Tag Archives: Hiking

Bolton Valley, VT 07MAY2015

An image from the Web Cam at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont in early May
A snapshot from the Bolton Valley Web Cam today – the patches of snow on the bottom half of the mountain got me interested enough to see what the higher elevations held.

Our protracted stretch of pleasantly warm and sunny weather has continued this week, and it’s allowed the ground to dry to the point that on Tuesday, I headed out for a mountain bike ride to sample some of local terrain by the house and into town. Indeed even some of the typically wettest terrain down by the Winooski was dry enough for riding, so things are ready on that front, but after seeing Powderfreak’s ski report from yesterday at Stowe, it reminded me that I should probably get back out on the slopes while the snow is available. I can still see bright areas of white snow on the slopes of Bolton Valley from my office in Burlington, but from that distance it’s hard to know exactly how continuous the coverage is. I popped up the image from the Bolton Valley Web Cam and could see that there were only patches of coverage on Beech Seal on the bottom half of the mountain, but it looked as if the snow at the bottom of Bear Run might be stretching upward for some substantial coverage.

I headed up to the resort with plans to at least get in a hike, since the areas without snow already looked pretty dry. I saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road at the base of Timberline at 1,500’, and it was clearly leftovers of manmade snow. Up in the Village it was very quiet, and I’d thought about getting a sandwich from the Deli, but it was closed. This is probably one of the quietest times of the year, so I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. I took a quick walk up to the slopes and could see that Spillway had some large areas of snow, and it was enough to suggest that I should throw my skis on my pack and bring them along.

An image showing the remaining snow on the Spillway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont in early May
The snow on the lower parts of Spillway ended up being rather patchy, so I headed toward Sherman’s Pass

The visible snow near the base that appeared to head up to Bear Run was the start of a reasonably long section that went about halfway up the trail, and from there to Mid Mountain the coverage was a lot more fractured or nonexistent. Above Mid Mountain I began to hike toward Spillway, since I’d seen the snow up there, but once I saw far more substantial coverage on Sherman’s Pass, I switched my route in that direction. I stopped my ascent at around 2,600’ near the top of the steeper Sherman’s Pass terrain above Mid Mountain, since there was another gap in coverage at that point.

For the descent, I found that the snow definitely had some sun cups and dirty areas, but there were a variety of areas with decent turns, and the coverage there basically brought me down to Mid Mountain before I took off my skis to connect to the lower half of Bear Run. That bottom part of Bear Run offered the longest stretch of continuous snow, and it carried me to within about 50 yards of the base lodge. With Bolton’s western exposure and more limited snowmaking than some of the larger resorts, May turns are often spotty, and this year was fairly typical in that regard. Based on what I saw, today’s turns were likely my last of the season at Bolton Valley, so that’s probably it until the fall. There’s a ton of snow left at Stowe and some of the other resorts around, so hopefully I can get out to some of those spots for more turns this month.

Bolton Valley, VT 28JAN2015

A map showing the routes of ascent for Bolton Valley's offical uphill travel policy for those skiers and riders that want to ascend the hill under their own power
Bolton Valley now has an official uphill travel policy in place for all those skiers and riders who enjoy making the uphill trek under their own power.

As with most ski areas in Northern Vermont, I’ve always found Bolton Valley to be very accommodating of skiers and riders hiking, skinning, or snowshoeing up their slopes under their own power in order to ski down. Although there wasn’t necessary a formal policy in place, the practice was at least tolerated as long as the individuals were respectful of operating hours, mountain operations, and other factors involving skier safety. So, as a Bolton Valley season’s pass holder who frequently visits the resort for both lift-served and self-powered ascents, I was very intrigued last month when I found out that they had initiated an official uphill travel policy. There are two designated uphill routes: one on Wilderness, and one on Timberline, and although I haven’t seen them yet, Stephen and one of my students told me the resort even has signs marking the uphill route on Wilderness.

“In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches.”

I’ve visited the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network over the past couple of weeks, but today was the first time I’ve made an ascent on the alpine trail network since the announcement of the uphill travel policy. The impetus for my ski tour in this case was that Winter Storm Juno just hit the area yesterday, and it meant that this morning would be a good time to check out the new snow. While the Green Mountains certainly didn’t get the storm totals of up the three feet that were seen down in the Boston area, the Vermont ski areas did pick up general accumulations of 3 to 8 inches throughout the state. Even without a huge snowfall in the area, it seemed like it would be worth getting out for some turns; the ski conditions have just been so darned good over the past few weeks that even a modest dump makes for some excellent skiing.

I headed out the door early this morning, and decided to go with an efficient Timberline outing to leave me plenty of time to get to work. Temperatures were in the middle single digits F at the house, and low single digits at the Timberline Base. So indeed it was cold, no doubt about that, but the air was fairly calm and that helped keep it manageable. There were about a half dozen cars parked in the usual spot off to the right in the main lot, and I could see a couple people either prepping their skins for a run, or packing up their gear as they got ready to depart. There were just a few flurries in the air, but there was a healthy coating of snow all around, and I was able to start my skinning ascent right from the car.

An imae of two hikers ascending the Twice as Nice trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
There were a few folks out early this morning to enjoy the new snow at Bolton Valley.

I was a little surprised that the skin track started on the hiker’s right of Twice as Nice, since it’s typically on the left in line with the uphill travel policy, but I wasn’t going to eschew a track that was already there. I was measuring surface snow depths in the 4″ range, and it was medium-weight powder. As is often the case with big storms, there had been some wind, so some of the powder was pushed around in spots. But, it really hadn’t been hammered or packed too hard, and it looked like turns would be nice. Up ahead of me on the skin track I saw a snowboarder, and behind him a skier. After a few minutes I noticed that the skier was struggling to get up one of those short steep pitches that roll over – he finally managed to get past it with a little herring boning and/or side-stepping. When a similar pitch came up a little while later, he was struggling again and eventually let me pass. He said that it was actually his first time ever trying out skins, and he’d come to Bolton Valley after reading online about the uphill travel policy. As I seemed to have no trouble with those slick spots, he said that wanted to watch how I managed them. After we were both past that spot, I first asked if he had full-width skins, since I know that not having full width has given me trouble in those types of areas in the past, and he said he did. We then chatted about the balance between getting up on your ski edges or staying the skins, and finding out what worked best when you began to slip. He said that what I seemed to do was just keep my momentum really going through those tough spots. I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I do. I also let him know that I keep a lot of pressure on my poles, and ensure that I’ve got a very good plant so that if I do slip, my arms can help pull me through. After a couple of pitches, the skin track switched to the more typical left side, and there were actually a couple of skin tracks there, so we were able to skin alongside each other and chat for a bit. Eventually I stopped to get a few pictures, and he headed on ahead. Like me, he said his goal was the Timberline Mid Station, and he thought that he might like to do that instead of the Timberline Summit and do a couple of laps.

