Looking back at the start of the 2018-2019 ski season in Vermont – Mt. Mansfield snowpack depth and historical comparative analysis.

This plot uses the 60+ year snow depth data set from the measurement stake on Mt. Mansfield in Vermont to indicate the date when the snowpack first reaches 24 inches of depth each season.

One approximate measure of when the potential natural snow/off piste skiing begins each season here in Northern Vermont is the date when the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaches 24 inches.  This is by no means an exact date, especially since it’s possible to get great turns on just a few inches of snow if the snow is dense and the underlying surface is grass instead of rocks.  You can indeed get by with much less than 24 inches of snowpack if the snow is very dense, but not if it’s all Champlain Powder™ fluff.  Based on empirical observations and reports from skiers in the area each season though, hitting the 24” mark is reasonable for most situations.

With that preface, let’s take a look at where last season sits with regard the start of the natural snow/off piste skiing around here.  By most accounts, last season started off with bang.  Even in the local mountain valleys, the winter snowpack started as early as November 10th.  That’s very early for the valleys, and when the valleys are doing well, the mountains certainly are too.

The updated plot for the 60+ seasons in the Mt. Mansfield Stake database is below, with last season represented by the red star:

This plot uses the 60+ year snow depth data set from the measurement stake on Mt. Mansfield in Vermont to indicate the date when the snowpack first reaches 24 inches of depth each season.
The updated plot showing the date of reaching 24-inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. The point for the 2018-2019 winter season (November 27th, 2018) is indicated by the red star.

Before I add a bit of context to last season’s start, here are the stats for the data set:

n:  64
Mean:  Dec 12th
Median:  Dec 9th
Mode:  Dec 16th
S.D.:  18.8 days

Entry of this year’s data point had no effect on the mean, mode, or S.D. (within a tenth of a day), but it did drop the median by one day from Dec 10th to Dec 9th.

The plot would suggest a reasonably good start, but nothing outrageous:  last year’s 24” date was Nov 27th, which is only 0.78 S.D. ahead of the mean, so well within 1 S.D.  That puts it in roughly the top 22% of seasons, so about 1 in 5 seasons will have a similar or earlier 24” date.

While the 24” date is a nice snapshot for the start of the natural/off piste season, there are of course a number of other factors to take into account that made last November more impressive than that number alone:

1) Near miss:  If you look at the raw November stake depth data (posted below), you can see that the snow depth at the stake reached 23” on Nov 21st.  That’s as close of a miss as you can get to hitting 24”, so even as of the 21st of the month, the snowpack had essentially hit that two-foot level.  Getting to that level by the 21st brings a season past 1 S.D. and into that top ~15% of seasons.  That’s not a huge bump in this regard, but having nearly an extra week of borderline two-foot snowpack at that part of the season could easily mean an entire additional weekend of natural snow skiing potential.

2) No going back:  This is a much bigger feather in last season’s cap.  Even from about mid-month, the snowpack never really took a major hit, and once it did hit that 24” mark on Nov 27th, there was really no going back.  It sailed past 24” and just kept climbing as you can see in the numbers at the end of the month.  I haven’t added the December numbers below, but even with the lackluster December we had, the snowpack never dropped below ~40”.  That can’t be said for all of the seasons on the left side of the plot (certainly not Mr. October out there in front, which was the 2006-2007 season – he was back to 0” at the stake by mid-November).

3) Snow-depth days:  I haven’t calculated this for any November with the stake data, but it will obviously be a good integrative measure of how much snow was on the ground for the start of the season.  I’m sure last November would have a solid ranking if I put those data together.

So, if we look into that left side of the plot, do we have any other recent seasons in there that we can use for comparison to last season?

Actually, that lone star (Nov 25th) just to the left of the red star for last season is for 2007-2008.  We know that was a solid season around here.  The snowpack began building in the first week of November, and there was really no going back there either.  Unlike this past season, that solid November was followed up by a stellar December (almost 70” of snow here at the house) and the Mansfield snowpack was hitting five feet by the holidays.  With a solid December, last season certainly would have given 2007-2008 a run, but instead it was languishing at around 40” at the stake during the holiday period.

