Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21JAN2012

An image of Ty skiing a glade below the Heavenly Highway trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty glides through some Champlain Powder today in a glade below Heavenly Highway.

There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly.  And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further.  This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™.  With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns.  It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.

“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
water-content Champlain
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”

Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south.  The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning.  The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes.  My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers.  While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff.  Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled.  We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air.  Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are.   One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.

An image of Ty sledding in extremely dry, 2% water content powder at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
Champlain Powder comprised of just 2% water explodes around Ty this morning as he takes a run on one of the sledding hills at the house.

It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M.  We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent.  The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow.  Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots.  As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.

An image of an evergreen branch coated with super-dry, 2% water-content "Champlain Powder" along the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Branches along the Bryant trail coated with some of that 2% H2O “see-through” Champlain Powder

Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside.  They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there.  Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin.  I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse.  While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.

An image of the Bryant Cabin with smoke coming from the chimney on the Nordic/backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Smoke from the chimney foretold a warm welcome at the Bryant Cabin today

After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent.  We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane.  While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior.  The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed).  Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight.  The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.

 

An image of Ty skiing a glade near the World Cup trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing off the day in the backcountry glades with the golden light of the afternoon sun.

That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times.  Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch.  We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area.  We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side.  The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there.  We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup.  The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun.  It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.

Stowe, VT 16JAN2012

An image of Ty half buried in powder in one of the gullies in the Hazelton Zone at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting buried in powder wasn’t a problem today at Stowe.

The Northern Vermont ski areas picked up 1.5 to 2 feet of snow from the winter storm that hit the area at the end of the week, and we’ve been doing our best to make good use of it with some Bolton Valley night skiing on Thursday, followed by another outing there on Saturday, and a solo outing for me at Timberline yesterday.  It’s been cold the past couple of days though, with a reading of -15.3 F at the house this morning for the coldest of the season thus far, but the forecast for today called for a good rebound in temperatures and we planned to get in some skiing at Stowe.  We didn’t start too early due to those sub zero temperatures, but by late morning the early morning lows were already well on the rise.  Knowing the forecast for great temperatures in the afternoon, we were probably like many folks; we didn’t start until late morning and focused on the second half of the day.

Ty had stayed at Kenny’s house overnight as planned, so E, Dylan and I decided to get in some runs before picking him up around midday.  It was tough finding a parking spot on the Spruce Peak side of the resort in the later morning period today, probably due in part to so many people thinking like us and going with a later morning start, so I dropped E and Dylan off at the lodge and they started skiing while I took care of the car.  After some searching, I eventually got lucky with a great spot right outside the Stowe Mountain Lodge.  E was working with Dylan on his Telemark skiing on Easy Street, and once I met up with them it was time for E to head to Morrisville to get Ty, but I made sure to keep Dylan’s Telemark groove going.  We worked in some runs off Easy Street as well as the Inspiration trail off the Adventure Triple, and I shot some video with E’s camera.  As designed, the pitch of Inspiration is really consistent and good for learning, so Dylan had some nice turns there.

An image of the fish tacos available in the Great Room Grill at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Fish tacos for lunch today – yum!

Once lunch time approached, Dylan and I headed in and ordered up lunch at the Great Room Grill.  I tried the fish tacos for the first time and they were excellent; I suspect I’ll get them again at some point.  When E returned with Ty, he got into his ski clothes, she had a quick bite to eat, Dylan switched to alpine gear, and we got ready to head back out for more turns.  We also picked up Luke, since he’d been skiing with his mom during the morning, but she had to head off to take care of some work.

We headed over to Mt. Mansfield for some runs off the gondola, and right from the gondola summit, I was excited to see that the very top of Waterfall was open – with plenty of coverage and great packed powder.  I’m not sure if it’s just my timing, but that area never seems to be open, so that says something about the coverage and snow quality that have been attained due to the recent storm.  We worked our way down to Perry Merrill, and after poking around a bit, we got sucked into the Hazelton Zone because the coverage and powder looked so good that it was just too hard to resist.  There was more than a hint of trepidation in Luke’s voice as we dove into the trees – he’s not nearly as comfortable as Ty and Dylan with being led off into the great unknown by me.  He’s survived trips with me before though, so he knows that he can do it, even if we’re well outside his comfort zone.

“He came down carrying good
speed, but crashed in an
intense blizzard of white,
and when the smoke cleared,
we could only see the
bottom part of him.”

We began dropping into one of the many Hazelton gullies, and got some OK turns in the powder, but didn’t want to fully commit to the base of the gully since coverage was still a bit marginal in spots for really exploring with reckless abandon.  Therefore, we kept ourselves on the slope marking the skier’s left of the gully with a healthy dose of traversing.  I was leading and breaking trail, making it easier for the kids to work their way through the deep snow, but navigating the combination of steep terrain, trees, and bottomless powder was still challenging for some.  At one point, E found a nice route, and suggested that Luke follow her.  He might have had to back up or navigate a bit of a steeper slope, but E heard him emit some sort of exclamation, and when she asked if he was OK, he replied with and exasperated “Nooo!”  Fortunately he was OK, just stuck in the powder and generally discombobulated.  E asked Dylan to check on Luke, but before he could even do that, Luke had managed to regain his footing and was back on track.  I think he’s learning more about dealing with powder all the time.

Not long after that, we found a nice steep pitch of powder in the streambed that we decided to ski.  Ty agreed to be the guinea pig, and check out the slope for the other boys.  He came down carrying good speed, but crashed in an intense blizzard of white, and when the smoke cleared, we could only see the bottom part of him.  The front half of his body was obscured under the powder, and he wasn’t moving.  Initially he didn’t respond to our inquiries about his status, but after a few moments he responded from beneath the snow with “Am I in heaven?”  We pulled him out and he was fine, but not surprisingly, the other boys weren’t overly enthusiastic about dropping into the line themselves.  We resumed our traversing along the skier’s left of the gully, and eventually made out way back out to Perry Merrill, and I’m sure Luke couldn’t have been more relieved.  We saw some other riders having fun in some lines on the other side of that gully, and there are definitely lines opening up in there, but a couple more storms are going to be needed to really get all the lines flowing in there for the boys.

“After experiencing the
mountain first hand
today, I’m not surprised
that Stowe was able
to open 100% of their
terrain as of Saturday.”

We made another run off the gondola, taking it easy on the boys and not venturing off piste to any great degree, and then we worked our way over to the Fourrunner Quad.  In general, there were amazing on piste conditions on the hill – I’m usually less than impressed with the conditions on the snowmaking trails at Stowe because of how that manmade snow turns to ice with skier traffic, but conditions on many of the trails were head and shoulders above what I’ve seen on them in quite a while.  For whatever reason, perhaps the good combination of dense snow/mix followed by fluff, there was a layer of natural snow that really had staying power to mask the manmade stuff underneath – runs like Centerline and Hayride come to mind (I think they’ve both got snowmaking).  The steepest pitches still got down to that slick stuff, but wow, last week’s storm was a great one for producing some packed powder conditions.  Coverage was quite impressive as well – at one point E said she couldn’t believe that we were in the midst of a low snowfall season.  After experiencing the mountain first hand today, I’m not surprised that Stowe was able to open 100% of their terrain as of Saturday.  Temperatures ended up topping out around 20 F at the base elevations, which wasn’t overly warm, but certainly fine for mid January, and there were no temperature issues for any of the boys.  Also, Luke survived another day with us on the slopes.  When we dropped him off in town with his dad, Luke seemed like he was pretty exhausted, but I think he was satisfied with his day.

