow area.  I ripped off my skins and cruised through some of the back side glades in 10 to 12 inches of pristine powder.  That snow was very high quality, similar to what I’d found on the west side glades on Woodward Mountain during yesterday’s tour, and the run was over way too quickly.

I skinned back up to the ridge, and headed northward a bit more to gain some additional elevation for a front side descent.  The front side Holden’s Hollow Glades had definitely seen some traffic, and I found that I was touching down to the subsurface in areas that been previously packed out by skier traffic.  I ended up heading a bit to the skiers right of the glades there to catch the best snow.

This time, for my return trip to the car, I put my skins back on to cross the flats in the Pond Loop area, instead of just managing the traverse on skis alone.  It’s hard to say if it made the trip back to the car faster overall with the time required to stop and reapply skins, but it was definitely nice to make the trek without ever sliding backwards.

An image showing a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A map with GPS Tracking data from today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network overlayed onto Google Earth

Woodward Mountain Trail & Woodward Mountain, VT 17FEB2019

An image of the fire tower atop Vista Peak at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Visiting the Vista Peak fire tower to take in some of the views on today’s tour at Bolton Valley and the Woodward Mountain Trail

The snowpack is currently in great shape here in Green Mountains of Northern Vermont, with the Mt. Mansfield Stake up near 4,000’ recently hitting 100 inches.  Solid depths are evident at all elevations though, even down to the lowest mountain valleys.  At our house, which sits at an elevation of roughly 500’ near the bottom of the Winooski Valley, the snowpack has been in the 2½ to 3-foot range since the end of January.  Snow conditions are also great right now, with Bolton Valley Resort reporting 25 inches of snow in the past few days.

When snow conditions are good, and the snowpack is like this from top to bottom, it’s a great time to consider some of those longer backcountry descents that really make use of all the vertical around here.  The trip that came to mind today was the Woodward Mountain Trail.  E was feeling a bit under the weather, but I figured I could take the boys on the tour, and E said she could still help out with the car shuttling.  We didn’t have a full day to spend, so I wasn’t going to initiate the tour unless we could get it done fairly expeditiously.  I’d scoped out the bottom of the trail and found the most efficient exit on a tour last March, but my touring in the Goose Pond area had only gotten me mildly familiar with the start of the trail up on the ridge line.  I decided to check my copy of David Goodman’s classing backcountry guidebook “Backcountry Skiing Adventures:  Vermont and New York” to get a better feel for the ridgeline part of the trail.  After the initial descent from the Vista Peak Fire Tower the guidebook mentions that the trail “climbs gently, but steadily up a ridge”.  That was enough to convince me that I needed to do a bit more reconnaissance before bringing the boys, so I set my sights for today on an exploratory tour along the ridge line.

“The snow there was spectacular bottomless powder with no tracks.”

Arriving at Bolton Valley, my tour kicked off with a ride on the Vista Quad, which whisked me right up to the Vista Summit.  I stopped in to check on the views from the Vista Peak Fire Tower, and then continued on the Woodward Mountain Trail.  The first few minutes were on terrain that I’d been on before – the descent from Vista Peak down to the col that separates it from Woodward Mountain.  As advertised, the trail rose gradually after that point.  I opted to go without skins for a few minutes, but eventually decided that putting on my skins would be the way to go.  I’d say that was the right choice, because there was at least another 10 minutes of climbing before the trail began to level off.  I followed the trail out to the point where it began to descend through some of the route’s open glades, then turned around and headed back up to the Woodward Mountain summit area.

An image showing some of the open gladed ski terrain on the west side of Woodward Mountain near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Some of the open glades on the west side of Woodward Mountain

I still had a bit of time to explore, so I decided to check out some of the glades on the west side of Woodward Mountain as well.  I followed a prominent spur trail the headed west off the Woodward Mountain Trail, and it eventually led down to some nice open glades dropping into the prominent valley that drains Goose Pond and is surrounded by Bone Mountain, Woodward Mountain, Vista Peak, and the Timberline Summit.  The snow there was spectacular bottomless powder with no tracks.  It was hard to pull myself away, but with the time I had available I had to skin back up to the Woodward Mountain Trail after only a partial descent of the glades.  An excellent tour option would be to continue skiing on down the valley and hook back up with the resort by connecting to the Timberline Base the way we did on our Bone Mountain tour.  That potential tour will have to wait for some time in the future though, so I’ll just have to add it to the ever growing list along with the Woodward Mountain Trail.