“As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns…”

When I reached the Timberline Mid Station, the skier I’d ascended with was just taking off his skins. We chatted for a few moments, I wished him well on his first descent, and then I headed across toward the top of Spell Binder. I switched over for the descent, did a quick survey of the snow on the headwall, and opted for the skier’s right. There were a couple of old tracks in there that looked like they’d been made yesterday, and the snow had been pushed around a bit by the wind, but the overall conditions were quite good. I worked my way toward the middle of the headwall and found even smoother snow, although the powder was perhaps a bit shallower there. On the steep pitch of the headwall, the new powder certainly wasn’t bottomless, even on my 115 mm AMPerages; I was touching down to the base at least a bit on most turns, but I’d say the snow delivered a pretty smooth ride. As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns, and if the wind had played with the snow a little up on the headwall, it definitely hadn’t done much to the powder lower down. In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches. The skiing did feel a bit slow with temperatures around zero F, but I didn’t find any issues with movement, even on the shallowest pitches. When I got to the bottom of Spell Binder, I made a few turns on the corduroy, and boy, that was some sweet groomed snow. The snow from this storm is really just topping off what are already fantastic conditions, so folks who were coming out for a day at the resort were really going to be in for a treat.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont thanks to Winter Storm Juno
Thank you Juno!

On the way into Burlington, I stopped off at the Williston rest area, and one of my former students was there. He said he thought he’d seen me up at the mountain, and now he was sure of it. After hearing about the uphill travel policy, he’d actually been up skinning on the main mountain using the Wilderness route this morning, and he’d had a great time. He said that he and a friend often went out ice climbing in the early morning, but they think they’ll be mixing in some ski touring as well. I had first heard about Bolton’s uphill travel policy in a post on the Vermont Backcountry Alliance Facebook Page, and it wasn’t too surprising based on Bolton’s history in that area. What was surprising though was finding out that Sugarbush now has a hiking/skinning policy in place. That’s exciting news, because they have not generally allowed uphill travel in recent years. I also just saw that Bolton Valley will be having an uphill ski demo day on February 7th, where people can try out alpine touring, Telemark, and split boarding equipment. Hopefully that will serve for a great introduction for people that have been curious about trying ascents on their own power on that type of equipment.

It looks like our next winter storm could be coming into the area tomorrow night; it’s expected to be an Alberta Clipper type of system with the potential for 6 to 8 inches in the local mountains.

Bolton Valley, VT 14DEC2014

An image of Ty skiing dense snow left by Winter Storm Damon at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Getting out to Bolton Valley this afternoon to surf some of the bounty left by Winter Storm Damon

‘Tis the season for being very busy around our house, but the boys and I did find a bit of time to head up to the mountain this afternoon to see what Winter Storm Damon had done for the slopes. We’ve had some periods of sun this weekend, such as the ones we experienced at Stowe yesterday, but temperatures have been staying generally at or below freezing in the mountains to keep the recent snow in midwinter form. So, we anticipated finding some great conditions today on the slopes of Bolton Valley, which thanks to winter storm Damon, has most of its terrain open on the main mountain. A couple feet of dense snow can do that.

“With 2 to 2 ½ feet of dense snow, the ascent was easily twice as hard as it would have been on skins.”

Low clouds hung over the upper half of the mountain as we rode that Vista Quad, and being well into the afternoon, the mountain was really starting to quiet down. The overall feel at the resort was exactly in line with one of those dark December days; the base was plentiful, the snow surfaces were well preserved, and the low clouds seemed to lock in an intimate feeling across the mountain. It’s the holiday season before the commotion of the main holiday week, and with the current amount of terrain and quality of snow surfaces available, it’s a great time to be skiing the resorts around here in Northern Vermont.

An image showing a rock with a smiley face on the Show Off trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe coverage and snow quality was saw from the lift looked simply outstanding, even on the steep trails of the upper mountain, so the boys and I jumped right onto Hard Luck to test out the snow with some real pitch. All you can say is that Damon set down a really solid resurfacing – there’s just a lot of deep, dense snow out there. You can just carve the surface snow away and be confident that there’s simply more of that below. The only real downside that I’ve seen from the storm was that the powder skiing hasn’t been quite up to the quality we typically get around here with lighter snow. The rounds of fluffy snow at the end of the storm cycle weren’t quite substantial enough to keep you off of the denser snow below, so you’re still getting into that thicker stuff, and of course it doesn’t ski like champagne powder. Still, I don’t think I’d trade this recent storm for fluffier powder; it was just too perfect for setting up the core of this season’s base snow.

The powder was still skiing reasonably well for being rather dense, so we headed over to Wilderness on our next run to get into some untracked snow. Although we were only skiing in the top few inches of the snow, untracked areas were silky smooth and a lot of fun. It was enough fun that when I asked the boys if they wanted more, I was hit with a resounding, “Yes!”

An image of some delicate rime crystals on a tree branch at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWith that in mind we set off on the next run for the summit of Wilderness. There was a skin track in place for the ascent, and a bit of a boot track that comingled with the skin track in places, but that boot pack wasn’t very well established. Since we hadn’t brought our skins, that meant we had to go the boot pack route, which was a real slog at times. The rudimentary boot pack that was in place helped us some, but it contained plenty of post holes that required extra effort to climb out of, and then there were times when I’d post hole my way into the snow unexpectedly, which is always a big waste of energy. With 2 to 2 ½ feet of dense snow, the ascent was easily twice as hard as it would have been on skins. I made sure to explain to the boys that this was the perfect example of why you want to skin up the mountain whenever possible vs. trying to walk in your boots.