With regard to some of the other stars up at that end of the plot:

The two compatriots of last season on the plot, those other two stars on Nov 27th, are 1997-1998 and 1977-1978.  1997-1998 looks pretty solid with a snowpack start in the first week of November, and snowpack at about that five-foot mark by the holiday period.  There’s also a nice-looking bonus stretch of snow at the end of October, with snow at the stake for almost the last third of the month, and the depth peaking at 16”.  Checking my archives, I actually went for some lift-served skiing at Sugarbush on Oct 28th, so that speaks to that period snow being a bit of something special.  1977-1978 was before my time around here, but it looks a bit tamer.  There was nothing in October, then snowpack began to build around mid-November and was getting around the four-foot mark by the holidays.

The two stars right at Nov 20th are interestingly, back-to-back seasons of 1967-1968 and 1968-1969.  Both had a little October snow, and then a snowpack start in the first week of November.  Both had pretty steady climbs right through November and December, with 1967-1968 getting to around 40” for the holiday period, and 1968-1969 hitting a very robust 6+ feet of snowpack for the holidays.  I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, as that was just the start of a season that would become legend.

The star at Nov 18th is 1965-1966, and the progression looks sort of like 1967-1968.  That’s quite a 4-year stretch of good early seasons from ’65-’66 to ’68-’69 with those three solid starts.

The star at Nov 16th is 1980-1981.  That season is interesting in that the snowpack started building on Oct 20th and sailed right into November without ever going back to zero.  Snowpack was 4+ feet for the holidays, but the rest of the season looks modest (relatively speaking) with the snowpack depth never getting above 6 feet.

The star on Nov 14th is for something more recent:  2003-2004.  I was out in Montana for that one, but snowpack started building in the second week of November, it was 4+ feet at the holidays, and hit the 100” mark in March.

The star on Nov 13th is for 1976-1977.  That looks like an impressive start, with snowpack taking hold in the second half of October, climbing right through November, and hitting roughly the 4-foot mark for the holidays.  The stake didn’t quite top out at 100” that season, but it did pretty well topping out at 94”.

The final early star I haven’t mentioned yet is the one on Nov 11th, that’s for the 1990-1991 season.  It seems like the only other boom and bust start to go with Mr. October (2006-2007).  There was a little inkling of snow at the end of October and start of November, but snowpack started building at the end of the first week of the month and topped out at a very impressive 45” on Nov 14th!  It was a downhill slide after that though.  The snowpack never went lower than 9” but there were only 12-18” on the ground for the holiday period, and on Dec 30th it dropped from 18” to 13”, so that must have been quite a dagger in the holiday week (I guess that depends on whether it was a nice spring skiing day or a nasty rainstorm).  The rest of that season seemed pretty blasé because the snowpack never even hit 5 feet.  I don’t recall much about that season, but I’m assuming there was nothing too remarkable.

The November 2018 Mt. Mansfield snow depth data are below – note that there are a few days with no depth data available:

Date                 Depth
11/1/2018        2
11/2/2018        1
11/3/2018        4
11/4/2018        4
11/5/2018        4
11/6/2018        3
11/7/2018        0
11/8/2018        3
11/9/2018        1
11/10/2018      7
11/11/2018      8
11/12/2018      8
11/13/2018     
11/14/2018      14
11/15/2018     
11/16/2018      19
11/17/2018     
11/18/2018     
11/19/2018      20
11/20/2018      21
11/21/2018      23
11/22/2018      23
11/23/2018      23
11/24/2018      20
11/25/2018      19
11/26/2018      19
11/27/2018      32
11/28/2018      43
11/29/2018      46
11/30/2018      44

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 27DEC2018

An image of snowy evergreen branches and the sign for the Coyote Trail on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image showing six inches of powder near the Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Roughly a half foot of powder greeted me at the Bryant Cabin as I passed through the area on today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network

Last night’s storm marked the fourth bout of snow we’ve had since our warm system leading up to the weekend.  Although none of these recent snowfall events have been very large, the rounds and rounds of snow from these smaller systems have piled up, and today seemed like a great opportunity to check on how the holiday week powder has been building.

