I had enough extra time today, so I headed back out to Stowe for a hike and some more turns. Based on what I’d seen on Spruce on my last outing, as well as the views across to Mansfield at that point, I decided it was time to check out something by the Mountain Triple. There’s some easy access snow right down to the base over there, and that fit the time I had.
As I walked along past the Triple, I surveyed the snow situation and headed toward Lower Standard, which seemed to have the best coverage. That area makes for a pleasant stroll because it’s generally quite grassy with modest pitches. Somebody had built the shape of a heart out of rocks on the ground near the ropes course, so that was kind of a nice accent to the area. The snow on Lower Standard is definitely more broken up than what it was a week earlier, and there are a couple of gaps near the bottom that are really best walked vs. trying to skip across on your skis.
That afternoon we had thunderstorms in the area, and as usual, there were some great views surrounding the resort and toward the Notch as the peaks worked their magic and forced the clouds around. While I was hiking I started to hear thunder to the east and northeast, off past Spruce Peak and over toward Madonna and Sterling. Eventually I started to see some tendrils of virga over there, and the thunder was becoming more expansive. I was just getting up toward the Crossover elevation, which was about where I was going to stop anyway because the snow petered out there, but the timing seemed good with the thunder building. I started seeing the first visible flashes from lightning just as I was getting back to the car, and the first drops of rain began to fall, so that timing really did work out well. I would have stayed around for some lightning photography over toward the Notch, but none if was producing visible bolts, it all seemed to be well up in the clouds or too distant.
I haven’t been following the state of the snowpack at Stowe too closely over the past couple of weeks, but Powderfreak’s recent post on American Weather forum definitely provided a nice look at some of the snow on the slopes of Spruce Peak. I probably wouldn’t have even had Spruce Peak in the mix of top spots to head for turns if I hadn’t seen how much snow was still there, but it was obvious from the post that there was plenty.
Today I had time to get out for exercise, so I chose to enjoy a hike and ski in the Main Street area. The snowpack is certainly not continuous top-to-bottom of course, but there’s several hundred vertical feet worth of nice turns with deep base as Powderfreak’s image showed. The snowpack there is starting to get a bit sun cupped, but it’s nothing that really hurts the experience yet at this point, unless perhaps you were to stray the extreme edges where the snow has taken a bigger hit and there’s been no skier traffic.
Even if natural snowpack on Mansfield is still below average for this time of year, I have to think the coverage there on south-facing Spruce had got be at least typical for this far into May. From the view across the resort, I could see that the usual spots like Nosedive and some of those areas around the Mountain Triple still have some decent coverage, so it would be fun to mix it up with something over there next. That Main Street snow has some very deep areas, but it’s just getting a bit too broken up into segments that one eventually has to make the call to go with something with a bit more continuity for efficiency and longer flow of turns on the descent.
It is always fun this time of year getting to see which parts of the resort are holding the snow best for those late season turns. It’s different each season depending on the combination of where Mother Nature deposited snow and where the guns were blowing when temperatures were optimal as has been noted in some of Powderfreak’s comments in ski-related discussions at American Weather.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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’suphill 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.
‘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.
The 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!”
With 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.
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.
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.
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.
The snow depths I observed for the powder above the base today were as follows with respect to elevation:
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.
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. After we’d spent so much time practicing, it was great to see how often Dylan was able to hit the disc golf basket. We 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.
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.
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!
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.”
I 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.
“The snowfield was a totally clean slate of corn, with no traces of previous skier activity…”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.