A map with GPS Tracking data from a ski tour at Bolton Valley and the Woodward Mountain Trail overlayed onto Google Earth
A map with GPS Tracking data from today’s ski tour at Bolton Valley and the Woodward Mountain Trail overlayed onto Google Earth

Brandon Gap, VT 02FEB2019

An image showing Erica, Ivan, Dy;an, and Ty skiing powder in one of the great backcountry glades created by the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance at Brandon Gap in Vermont
An image of Ivan jumping in powder snow at RASTA's Brandon Gap backcountry recreation area in Vermont.
Ivan blasts through some of the powder we found today on our ski outing at RASTA’s Brandon Gap backcountry recreation area.

Today the family headed to Brandon Gap for some backcountry skiing.  Dylan’s friend Ivan is visiting, and he joined us as well for his very first backcountry skiing experience.  He doesn’t actually have any backcountry ski gear, but we were able to set him up with some Alpine Trekkers and a pair of Erica’s older skins that fit his skis almost perfectly.  We also had the advantage of nicely warming temperatures today, so we waited until the afternoon, and arrived at the Bear Brook Bowl Access and Trailhead on Vermont Route 73 to cloudy skies and temperatures around 20 F.

There are multiple trail pods at Brandon Gap, but for this tour I chose to stick with the same No Name Backcountry Area that I’d visited last March.  It’s an efficient touring area that heads right up from the parking lot with almost zero approach, and I didn’t expect we’d have too many curves thrown at us since I had a good idea of the lay of the land.

An image of Ivan and Dylan looking at the map at one of the trailheads at RASTA's Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
Dylan and Ivan check out the map as we begin our ski tour at RASTA’s Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area this afternoon.

“The powder we found was beautifully light and dry, and generally 12 to 24 inches in depth, with the highest reading I obtained at 26 inches.”

The skin track was well established as usual, and in this case it was almost a bit too well packed because there was some occasional slipping on the steeper pitches.  We quickly found that all you had to do was slide a bit to the left or right into the untracked snow and you’d find sufficient purchase.  Ivan had to get used to using the Alpine Trekkers, but by the end of the ascent he was really getting it down.  There had been about a dozen other vehicles in the parking area, but we only saw one other group out in the No Name pod.

An image of Erica removing the skins from her skis at the top of the No Name section of RASTA's backcountry recreation area at Brandon Gap in VermontFor our descent we headed far to the skier’s left, father than I’d traversed on my previous visit, and we got to ski one of the leftmost glades that had perhaps three or four previous tracks.  The terrain is generally in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ elevation range or so, and the snowpack is quite prodigious.  It was too deep for me to easily estimate based on any pole measurements, but there really aren’t any deficiencies and everything you could possibly want to be covered certainly is.  The powder we found was beautifully light and dry, and generally 12 to 24 inches in depth, with the highest reading I obtained at 26 inches.  The composition of the subsurface was pretty inconsequential because you just weren’t having to get anywhere near it, but from what we could tell it didn’t seem overly crusty.  Temperatures stayed very comfortable, and the skies were just cloudy until about midafternoon when it started to snow in association the new small system that’s coming into the area.

An image of Erica and Dylan helping Ivan out of the powder snow during a ski tour at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
Erica and Dylan have fun chaining up to try to help Ivan out of the powder today at Brandon Gap.

We stopped off in the Mad River Valley for some Mad Taco on the way home, and business appeared to be booming based on how packed it was.  I’m sure resorts throughout the state were loaded with visitors today thanks to the great conditions and moderate temperatures.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 26JAN2019

An image of evergreens bent over with loaded snow in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in powder snow in a glade off the Heavenly Highway trail on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dropping into one of the glades off Heavenly Highway today to take advantage of the ample powder in the higher elevations at Bolton Valley.

I really hadn’t planned to ski today.  During the midweek period we picked up some snow from Winter Storm Indra, but there was mixed precipitation with that system that would certainly require some resurfacing to softened up the slopes.  Between the dense, backside snow from that storm cycle, as well as additional lake-effect snow from the past day or so, we’d picked up 2 to 3 inches of new accumulation at the house, but I really hadn’t thought the mountains would be quite ready for prime time.  I was thinking the bit of snow we’re expected tomorrow would just about be enough, so I was happy to relax and spend the day inside getting some work done.

Well, things changed a bit when I was reading through the Northern New England thread at American Weather Forums, as saw Powderfreak’s post noting up to 8 inches of accumulation at Stowe.  I quickly checked Bolton Valley’s report and saw 7” in the past 72 hours, as well as the powder tracks on their web cam and realized it was definitely time to go for a tour.

An image from Bolton Valley's live webcam on January 26th, 2019
I checked Bolton Valley’s webcam today and things looked quite good, but when I saw those ski tracks in the powder on Valley Road, I knew it was time for a visit.

It was midafternoon by the time I’d figured out about all the snow, but just so Mother Nature could drive the point home about how much she’d been doing in the snow department, I arrived in the Village to find a steady light snow falling.  A quick check on the powder depths at the 2,000’ Village elevations revealed 6 inches, and as I began my trip up the Bryant Trail I found that the trees all around me were loaded with snow.  The recent snows had fallen with minimal wind, so evergreens and deciduous trees alike were just caked in fresh powder.