With Bolton Valley reporting 7 inches of new snow during the period, I decided that a backcountry day was in order.  Knowing the way snow accumulates on their Nordic and Backcountry Network, I figured there were be plenty of fresh powder for the low to moderate-angle terrain.  Today was actually the first day this season that I’ve headed out onto the Backcountry Network.  With all the snow we’ve had, the backcountry terrain has been ready for skiing since well back in November, but there’s been so much good skiing in bounds that I’ve just been touring there.

“Once I got on trail, I made some depth checks around the 2,000’ elevation and found 5 to 6 inches of settled powder atop the old base.”

I arrived at the resort around noontime and parked in the lower Nordic Center lot – it was just about filling up while I put on my gear, and the parking attendants were getting ready to start the shuttle bus for Timberline parking.  That’s good news for the resort in terms of holiday visitors.  Once I got on trail, I made some depth checks around the 2,000’ elevation and found 5 to 6 inches of settled powder atop the old base.  The depth of the powder didn’t really increase substantially with elevation, and I found roughly 6 inches at 2,700’ by the Bryant Cabin.

An image of fat Telemark skis in a couple inches of powder in one of the Nordic Center parking lots at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I was greeted by a fresh couple inches of light powder when I parked my car in the lower Nordic Center parking lot today.

“The snow had been quite nice, with probably 70-80% bottomless turns on my 115 mm skis, so I strapped the skins back on and headed up for another descent.”

From what I’d seen, there was plenty of snow for the tour I’d planned, which involved some new terrain and some area I’d not visited in quite a while.  I started my descent in the trees below the Bryant Cabin (Bryant Woods) and worked my way though there until I reached JJ’s.  Then I crossed the Bryant Trail and hung close to it for a few hundred feet until I got into the lines on the west side (Possum Woods).  None of that terrain has much in the way of actual manicured glades, but the natural tree spacing is just fine for its pitch, and today’s conditions, featuring about a half foot of delicate Champlain Powder™ fluff, were exactly what you needed for it.  Lower down, I merged onto Cup Runneth Over and various trees in that area until I got to the lower loops of World Cup.

An image of a sign announcing custom made sandwiches and maple lattes at the Village Deli at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe snow had been quite nice, with probably 70-80% bottomless turns on my 115 mm skis, so I strapped the skins back on and headed up for another descent.  This time I went for a run in the Coyote area and made my way back toward the Village to hit the deli.  At the Village Deli I discovered something excellent – they are back to making custom made sandwiches!  I immediately texted E and the boys and Stephen the good news, and got myself a maple latte and some sandwiches to take home.

An image of a map with GPS tracking data overlayed onto Google Earth for a backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont on December 27th, 2018
The GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour at Bolton Valley overlayed onto Google Earth

We’ve got a more substantial system coming into the area tonight.  It’s supposed to pass to our west, so we’re expecting some warmth, but this one’s expected to have more snow and much less rain than the last one, so we could get some bolstering of the snowpack out of it.

Bolton Valley, VT 18DEC2018

An image of a ski track in powder snow in the Wilderness Woods area at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of snow drift near the Wilderness Summit area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
One of the impressive snow drifts I found while ski touring near the Wilderness Summit today at Bolton Valley. Our recent bout of upslope snow brought some nice accumulations of powder, but also a shot of wind as well!

This week, the pace of winter storms and snowfall has slowed down a bit here in the Green Mountains compared to what we were seeing at the beginning of the month, but the weather models have been suggesting the chance for some of our classic upslope snow on the back side of this latest system.  Scott put together a nice summary of the event’s potential at Braatencast, and it certainly looked like we’d have a chance for some decent powder turns today.

