Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield. Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling. There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F. That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’. I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse. It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.
“The snow was definitely all winter up there…”
I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing. There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today. If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring. As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road. The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.
I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off. I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”. There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles. However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow. That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there. On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear. Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’. Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow. I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.
I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns. The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds. I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me. The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over. I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully. I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully. By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.
I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them. I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing. The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent. Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before. It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel. The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there. I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff. The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’. It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick. Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations. I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier. Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around. I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was. The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions. We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures. It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.
The boys and I had visited Jay Peak exactly one month ago today to take advantage of the 2+ feet of upslope snow that a cutoff low pressure system had dropped on the Northern Greens. It was great to catch up on all that had happened at the resort over the past couple of seasons, and since that visit I’ve been checking in on the Jay Peak website to keep up on the latest news. I’d looked into lodging deals for that trip with the boys last month and hadn’t found quite what I was looking for at that point, but over the past couple of weeks they’ve been promoting a Mother’s Day brunch/lodging/water park package that looked quite attractive. Prices started at $159 for brunch and lodging for two, and options were available to add on additional people and water park access.
I mentioned the idea to E earlier this week, and she thought it was a possibility, but we let it simmer for a while as we thought about what we might do with my parents over the weekend. The boys caught wind of the Jay Peak idea, and they were of course gung ho about the whole thing, since it included visiting the Pump House Waterpark. Finally, after finding out yesterday that my mom was heading with my sister to New York for the weekend, we decided to go ahead and book a room at the resort. Since it was technically Mother’s Day on Sunday, we made sure that it was what E wanted to do, and she was excited about the idea. I called up Jay Peak, spoke with a representative, and they set us up with a nice room in the Tram Haus. The package included the Mother’s Day brunch at Alice’s Table, two days worth of access to the Pump House Waterpark, Ice Haus Arena access, and apparently a collection of other goodies that we saw listed on the website. Another very cool part of the trip was that there was still snow for skiing. Earlier in the week the resort had posted a photo of all the snow left at the Stateside area with the caption “May snow for the motivated”. The snow looked good and I was motivated to get some turns, and I suspected that I could get E and the boys motivated as well.
After taking care of some yard work and other stuff at the house in the morning, we headed off to the resort around mid afternoon today. Temperatures were around 70 F, and skies were partly clear with some clouds building in ahead of precipitation that’s expected overnight. As we crested the top of Route 242, which is somewhere above 2,200’ in elevation, the effect of the altitude was very obvious as the temperature dropped well down into the 60s F. We checked in at the Tram Haus and found our room there to be quite impressive; various locally crafted materials were used in the construction, and the craftsmanship seems first rate. Our room was a suite-style setup, with a full kitchen and a good size living area that contained a pull-out bed for the boys. Our balcony looked out right over the slopes, and we could even see the snowy slopes over at the Stateside Area.
After getting settled in the room for a bit, we hopped back in the car and drove over to Stateside to make some turns. A quick look revealed that the Haynes/Mont L’Entrepide route seemed to have the most continuous snow, so we made use of the access road to the Jet Triple Chair, which allowed us to drive right up to the base of the runs. It was nice dry grass there at the bottom of Mont L’Entrepide, and made for a great place to prepare the gear and get suited up. There was a brisk breeze at times, and being Jay Peak, the weather was doing its own thing, so we even had a few spits of rain among the mixed clouds and sun. We were thankful for the breeze when it was there, because black flies were already starting to appear. They didn’t seem to be biting much yet, but they were still annoying when the breeze didn’t keep them away.
We hiked for the first couple pitches of the ascent with our skis on our packs, and E and I took care of carrying the boys skis so that they could enjoy the ascent. We saw a couple of other guys making the ascent as well, and climbing on the skier’s right seemed to be the most practical route. Small patches of snow started to appear almost immediately as we headed upward, and then after passing a one relatively large area of snow, we were able to put on our skins for the rest of the ascent. The snow was generally decent corn, although there were some areas where it was icier – we tried to avoid those areas on the ascent because they didn’t offer the skins very good grip. One didn’t really need an established skin track for the ascent, but we generally followed what was set up by other skiers. The continuous snow reached to just about the top of the trail, and for the last third of the ascent, E was really blazing the path and set up some a skin track with nice switchbacks.