A westward view from near the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont showing the beginnings of a January sunset
Approaching sunset as the ski day winds down

Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT 15JAN2012

An image of ski tracks in nice powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the great powder on Spell Binder today

Our late week storm brought plenty of powder to Northern Vermont, but it brought ample cold air as well.  With some help from hand and foot warmers, the boys dealt with it pretty well yesterday at Bolton, where temperatures ranged through the single digits, but this morning was even colder.  We bottomed out at -3.6 F at the house for our coldest reading of the season to date, and up in the Bolton Valley Village at 2,100’ I watched the thermometer sit around -10 F for much of the morning.  Naturally, the temperature had me thinking of a backcountry outing instead of sitting still riding lifts in the frozen air, and although I haven’t been out on Bolton’s backcountry network yet this season, our observations from yesterday suggest that base depths are more than ready, even in the middle elevations.  As I prepared my ski gear however, another option entered my head.  Despite what appears to be fairly decent coverage, the resort has yet to open up Timberline, so the slopes are just sitting there loaded with all the fresh powder.  The beautiful tracks we saw in the powder at Timberline yesterday made the thought of skiing there hard to resist, and since it shouldn’t be too long before lift-served skiing starts up over there, I switched my plans to a hike of Timberline.

A temperature plot showing the cold temperatures on Janunary 15, 2012 at the base area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Watching the cold temperatures up at Bolton Valley today

Around midday, E headed off with Ty to Kenny’s house – Kenny was having a sleepover for his birthday, and Ty was part of it.  Dylan and I hung around the house since I wasn’t planning to bring him out in the subzero temperatures, and it was well into the afternoon before E got back and I could get on my way up to the mountain.  The temperature in the Bolton Valley Village was on the verge of getting into positive numbers though, so that was looking very good – temperatures around the 0 F mark are really quite nice for ascending in winter.

“…I found 15 inches of
powder on Spell Binder,
and the turns were blissfully
bottomless and smooth.”

Indeed the car thermometer gave a reading of exactly 0 F at the elevation of the Timberline Base (~1,500’) when I arrived.  I didn’t have time to dawdle, since it was already after 4:00 P.M. and the sky was darkening by the time I started my ascent, but it looked like I’d have a good opportunity to see the winter sunset from the westward facing slopes of the Timberline area.  I saw a couple of ski tracks at the very bottom of Doug’s Woods, and the coverage certainly looked passable.  That’s a good sign to see the west-facing slopes skiable down to such a low elevation.  When I probed the snow depths down near the lodge, I found a general 9 to 12 inches of powder above the base snow.  The resort has been grooming the Timberline trails in preparation for their eventual opening, and that meant that there was a nice skin track available on Showtime.  I didn’t get any pictures to do it justice, but it beautifully negotiated the Showtime Headwall and made my ascent very efficient.  I kept checking behind me every few minutes to monitor the sun during the ascent, and I was able to catch it just before it went down to produce a nice shot of the sunset.

An image of late winter light illuminating ski tracks at the bottom of the "Doug's Woods" glade at Bolton Valley Ski Area in Vermont
Tracks have started to appear in Doug’s Woods.

Available daylight pretty much negated continuing past the elevation of the Timberline Mid Station, so I stopped my ascent there and poked around to see which route had the best powder for the descent.  There were a good number of tracks on Twice as Nice, so I settled on Spell Binder.  It was hard to go wrong though with all the new snow – I found 15 inches of powder on Spell Binder,and the turns were blissfully bottomless and smooth.  The powder we skied yesterday has presumably settled some, but it actually seemed to ski even better today, so perhaps it dried out with the cold temperatures.  Those temperatures don’t seem to be going anywhere either, when I got back down to the car it was 1 F, and we’re looking at lows in the -10 to -20 F range down at the house tonight.  Tomorrow’s looking good though, after the cold start, the temperature should be up around 20 F on the slopes at Stowe.

Bolton Valley, VT 14JAN2012

An image of Dylan skiing powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan smiles away as he blasts through the powder at Bolton this afternoon.

The complex winter storm that has been affecting the region finally wound down today, and it’s been a great boon for the Vermont ski areas.  The storm began on Thursday morning when it delivered some fairly standard synoptic snowfall, and through Thursday evening we’d picked up 3.7 inches of 9.2% H2O snow at the house, with the mountains picking up about a half foot.  Thursday night into yesterday morning we were in the dry slot of the storm, and then yesterday afternoon the second round of snow began… and boy did it come on strong in the evening.  While the first half of the event had favored the eastern slopes of the Greens, the second half pounded the western slopes, and that was very evident as I headed home from Burlington on Friday evening.  Our bus took Route 2 instead of I-89 because of storm-related travel issues, and at one point yesterday evening at the house we picked up roughly 3 inches of snow in an hour.  After last night’s snow, the storm totals wound up at 11.7 inches for our location in the valley, and in the 1.5 foot range up in the mountains, with Jay Peak approaching 2 feet.  It was ultimately enough snow to get Stowe’s ski terrain 100% open.

The downside of the new snow was that cold air came with it – it was approximately 10 F this morning at the house, and 3 F up in the Village at Bolton Valley.  Fortunately, there wasn’t any wind, but we still brought hand and foot warmers for the boys in case they needed to take the edge off the chill while skiing.  E wasn’t all that impressed with the conditions on Sprig O’ Pine after their preliminary run while I parked the car, but I was hoping that was due to effects of the wind and the exposure of that terrain.  After a little debate, the boys decided that they were cold enough that they would head into the lodge to fire up some of the hand warmers and put them in their boots and gloves, and then we headed back out into the cold in search of more powder.

Leaving the Mid Mountain Lift, we quickly saw that the Enchanted Forest looked extremely powdery with little traffic up to that point, so we headed in.  We found the coverage and powder to be pretty nice, but in general the snow just felt a little “slow” with the cold temperatures.  With this in mind, we headed to Glades to get a little more pitch, and that helped move things along a little better.  Glades had seen a fair bit of traffic to track up the snow, but we found some good shots of untracked in the jug handle area.

An image of Erica in a Telemark turn in the fresh snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E arcing through a Telemark turn in the fresh snow on Bolton Valley's Glades trail

The snow was decent, but none of us really seemed to be grooving, and Ty appeared especially glum and ornery about the day up to that point.  It turned out that his hands were still cold despite the hand warmers, so we decided to make another trip inside and have lunch in the process.  When we got into the lodge, we were astonished to discover that all the hand warmers the boys were using were stone cold.  That was extremely disconcerting, as we’d bough a big box of them at Costco, and were expecting them to work.  We fiddled around with them for a bit, and I also headed down to the ski shop and bought a couple packets of a different brand for comparison.  The new packets fired up right away and got quite hot.  With a little more shaking and processing we were actually able to get our original packets going as well, but they didn’t cook like the new ones, they just seemed to be of the “slow burn” variety and only got up to lukewarm relative to the hot ones.  Once we were done with lunch, we hooked the boys up with a combination of the “slow” and “fast burn” varieties of hand warmers, and headed out to see if we could finally get that groove going.

To get some challenge and potentially find Ty some “satisfying” turns, we headed up on the Vista Quad and descended via Vermont 200.  That turned out to be a good choice, with generally great coverage, lots of good snow, and only a couple of icy ledges to navigate.  Ty definitely got some of the turns he had been seeking, and everyone enjoyed the challenge and powder/chowder we found.  Below Mid Mountain we headed back to Glades and hit the jug handle area as we’d done before.  Both boys seemed to have fun ripping that up.

An image of Ty skiing fresh powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Ty cruising through that fresh powder in the Villager Trees

To continue with the positive energy, we sought out some untracked snow in the Villager Trees, and found an impressive snowpack for what has been a slow season for snowfall – I stuck my measurement pole in a representative protected area at ~2,600’ and got a depth measurement of 30 inches.  While we explored around, the boys amused themselves by taking down some huge icicles from one of the ledges.  On the descent, the powder was deep and thoroughly bottomless, and while many fun turns were made, the powder was almost too deep for some of the pitches in there.  The turns were so good though that we were able to call it a day after that and finished off with more powder on the sides of Lower Bentley.  It had actually gotten sunny and warmed up a bit as well, into the high single digits, and with the hand warmers cranking the boys didn’t have any more issues with the cold.  Back at the car we found out that the “fast burn” hand warmers had already burned themselves out after just a couple of hours, while those of the “slow burn” variety were still going.  At that point everything seemed to make sense – a combination of the two types would really be optimal.  So after a slow start today, things really picked up and we managed some decent powder from what has been the biggest winter storm of the season up to this point.