With the intensity of the snowfall at our house yesterday evening, it was pretty clear the mountains would have at least a few inches of new snow, so I planned to catch some turns in the morning.  When I checked the Bolton Valley snow report this morning, I was sort of surprised to see the mountain only reporting 4 inches of new snow, especially since we’d already picked up about 5 inches down at the house.  I figured that they might have missed out on some of the snow because it was blowing downwind of the Green Mountain Spine, but after touring around at the resort today, I can say that definitely wasn’t the case.

An image of the Bear Run street sign in deep snowbanks along the Bolton Valley Access Road near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
As I drove up the Bolton Valley Access Road, it was very obvious in places that hadn’t been scoured by wind that the mountain had seen a good shot of fresh snow.

I was actually planing to earn some turns and ski tour a bit before the lifts opened at 9:00 A.M., but I was up there later than I’d hoped and it was right around opening time.  That didn’t matter too much though, because winds were fierce and the Vista Quad wasn’t even running, so I just headed off to Wilderness for a tour as I’d initially planned.

An image showing the depth of powder found on the Peggy Dow's trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont after a mid-December upslope snowstormWith those harsh winds, you’d be hard pressed to know that much snow fell at all from just looking around the base area parking lots.  The accumulations were really patchy on a lot of snowbanks because the new snow had been ripped away and sent elsewhere.  Once I got onto the skin track on Lower Turnpike and out of the wind though, the actual snow accumulations became apparent.  Indeed I’d say that the 4 inches reported was a safe way to go in terms of being conservative, but aside from scoured areas, that definitely represented the low end of accumulations I encountered.  Omitting the extremes of drifts and scoured areas, my checks revealed settled snow depths of 4 to 10 inches throughout my tour.  That wasn’t really elevation dependent, it seemed to just be a factor of how the snow sifted down in various areas.  Drifts I found up around the 3,000’ elevation were generally in the 2 to 3-foot range, though there were some bigger ones as well of course.

“Omitting the extremes of drifts and scoured areas, my checks revealed settled snow depths of 4 to 10 inches throughout my tour.”

The skiing was obviously much different than what you would get from just four inches of fluff.  With a number like that I’d be expecting to get good turns on only low angle terrain, but bottomless turns were pretty standard all the way up to about single black diamond pitch as long as the subsurface was smooth.  I was on my 115 mm boards, but one could certainly still float on something skinnier.  I’d say the storm must have put down a half inch of liquid or so on the mountain based on what I was skiing.

Upon reaching the Wilderness Summit on my tour, I started down Bolton Outlaw, thinking it would be pretty smooth from minimal early season traffic.  It wasn’t long before I realized that the Wilderness Lift has indeed run this season (I actually rode it with Stephen on opening day), so there’s been enough skier traffic to produce some moguls.  I was definitely hitting the subsurface with the steep pitch and moguls, so I quickly dove off into the Outlaw Woods, and the turns in there with a smooth subsurface turned out to be just about perfect.  I was also able to get first tracks in the lower Wilderness Woods, and they were excellent as well.  Getting into the trees was generally a great option because the snow had settled in there very nicely thanks to protection from the wind.  I hung around for a couple of lift-served runs off the Snowflake Lift, and with the typical low traffic there I found plenty of untracked snow.

An image showing ski tracks in powder snow on the Lower Turnpike trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
In areas where winds hadn’t affected the snow today, the turns were simply wonderful in up to 10 inches of powder.

This was definitely an upslope snowfall event that was focused on the mountains.  When I left the resort and headed west toward the Champlain Valley, snow accumulations really tapered off.  There was just a bit of accumulation in the Richmond Village area and it seems like just a trace to nil in the Burlington area.

We’ve got a warmer weather system expected to affect the area at the end of the week, so the next chance for snow won’t be until Saturday afternoon into the evening on the back side of that storm.

