All of Vermont has seen a number of modest snowfalls this past week, and with the squally nature of some of them, snow totals were quite variable at the ski resorts up and down the spine of the Greens. As is often the case though, the Jay Peak area did quite well in the snowfall department, with a seven day snow total of over two feet. After seeing a couple of photos showing the delectable powder at Jay Peak on Thursday, and knowing that even more was on the way for Friday, a visit the Jay Peak area backcountry was sounding very appealing. I mentioned the idea to borderwx on the American Weather Forum, since he lives right in the area and is a regular at the resort and local backcountry, and he got back to me with a number of options. Previously we’ve skied Gilpin Mountain using a car shuttle off Route 242, and I was initially thinking of a variation on that theme, but borderwx also mentioned some options for tours in Big Jay Basin. There were variations starting from Jay Pass, as well as the parking areas down on Route 242 where Big Jay Basin drains out. After weighing the options, and consulting the nice Google Earth map of the Big Jay area put together by Guru Gered in his Big Jay Powder Day trip report at the Nor’easter Backcountry Blog, E and I decided that an out-and-back tour from the lower parking area at the outlet of the basin was the most practical with the boys. We really didn’t want to drive two cars to set up a shuttle, temperatures were expected to only be in the 10 to 15 F range, and this was our first tour in the area. A simple out-and-back meant that we could stop and descend at any time should the need arise.
“The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range.”
Temperatures were right around 20 F in the Waterbury area as we left at noontime today, but the thermometer gradually dropped with our travel northward until it was 12 F at the Big Jay Basin parking area at ~1,500′. There were about a half dozen cars parked there, and we saw one guy just prepping his gear and starting on a tour. We could see he was using the prominent skin track right across the road, so as soon as we’d geared up, we followed suit. An initial depth check right there at the base of the skin track revealed 7 to 8 inches of powder, so even down at that elevation, the Jay Peak area had clearly picked up a decent amount of new snow this week. The powder was cold, fluffy, midwinter stuff… just like you’d expect out of January.
The skin track was indeed well established, and easy to follow as it worked its way up at a gentle pace on what appeared to be a logging road. We traveled along the road through areas of dense and sparse vegetation, as well as some acreage cleared by logging. The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range. I’m not actually sure how deep the base snow was, but aside from a few windswept areas it was quite plentiful; we never really had to deal with underlying obstacles due to thin snow. Along with the skin track, we could see that people also used this route for descent out of the bowl, and that was clearly evident when we had to make way for a couple of groups skiing down. They appeared to be having a really good time as judged by their greetings and attitudes.
“It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay.”
After about a half mile, the skin track left the logging road and headed off generally to the right into the trees. From here the pitch increased a bit, and the skin track wound through the slightly tighter confines of the forest. Around 2,150′ we came to an obvious open spot that seemed to be the base for a broad collection of skiable lines. The skin track continued off to the left, and there were no longer ski tracks around it – it seemed like this was the point where people were converging to the track from the various ski routes above during their descents. It also seemed to be a popular spot to use for people skiing laps above the final runout back to the road. The skin track steepened here, and there were a few spots where it was a little steeper than it probably should have been, but we managed our way through them. Since I knew the boys wouldn’t want to do a huge tour, I’d set an elevation mark of ~2,500′ as a good stopping point from which to descend. That would make for a respectable descent in the range of 1,000′ of vertical. At an elevation of ~2,450′, we came across a very nice flat area along the western edge of a bowl somewhere below Big Jay on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin. The spot had a nice view down into the various areas of open ski terrain within the bowl itself. It was slightly shy of the 2,500′ mark, but a quick look around revealed that it was the obvious choice for a comfortable respite and preparation for descent in the immediate area. It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay. For perspective, our route can be seen on the Google Earth map available at the end of this report.
“All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns.”