Bolton Valley, VT 12JAN2012

An image of E skiing fresh powder at night on the Sprig O' Pine trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
E cruising through some fresh powder tonight on Sprig O’ Pine at Bolton Valley

The incoming multi-part winter storm started to affect the region today with the first round of snow.  The snow started falling at our location in Waterbury right around 6:00 A.M. this morning when I was making my observations for CoCoRaHS, and there was probably a half inch of accumulation when I left roughly an hour later.  There was the potential for downsloping on the western slopes of the Greens, and indeed, just a few miles west of the house, the snow really tapered off.  There was little if anything falling in Jonesville and Richmond as I drove through, and nothing going on in Burlington.  Later in the morning though, it did start snowing in Burlington, and there was roughly a half inch of accumulation when I left around 5:00 P.M.

When I got back to the house this evening, I found 3.7 inches of snow on the snowboard; the snow seemed fairly dense but it was still medium weight stuff at 9.2% H2O.  Up in the mountains, afternoon reports were indicating about a half foot of snow from the event, with the higher totals toward Central and Southern Vermont where the snow had come in a little earlier and stronger.  Here’s the north to south list of totals from some of the ski areas as of this afternoon:

Burke: 4”
Smuggler’s Notch: 5”
Stowe: 3”
Bolton Valley: 4”
Sugarbush: 5”
Suicide Six: 4”
Pico: 7”
Killington: 7”
Stratton: 7”
Mount Snow: 6”

Knowing that we’d picked up 3.7 inches down below in the valley, it was likely that Bolton had done better than 4 inches of snow reported in their early afternoon update, but even that was enough to get us thinking about an evening session of turns with the boys.  There are only so many times a season when the right combination of new snow, comfortable temperatures, and minimal wind come together to make for that optimal night skiing experience, and tonight was looking like one of those nights.

After dinner we headed up to Bolton; we were in the dry slot portion of the storm system at that point, so precipitation was minimal and the Bolton Valley Access Road was in good shape.  Arriving at the village (2,100’) we found a temperature of 30 F, and the only precipitation was some small snow grains/mist.  I dropped E and the boys off at the Snowflake Lift so that they could take a run, and made it back up to the loading area before they’d even finished their descent.  While I waited for them, I got to speak with our friend Matt who was checking tickets that evening.  He said that the mountain had received a decent shot of snow, and that they were even thinking of opening up Timberline for the weekend.  That will likely depend on how things look over there after the rest of the storm system comes through, but that was encouraging to hear.

When E and the boys returned to the lift, we headed up for another Snowflake run.  They had taken the Butterscotch Terrain Park on their descent, and conditions didn’t sound all that inspiring in terms of softness and powder since they had taken the main area with the big snow whales.  For that next trip we visited Sprig O’ Pine, and found some very nice powder off to the skier’s right before the area where it merges with Bear Run.  The 4 inches that the resort had reported seemed about right for the lower mountain, although I suspected there would be a bit more on the upper mountain with the continued snowfall.  We took one more Sprig O’ Pine run to enjoy that powder we’d found, and it continued to serve up some nice turns since it was dense enough to keep you from bottoming out.  Our 3.7 inches of snow down at the house was made up of 0.34” of liquid equivalent, so with Bolton presumably picking up at least that 0.3” to 0.4” of liquid, that was plenty of cushion above the base snow.

Next it was time for a summit run off the Vista Quad.  As we glided above Spillway on the lift, we were astonished by how good the coverage looked, and how many tracks were on it; it almost looked like it was open. We looked around for all the detritus that litters the trail, and it was really hard to find anything sticking out; I actually questioned if they had made snow on it because of how buried everything was.  Clearly it wasn’t open though, as there was a patroller stationed at the bottom to catch folks who were bending the rules.  More than likely, the new snow was just hiding all those object lurking below the surface, making for a very dicey descent.  Up at the Vista Summit the air temperature had cooled a bit down to 24 F, but it was still quite nice overall.  We took Sherman’s Pass, which generally had a nice surface for carving, and we had a really good time in the fresh snow off to the skier’s left above the Mid Mountain area.  Ty was making so much noise and having so much fun coming down through there, that the patroller stationed in the area checked to make sure we hadn’t poached Spillway.

An iamge of Dylan in front of snow-covered evergreens lit up by the night skiing lights at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan pauses on Sherman’s Pass as the night skiing lights illuminate some of the fresh snow on the trees.

Since it was a school night for the boys, we didn’t stay too much longer, but it had definitely been worth getting out for a few runs; it felt great to have the skis dig into that soft, fresh snow.  The recent snow was deep enough that we were able to ski right across the access road to the parking lot, and in terms of ski conditions, that’s typically a great sign to be able to comfortably ski across main roads to your car.  E had a good time and we’ll certainly be back for another evening session if circumstances line up appropriately again.  This front end dump has already featured plenty of snow and liquid equivalent to get some additional terrain going, because there were plenty of areas that were very close.  If some decent upslope comes in on the back end of this system tomorrow, that will provide additional help.  I’d say everyone is excited about where the mountains will be after this event, which all told may bring up to a foot and a half of snow.

Stowe, VT 08JAN2012

An image of ski tracks in the powder on one of the exit trails from Upper Smuggler's at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Natural snow terrain featured some excellent skiing today at Stowe Mountian Resort.

We kicked off our BJAMS ski program at Stowe today, and it really snuck up on me – it felt like we’d just finished this year’s December training day.  We had to arrive early so that E could hand out everyone’s season’s passes, and once we were ready, I took Ty and Dylan out for some pre-session runs.  It was the boys’ first chance to try out Stowe’s RFID lift pass system, and they were pretty psyched about how it worked as we hopped on the Sunny Spruce Quad.  We saw a touch of snow yesterday at Bolton, but since the three small storms last week that dropped about a half a foot of snow, there hasn’t been anything huge.  Powderfreak reported that the mountain did get another 2.7 inches overnight, and coupled with all the other recent light snows and wintery temperatures, the fresh tracks that Powderfreak snowed from the morning looked mighty fine.  I was really worried when I heard PF mention some light rain in the lower elevations on Saturday, but it must have been pretty inconsequential because nobody is mentioning any ill effects.

We set out toward Lower Smuggler’s, hoping to find some “satisfying” turns like we found  yesterday at Bolton.  Lower Smuggler’s didn’t turn out to be that impressive; there was a lot of manmade snow on it that was rather firm, and not a lot of extra untracked snow off to the sides.  With all the racing going below on Slalom Hill, we took the alpine slide tunnel and headed toward the meadows area to see how the natural snow in the upper meadows was skiing.  We cut around the very top of the area in case it was crusty of coverage was poor, but once we cut back in we found that it didn’t matter – the snow was quite decent.  Even though that area is south facing and very low elevation, there were a couple of inches of substantial powder over the base snow.  The base was a little variable due to what seemed like wind and some previous melting, but the quality of the turns was impressive.  At one point I believe I commented, “That wasn’t half bad… that wasn’t even a third bad!”  There are still a few blades of tall grass sticking out here and there, but that’s really decent coverage for such a location with snowfall being substantially below average.

An image of Ty skiing above the Meadows area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty catches some powder turns in the open area above Meadows at Stowe.

We had time for another run, so we took the Sunny Spruce again, and this time headed in the direction of Side Street.  The skier’s left had some very nice snow, and when we passed the last exit from Lower Smuggler’s we saw that it looked great – it had several inches of powder on it, with just a few tracks.  We added that to our hit list in case we got the chance to venture there later in the day.  At that point it was obvious that there is some really good snow out there, and not just in the high elevations; when I probed snow depths in those middle elevations of Spruce Peak, I generally found 8 to 12 inches of loose powder before I hit a base layer.  That’s great skiing for any time during the season.  At the top of the Easy Street Double we cut over to the area above Meadows once again.  The boys set down some more tracks in that powder, and were looking really good as they handled the variable snow that lay underneath.