Bolton Valley, VT 01DEC2018

An image of Ty skiing powder and ducking under a bent tree in the Snow Hole area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of hoarfrost coating a branch at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
One of the neat weather features out on the mountain today was the delicate hoarfrost covering everything with needles up to three inches in length

Yesterday, the last vestiges of Winter Storm Bruce wound down in our area, so today was a great day to take advantage of all the new snow on the slopes with relatively benign weather.  Due to the prodigious November snowfall we’re had around here, Bolton Valley is running the lifts again this weekend for another pre-season session.  Ty and I had some time in the morning, so we headed up to the mountain for a bit of lift-served skiing.

“We caught a ton of untracked lines today, but the powder has settled even more than what I found on my Thursday morning tour, so it was very much a PNW/Sierra-style snow experience.”

We got to the Village in the mid- to late-morning period and were amazed to find that all the parking lots, even the Nordic Center lots, were packed.  It was a struggle to find a spot, but we finally got one in the very lowest Nordic lot.  We assumed the lifts would be packed, but there were no lines at Vista, Mid Mountain, or Snowflake.  We were stunned, and couldn’t figure out where everyone was, but we happily hopped on for our first Vista ride of the season.

Although the Wilderness Lift isn’t running yet, the usual Vista Quad-served access to Wilderness is available, so after a great run down Alta Vista, Ty and I headed that way and made a run through Snow Hole.  There was an old track or two around, but we essentially had first tracks through there.  Another spot on today’s hit list was Maria’s, where we traversed far left and were well clear of any tracks from other skiers.

An image of Ty skiing in Maria's area at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Ty enjoying a fun line through the powder today on Maria’s.

We caught a ton of untracked lines today, but the powder has settled even more than what I found on my Thursday morning tour, so it was very much a PNW/Sierra-style snow experience.  In most spots now, you really only sink a few inches into the powder, so you’re very much staying on top of the snowpack.  It’s been interesting to watch the powder slowly transform to this dense state from our ski session on Tuesday, to my Thursday outing, to today.  It’s really hard to complain about such fantastic early season conditions, but in terms of powder we could use a freshening at some point.  The groomed terrain is skiing superbly right now though – with such a huge resurfacing it’s just packed powder and more packed powder.  One very cool weather-related feature out there today was the hoarfrost covering everything – we found areas where the delicate, feathery needles were as much as three inches long.

Our next winter storm is moving into the area tonight with snow, then some mixed precipitation, and potentially more snow on the back side.

Bolton Valley, VT 29NOV2018

An image of a truck along the Bolton Valley Access Road covered with snow from Winter Storm Bruce
A trail sign covered in snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A sign of the times – dense snow sticking to anything and everything thanks to Winter Storm Bruce

It’s been snowing now for four days, but Winter Storm Bruce is finally starting to wind down.  Bolton Valley is reporting a storm total of roughly 32 inches, and based on the 2.26 inches of liquid equivalent we’ve picked up here at the house, the new snow at the mountain must contain at least that much liquid.  That’s a fantastic addition to the early season snowpack.

I had some time this morning, so I headed up to the Bolton Valley Village for a ski tour from the main base.  Temperatures that were a degree or two above freezing in the valley with easy driving conditions gave way to temperatures in the upper 20s F, snowfall, and wind at 2,000’.  The main skin track on Lower Turnpike was in great shape, so the going was easy on my ascent.  Although there’s been more snow since my Tuesday outing with Ty, it’s settled now, so the overall feel is definitely denser.  The checks I made throughout my tour revealed a settled depth of 22 inches pretty consistently, so I’d say that’s where the recent snow sits.  There’s also been more wind over the past couple of days, so protected areas definitely offer the best turns.  The skiing definitely has a Pacific Northwest feel – that feeling that you can basically go anywhere you want and you’re not going to hit anything below because the dense snow is going to protect you.  The feel in the valleys fits right in as well, with temperatures right around freezing, and dense, dripping snow caked on all the trees – and any other objects upon which is sits.