An image snowing 28 inches of snow depth on the Upper Crossover Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont thanks to Winter Storm Damon
Ty uses his measurement pole to reveal just how much snow was in our path.

After a brief break at the summit, we descended via Bolton Outlaw in the gathering dusk. The powder was dense like we’d experienced elsewhere, but there were plenty of good turns to be had. This is where the boys would have profited from having their powder skis, but they were on their regular carving alpines based on the fact that we’d planned on mostly on piste skiing. Dylan had a couple of prereleases that send him crashing into the powder, and I’m sure the skinnier nature of the skis wasn’t helping the matter. But some good turns were had by all, despite the fact that it was really dark and foggy as we descended the lower half of the mountain.

An image of Dylan skiing powder in the Wilderness are of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan riding atop some of that dense powder from Winter Storm Damon

I had to head off to a Christmas party once we got home, so I’d actually tried to call in a pizza order from Fireside Flatbread for E and the boys when I was up on the Wilderness Summit. I didn’t have a great signal, but it didn’t matter… unfortunately they don’t open until Friday. I ordered instead from Zachary’s in town, but it meant we had to go a couple miles past the house. The James Moore Tavern seemed to be running at full steam tonight though, so that’s currently an option for those seeking après ski fare.

On the weather front, it looks like we’ve got a weak system coming through in the midweek period, and the models show the potential for another storm toward the end of next weekend, but that’s a long way out so we’ll have to see what develops with that one over the next several days.

Stowe, VT 20NOV2014

An image showing ski tracks in powder below the Chin Clip trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Getting out this morning to experience some of the powder at Stowe

Areas downwind of the Great Lakes such as Buffalo have been making headlines due to feet upon feet of lake-effect snow falling in rather short order, and in Northern Vermont we’ve picked up an inch or two of snow here and there thanks to being downwind of Lake Ontario. On Tuesday evening though, we got into the action a bit more as things aligned correctly to drop roughly a foot of snow on Mt. Mansfield. We only picked up about an inch and a half of snow at our house in Waterbury, in association with that event, so I didn’t even suspect that Mansfield had been lit up with that kind of snowfall. However, mountain valleys farther to the east of the Green Mountain spine picked up a few inches, and that was a bit of a tip off that something was up. When Powderfreak started sending in powdery pictures to the American Weather Forum noting the substantial accumulations at Stowe, it was becoming clear that there was some nice powder skiing out there.

I didn’t have time to check out the snow yesterday, so this morning I headed out for an early ski tour on Mansfield, and found 3 to 4 inches of snow at the Midway Lot near the base of the Gondola. I followed a well established skin track that headed up Chin Clip Runout, and then diverged to follow Switchback for the next part of the ascent. When I reached Gondolier I decided to just finish out the ascent to the base of the big Gondola waterfall on the skin track I saw there. I didn’t have time to travel any higher, but up at that ~3,200′ elevation there was roughly 6 to 7 inches of powder, which sat atop a few inches of dense base snow.

An image of tracks on powder snow from a November storm on the Gondolier trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the powdery view today at Stowe up around the 3,000′ elevation mark

The snow depths I observed for the powder above the base today were as follows with respect to elevation:

1,600′: 3-4″
2,000′: 4-5″
2,500′: 4-6″
3,000′: 5-6″
3,200′: 6-7″

I dropped in for the descent on Perry Merrill, and there were just a couple of additional tracks there, so plenty of fresh powder was available. I’d pulled out the fat skis, and they were the perfect tool for the occasion – they kept me floating and gave me some really great stability. I did have to watch out for a few rocks here and there, and at times I switched to alpine turns when it seemed like the base was a bit thinner or the rocks a bit bigger. I found that alpine stance kept me floating a bit higher, and today I really noticed how the AMPerages actually seemed to make it easier to ski alpine style in Telemark bindings. It’s not always easy to ski alpine with a loose heel, but I was very surprised at how stable it felt in today’s conditions. I think the stability and rocker of the fat skis were really playing their part. I eventually made my way back over toward Switchback and connected to Chin Clip Runout to finish off my run, and the grassy slopes down there were perfect for where the powder and base was a bit shallower. It was still fantastic skiing though, and some of my favorite turns of the outing were down there below the 2,100′ elevation. That terrain is so grassy with few rocks that it was easier to just let it ride without worrying about rocks. Rock skis would give you a bit more ease of line selection out there and more peace of mind, but you can certainly get by and have some fantastic turns with regular skis as well.

Mt Washington, NH 08JUN2014

An image of Jay skiing the snowfields of Mt Washington in New Hampshire in June
Back for some turns on the snowfields today

Since the end of the school year was keeping E rather busy last weekend, the boys and I just made a quick day trip out to ski the Mt Washington snowfields on Sunday. The turns were good, and with things lightening up for E by this weekend, we again kept our eyes on the weather for some possible camping and skiing. The forecast ultimately looked even better than it did for last weekend, suggesting warm, dry weather both Saturday and Sunday, so we packed up and headed off to New Hampshire yesterday around midday.

“…Ty started banging out
runs pretty quickly on that
upper section because he
really liked the short hike
back up.”

We set a course for the Glen, NH area to see if we could get a site at the Glen Ellis Family Campground similar to what we’d had last spring. We’d never been to the campground before that trip, but we really liked the riverside campsite we had along the beautiful Saco River. Since the Sunday forecast looked even a bit better than Saturday with respect to the potential for clouds and wind, we headed right to the campground yesterday and found that they had a number of the riverside campsites available, even ones with electrical power, which we find great for charging up various mobile devices. It was a warm afternoon in the 80s F, and tubing on the river was a popular activity. They’ve really got a great setup there for running laps in the river; you just ride down as far as you want, and walk your tube back up along the edge of the campground. We spent a chunk of the afternoon working on Dylan’s throws and playing some disc golf in the campground’s massive grassy fields, then had dinner at the campsite, and finished off the day with some evening exploration of the shoals and islands in the river. Dylan discovered that the campground had Wi-Fi, and we had an excellent signal even all the way out by the river, which is almost a half mile away from the main office. They must have an impressive wireless setup to be able to span the 65 acres of their campground. I did a test on Speedtest.net and found that the upload and download speeds were both 1.0 Mbps, which is plenty of bandwidth unless you need to stream video or do something similarly intensive.