When we got back it was time to start coaching.  My partner for today was Mike, but as he was still working on getting his son Micah set up, I took all the kids out alone for an initial run.  I had a good crew, with Luke, Jack, Alexia, Madeline, Ty, and Dylan.  After what we’d seen on that last run, I knew the exact route to take; we headed toward Side Street, and traversed to catch that powder on the Lower Smuggler’s Exit.  That snow was as good as it had looked.  I then brought everyone into the powder above Meadows so that they could work on handling that uneven base, and they all did a pretty nice job.

We met up with Mike and headed over to the Gondola, finding that it was feeling especially wintery when we got up to the Gondola summit around 3,600’ or so.  There was a bit of snow falling, some wind, and tons of snow on the ground; it was definitely a midwinter scene.  Mike suggested that we hit the switchbacks along Gondolier, and as we headed down that way, I cut uphill from Upper Perry Merril to check out some of the snow on Upper Switchback – there was over a foot of powder up there over plenty of base, and if I hadn’t been coaching I suspect some off piste exploration would have yielded some really nice turns.  The main issue keeping all off piste terrain from being accessible is just that snowpack is still somewhat low, so getting into the trees (especially steep stuff) isn’t quite there for all locations yet.  With that said, Mike noted that yesterday he was out exploring the Goatdive woods and environs (on his super fatties and being very cautious) and had a good time.  I’m not recommending this of course, since he’s very familiar with all those lines from hiking them in the off season, but things are certainly getting close for that type of terrain.  The 26 inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake isn’t just 26 inches of fluff, there’s plenty of substance in there, and as Powderfreak and I talked about over in the American Weather Forum, that’s the snowpack depth where appropriate moderate-angle tree skiing gets going around here.  We certainly weren’t planning to explore much off piste with the kids today anyway, but it was nice to find that there are some fantastic powder turns out there already.  As we continued down below the upper mountain, we found that the lower sections of Switchback were OK, but for whatever reason they seem to be really icy in spots as I’ve often seen.  One would think they’d get less traffic than Gondolier or Perry Merril, but something turns the snow bad in there – perhaps it’s the narrowness of the trail constraining traffic in a small area.

With another trip on the Gondola we decided to catch Cliff Trail so the kids could try out Stowe’s new Four Runner Quad.  Cliff Trail, which far too frequently seems to be just an icy, concave mess with the way it is groomed and managed, was far better than usual – it was left bumped up!  Neither Mike not I could remember the last time we’d seen it like that, but the conditions were so much better than what happens when they groom it.  Perhaps it keeps people from skidding their way down the trail and turning it into an icy mess?  Whatever the reason, the upper half that had been left bumped had far better conditions than I can remember from any recent outings.  Farther down, Lower Nosedive was a return to annoying manmade snow… firm and not really that impressive.

We had a couple of runs off the quad, one down through to the Tyro area, and another in the North Slope area.  There was some pretty nice snow near the top of the mountain, but neither trail was all that impressive with firm, Sunday afternoon, manmade snow conditions prevailing.  I was surprised that Tyro was so firm, as it’s a little lower angle and out of the way, but for whatever reason it was pretty uninspiring.  One trail that we didn’t ski was Liftline – but it looked pretty crazy with a lot of firm, snowmaking whales of all different configurations.  On our final trip to the top it was really starting to get cold.  We took a snack break inside the Octagon, but they were in the midst of closing so we headed out quickly and headed back to Spruce Peak.  We managed to catch the s’mores session at the fire pit in the Spruce Peak Village, and the kids were happy about that, although we didn’t take any additional runs.

A black and white image of a weather-battered tree as viewed from the Octagon building at Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort near the top of Mt. Mansfield
Looking out from the Octagon at a weather-battered evergreen high on Mt. Mansfield

Upstairs in Spruce Camp, the Great Room Grill and Spruce Camp Bar were closing early today, so E and the boys and I decided to stop in at The Whip for food on the way home.  We were still a little early for the full dinner menu, which starts at 5:30 P.M., but the kid’s menu was in effect and E and I had soup and salad like we’d been thinking about anyway.  I think E and Claire had a very good first outing for the BJAMS ski program today, and with the big season’s pass distribution week behind us now, thing will hopefully continue on a good track when we next meet in a couple of weeks. 

Overall there is already some impressive skiing and riding out there on the natural snow terrain at Stowe; I can see why people are coming from all over the place to visit, since it’s been a slow start to the season in many areas.  There’s not much to complain about, and hopefully next week’s system will be another net gain to improve the skiing even more.  Having skied at both Bolton Valley and Stowe this weekend, I can say that one good synoptic storm with an inch or so of liquid equivalent is going to produce a huge bump in open terrain – if it’s big enough both resorts could be close to 100% open.  For Bolton, it may also depend on how prepared they are to get areas like Wilderness and Timberline going, but we’ll see what Mother Nature does and I’m sure they’ll take it from there.

Bolton Valley, VT 07JAN2012

An image of Dylan skiing powder on the Wilderness Lift Line at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan enjoying the powder at Wilderness

There weren’t any large snowstorms in Northern Vermont over the past week, but we did have three small storms that brought a total of 4.8 inches of snow to the house and probably a half foot or so to the mountains.  Today was again expected to be one of those comfortable days in the 30s F, and since it appeared as though there was some warming in the middle elevations based on Powderfreak’s early morning report from Stowe, we got a relatively early start in case the powder on the lower mountain was going to thicken too much with the warming temperatures.

I checked in on the temperature history for the Bolton Valley Weather Station at 2,100’, and it had only gotten up to 35 F overnight at that elevation.  As we drove up the Bolton Valley Access Road around 9:30 A.M., we could see that the mid level temperature inversion was in effect though; at the house (500’), the temperature was around freezing, and it was 37 F in the village (2,100’).  That still wasn’t too bad depending on how dry the air was, and it was likely cooler than that above the base elevations.

A plot of the temperatures from a weather station at the base of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont 07JAN2012
Temperatures at the base of Bolton Valley rose to 35 F overnight, and the mid to upper 30s F during the day today, but the summit elevations stayed below freezing and the powder remained light and dry on the upper half of the mountain.

The resort had finally opened up the Snowflake Lift for the season, so I dropped E and the boys off there to let them take a run or two while I parked the car and got changed.  When I finally met back up with them, they’d already taken a couple of runs, and the boys were really enjoying the skiing in the Butterscotch Terrain Park.  The mountain hasn’t even created the big jumps yet, but they’ve started to amass snow in the area, and there are some knolls and steep drops.  Ty enjoyed taking them at speed and sailing a good distance while being just inches off the ground.  The embryonic terrain features were nice, but I was more interested in powder along the edge of the park.  There were a couple inches of new snow atop the base, and it was skiing nicely – there certainly weren’t any temperature issues with the powder at that point.  We met up with Stephen and his group of Helena and Thomas, as well as Claire and her group of Luke and others, and took a few runs in that area before finally deciding to check out the higher elevations.

An image of Erica skiing a couple inches of fresh powder along the edge of the Butterscotch Terrain Park at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
E enjoying some of the powder along the edge of the Butterscotch Terrain Park

From the Vista Summit we decided to head down Alta Vista, and this is actually where I found some of the best turns of the day.  I checked out the snow on the skier’s far left, and found an impressive accumulation composed of the recent rounds of powder, bolstered by snow that people had pushed off the trail.  I told the others in the group to check it out as well, because it was really impressive.  We’ve certainly had some good skiing so far this season, but it was something about the combination of steep, soft turns along that left side spine that really hit that next level.  As I was composing my thoughts about the turns I’d just had in an effort to crystallize a description, Ty, who had followed my advice to take that line, came to a stop at the bottom of the steep pitch and said, “That was really satisfying!”  I must have laughed out loud.  That was the perfect description of that skiing – Ty had really nailed it.  It was steep enough, and deep enough, and fast enough, that is just hit that combination that we hadn’t seem too much of yet.  The mantra for the day became that “satisfying” line, and we deemed Alta Vista as our “go to” run from the top.  Obviously, with the great snow we’d found, temperatures were not at all an issue up at the top of the mountain; it was easily below freezing and the snow was staying light and dry.