“The checks I made throughout my tour revealed a settled depth of 22 inches pretty consistently, so I’d say that’s where the recent snow sits.”

As of today’s snow report, Bolton is indicating an impressive season snowfall total of 84 inches.  In terms of the local mountain snowpack, the snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 46 inches today, which appears to be the deepest November snowpack on record.  What a November it’s been on the slopes!

Bolton Valley, VT 27NOV2018

An image of Ty Telemark skiing in 18 to 20 inches of fresh powder from Winter Storm Bruce at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of one of the chairs on the Wilderness Chairlift filled with snow from Winter Storm Bruce at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Winter Storm Bruce unloaded its snow on Bolton Valley today – we measured 18 to 20 inches of new snow during out afternoon ski tour at the resort.

Today our area has been under the influence of Winter Storm Bruce, a low pressure system that’s crossing through New England and bringing copious amounts of moisture with it.  School was cancelled for Ty due to the storm, so I came home a bit early in the afternoon with the hopes of getting together for a ski tour up at Bolton Valley.  There was some very heavy snowfall in the early afternoon period that was easily putting down an inch or two of snow an hour, so I was a bit leery about trying to negotiate the Bolton Valley Access Road under such conditions.  But, the heavy snow let up a bit in the midafternoon timeframe, and we figured the plows would be able to keep up with it so we headed out.

The Bolton Valley website indicates that the Timberline area is strictly closed to traffic right now (perhaps due to chairlift work) so we headed up to the main base for our tour, and that turned out to be a great starting point.  The amount of snow that the Village picked up from this storm was quite impressive – we both did numerous depth checks and found 18 to 20 inches of snow at 2,000’.  The depth of the new snow was essentially the same all the way up above 3,000’, so I’d say that everything from this storm fell as snow at least down to the Village level.

An image of snowplow piles and snowy trees during Winter Storm Bruce at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Up in the Bolton Valley Village today, the scene was incredibly snowy thanks to Winter Storm Bruce

There was a great skin track set on Lower Turnpike, which was a godsend with so much fresh snow.  Temperatures were in the upper 20s at 2,000’, so all the snow up there was quite dry.  It certainly wasn’t Champlain Powder™ fluff, but it was medium-weight powder with a right-side-up distribution and the skiing was fantastic – definitely a day for the fat boards.  Ty was on E’s 115 mm Black Diamond Element Telemark boards, and he really likes the way they handle the powder.  I knew we’d need some steep pitches to handle this snow, so that’s what we sought out, and the skiing was simply fantastic.  This storm brought plenty of liquid equivalent in the snow (1.5 inches of total liquid form the storm even down at our house in the valley) so it’s covered everything really well and there’s not much to worry about with such a substantial base already in place ahead of this storm.

An image of Ty Telemark skiing during Winter Storm Bruce at Bolton Valley Resort on Vermont
Ty enjoying the float of Mom’s 115 mm Black Diamond Element skis on our ski tour today as he tackles the snow from Winter Storm Bruce

The actual action photography was quite a challenge today because we’re talking fairly late afternoon, late November light, and snowfall, but I used my brightest lens (Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM) and we did our best with the light we had.  Bolton Valley is now reporting 66 inches of snow on the season, which is a great way to get rolling in November.

An image of Ty finishing a ski tour at dusk with the glow of the Bolton Valley Village behind him at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Finishing our ski tour toward the glow of the Bolton Valley Village as darkness descends.

Bolton Valley, VT 24NOV2018

An image of the Timberline Quad from near the Timberline Summit at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan skiing powder in the trees at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan gets into some of the powder in Bolton Valley’s trees today as the resort opens up for a special early season day.

With the great run of November snowfall we’ve had, Bolton Valley decided to run some of its lifts today as an early kick off to the season.  In addition to running the lifts, they had a number of events taking place, such as special discounts and lunch specials for pass holders, as well as roasting marshmallows outside by an open fire.