We enjoyed some relaxing time at the top of the ascent on Haynes as we soaked in the views of the resort and the wilds of the Northeast Kingdom. The sun was in and out of the clouds, but the temperatures were perfect, and with the wind picking up as we ascended, any black fly issues disappeared for the most part. The Haynes Trail is actually quite steep, so we were excited to see if the boys were going to go for some Telemark turns, or simply stick with alpine turns. They actually mixed it up, with Ty making Tele turns throughout much of the descent regardless of pitch, and Dylan throwing them in where he felt comfortable as the pitch decreased a bit. There was some really nice snow near the top of Haynes on the skier’s left – some fun, steep corn snow that let you push hard into the turns. We did our best to avoid the dirty, icy areas, and we still had to hit some, but they were manageable. We were able to make our way to the end of the last big patch of snow crossing just one notable gap, and then we strapped our skis back onto our packs and had about a five-minute descent to the car. It was definitely fun to get in some May turns today, because even though May skiing is pretty standard most seasons, the combination of low snowfall and incredibly warm weather this March depleted the snowpack much quicker than usual.
The boys were actually in very good spirits for today’s ski session, because they knew that a trip to the water park was coming right on its heels. We made it back to our room at the Tram Haus, got suited up for swimming, and headed out quickly to the water park because it was actually getting late. One very cool thing we discovered today is that although the Pump House Waterpark is in the Hotel Jay, even if you are in the Tram Haus Lodge, you don’t have to go outside to get to the water park. It turns out that the Tram Haus and the Tramside Base Lodge are connected to the Hotel Jay and water park by an underground tunnel; you never even have to go outside because the buildings are essentially all part of one huge complex. I had initially inquired about getting a room at the Hotel Jay since we knew the water park was going to be big with the boys, but it was great to find out that staying at the Tram Haus works out just as well. I’m sure this is a huge benefit to people in the winter; imagine being wet from the water park and having to head out into the elements at a place like Jay Peak. It’s actually quite a labyrinthine trip to get through the whole complex from the Tram Haus to the Pump House, but it’s fun and you get to see a lot of what the resort has to offer. You go right past Mountain Dick’s Pizza, so you can stop in if you want to get a bite to eat, and we saw that the Hotel Jay even has a big family/game room for people to use. In addition, right next to the water park there is a huge arcade. Overall it’s quite a mesmerizing place to be a kid, and the boys were really bouncing off the walls due to the dizzying array of things to do.
As for the Pump House Waterpark, it was the first time visiting for me, but E and the boys had been before so they were my tour guides. They started things off with a couple of laps in the Big River, which is the lazy-river style stream of water that encircles the area of the water park. It’s actually got a decent current, and you can ride tubes or just swim around and go with the flow. I was next introduced to the four main water slides. I joined Dylan on the “blue” water slide, where you ride on one of the inflatable tubes just like in the Big River. It’s been years since I’ve been to a water park, but man, these slides are fast! The last time I’d been on a water slide before these ones was when we were at a party back home and someone had rented one from their local water slide hire shop, it was great fun but nowhere near as big as these ones. In one section you go into complete darkness and as the slide dips and turns, it really throws you around. I was yelling up a storm on the blue slide once the darkness hit – you really have no idea which way the slide is going to go next, so you’re just on the edge of your seat. The “green” water slide has a similar setup, and Dylan and I started on our knees on our double tube – we had a pretty bad tumble in the dark section of the slide and ended up falling off our tube! It was pretty crazy, and if you’re looking for something tame, these slides are certainly not it. I was next introduced to the “orange” slide, which kicks it up a notch – you don’t ride a tube, and there are some serious g-forces if you let yourself pick up speed in that one. To finish off, I tried the “red” slide, which is called “La Chute”; it has an off-axis loop in it. Whoa, that one really is in a league of its own. You take an extra staircase that gets you up into a little room sticking out of the top of the water park structure – that’s already a message right there. You start off standing in what is essentially a clear, vertical coffin that gets closed around you, then the floor drops out from beneath your feet and you are just about free falling – that is until you start to get into the loop and you are crushed to the outer wall of the slide. It is a huge, harrowing rush of a ride. One very cool thing about our visit to the Pump House this evening was that since we were near the end of the day, we just walked right onto all the slides and there were no lines. We also visited a bunch of other attractions in the water park – one that I really liked was the bouldering wall that is perched right above the water, so that when you release, you just splash down. I want to get back to work on that one tomorrow. We finished off in the huge “Hot Springs” hot tub, which has a number of little coves that act like little secluded hot tubs of their own. I’d heard quite a bit about the Pump House from E and the boys and other folks that have gone, but I still wasn’t quite sure what my own experience would be like. Now that I’ve been, I’ve got to say that almost anyone will find something there that they’ll enjoy. I’d like to try the surfing wave tomorrow; there always seems to be at least a bit of a line there even when it’s slow, but it looks like it would be a lot of fun.