An image of a man riding an inner tube and a couple of boys playing in the Saco River in New Hampshire near the Glen Ellis Family Campground
Enjoying the views along the Saco River

This morning we had breakfast, gradually broke down the campsite, and headed north on Route 16 for the quick trip to the Mt Washington Auto Road. Thanks to the available Wi-Fi at the campsite, I was able to do a check on the Ravines Cam to see the current state of the snowfields. It was clear that the main Ball Crag Snowfield had lost a lot of snow in its middle sections, and the snow had the look of a backwards letter “C”. The main area of the East Snowfields had broken up a lot, such that largest remaining section didn’t seem to have much more vertical than what seemed available on the Ball Crag Snowfield. With that information and our knowledge from last week about the ease of access, we decided that the Ball Crag Snowfield area was still probably the best bet for today’s trip. After reading another trip report at the Time For Tuckerman Forum last week in which someone monitored their gas mileage up the Auto Road, we decided to monitor ours, and found that it was right around 9.0 MPG up to the 5,700’ parking area in the Subaru; since the other report indicated that they managed 10 MPG in a hybrid vehicle, and we were loaded with four passengers and lots of camping and ski gear, I guess that’s not too bad. Presumably there’s not much gained in a hybrid on a long, continuous climb like the Auto Road, but whatever vehicle it was, it’s likely to be a fuel efficient one anyway. As we unloaded our gear, one of the Mt Washington Auto Road Coaches passed by, and the driver reminded us to make sure we stayed on the rocks so that we didn’t harm any of the fragile alpine flowers and other vegetation. I hadn’t seen much vegetation flowering last week, but he noted that some of the flowers were just starting to make their way up to these elevations now. It actually wasn’t as sunny as we thought it might be, and gray clouds almost looked like they might throw down some precipitation, so everyone packed light shells in their packs just in case. Being just a few minutes from the car, we find that one can pack minimally if they want to, but if rain really came down, we’d want to have something on hand.

An image of Erica skiing the snowfields on Mt Washington in New Hampshire in June
After missing last week, E was able to get out on the snow today.

It was again a short trip to the snowfield, and we could start to get a sense for how what the ski options were going to be. Since last week, we could see that there hadn’t been too much change in the areal snow coverage in the upper section of the snowfield, but the lower section showed dramatic differences due to the past week’s melting. The lower section was much smaller, and the snow was no longer continuous into that area. That made laps in the upper section most practical, and Ty started banging out runs pretty quickly on that upper section because he really liked the short hike back up. E slid out a bit on her first run and even got into the rocks at the bottom, but she was OK – it was definitely the most dramatic encounter with the rocks we’ve seen though, even more than when Dylan got into them a little bit last week. We often talk about how much we really need our helmets on these outings on the snowfields, since there are rarely other skiers around, but E’s slide was another great example of why we make sure to wear them. As she was sliding, even though she was in good shape being feet first, she was very happy to know that she had that helmet on. Ty kept cranking out the runs, and even Dylan whipped out a couple of quick runs before taking a break. I started to make some runs to see if I could catch up to Ty, but every time I’d take a run, he would do another with me, so there was no catching up that way. He was having fun with that, knowing that as long as he did a run every time I did, there was no way that I’d be able to catch up. It made for some fun runs where he worked on mirroring my turns, and although I couldn’t see him while we were skiing, now that I look at some of the photos, I can see he was doing a really nice job. For our last run, Ty and I connected down to the lower snowfield for a few extra turns on our way to hike out, so in the end we called it an extra quarter run, so Ty wound up with 7 ¼ runs to my 4 ¼ runs, with Dylan at 3 runs and E at 2 runs. We joked with Ty that he didn’t even do as many runs as the rest of us, because before that last run, he was quite proud that he had! The sky remained with one and off gray and sometimes fluffier clouds, with the occasional break of sun, and fortunately there were no signs of any precipitation.

The boys had wanted to head up to the summit of Mt Washington and visit the Sherman Adams Summit Building on our last outing, and we didn’t really have time, but this time we’d planned on it, so we stopped in at the visitor’s center for a while. We used our tickets to the new exhibit area in the museum, which is focused on the extreme nature of Mt Washington in the winter, and indeed it has been heavily updated relative to what was there before. The whole area seems very new and modernized all around, and there’s some impressive use of high-definition screens and other video technologies. It’s certainly worth a visit to the new exhibit if you have not seen it since it’s opening in May. We stopped in Gorham for a bite on the way home, and ate at one of the picnic benches on the Gorham Town Common, where the boys hit the playground for a bit. I’d say that’s just about it for the snowfields this season, so most of the activity will be shifting to Tuckerman Ravine. For some strange reason, the availability of snow only seems to decrease this time of year!

Mt. Washington, NH 01JUN2014

An image of Dylan skiing one of the snowfields on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in June among some massive boulders
Dylan out on the snow today among some of Mt. Washington’s massive boulders

Last weekend’s weather was a bit too dicey to get us to head over to Mt. Washington for skiing, but the forecast for good weather this weekend was looking pretty solid. E was feeling the need to get other work done with the end of the school year closing in, so the boys and I decided to just go for a day trip to the snowfields. Typically we throw in some camping in the White Mountains as part of our Mt. Washington ski trips, so this would be the first time in a while that we’d be doing the out and back in a day. It’s actually just a couple hour trip to get over to the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road from our place in Waterbury, so day tripping is certainly practical, but breaking up the driving with some camping has been the routine these past few seasons.

“The snow was great, being a bit harder in a few spots, and a bit softer in others, but the bulk of it was just right for making turns.”