“The powder from Thanksgiving has settled somewhat, but I still found a general 12 to 24 inches in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range.”

E and the boys and I headed up to catch a few runs, and I decided to skin up from Timberline and meet the rest of the family up at the Village.  Since our last visit to the mountain on Wednesday, the Thanksgiving cold front snows had definitely freshened up the powder on the slopes.  Some skiers had been out since then, but overall traffic was much lighter than what it had been at the beginning of the holiday week.  The powder from Thanksgiving has settled somewhat, but I still found a general 12 to 24 inches in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range.  Temperatures were right around 30 F when I arrived, and were even climbing a bit above freezing as I made my ascent to the Village.

An image of the base of the Timberline Quad with snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Powder covers the assortment of materials by the base of the Timberline Quad.

Only the lower mountain lifts were in operation today, so there were lift queues of about 10 minutes, but it was such a nice day that nobody seemed to mind hanging out as they kicked off the season.  E and the boys had done a couple runs before I arrived, and once we caught up, Dylan and I headed for a little tree skiing in the powder while Ty worked on some snowboarding with E.  We then stopped in for the lunch special at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery, which has been remodeled a bit to provide more seating.

An image of snow melting in the sunshine on an evergreen bough at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontAfter lunch I headed back to my car at Timberline via the Timberline Summit, and snow in the sunny areas was getting a bit thicker, but I found some excellent dry powder by sticking to north-facing and sheltered terrain.  We’ve got a Winter Weather Advisory in effect overnight into tomorrow, but that’s for mixed precipitation.  This system should add a bit of liquid to the snowpack, but there’s not really any snow associated with it.  There’s another storm coming in the midweek period however that appears to have much more snow potential.

Bolton Valley, VT 21NOV2018

An image of Dylan skiing powder after a snow squall at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in powder snow at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Today’s ski tour was quite an outing with heavy snow squalls and lots of fresh tracks.

The big synoptic snowstorms from last week put down a lot of base on the slopes, and this week has followed up with some modest refresher storms to keep the powder fresh.  Today’s feather weather event was the passage of an arctic cold front with very impressive snow squalls that reduced visibility to near zero at times – and we were on a ski tour at Bolton Valley just as the first barrage of heavy snow hit the mountains.

An image of Johannes skinning during a ski tour at Bolton Valley Resort in VermontStephen and I had been talking about getting out together for a ski tour at the mountain during this holiday week, and things lined up today so that Johannes and Dylan could join us.  I planned on a tour that would bring us from Timberline up to the trails of the main mountain, shooting for some of those lesser used routes to get everyone some fresh tracks.  We began mid-morning with light flakes falling, and the snowfall gradually ramped up to a steady, heavy level of intensity with big flakes as we made our way toward Cobrass.  While we were switching over our gear for the descent, a big squall enveloped the mountain.  Snowfall rates were off the charts, with visibility down to less than 100 feet at times.  It was the kind of snowfall where you put your gear down for a few moments, and small stuff could be easily lost because of how fast it became covered.

An image of Johannes jumping a water bar during a ski tour at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Johannes with a bit of air as he negotiates a powdery water bar on today’s ski tour

“Snowfall rates were off the charts, with visibility down to less than 100 feet at times.”

The descent portion of the tour brought us some great fresh powder on routes like Five Corners, Sure Shot, and Tattle Tale.  It’s getting hard to tell exactly how much base is down now after so many recent storms, but I was generally getting depths of 15 to 20 inches, with much of that powder.  Everything was also topped off with a couple more inches that fell during the tour itself due to the intense snowfall.