We stayed at the Pump House right up through the 9:00 P.M. closing, and then headed back to the room and cooked up a late dinner of pasta, bread, salad, and other stuff that we’d brought from home. The kitchen in our unit has plenty of space and naturally everything you need for cooking and cleaning is available. The boys say they already can’t wait to come again, so we’ll be watching for more lodging packages. The water park really makes the trip quite unique, and it’s certainly an incentive to stay over and make it a multi-day event. It’s also nice to be able to acknowledge Jay Peak’s efforts to make the resort a place that has got so much to offer that people will really want to come here, even if they aren’t skiing. Being able to come up and have a good time, while supporting the economy in a part of the state that could really use the boost is a win-win as far as we’re concerned. We came up two years ago for the Mother’s Day brunch at Alice’s Table for a day trip, but with all the additions to the resort since then, an overnight stay was a really good fit this time. I’m sure the incentive to take similar trips will only increase as the resort’s developments continue – I can’t wait to see what the West Bowl ski terrain expansion will be like if the resort is able to continue with their plans. On a practical note, I was able to hop right on to the free wireless here at the Tram Haus and upload this report with ease. The signal was strong, and upload and download speeds were both in the 20 Mb/sec, so uploading pictures for the trip report was a snap.
Sunday update: As forecast, the sky was gray this morning. There wasn’t any notable precipitation when we first awoke, but from our room we could see umbratilous clouds pushing their way down from Jay Peak to hide the upper mountain slopes. Brunch down at Alice’s Table was excellent, just as we’d experienced on our last Mother’s Day trip, and it felt like there were even more options available this time. While at brunch, the rains finally came, and that quickly evoked memories of the snowstorm that was taking place the last time we’d been eating there – we were even sitting at the same table!
Our brunch was right at the start of the morning, so when we were done we had time to head back to the room and relax for a while. The boys were of course chomping at the bit to get back to the water park, but they were at least able to amuse themselves watching some TV and playing their video games. Most importantly, Mom got to spend at least some of the morning relaxing in her big king bed in the master bedroom, and the boys generally let her do that. When we finally checked out, I was still curious about all those additional perks that we’d heard about on the website. The associate at the front desk eventually realized that they were part of a coupon book, and she passed a copy along to us. Indeed it’s chock full of some great Jay Peak deals, such as a family tram ride, an additional ticket for the water park, a $10 gift certificate that was good anywhere at the resort, tokens for the arcade, equipment rental at the Ice Haus Arena, etc.
After checking out, we moved on to the water park for another session, and as we headed from the car through windy sheet drizzle, it only reinforced the fact that an indoor water park is absolutely the way to go when it comes to Jay Peak. You get the winter access of course, but at any time of year, you never quite know what the mountain is going to deliver for weather. There were a few more people at the water park today compared to last night, but the slides were essentially “walk on” again, with occasionally two or three people in front of you at the slide entry. I didn’t get a chance to try the surfing, but it looks like one of the coupons we received provides a lesson with one of the instructors, so that may be useful. I’d managed to eat well at brunch (not surprisingly), but E and the boys can’t quite pull that off, so they had some lunch at “The Warming Shelter” snack bar attached to the water park. By that point, Ty and I were done swimming, so we hung out in there while E and Dylan went back out for several more laps in the Big River. Ty and I were able to watch them from our seats as they’d float by, and we had a good time chatting and relaxing in the snack bar. It’s quite a disparity of environments when you are behind the glass there. Out in the water park it’s warm, humid and loud, but in the snack bar it was the exact opposite.
Before leaving, we stopped in at the Elevation 1851’ Family Arcade, used our coupon tokens for some skee ball, and the boys played a round on one of the video games where you ride on motorcycles. We also checked out the surf shop to see if they carried any Jay Peak surf shirts; a lot of folks (including Ty and Dylan) use those type of shirts at the water park, and they help to keep you a bit warmer if you’re going to be in the water all day. I’ve got one that I use for kayaking, which also keeps away that board rash from long days of boogie boarding, and E has been wanting one for a while. The surf shop is fairly big, with lots of Jay Peak merchandise, but we had no luck on Jay Peak-specific surf shirt. That would be kind of a neat item though, a surf shirt from a ski area. As we headed home, the sky gradually brightened and eventually gave way to partly cloudy conditions, and a check of the rain gauge at the house revealed that we hadn’t even received any precipitation while we’d been gone. In the winter that precipitation pattern probably would have meant some snow for Jay Peak, while even just an hour south at the house we would have totally missed out on it – just some off season work by the famous Jay cloud.
The boys were more interested in planting flowers with Mom on Saturday than skiing, so unfortunately I couldn’t interest them in going out for some turns. This meant that I was on a solo outing, but the upside was that I’d be able to do a much bigger tour than I would have been able to with Ty, or especially with Dylan. The skies were clear and blue all Saturday morning on what was likely our warmest day of the spring up to that point. The temperature was already around 80 F when I pulled into Stowe’s Midway lot (~1,700’) in the early afternoon, and with the forecast for temperatures in that range, I hadn’t been too optimistic about the snow quality. My major goal was to at least get in a good workout, so I was willing to negotiate some sloppy snow on the descent if that was the way it had to be.