The weather forecast for Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on June 1st, 2014I did a final check on the forecast for roughly the 5,500’ level on Mt. Washington this morning, and it called for leftover frost, clear skies, a high around 50 F, and light winds in the 10-15 MPH range. That’s an excellent forecast for some skiing in Mt. Washington’s alpine areas, and it’s good to jump at these sorts of days, because you never know what the next one will bring when it comes to the Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. The boys and I headed out around 9:00 A.M. under blue skies and temperatures in the 60s F, and by midday we were up in the parking lot along the Nelson Crag Trail at ~5,700’ getting our gear together. The weather was great, and the numbers on the board showing the summit weather conditions had been right in line with what the forecast suggested. After checking the images from the Ravines Cam over the past few days, as well as this morning, I could see that one of our favorite snowfield areas below Ball Crag was of decent size, so that was our planned destination. We like that Ball Crag snowfield because it doesn’t see nearly as many visitors as the main East Snowfields below the summit, and instead of having to park above it and hike down into the snow, you can contour right across from the parking area along the Nelson Crag Trail. It can be a bit harder to find some of those lower snowfields if you’re not familiar with the area, but we usually have good luck traversing out from near the junction of the Nelson Crag and Huntington Ravine Trails.

An image from the Ravines Cam showing the snowfields on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on June 1st, 2014
Checking the Ravines Cam this morning to orient ourselves to the available snowfields

“The snowfield was a
totally clean slate of
corn, with no traces
of previous skier

Today the traverse out to the snowfield was incredibly quick – within 5 to 10 minutes (Ty says it was 7 minutes) we’d hit the snow. The snowfield was a totally clean slate of corn, with no traces of previous skier activity, so presumably nobody had skied it in a while. The scene was quiet when we arrived, but it wasn’t long before the boys started having fun with the snow and the activity level ramped up. The boys had a great attitude about the skiing today, certainly relative to some trips we’ve had, and although it was different since Mom wasn’t there, I think they enjoyed the “boy’s day out” sort of feel. We made an initial ski descent of the snowfield, which seemed to provide somewhere in the range of 200 feet of vertical. It was a reasonably long run in which you could certainly get a groove going, and there were a lot of different options for skiing in the various nooks and crannies of the snowfield’s footprint. The snow was great, being a bit harder in a few spots, and a bit softer in others, but the bulk of it was just right for making turns. I told the boys that I’d bring their skis back up for them so that they could enjoy the hike, and strapped their skis on my pack along with mine. It actually wasn’t a bad pack load, and I think it helped to keep their spirits up.

An image of a snowfield below the Ball Crag area of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on June 1st, 2014
Part of today’s terrain

Back at the top of the snowfield, we had lunch, and the boys again played around in the snow for a while. There was just a bit of breeze at times, and bugs were virtually nonexistent, so it was a great day to be out on the snow.   During our first run, a couple with a dog had arrived for some skiing, but they spent their time a little farther over on the snowfield, so we didn’t see them much. It was actually good that they had their own section in which to hang out, because Ty and Dylan were a bit boisterous in their play, and that way the boys weren’t too loud in their immediate vicinity. For our last run we decided to run out the snowfield to the bottom, then contour back over to the Huntington Ravine Trail and take that right back up to the car. That hike took a bit longer since we were starting out lower in elevation, but I’d say within roughly 15 minutes we were back at the parking area. The boys still played around a lot today, so that took up plenty of the afternoon, but this has to be our most efficient outing in terms of the hiking. The snow will likely be around for a bit longer based on what we saw, so there should be snowfield turns available for those that are interested as we move forward in June.

Stowe, VT 25MAY2014

An image of Jay skiing the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont over Memorial Day Weekend
Out for some Memorial Day Weekend turns on Mt. Mansfield

This Memorial Day Weekend certainly hasn’t been like last year, with its two feet of new snow, but even from Waterbury one can see that Mt. Mansfield still has some of this season’s snow left on it, and with today’s great weather, it was hard to pass up the chance for some skiing. We’d actually been keeping our eyes on the weather over at Mt. Washington for a potential trip to ski the summit snowfields this weekend, but the forecast for nice weather didn’t end up being quite solid enough for us to make the commitment. Of course, being around at home meant that the opportunity was there for some local turns. I thought last week’s ski trip with E and the boys might be our last turns on Mansfield for the season, but that wasn’t the case… at least for me. Even last week, the skiing payoff relative to the hike was getting pretty marginal for the rest of the family, so although I did a perfunctory check to see if any of them wanted to go, I would have been surprised if any of them said yes. This time of year, it’s typically a good idea to go into a ski tour with the intention of enjoying the hike itself, because it’s often a big part of the outing relative to the skiing. If either of the boys had wanted to go on today’s tour, they would have had their work cut out for them, because I knew that it would require at least 1,000’ vertical of hiking before hitting decent snow. They barely have the patience for earning turns when the skiing is top to bottom, so all that hiking before getting to the snow wouldn’t be well received.

“You can get a nice 300’ or
so of vertical out of it, and
if you wanted something
to lap with the best turns,
that would be the place.”

After some midday yard work with the boys, I finally headed off to Stowe in the mid afternoon. The valley temperatures were generally in the mid 70s F, and the skies were mostly clear aside from a few clouds here and there, and a surprising number of leftover contrails. From Waterbury Center I could already see patches of snow left on Mt. Mansfield near the Cliff House, so I knew that the Nosedive area would have snow. I parked in the Midway Lot at 1,600’ where I saw a few other cars, but very little activity aside from the occasional group of hikers. Temperatures were still warm, so my setup for the ascent was a short sleeve polypro T-shirt, shorts, and socks/Tele boots, and I packed my ski pants, a long sleeve polypro shirt, and my gloves in my pack for later use. I’ve been very impressed with just how flexible my Garmont Garas have been these past few warm, spring-style outings. Throw them in walk mode and add temperatures like today, and it’s like walking in a pair of stiff hiking boots. They’ve got Vibram soles, so the grip is nice on most surfaces. They certainly don’t match up to the a pair of good hiking boots when trying to hop from boulder to boulder working one’s way across alpine areas of Mt. Washington, but for traipsing around on the generally grassy or slightly rocky slopes below tree line, you can hardly tell that they’re there. For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times. Of course I probably make up for some of the weight savings carrying camera gear, but the light weight of Telemark skis and bindings also cuts down on the pounds.