Tomorrow is going to be an impressively cold Thanksgiving day, with highs in the mountains around here in the single digits F, so I think it will be nice being inside enjoying some holiday food.  Bolton Valley is actually planning to run the lifts on Saturday, at which point it should be much warmer.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 30DEC2017

An image of snow-covered berries on a tree up by the Bryant Cabin near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a glade in the Bolton Valley backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking advantage of today’s slightly warmer temperatures to visit some of the glades in the Bolton Valley backcountry network

I last got out for a ski tour at Bolton Valley on Tuesday, with the plan of getting in some turns ahead of the very cold weather that was forecast for the rest of the holiday week.  Indeed the cold came into the area as expected, and while the low temperatures were far from anything that would set records, high temperatures that were staying below zero F and wind chills on top of that meant that it was going to be brutal out there.  Today marked a bit of a respite from those temperatures though, with highs expected to be well up into the single digits F, no winds, and sunshine.  I figured that today was my window to get back out for a ski tour before temperatures dip back down in the coming days.

An image of some plants poking through the snow along the Broadway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe warmest part of the day was expected to be in the afternoon, with a southerly flow of air thanks to the remnants of Winter Storm Frankie passing through the area.  I went with two base layers (lights under heavies) just to ensure that I’d be comfortable, and headed up to the mountain around 2:30 P.M.  There was still some dim, arctic-looking sun pushing through the clouds off to the south as I arrived at the Village and parked right along the edge of Broadway.  Temperatures were in the in the 5 to 10 F range, and with no wind it was actually quite comfortable – within a few minutes of starting my ascent of Bryant I was skinning without a hat in order to cool off.

“Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.”

It was my first day out on the backcountry network this season, so I stuck with a simple trip up to Bryant Cabin with one of my favorite touring routes:  Car –> Broadway –> Bryant –> Bryant Cabin –> Gardiner’s Lane –> North Slope –> Connector Glade –> Gardiner’s Lane –> Grizzwald –> Gotham City –> Girl’s –> World Cup –> World Cup Glade –> Telemark Glade –> Broadway –> Bolton Valley Village –> Fireside Flatbread –> Car.  It seems like quite the tour, although it’s only about 2.5 miles.  That last stop before the car is pretty important though, especially on a cold December afternoon when the sun’s gone down.

A map with a GPS tracking data plotted onto Google Earth for a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort on December 30th, 2017
The GPS track of today’s Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry tour mapped onto Google Earth

We’ve had perhaps an inch or two of snow since my last outing on Tuesday, and at Village elevations I was finding about 5 inches of powder atop a thick layer.  That surface snow depth definitely increased a bit with elevation, and if you punched through the thick layer in the snowpack you’d be looking at 18 to 24 inches of snow before getting to whatever base snow was below that.  Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.  Some of the best sections were Girl’s and Telemark Glade, where the terrain and snow really flowed well.

Bolton Valley, VT 26DEC2017

an image of the Timberline Lift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Brandywine trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Preparing for some turns on Brandywine during my ski tour at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area today

The middle of Winter Storm Dylan at the end of last week had some mixed precipitation that put a thick layer into the snowpack, but since then we’ve had the backside snow from that storm, the snow from Winter Storm Ethan, and some additional snow from a localized streamer that was affecting the area yesterday.  It was certainly enough new powder to entice me out to the mountain for a quick tour today, especially with some very cold air coming into the area later this week.

I arrived at Timberline in the mid-afternoon period, just as a some snow was moving into the valley.  The snow was steady during my whole tour, although visibility was generally in the 1 to 2-mile range, so it wasn’t especially heavy.  In terms of the powder, I found roughly 4 to 6 inches at the 1,500’ level, and probably 5 to 7 inches at the 2,500’ level.

An image of the Timberline Lodge with some snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Snowfall at the Timberline Lodge today

Although I did ascend all the way to the Timberline Summit, my main goal was a trip down Brandywine, which had some great snow and just a couple of previous ski tracks.  The powder was deep enough for plenty of good turns on Brandywine, although I think it would have been better with some wider skis vs. just my midfats.  I also think some slightly lower angle would be good to really stay away from that crust.

At the end of my tour I spoke with one of the crew that was working on grooming Timberline Run, and it sounds like they’re planning to open the Timberline area tomorrow for lift-served skiing.