We headed over to Wilderness next to get into some untracked powder, and found that a few hundred feet lower the snow was still holding up well.  The boys were in really good spirits after the great skiing we’d found on Alta Vista, and they next hit some untracked areas on the Wilderness Lift Line.  Ty caught a nice jump on his line, and Dylan finished off his line with an impressive straight-line, figure-11 schuss.  It was really nice to see him being so aggressive, although he did have an unfortunate end when he came into a water bar that wasn’t quite filled to the brim with snow and took a tumble in the powder.  Fortunately, the biggest issue ended up being all the cold powder that got under his clothes.  Below that, E had some really nice Telemark turns in the open areas of powder; the powder was a little dense, but without the effects of the wind, the snow was easier to manage than what we’d encountered last Friday.  The boys and I popped into Wilderness Woods, and coverage is clearly adequate based on how heavily they had been skied.  Still, one can’t quite go around with reckless abandon in there yet, and a big synoptic dump of snow is what’s needed to get that area to the next level of coverage with more comfortable skiing.  Farther along, we ventured onto Lower Turnpike.  Just like we’d seen last Friday, the kids were still there having a session on that backcountry kicker.  There was still plenty of untracked snow to be found, although now that we were on the lower half of the mountain we could feel it getting thicker due to temperatures a bit above freezing.

An image of Ty catching air amidst the powder on the Wilderness Lift Line at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty catching a little air on the Wilderness Lift Line

The boys called for lunch, so we headed into the lodge.  Surprisingly, even though the holidays were over, the lodge was much more crowded than we’d found on our previous Bolton outing a week ago on New Year’s Eve.  That day had low clouds on the upper mountain that probably kept a lot of people away, but a big factor in the number of visitors today was probably the fact that all the season-long kids programs were starting up.  After a quick look for a table, we just decided that we’d grab a quick bite in the James Moore Tavern instead.  It was our first time in the tavern this season and we had a pleasant lunch with the usual great atmosphere.  The tavern was really filling up by the time we were done, so it looks like they were doing some really good business.  Stephen popped into the tavern during lunch and said that he’d be free in the afternoon for some skiing; Helena was going to take a lesson, and Johannes would still be in his Mountain Explorers group for the remainder of the day.

An image from inside the James Moore Tavern at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Some ski area ambiance from inside the James Moore Tavern at lunch today

After lunch we did a Mid Mountain run on Beech Seal, and some precipitation started to fall.  We actually thought it might be rain at first, but it was just a bit of sleet that soon transitioned over to snow.  We met up with Stephen and Thomas, and enjoyed the fresh round of snowfall as we rode the Vista Quad and headed toward the summit.  The snow was gradually transformed into higher quality flakes as time and elevation passed, and it was snowing hard enough on the upper half of the mountain that we put up our hoods to keep from getting covered.  I was riding the chair with Ty and Dylan, and we all had fun with various methods of capturing snowflakes in our mouths.  The snow didn’t last too long, but at least it put down a coating and brought in and extra dose of winter spirit.

An image of Ty catching snowflakes on his tongue while we ride the Vista Quad Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty going for some snowflakes during one of our rides on the Vista Quad today

We introduced Stephen and Thomas to what we’d found on Alta Vista, and then headed back over to Wilderness.  It had warmed a bit more, so the turns in the untracked snow on Lower Turnpike were more challenging, and we learned that we’d definitely been smart when we’d hit it as early as possible.  While the skiing was still manageable, it was getting sticky enough that it wasn’t quite worth making the trek all the way over there, especially when contrasted to the way the snow was staying so cold in the higher elevations up on Alta Vista.  With that thought in our heads, we headed back up for another go at Alta Vista.  Ty actually nailed the steep, “satisfying” section better than me on that one, although I came right back at him and said that I’d like to see him handle it with some quality Telemark turns.  On the lower mountain, E and I opted for the steeper turns on Beech Seal, while Thomas and the boys took Bear Run for its jumps.  Even with the good snow, we were done at that point, so we skied on down to the road and headed to the car.  I think Ty would agree that it was a pretty “satisfying” day – we got a taste of steep, natural snow and we’re ready for Mother Nature to deliver something that will allow more access to more.  There could be a substantial storm in the later part of the upcoming week, so we’ll just have to see how that plays out.  The mountain is primed and ready with respectable base snow at all elevations, even down to Timberline, so a big synoptic dump could open a lot of terrain.

2010-2011 Ski Season Summary

Having now compiled all our ski trip and winter storm summary reports for the ’10-’11 ski season, I’ve put together this season summary as a view of how things transpired from a Northern Vermont local perspective.  It’s interesting to note that for Burlington, winter ’10-‘11 was well above average for snowfall (128.4”, 175%), while out in the mountains at our house the deviation was much less (197”, 114%), and indeed in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens like Bolton it was even closer to average (330”, 106%), so ski resort snowfall around here was essentially average.  I actually made a chart for a post at Americanwx.com concerning the ’07-’08 season, which used Bolton’s snowfall from the past several seasons as a general indicator of how the snowfall has been in Northern Vermont:

A table showing the snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont from the 2006-2007 through to the 2010-2011 season

One can see from the chart that ’10-‘11 was basically average for snowfall, and that the amount of snow (330”) was identical to ’07-’08.  I would add that the general impression was that consistency of winter temperatures was a bit better than average in ’10-‘11 due to fewer warm events, so the quality of snow surfaces was higher.  I’m not sure how much better than average it was though, since it seems that during midwinter, the norm in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens is to have about one warm episode per month.  Also, since we were essentially out of the main track of synoptic storms until February, there wasn’t much in the way of moderate-density snowfall to resurface the slopes.  I try to address the consistency of temperatures/quality of the snow surfaces in the text below though, at least in the context of weekends; I should note that it’s possible there could have been some midweek weather issues that simply flew under the radar for me.  For the quality assessment I simply focused on whether or not we were skiing powder, because unless there is some sort of notable rise in temperatures, there is always powder available.

A monthly breakdown of snowfall and my perspective on the season follows below – you can click on each month (except November) and it should bring up that month’s posts in the J&E Productions Web Log.  I only have the monthly snowfall for my house and not the ski areas, but the percentages relative to average often parallel the mountains reasonably well, especially for Bolton which is right up above us:

October:  Pretty typical in that we got at least some snow for skiing; we had 1.0” of snow at the house.  October snowfall in the lower valleys is often minimal enough that the percentages aren’t all that relevant, but that number is 111% vs. the five year average since we’ve been at our house, so indeed that’s rather “normal”.

November:  Very poor; we got just 2.4” of snow at the house (29% of average) and I don’t really remember it, nor do I have any entries for that month in my ski log, so that says plenty right there.  I do have a vague recollection of storm after storm tracking to our north and west giving us mostly rain though, so that would explain the low snowfall total.  The lack of snowfall wasn’t necessarily a huge concern at the time since it was “only November”, but without good November snowfall, getting to appropriate base depths and excellent skiing in December can be that much harder.

December:  Quite normal, 46.0” of snow at the house (right about average at 102%).  Fortunately, even with minimal November snow we were skiing natural snow terrain by December 10th up at Bolton; the holiday period featured some decent skiing, with 7 outings for me during that stretch, indicating that the snow was obviously OK.  Bolton had picked up 4 feet of snow from the storm at the beginning of the month, however, a lot of that snow, as well as what fell later in the month, was upslope fluff.  So, even if one assumes a fairly average amount of snowfall for the mountains like we saw in the valley, the very dry nature of the snow meant that there was less liquid than usual, resulting in base depths that really didn’t build quickly.  The Boxing Day Storm was unfortunately the start of a pattern that would last the next five to six weeks, with the big synoptic storms staying well south of the region and pounding Southern New England, while northern areas remained on the fringe and essentially survived on fluff.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and out of the 12 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Friday, Dec 31st, so that suggests pretty consistent temperatures.

January:  We got 55.5” of snow at the house, which is above average (137%) in what can sometimes be a dry, midwinter month.  However, January was essentially a month-long continuation of the trend that started on Boxing Day, and we were living on mostly Northern Vermont Champlain Powder™ fluff.  We had a couple of good upslope storms in the early to mid part of the month (January 7th and January 12th) that made for some fine skiing, but obviously since so much of it was pixie dust, the base depths just could not build the way that they would with some synoptic storms.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, and out of 11 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Saturday, Jan 1st due to the warmth at the end of December.  So I think one could argue that weekend ski surface consistency through Dec/Jan was better than average with only one (instead of two) weekend-affecting warm up(s) for the two months.