An image of thunderclouds off to the east in New Hampshire as viewed from near the Octagon summit building at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the mountain views of storm clouds off to the east
An image of a trout lily wildflower in spring on the Nosedive ski trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Signs of spring during the hike

As far as the snow goes, there were a couple of piles here and there even down near the base, but nothing of real consequence. I didn’t start to see more consistent patches on Nosedive until I got up around the 2,100’ mark at the junction with National. What I did get to see in the lower elevations was the appearance of wildflowers, including what looked like some trout lilies on their way toward opening up. Even though we had some rain yesterday, Nosedive was really pretty dry aside from areas in close proximity to snow patches or the occasional water bar with meltwater, so that made the hiking especially easy. The mid afternoon sun was still quite strong during my ascent, so I hiked in the shade when possible. As for the insects, all I saw was the occasional mosquito, so that made for a pleasurable ascent on that front. The presence of patchy snow off to climber’s left was all that I saw until I got up near 2,600’, and just below the intersection of Cliff Trail I saw the first area of coverage across the whole width of the trail. That was only an isolated section, and it was back to grass for a while above there, but once I got up to ~2,900’ I got into the nearly continuous snow, and there was even some snow remaining in the trees on both sides of the trail. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just up above that location at ~3,700’ was down to only two inches as of today’s report, although it was certainly deeper in those areas of trees I saw. I continued my ascent all the way up to roughly 3,600’ because the snow just kept going. There were a couple more breaks, but they were small enough that it kept me interested in reaching the top pile near the junction with the Toll Road (which is definitely open – I saw a car on its way down while I was up there).

An image of some leftover snow on the Nosedive ski trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont over Memorial Day Weekend
The bottom section of today’s snow on Nosedive

At the top I could definitely feel the ascent, so I downed a GU and cracked open and Odwalla smoothie that I’d been saving for the top. Between the amounts of sugar in those, recovery and rejuvenation were quick. I moseyed around up there for a bit and got a few pictures, and then geared up for the descent. If you’ve ever wondered about why you’ve got full side zippers on your ski pants, well here’s one of those perfect situations that call for them. You don’t spend time taking off you ski boots to get your pants on, you open up those zippers, strap on your pants, and off you go. The first big section of snow right at the top of Nosedive was just a big mound, with pretty dirty snow, but the snow on the second corner was a bit better, and then better again on the third. The best area of snow though is that one leading down to 2,900’. It’s the longest area without a gap, and it’s got some of the smoothest snow. You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place. The consistency of the corn snow was great, although that almost seems to be a given on the remaining snow at this time of the year unless it’s just too cold to soften it at all. It was a bit dirty in spots as one might expect, and there were some sun cups and other aberrations, but especially on that lower snowfield area, the turns were quite smooth.

“For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and
hike down comfortably in
one pair of boots makes everything so much easier,
both in terms of weight and
ascent/descent transition times.”

After the bottom of that section, I strapped the skis on once more for that area below the junction with Cliff Trail, and then hiked out the rest of the run. The down hike was very quick, with the generally dry, grassy trail making for great traction, and it was only about 15 minutes or so from that last area I skied to get back to the car. I actually heard a band playing during the final few hundred feet of my descent, and after swinging through the Spruce Peak Base Area on my way home, it seemed like there was a wedding event going on. They certainly got a great day for it. The long-lasting light is great on these days as we approach the solstice – it was already after 7:00 P.M. by the time I was at the car, but there was plenty of light left. I hit the grocery store on the way home, and then we cooked outside and had dinner and some time at the fire pit. It’s really nice to have some of that local snow hanging around to get in some skiing over the holiday – and as much fun as it was to have the two feet of fresh snow last year, the weather in the valleys wasn’t great for outdoor activities, so this type of Memorial Day Weekend is also pretty sweet.

An image of Erica, Dylan, and Ty by the fire pit in Waterbury Vermont
Today’s weather made for a great evening outside.

Stowe, VT 09MAR2014

An image of Luc above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont jumping off the ridgeline of Mt. Mansfield into powder below
It was the BJAMS boys dropping powder bombs off the Mansfield ridgeline today.

Jack had inquired about a hike to The Chin during our BJAMS ski program last Sunday, so while getting my ski group up into Stowe’s alpine terrain has been on my mind over the past couple of weeks, that really got me thinking about a hike for today.  The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake has been sitting at roughly 60 inches for the past three weeks, so I’m satisfied with base depths, and the only other concern that would affect the quality of the skiing would be the usual suspects up there in the alpine like wind and sun crusts, etc. Temperatures also looked reasonable for today, with highs in the 10s and 20s F, and with no strong winds expected and lots of sunshine, it seemed like we were on for a trip above tree line.

“I shot a few pictures
of the accomplishment,
and then came the
highlight of the trip…
the jumping.”

Although I’d like to get them up onto The Chin into Profanity Chute at some point, with no direct knowledge of the current snow conditions in the alpine, and this being the boys’ first hike above tree line this season, something a little less aggressive was in order.  So, just like we did for our alpine outing on April 7th last season, I decided to go with a hike up Cliff Trail Gully, followed by skiing in that general vicinity.  With that plan in place, I met up with today’s group, which consisted of Kenny, Ty, Jack, and Luc, and informed them of the plan.  While Dylan is feeling quite chipper after his recent bout of illness, we want to make sure that his physician says he at 100% before we subject him to anything overly rambunctious.  So, after grabbing the feature photo on our last trip up Cliff Trail Gully, unfortunately he had to hold out in the base area today.

After a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor while we waited for Jack, everyone was finally ready to go, so we headed to lockers to prepare the gear.  The guys got any water and snacks together, I did some fitting of their packs, and we were off to the Gondola.  Up at the Cliff House, I helped everyone attach their skis to packs, and in general after working with Kenny’s setup a bit, the arrangements were pretty good without too many skis hitting heads or legs.  Luc was carrying his skis, and I talked with him about switching arm positions as need and trying to let his shoulders do as much work as possible so that his arms wouldn’t get too tired.  Kenny was very excited, because he said it was the first time he’d ever hiked for skiing.