“The new snow depths continued to increase with elevation, and by the time I was getting up near the 3,000’ mark I was finding 8 to 9 inches of powder in many places.”

The new snow depths continued to increase with elevation, and by the time I was getting up near the 3,000’ mark I was finding 8 to 9 inches of powder in many places.  I’d initially been thinking about a fairly low-angle tour like the one I’d done back on December 27th, but my plans quickly changed when I saw how deep the powder was getting.  I continued on up past the Bryant Cabin to Heavenly Highway to extend my tour a bit more and incorporate some steeper terrain.

I put together a classic descent that brought me through Gotham City as well as a host of other glades, it definitely delivered some great powder turns.  In terms of bottomless quality, there were certainly differences between those depths up around 3,000’ and the depths down around 2,000’ – there was a lot more flexibility with respect to slope angle up high, with moderate and even steeper angles easily in play.  Another important factor that I discovered during my tour was that open areas and deciduous trees were the way to go for the deepest powder.  The dense evergreen areas, which are often an excellent bet for snow protection when it comes to wind, offered much shallower powder today.  Since the snow in the trees had been unloaded during the midweek storm, and the recent snows fell with minimal wind, the boughs had been reloaded with all the powder, keeping a lot of it off the ground.  Open glades with substantial amounts of deciduous trees like Gun Sight were great examples of the effects of letting the new snow get down through the trees.

An image of the Gun Sight area on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
With the way the evergreens captured snow snow from our recent storms, open areas like Gun Sight offered some of the best powder today

I did stop by the deli after the tour today, but we already had dinner planned so I decided to grab some of their maple lattes for the family.  That’s definitely a fun offering that they have now, and the flavor is certainly very “Vermonty”.  E described it as “homey” compared to some other maple lattes she’s had.

An image showing a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A map with GPS Tracking data from today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network overlayed onto Google Earth

On the weather side of things, we’ve got a small system and associated cold front expected to come through the area tomorrow, and then a bit larger storm in the midweek period that should continue to improve the powder even further.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 12JAN2019

An image showing a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of the Holden's Hollow Glades on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Fluffy snow coated everything in the Holden’s Hollow Glades today.

With our recent winter storm dropping 2½ to 3 feet of snow at the local resorts, the ski conditions are simply fantastic.  However, the storm also brought some cold air with it, and that’s now in place over the area.  Temperatures were expected to top out in the single digits F today, which isn’t horribly cold, but cold enough that I’d rather be skinning for turns than riding lifts.

I headed up to the Bolton Valley Village for a tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network, and with the time I had, I needed something fairly quick.  I decided on a short tour over in the Holden’s Hollow area, since it’s just a short jaunt across the lower Nordic trails, and I hadn’t been over on that side of the network since my trip there in March of last season.

Temperatures were indeed in the mid to upper single digits F when I arrived at the Village around midafternoon, and not surprisingly with the fantastic snow conditions, there were a ton of Nordic skiers out on the Network.  I headed right over toward the Holden’s Hollow area via Pond Loop, and found myself on the Telemark Trail briefly before I cut right to Holden’s Hollow.  My ascent on Holden’s Hollow made me realize just how expansive that area is – there are a lot more sections of maintained glades around there than I knew, not to mention the amount of natural terrain that is skiable on its own.

A copy of the 2018-2019 Nordic and Backcountry trail map from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
This season’s update of Bolton Valley’s Nordic & Backcountry trail map is once again listing a lot of the glades.

“In the lowest areas around Village elevation I would typically find at least 12 to 15 inches of powder, but as I ascended in elevation I quickly found that depths of 20 inches or more were common.”

Being well on the leeward side of Oxbow Ridge and North Ridge, the snow in the Holden’s Hollow area is well protected from winds, and boy is the quantity and quality of the powder impressive.  In the lowest areas around Village elevation I would typically find at least 12 to 15 inches of powder, but as I ascended in elevation I quickly found that depths of 20 inches or more were common.  I’m sure the powder has settled some since it initially fell (my analyses at the house were revealing densities in the 3% H2O range near the end of the storm) but all the snow out there is incredibly light and dry, with a fantastic soft base underneath it.  The turns were essentially as you’d expect with snow like that – simply outstanding.  I guess the only complaint I can muster would be that a few skiers had already been through the area so I had to hunt around off the main lines a bit for fresh tracks.  However, this is the kind of powder that’s so deep and plentiful, it’s still amazingly good even after it’s seen a few passes from other skiers.  That’s indeed what’s out there right now in the backcountry, so get out and enjoy it if you’ve got the chance!