February:  This is when the storm track finally shifted north and we got some notable synoptic storms; the first one was right on the 1st, and then we had a second storm on the 5th.  That first storm brought just over a foot of snow for us down in the valley, and was by far the largest for the month.  Thus there weren’t really any mega dumps based on my records from the house, but there was plenty of the usual good skiing at Bolton and even good skiing at Stowe.  Snowfall was 48.1”, which is roughly average at 108%.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Out of the 10 outings in my records, all 10 of them had powder skiing, so February was perfect in that regard.  However, while skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, we had to wait until Monday of the long weekend to ski because there had been some sort of warm-up.  So I’d say the month was pretty typical with at least that one warm-up.

March:  We continued to stay in the storm track for most of March, with our biggest valley snowfall of the season (25.0”) coming from the March 5th storm.  We did wind up with notably above average snowfall in the valley for the month (39.6”; 155%), essentially due to that one big storm and aided by the fact that what I’ve got for a March average could be a bit low due to very poor Marches in ’09 (12.6”) and ’10 (2.1”).  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and powder skiing was done on all those weekends, however, there was also notable infiltration of non-powder skiing days into the weekends.  Relative to the previous three months, only 9 of our 12 outings for March featured powder skiing, so while still a pretty good ratio, it was certainly a decrease.  Indeed there were multiple warm ups in the month because those three non-powder days were actually on three different weekends (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th weekends).  Fortunately, those weekends were somewhat redeemed by powder on the other day.  By March, especially toward the end, things may start to fall off a bit from the typical rate of one warm episode per month, but I would expect that with at least 3 individual warm ups in March, it was nothing great or even above average in terms of consistency.

April:  This was again quite a poor month in terms of snowfall and powder skiing; although snowfall correlation between our location down at the house and the mountains can really start to wane as one moves through April and snowfall becomes more and more elevation dependent.  Snowfall at the house was well below average for the month (4.4”; 61%).  We did at least start out the month with a snowstorm on the 1st and another one on the 4th; these events produced some good weekend powder skiing at Bolton and helped the mountain snowpack to surpass 100 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake.  However, the snowfall really fell off after that.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, but only 3 out of 9 days had powder and only 2 of the weekends had powder skiing.  People were excited because we had a relatively deep snowpack during the month and coverage stayed longer than normal, but after that first week the storm track had shifted to the north/west and it was just storm after storm that featured warmth and little to no snow, even for the mountains.  I commented on that trend in a post at Americanwx.com, since there can easily be feet of snow in the higher elevations in April, and instead of just some corn days or spring crud, we could have been skiing some great powder.

May:  The May skiing was good due to the healthy snowpack, and I did get out in the powder on the 6th for top to bottom skiing on Mansfield.  We didn’t get any snowfall at the house during the month, but May’s average snowfall numbers down at our elevation are pretty minimal like October, and with the high sun angle and warming as we approach the solstice I suspect even more removed from correlation with what the mountains see.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  I wouldn’t say May powder is consistent enough to worry about.  I only got out for two days during the month, but at least one was a powder day; the other day was a corn snow day at Bolton so that was also good even if there wasn’t fresh snow.

June:  Our only day in June was outside VT on the East Snowfields on Mt. Washington, and the snowfield was probably smaller than usual for that time of year due to the below average Mt. Washington snowfall for the season.  There actually had been some frozen precipitation in the northern mountains leading up to that day, but we were skiing corn snow.

So in terms of overall snowfall, the two above average months of January and March were basically counteracted by the two below average months of November and April, and with the rest of the months being about average, the snowfall for the season ends up… about average.  Some plusses were better than average snowpack in April and May, but that’s somewhat counteracted by the lower than average snowpack in November, December, and January.  It looks like there was an uptick in consistency in the December-January period due to just that one notable warm-up, but with February and March coming in probably about average in that category, and while November is not especially consistent in terms of temperatures, even in the higher elevations, it must have been below average to get so little snow for the month.  So taking the trends of consistency as an aggregate from November through April, I wouldn’t say that there was a massive improvement in temperature consistency/snow quality for this area.  Something that I have noticed around here is that having a few more storms with mixed precipitation is not necessarily a huge detractor in terms of snow quality.  The ’07-’08 season was a good example of this.  We were right in the storm track, so if we did receive some mixed precipitation, there was often another storm on its heels so quickly, that old snow surfaces were covered up.  It felt like we were right in the storm track for most of that winter, except that we had a relatively poor April with little snowfall (we picked up just 1.6” of snow at the house, even less than this past April).  It is interesting to note that winter ’07-’08 (consistently stormy from November through March) and winter ’10-’11 (biggest synoptic storms focused on just February and March) provide quite disparate examples of how to get to very similar seasonal snowfall totals (203.2” and 197.0” respectively at the house, and 330” and 330” respectively up on the mountain).

Tree skiing:  While working on some web page material, I came across the post I made about the average date for the start of Northern Vermont tree skiing, so I decided to add in the ’10-’11 data and see how the season compared.  In my initial analysis through the ’09-’10 season, the average start date for tree skiing was December 9th ± 13 days with an average of 28.2 ± 6.8 inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake.  In terms of my personal log of outings from last season, I’ve got a start date of December 18th, 2010 for tree skiing, and the addition of these data alters the averages very slightly, bringing the date one day later to December 10th ± 13 days, and the average snowpack down a tenth of an inch to 28.1 ± 6.5 inches.  So in terms of the ’10-’11 season, the start to tree skiing was slightly late in that it started about a week later than the mean date I’ve calculated.  With the horrible November in terms of snowfall, and much of the December snowfall being dry fluff, the late start is not too surprising.  However, the date is well within one standard deviation, so in that sense the start to tree skiing was another parameter of the season that was basically “average”.

On that temperature consistency/snow quality note, I was curious about the powder skiing we did throughout the season, so I checked my reports.  For the list of outings below, I placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, so it shows the pattern of when we did have powder, and when we did not.  Links to the text and pictures for all the individual reports are available below if people want more details about the depth/consistency of the snow, or one can also step through the J&E Productions web log, which has an entry for each outing.  It’s interesting to note that starting at the beginning of the season in October and continuing through to March 26th, there were only four days (December 31st at Bolton Valley, January 1st on the Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry Network, March 5th at Cochran’s, and March 20th at Stowe) where we weren’t skiing powder.  Strangely enough, I’ve never looked at a season in that way before, but it did give me an even greater appreciation for just how much powder there is to ski around here.  After March 26th, the powder skiing really trickled off this season, although there were still at least a few days in there.  I’m not sure how this season compares to others since I’ve never looked at one like this before, but I suspect most other “average” seasons would look similar for the way we ski, and with our pattern of skiing there might be similar patterns even in seasons that deviate more from average snowfall.

Stowe, VT, Saturday 16OCT10
Stowe, VT, Sunday 05DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 10DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 11DEC10
Stowe, VT, Sunday 12DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 18DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 19DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 23DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 24DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Monday 27DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Tuesday 28DEC10
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 30DEC10
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 31DEC10
X  Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 01JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 08JAN11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 08JAN11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 09JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 13JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 15JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 16JAN11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Monday 17JAN11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 22JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 29JAN11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 30JAN11
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 03FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 05FEB11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 06FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 12FEB11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 13FEB11
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Monday 21FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 25FEB11
Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT, Saturday 26FEB11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 26FEB11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 27FEB11
X  Cochran’s, VT, Saturday 05MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 06MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Monday 07MAR11
Stowe, VT, Tuesday 08MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 12MAR11
Stowe, VT, Sunday 13MAR11
Monroe’s Sugarin’, Barton, VT, Saturday 19MAR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 20MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 23MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 25MAR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 26MAR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 27MAR11
P  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 02APR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 03APR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 07APR11
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 09APR11
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 10APR11
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 17APR11
X  Stowe, VT, Tuesday 19APR11
X  Sugarbush, VT, Friday 22APR11
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 23APR11
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 01MAY11
Stowe, VT, Friday 06MAY11
X  Mount Washington, NH, Saturday 04JUN11

So yeah, long story short, pretty average season in my book.  On that note, since we’ve been back from Montana, the only season we’ve had with substantial snowfall deviation from average for Northern Vermont was a negative one in ’09-’10 as I show in that table of Bolton Valley snowfall near the top of the post.  There definitely hasn’t been anything like what many parts of the Western U.S. saw last season, but as I look at the list of outings above there’s still been plenty of great skiing.