An image of Luc, Jack, and Kenny heading up the boot ladder in the Cliff Trail Gully on Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Up the boot ladder go the boys

There was a decent boot ladder in place, so Ty took the lead, the other boys followed, and I brought up the rear.  Ty was off like a shot, and within minutes it seemed like he was ¼ of the way up the gully and I had to reel him in a bit and tell him to hold so that the group could catch up.  He was good about that, and hung out on one of the obvious stopping plateaus created by the massive room-sized boulders that fill the gully.  Kenny was taking his time while he figured out what this whole “hiking with skis” process is all about, and I while I hung out with him, I gave him lots of tips on how to move efficiently in the terrain.  He was floored by how fast Ty flew up the gully, and I let him know that Ty had done an awful lot of this kind of hiking and that he’d be much faster as he got used to it.  The boot ladder wasn’t too bad, but in some spots you could tell that it was made by someone with fairly long legs.  That set the boys at a disadvantage, but they worked it out, and I’m sure Ty was putting in plenty of shorter steps that they got to use.  I did get to express to them how if they’re ever the first to set the boot ladder, shorter spaces between steps are the way to go, as they work for everyone.

As we climbed higher in the gully, Kenny was very impressed by the views, and I told him how they would just keep getting better with every step.  Kenny really started to catch his groove with the hiking when we got into the upper, less steep half of the gully, and he commented on how much easier it was getting.  Once into the upper half of the gully, Ty and Luc quickly gained the ridge line, and it wasn’t long before the rest of us caught up and we were there.  The wind was minimal and the sun was warm, so the boys immediately started to explore the immediate area above the gully.  I shot a few pictures of the accomplishment, and then came the highlight of the trip… the jumping.

An image of Ty jumping off the ridge line of Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont into powder below
It was jumps, jumps, and more jumps!

There hasn’t been much snow to set up a big cornice along the ridge, but there was at least a little bit of one, and more importantly, plenty of snow deposited just below on the leeward side of the ridge.  I can’t recall who suggested it first, but the boys quickly got into a session of leaps, slides, tumbles, and bomb holing, all thanks to the deep snow deposited below the ridge.  I’d say they had a good half hour session of jumping before I reminded them of the time and pointed out that we weren’t going to get in much additional skiing today if we didn’t get going.  The boys were able to pull themselves away, and after a few snacks, we started our descent of the gully.

An image of Ty skiing the Cliff Trail Gully on Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Finally, the boys made the ski descent of the gully.

The snow conditions were actually somewhat challenging, with a few pockets of soft snow, but a lot of wind slab, dense snow, and even pockets of leftover rain crust.  The boys really showed their technical abilities, applying a range of techniques to take on some impressively steep, tight, and scratchy lines down the gully.  I kept my eyes peeled for other options off to the skiers left, but with the current snowpack, nothing immediately jumped out that was worth pursuing.  So, the boys finished their run right down through the Cliff Trail Gully itself, and it was quite impressive.

Of course, one great part about a run down from Mansfield’s alpine areas is that you have an entire run of 2,000+ vertical feet still to go.  The boys chose Mac and Cheese, which actually seemed sort of tame after what they’d just done.  We followed that up with some trees and bumps on Lower National.  We also had time for one more run over at Spruce Peak once we got back.  Actually, despite the time taken up by the hike and the run down the gully, I’m glad the boys spent a lot of time up there, because in general, the conditions on piste were pretty unimpressive.  The off piste snow in places such as the Nosedive Glades was reasonable packed powder, even if well packed after this past week with minimal new snow, but trails with snowmaking and high traffic are really quite icy.  There’s powder in the trees, but naturally it’s getting harder to come by at this point, and the boys weren’t really missing out on too much down below.  Luc even commented on how he didn’t like the snow when we were down on Lower National, so he’s definitely refining his preference for good snow. Fortunately, it looks like we might get some storms this week, so hopefully we’ll have some softer conditions next weekend.  Hopefully we’ll be back at Stowe for more fun in the snow.

Stowe, VT 12NOV2013

An image of ski tracks on the Hayride trial at Stowe Mountain Resort after a November snowstorm
18 inches… topped with fluff

It’s been a couple of weeks since those powder days back in October, and there hadn’t been much in the way of new snow, but over the past few days, early winter weather has returned and been the rule.  A fairly small Alberta Clipper system came through the area over the weekend, and in typical Northern Greens style, Mt. Mansfield was able to turn it into a decent shot of early season white.  As of yesterday, reports of 12-18” of new snow were already coming in, and it didn’t take long for photos of the powder to appear from Powderfreak.  We soon saw pictures from the FIS crew and even from the National Weather Service, as one of their meteorologists got out to enjoy his forecast.  The initial reports indicated that the snow had been reasonably dense, setting up a substantial covering of the slopes, and with another round of even colder, drier powder anticipated overnight with a frontal passage, it looked like Tuesday held the potential for some sweet, early season turns.

“If someone had asked
me about ski choice for
today, I would have just
said to take your fattest
skis, whether they’re
brand new or not.”

The front came through overnight as expected, dropping about an inch of snow down at our house, and more in the higher elevations.  Things seemed to have come together, so I decided to head out to Stowe for an early ski tour.  Temperatures were generally in the mid 20s F as I traveled through the mountain valleys, and there were no issues with the roads until I started climbing up toward the mountain around 1,000’.  Above that elevation I found enough packed ice and snow that it warranted a bit more cautious driving.  At the Midway Parking Lot (1,600’), the temperature was 20 F and there was light snow falling.  There was the usual crowd of early morning skiers heading out and returning from the slopes, and I suspected it would be easy to find a nicely established skin track on any of the typical routes.

An image of skiers heading out from the Midway parking lot  at Stowe for a November ski tour
Heading out from Midway for turns

Since our last outings a couple of weeks ago focused on the Gondola side of Mansfield, I decided to mix it up this time and took the well established skin track that headed up Nosedive.  It was well packed, and made all the sweeter by the fact that for much of the ascent there was a parallel boot pack available for anyone hiking without skins.  The snowpack increased very quickly with elevation on the bottom half of the mountain, and I found the following depths during my ascent:

1,600’: 4-6”
2,000’: 8-10”
2,500’+: 12-18”

An image of the snow measurement stake near the top of Mt. Mansfield in VermontAbove ~2,500’, I was essentially well into the deep stuff, and the gains in snow depth weren’t huge beyond that.  Of course, when you’re already talking 12-18” of snow with plenty of substance to it, the lack of additional increases isn’t a big deal.  At the top of Nosedive, I continued my ascent up the Toll Road for a few more minutes to check in on the depth of the snowpack at the fabled Mt. Mansfield Stake.  At ~3,700’, the stake showed at least 17” of snow, and I generally found 18-19” there when I probed on the edge of the Toll Road itself, so indeed the snow depth up there was right around a foot and a half.