Snow was available right from the Midway Lodge elevation, with just a couple hundred feet of fairly flat walking on grass to get on it from the parking lot. I was immediately surprised when I got on the snow and found that it wasn’t sloppy at all; it was all corn with just the top inch or so loosened up. That’s the sort of corn that seems to provide some of the easiest turns, so I was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for a quality descent. There wasn’t much of a breeze in the lower elevations, but the snow helped keep the air temperature a bit cooler and the ascent was very enjoyable. For ascent attire I’d gone about as minimally as I felt comfortable doing, with a short sleeve polypropylene T-shirt and my ski pants with the side zippers fully open, and that worked out to be a comfortable setup for the temperature. I hadn’t made a non-powder ascent on skins in a while, and I was quickly reminded how the lightness of Telemark gear allows you to simply fly up the slopes. Before I knew it I was up at the Cliff House (3,625’) and feeling great, so I decided to keep going up into the alpine.
I set my skis onto my pack and hit the climbing gully. There was a bit of rotten snow in spots, and as I didn’t immediately find a boot ladder, I had visions of an inefficient, sloppy climb with lots of post-holing. I’d already post-holed a few times in the outskirts of the gully (it only took one of those to remind me to get my ski pants zipped up at least halfway) but fortunately, about 50 feet up the climbing gully I found a boot ladder made by some nice big feet. That made the going fairly smooth, and the views of the Green and White Mountains continued to improve with each step. Near the top of the gully, I ran into a guy about to descend. He had spent an overnight or two on the mountain, and said that he’d been amazed to find fresh powder on Friday morning when he’d started skiing. It sounds like along with Thursday morning, Friday morning had also been good in the higher elevations with regard to fresh snow. The downside of the fresh snow was that conditions in the alpine were still a bit sloppy. The new snow had not yet cycled to corn in the highest elevations, so it just wasn’t going to provide an optimal surface. By the time I departed from my conversation in the gully, I was moments from the Mansfield ridge line. Up on the ridge I enjoyed the new westerly views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and decided to stop in at the top of The Chin (4,395’) since I was so close. There was a small group of college students enjoying the popular leeward side of the summit, and there was a pleasant breeze of probably 15 MPH or so. The high temperature for the day at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 67 F, so I suspect that the summit maximum temperature was probably close to that. Getting an April day like that at the top of The Chin is certainly a treat.
For my descent, I wasn’t able to ski right in the summit or the West Chin area due to lack of snow, but I was able to ski down the gully where the Long Trail drops away from The Chin as it heads south. It was quite a perspective to see the snow create a flat surface through the gully, when in the off season it’s a 10-foot deep chasm containing the hiking trail. I had to remove my skis to descend the very top of the climbing gully, but below that point one could keep them on continuously. As expected, the new snow up high that hadn’t fully cycled to corn wasn’t as nice as the corn snow on the bottom 2,000’, but I actually had some fun turns in the climbing gully, and it let me work on Telemark turns in steeper, tighter confines. I still had to make some alpine turns and throw in some side slipping up there since some areas were just so tight, but overall the gully allowed a good mix of styles. The crème de la crème of snow surfaces for the day was probably the top half of the Gondolier descent. There must have been very little traffic up there because most of the snow surface was just a smooth layer of ripe corn. The lower half of Gondolier still had nice corn snow, but the surface wasn’t as smooth as the top half of trail. Perhaps the lower elevations had experienced more melting that started forming aberrations in the surface. Based on my GPS data, it looks like my descent was 2,720’, not quite what you can get for vertical in the winter when you head all the way back down to Route 108, but still a decent run. There were still about 7 feet of snow at the stake on Saturday, and even though that level has dropped some with the recent warmth we’ve had, skiing should available on Mt. Mansfield for a while.
Today I went up to Mt. Mansfield to get some turns in the snow before it started to disappear. A nice cold snap has dropped over a foot of new snow on some of the mountains, with snowfall reaching even down to Burlington. Traveling on I-89, I first saw snow on the Robbins Mountain Power Line, up around 2,000′. It was very patchy and hardly noticeable, so I was worried about how the lower elevations would be on Mt. Mansfield. Things looked up as I entered Waterbury (~520′) and found traces of snow on the ground. At the base of Mt. Mansfield (~1,600′) there was an inch or two of snow on the grassy surfaces. I hiked up in the region of the triple, looking for slopes that had nicely mowed grass for the trip down – a map of my route is pictured along with this text. At around 2,500′, the snow was over 6 inches deep so I threw on my snowshoes to make the going easier. I stopped my hike at around 2,920′ (see map) since it was time to head to work, but the snow depth had increased to about 8-10 inches. The snow was fairly heavy (~11% H2O or so), but light enough to make powder turns. I’m sure it was even better up at 4,000′ and above. The first half of the run had the best snow, with much stickier stuff lower down, but I was still able to ski right back to the base of the triple and make a quick departure for Burlington.