Bald Hill, VT 23JAN2010

An image of Ty skiing backcountry powder in the Bald Hill area near Camel's Hump
Ty out there ripping up some of the powder on Bald Hill today

Saturday was another potentially good day for some backcountry skiing in Northern/Central Vermont, since snowfall had again been rather minimal in the area during the preceding week.  At the house in Waterbury, we’d picked up just 1.4 inches of snow in the Sunday/Monday range from a storm that favored parts of Maine and Southern New Hampshire with up to a foot, and then 1.6 inches of snow in the Tuesday/Wednesday timeframe from an upper level low coming out of the Great Lakes.  As for the mountains, I saw accumulations topping out in the 4 to 5 inch range for the Bolton through Sugarbush stretch, with amounts tapering off to the north.  The forecast on Saturday called for a cold start in the 0 F range, but brilliant sunshine and eventual temperatures in the 20s F.  Weather wise, it was an excellent time to get outside.

“The combination of settling
and the thin breakable
crust in some spots made
things tricky at times,
but it was all soft and fun.”

With the snowfall thoughts in mind, the plan was to do some skiing off the west side of the Camel’s Hump/Mt. Ethan Allen area.  Unfortunately, on Friday we found out that Tom had tweaked his knee and ankle at soccer, so the ski group for the day was going to be just James, Ty, and myself.  We met up with James in Huntington Center a bit after 9:00 A.M., and decided on an initial plan of heading up the Forest City Trail to do some skiing on the lower flanks of Mt. Ethan Allen (3,674’), the next prominent peak south of Camel’s Hump.  We headed up Camel’s Hump Road, finding that the access to the Forest City trailhead was going to be difficult because the road there wasn’t plowed in the winter.  There was a little room along the snowbank to potentially park a couple of cars, but a more important factor in our case was the added distance to get to the trailhead.  Ty’s backcountry range is not that great yet, so we weren’t looking for a big approach.  There was the option to connect over to the Forest City Trail from the Burrows Trailhead area, but we decided to just do something simple off the Burrows Trail.  James had commented to me earlier that there was going to be a temperature inversion in effect, and that was indeed what we saw on our ascent of Camel’s Hump Road.  From down in Huntington Center (690’) where the temperature was somewhere in the middle single digits, the temperature was up around 10-11 F at the trailhead parking area (~1,900’).  The lot was about half full, and while we geared up, we could see that several parties of people were heading out for hikes on snowshoes.

An image of a stack of powder snow atop a stump along the Burrows Trail leading up to Camel's Hump in Vermont
Some of the powder stacked along the Burrows Trail

Starting up on the Burrows Trail, I checked the snowpack and found a couple inches of fluff on top of a generally thin crust, atop a lot more settled powder.  A few of the lower elevation stream crossings on the trail were open with small gaps, and that represented a bit of a challenge for Ty, but he managed well.  We didn’t have any lofty goals in mind other than getting in a little skiing, since our ultimate destination would likely be affected by Ty’s mood and stamina.  Our pace was pretty slow with Ty taking his time, but it was an easy go, and everyone’s skins were working well on the packed trail.  There were lots of dogs, lots of people on snowshoes (including a bigger group that seemed to be from the UVM Outing Club), and we also saw a party of about four skiers that passed us on their way up the trail.  One of the more interesting sights was a woman coming down trail at breakneck speed on a sled that looked like a booster seat.  We made sure to move out of her way, but she seemed to be very conscious of the uphill traffic and stopped easily.  James inquired about how her sled worked, and she demonstrated that for braking, you just lean back.  I know that people like to use those Mad River Rocket-style sleds on the trail and elsewhere, but this was the first time I’d seen what this woman had.

An image of Ty and James ascending Bald Hill on their skis near Camel's Hump in Vermont
Ty and James ascend Bald Hill.

Up to about the 2,300’ elevation mark the surrounding vegetation was on the brushy side, but above that point it began to thin out and the potential for skiable lines looked a little better.  Off to our right, we could see some open, moderate angle slopes across the big gully that had begun to parallel the trail, and off to the left we could see the more obvious lines that steepened on the way up to Bald Hill (3,041’).  Ty had some good bursts of skinning speed when we kept him motivated, but as inquiries about how far we were going and when we would get to ski became more frequent, we decided it was time to think about our descent route.  Heading off to the left for the lower slopes of Bald Hill was going to make things easiest for getting back to the trailhead for Ty, so a bit above 2,500’ when we hit one of the skin tracks breaking off the Burrows Trail and going in that direction, we took it.  The change of scene was enough to keep Ty motivated for a little bit longer, since we were able to tell him that we’d be able to descend soon.

We headed up into the glades a little farther, reaching an elevation of about 2,700’ before Ty seemed to be getting just a bit too antsy.  There were plenty of good lines available with untracked snow, but we could see that taking them would mean dropping right back down to the Burrows Trail almost immediately.  So, we continued to contour westward to get something that might drop a little more directly to the trailhead.  We could only traverse so far though, since Ty knew we were close to skiing and his inquiries started up again.  When we finally called it on the traverse, James and I skinned up a little farther to catch a nice looking line, while Ty waited just below us.

An image of Jay Telemark skiing in powder snow on Bald Hill near Camel's Hump in Vermont
Jay enjoys some turns in the beautiful powder out there on Bald Hill.

The skiing was good, and definitely worth the hike, but certainly not perfect or quite up to what I’d found off the Monroe Trail the previous weekend.  The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun.  Ty stuck with just alpine turns, but had a lot of fun catching air and working on his jumping technique.  Our extra traversing had bought us a little longer descent, but we still dropped back to the Burrows Trail pretty quickly.  Instead of trying to ski on and near the trail, we took a traverse out to the west with the aim of eventually dropping back down to the parking lot to finish our run.  I used the GPS for route finding, and as is often the case, James went by his natural sense of direction.  The biggest issue with the traverse was that like on the Burrows Trail itself, a few streams were still open from the previous warm weather.  They weren’t too hard to cross since there were still snow bridges around, but Ty’s smaller skis definitely set him at a disadvantage for spanning some gaps.  We helped him across when needed.  Even with the aid of the GPS, I overshot the parking area by about 100 feet or so and had to swing back during my final descent, while James nailed it right on.

A Google Earth Image with GPS tracking data from a ski tour on Bald Hill near Camel's Hump in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour plotted on Google Earth

Camel’s Hump – Monroe Trail, VT 17JAN2010

An image of some glades for skiing along the Monroe Trail on Camel's Hump in Vermont
Views of the glades along the Monroe Trail on Camel’s Hump

From what I’d been hearing, ski conditions were generally decent around the area this week, but new snowfall was sparse.  Subsequent to the 9 inches of snow that Bolton picked up last weekend, they’d only reported 2 to 3 inches of additional accumulation.  Down at the house in Waterbury (495’), we picked up 4.8 inches of snow from that weekend event, and then smaller events on Monday and Wednesday dropped 1.2 inches each.  It was enough to keep things fresh, but it was rather dry snow that probably didn’t add too much new substance to the snowpack.

The end of the week also saw an increase in temperatures, with our location in the valley getting up to around 40 F at times.  It was a little hard to get a sense of what had gone on with the weather in the mountains, since I heard talk of a crust in the Mt. Mansfield area, but Paul Terwilliger’s report from Central Vermont suggested that the powder was great down there.  Unsure of whether I was going to encounter, powder, crust, mush, or who knows what, I chose to keep it simple and earn some turns close to home.  I decided to check out some terrain right across the Winooski in North Duxbury below Camel’s Hump.  From the Winooski Valley, at an elevation of about 400’ or so, the Camel’s Hump Road heads southward up into the mountains for several miles to an elevation of about 1,500’ where there is access to Camel’s Hump State Park and various hiking trails.  My friend Weston used to live right up near the top of the road, and told me that there were plenty of glades up above him along the route to Camel’s Hump.  I took a peek at my copy of David Goodman’s backcountry skiing book for Vermont, and he also speaks of the various glade skiing options along the Monroe Trail.