It’s really a nice sheltered area up along the road by the stake, and since the snow wasn’t perturbed by wind, you could definitely get a sense for where the snow stood with respect to quality.  Indeed that quality was looking very good.  As one would expect with the latest round of fluff, the snowpack was right side up with the lightest snow on top, and it was primed and ready for some turns.  Big, dendritic flakes were falling while I was there switching over for the descent, and I stood and savored the moment for a while before pushing off down the road.  I crossed over toward the Fourrunner Quad, and the summit area was awash in manmade snow.  I didn’t even see that many guns going up there – I think the resort has already been able to hammer that area with manmade snow with the cold temperatures we’ve had.

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Hayride trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after a November snowstorm
Hayride today

So now I’m left with just one more thing to discuss, the pièce de résistance for the day… the descent.  While ascending Nosedive, it was clear that there had been a huge bolus of snow dropped above 2,500’, so coverage wasn’t going to be an issue.  Temperatures were certainly not in question either, since it must have been somewhere in the teens F.  That left the aspects of snow density and the effects of the wind, and based on the turns I was seeing by people descending Nosedive, it looked like the skiing was going to be fine, even if not sublime.  But, I suspected I could do better.  There had definitely been some wind on Nosedive that appeared to have packed out the snow a bit.  With that in mind, I decided to roll the dice and check out another descent route – Hayride.  I’d had good luck on Hayride back on April 10th of last year, when Mt. Mansfield got laced with over two feet of dense, resurfacing snow.  It was actually the challenge of that snow on Telemark gear that was one of the final nails in the coffin in convincing me to finally get some fat, rockered skis for Telemark use.  I could already tell that today’s snow conditions were nothing like what I encountered on that April outing – with the new fluff, this snow was notably drier.  I hadn’t actually thought that it would be anywhere near the quality of what we had last November on the 30th, but after a few turns on Hayride I found that it was certainly in the same league.  And indeed we’re talking quite the league – Hayride was sheltered from the wind, so turn after turn after turn I was able to push hard on the deep snow.  It gave way, let you sink in, but pushed back with just enough force to keep you from getting to the ground.  With 115 mm underfoot and judicious line choice, I think I touched down twice on something other than snow on the entire descent.  Just like last November, the AMPerages were totally in their element, letting me play around in the deep snow on a remarkably stable platform.  They helped out immensely with fore-aft balance, and I can recall some specific instances where I was saved from what easily could have been a face plant.  If someone had asked me about ski choice for today, I would have just said to take your fattest skis, whether they’re brand new or not.  Today, a combination of fat skis with the available snow would be plenty to keep you safely above most underlying obstacles.  You’d probably end up having a heck of a lot of fun as well.

Stowe, VT 26MAY2013

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Perry Merrill trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a spring storm on Memorial Day Weekend
Visiting Mt. Mansfield for some glorious Memorial Day Weekend powder today

For the past several days, the meteorologists and weather enthusiasts in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather have been talking about a late-season snowstorm with the potential to unload on the northern parts of New York and New England.  Around mid month, a thread discussing the Memorial Day Weekend weather was started, and even at that point there was a suggestion that the weather could be cool.  However, by Thursday, just a couple of days before the weekend, it was obvious that a late-season snowstorm was developing, and the discussion began to focus on just how much snow the Northern Greens were going to get.  I hadn’t been following the weather too closely, but when I stopped in to check the board and found out about the impending snowstorm in the local mountains, my interest was definitely piqued.  We spent last weekend skiing in spring snow on Mt. Washington, and it began to look like this weekend would bring winter skiing on Mt. Mansfield.

“…you didn’t have to
 worry about hitting
anything underneath
and you could just let
it rip.”

Saturday arrived with a nor’easter developing just like the weather models had suggested.  For folks that had outdoor, warm-weather plans for the big holiday weekend, you almost couldn’t find a nastier combination of weather.  Temperatures were in the 40s F, and there was plenty of wind and rain.  We wondered if we were going to have to turn the heat back on in the house.  Reports began to come in about the snow in the mountains, and by mid afternoon, Whiteface was already reporting that they had received 18” of new snow.  As the afternoon wore on, even valley temperatures fell down well into the 30s F in many places in New England, and fairly low elevation spots began to report snow mixing in with the rain.  Although we weren’t getting any snow down to the low elevations in our area, we lost power from about 8:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. for some reason, so we headed off to bed early and decided to see how things were going in the morning.

An image of ski trails and a status sign for Route 108 through Smuggler's Notch in Vermont indicating that the notch road was closed due to snow over Memorial Day Weekend
Snow closed down the road through Smuggler’s Notch today.

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 WaterburyStowe 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.

An image of the 2,100' snow line on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont during the Memorial Day Weekend Storm of 2013
Snow line in sight on Nosedive at 2,100′

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:

1,600’:  0”
1,800’:  Trace
2,100’:  1”
2,200’:  2”
2,500’:  4”
2,600’:  5”
3,000’:  8”
3,300’:  10” – 12”-15”

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.

An image of a skier  on the Nosedive trial at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a Memorial Day Weekend snowstorm
I didn’t get his name, but he had quite a blast ripping up the powder on Nosedive today.

An image of Vanilla Bean GU Energy Gel

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-
to-wall snow…”

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 10thMt. 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.

An image showing a ski measurement pole indicating 22" of snow at the Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont on Memorial Day Weekend
22″ of new snow up at the Cliff House today

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:

3,000’:  11”
3,400’:  12”-15”
3,600’:  12”-15” – 18”-22”

“…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 Vermont Champlain 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.

An image looking down at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont from a snowy Perry Merrill trail down toward a snowless base area during a Memorial Day Weekend snowstorm
The view from white to wet

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.

An image of snow-capped Mt. Mansfield in Vermont from the west after a Memorial Day snowstorm
…and this is what you get for Memorial Day

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.