An image of Ridley Brook in winter along Camel's Hump Road in Waterbury/Duxbury VermontThis was actually my first time driving up Camel’s Hump Road in the winter, so it was neat to get the perspective with the snow.  The drive offered great views of Ridley Brook, which flows near the road throughout the drive.  I always get a kick out of some of the funky houses along the road:  some that seem to be accessed by unique bridges, and others with their own quirks, like one that seems to be some sort of partially underground structure with a flat roof.  At this time of the year, the very top part of the road is closed, so I had to park in the winter parking area at ~1,200’.  From a temperature of ~38-39 F down at the house, the temperature dropped to ~36 F at the parking area, and in terms of snow conditions, I hoped that the temperature would continue to drop as I ascended.

An image of the plaque commemorating the crash of an airplane on Camel's Hump in VermontWith skins on, I quickly made it up the rest of the snow-covered road to the main parking area and trailhead at around 1,500’.  I checked out the plaque near the trailhead commemorating the 1944 bomber crash on the mountain, and then I was on my way up the trail.  I began checking the consistency of the snow, and it seemed like the powder was dense, but not really wet, and there was no detectable crust.  Within a few minutes of being on the Monroe Trail, I began to see obvious glades up above me as Weston had suggested.  The Monroe Trail didn’t really attack the fall line, instead it seemed to gradually contour up and to the left in a southwesterly direction.  I figured that one approach to skiing the glades would be to see if I could gain some elevation on the Monroe Trail and eventually traverse back in a northeasterly direction for a fall-line style descent back to the trail, but I wanted to see where the Monroe Trail would take me on its own before I started breaking snow on a new route.  The trail was well packed, and plenty wide as David Goodman suggests in his book, so it’s really easy to cruise along with skins.  I was happy to have full-width skins in a few spots where the trail gets steep, but one could certainly make due with less as long as the snow consistency supported good grip.  There were a few ski tracks where skiers had come out of some of the glades, and tracks suggested that a few more folks seemed to have skied on and around the trail, but I didn’t see any skiers during my tour.  I did see a lot of people on snowshoes:  one group of 6 to 8 people, a few couples, and a couple of other groups.

The trail continued it’s mostly gradual, southwesterly ascent, and at around 1,800’ I noticed that the trees seemed to have more brush in them than I’d seen in the earlier part of the climb.  At 2,300’ in elevation, I reached the junction of the Monroe and Dean Trails, and direction-wise, continuing on the Monroe Trail was the obvious choice for what I wanted to ski.  The Monroe Trail had been starting to wrap around toward a more northwesterly direction, getting more in line with my efforts to eventually head to the northeast, while the Dean Trail headed southwest.  Not far above the junction, the forest began to turn into a beautiful combination of birches and evergreens, and I could see some nice ski lines for folks that opted for the skiing in the trail area.  Then, a little above the 2,500’ elevation mark, I hit the frost line and everything began to turn white, changing the look of things again.  Ascending farther, the forest transformed back into more hardwoods again with some decent open ski lines paralleling the trail, and I could see that a few people had used them.  Finally, as I approached the 2,800’ level, the trail was actually starting to almost make a north/northeasterly jog and far above I could see huge cliffs on the eastern face of Camel’s Hump directly ahead of me.  The forest quickly transformed yet again into an area of almost exclusively evergreens.

An image of a ski track traversing along Camel's Hump in Vermont
Traversing through the higher elevations of Camel’s Hump

It was after 3:00 P.M. by that point, and as I didn’t want to push the available daylight, I began to look for the best route to traverse northeastward for my descent.  I followed the Monroe Trail for as far as it seemed to jive with my plan, and when it really seemed to head southward I had to begin my traverse.  I traversed north/northeastward among the evergreens, and down below the cliffs the trees were often quite open.  If the snow was elevation-dependent, or if one wanted to simply stick in this terrain, I could easily see this area being used for some great laps of skiing.  Indeed, I saw various tracks of previous skiers scattered around, suggest that folks had had some fun.  As I made my traverse through the evergreen forest, I came across various tracks of people that had either been descending or ascending, but I eventually picked up a skin track that seemed to be very much in line with my plan.  I followed the track through the evergreens until it broke back out into a lot of birches, crossing what looked like an interesting trail marked with blue flagging tape.  That blue-flagged route looked intriguing, but it ran literally perpendicular to where I wanted to go, so I had to pass it by and chock it up to future exploration.  I checked several times with my GPS compass to ensure that the track I was following was legitimate, and not something left over by somebody that had simply been lost, but it stayed on course.

After another couple of minutes of traveling through some flat, very open terrain, I noticed that the skier/rider before me had started to make a couple of turns, so I decided it was time to take of my skins and focus on the descent.  I was excited about the skiing prospects, even if only due to the snow depths and consistency I’d see on the ascent.  I had little idea about what I might find for slope continuity or vegetation below.  In terms of snow quality, there had been no sign of a crust aside from a couple of isolated spots that had a thin coating that must have been from the sun.  And, throughout the trip I’d been checking on snow depths, finding anywhere from 14 to 26 inches of settled powder atop the base snow.

An image of a tree skiing area above the Monroe Trail on Camel's Hump in Vermont
Some of the ski terrain out there on the tour today

You don’t always know quite how snow is going to ski until you actually get on it, but as soon as I dropped that first knee into a turn all questions were answered.  The powder was dense as expected, and I was only sinking in about 4 to 5 inches, but the density made the turns really smooth.  I continued on with turns, checking my GPS every couple hundred vertical or so to ensure that I was on track to hit the glades near the start of the Monroe Trail.  There were some steeper options off to my left (north) but with the tree spacing they would be best for deeper/lighter powder.  I found the conditions perfect for the moderate and low angle slopes that I encountered.  Ultimately, my descent was not as fall line as I was initially hoping for, and I really had to keep pulling left throughout the descent to stay on target, but I was pretty happy with it for a first shot.  I occasionally saw a couple of other tracks in the area as our paths crisscrossed, so obviously some others (presumably at least that track I’d followed) had done something similar.  As far as tree spacing went, it wasn’t a brush-fest, and there were a few more open areas, but nothing extraordinary relative to what I’ve seen around here for what appears to be nature taking its typical course.  If one didn’t have to check on or correct their route, most competent tree skiers could enjoy a fairly continuous ride without having to constantly hit the brakes for brush.  A couple more feet of base would help a little on the bush front, but not too much from what I could see, and it’s certainly not needed in terms of coverage.  With the base snow plus all the settled powder, coverage was absolutely bomber on everything I found on my ascent.  I was able to pop off small boulders etc. and never heard a thing from my skis.  The most consistently open glades on my descent were the terrain I’d seen down near the Monroe Trail, and I actually still came up just shy of one of the shots I’d been aiming for.  Looking at my GPS/Google Earth plot, I can see that a longer traverse up high would be needed for a more direct fall line descent, but that’s something to strive for in a future trip.  It does remind me of a quote from David Goodman’s chapter on the Monroe Trail, where he says “The quest for the perfect glade run will keep you coming back to Camel’s Hump time and again…”

An image of a GPS track plotted on Google Earth of a backcountry ski tour in the Monroe Trail area of Camel's Hump
The GPS track of today’s tour on Camel’s Hump in the Monroe Trail area plotted on Google Earth

So, both the base and ski conditions in the Monroe Trail section of Camel’s Hump State Park were great as of yesterday at all elevations I skied off piste (1,500’ – 2,800’).  We picked up 1.4 inches of snow from last night’s activity, so that area should have picked up something in the 1 to 3 inch range as well, and I can’t imagine that would be anything but a positive on top of the conditions I experienced.