We had some hot soup and cocoa that we’d brought along, removed our skins, and generally geared up for the descent, but we didn’t linger long because it was definitely chilly. While we were there though, we saw a few skiers descend through the more open terrain in the middle of the bowl, and the skiing looked nice. As soon as we were ready, we dropped into the bowl. The snow quality was excellent, there was about a foot of powder over a generally smooth base. There were a few windswept spots with hard snow here and there, which was sort of strange because the area was generally sheltered. I’d say that the tree spacing and amount of smaller saplings was a bit too constraining though. It looked better a bit up from where we were, so I think that we’ll explore up there the next time we head into the bowl. A couple more feet of base would really help in those lower reaches of the bowl that we skied, since it would bury some of the smaller saplings and open up more lines. With that said, there were some nice lines in there and we managed some good turns. All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns. We made our way generally back in the direction of the logging road, and once we got there we skied a combination of on and off-road lines, depending on the pitch and spacing of the trees. The trees were actually pretty tight down along the logging road, and although the pitch was fairly shallow, it’s about as much as you’d want. There were some areas where the pitch was shallow enough that skiing on the partially packed logging road was the only option, but there were still shots of powder along the edges of the road to catch.
“We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass.”
As we were packing up our gear back at the car, a group of four skiers emerged from the forest about 100 yards up the road from where we were. One of them grabbed my attention and asked if he could get a lift up to the top of the pass where his vehicle was parked. He’d started a tour from there, and had intended to finish there as he’d done in the past, but somehow he got into a different drainage or something. He’d actually run into the other skiers along the way, who were presumably in a similar predicament, and they teamed up to make sure they all got out OK. We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass. He let the other guys know that he’d be back soon to pick them up. The delivery to his car went fine, and he was happy to have avoided a 1.5-mile hike up the road. There was a good amount of traffic on the road though, so I’m sure he could have found a ride pretty quickly if we hadn’t been there. I’m just glad we had space in the car for one more!
On our drive to the area earlier in the day, we’d taken the Montgomery Center route, since it was closer to where we were touring, but on the way home we continued east down the pass and stopped in at Jay Peak Resort for a bite to eat. We went to Howie’s at the Stateside Base, which we’d last visited about a year ago during our Christmas trip to Jay Peak with my family. We had some appetizers (including poutine of course) and got to watch the start of the Patriots playoff game against the Ravens. There were a number of people at the bar, but we had the table area to ourselves as the resort wound down from the day and darkness descended. This evening when I was at a work function in Burlington, a colleague mentioned that he’d heard the trails at Bolton Valley were really icy, and I said that we’d suspect that might be the case and headed up to the Jay Peak backcountry for a tour. After hearing his comment, I’d say we made the right choice today and got some good powder skiing out of it.
Looking at the Google Earth map of our GPS track, it’s really easy to see that we were quite far on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin, so we’ll certainly want to explore a bit farther to the east in the big bowl next time we visit the area. A start from Jay Pass would certainly get us in there, I just think spotting a car appropriately for the exit might be difficult. Aside from the large parking area that we used on the south side of Route 242, we didn’t see any other obvious spots between it and the pass. Another option would be to simply tour out and back to the pass, but of course that means finishing with an ascent.
“We just documented our first frozen precipitation and accumulation of the season down here at 500’ in the valley. It started pouring out a few minutes ago as one of those bursts of precipitation came through in the northwest flow – you can see those yellow 28 db returns that disappear as the pulse of moisture barrels into the mountains:
Hearing the racket of the heavy precipitation outside, I decided to check out on the back deck because I know how these things sometimes go – indeed there was frozen precipitation among the rain, in the form of sleet and other dense granules that can typically make it down through the warmer layers of the atmosphere. I don’t even have my snowboard set up yet, but our picnic table out back sufficed to catch the accumulation. Seasonally, the timing of this event was right on track, with the mean for the first trace of snow here at Oct 20th from nine seasons of data. The event has actually brought the median value for that first trace of frozen down from Oct 21st to be right in line with that mean date of the 20th, and the S.D. dropped from seven days to six, so it’s helped to tighten up the data spread. The accumulation might have actually reached the 0.1” threshold for an official accumulation, but I was definitely caught off guard and by the time I grabbed my ruler and made measurements, all the accumulation was below that 0.1” mark so it will have to go down as a trace.”
The skiing yesterday was capped off with some dinner, water park time, and then movie watching back in the room to make for a pretty full day. Some of us were up pretty late last night, so fortunately there was no pressing need to get up early this morning. E hadn’t been one of those up late, and she got to sleep in, so that combination was a good way to head into Mother’s Day. Aside from Ty roaming around a bit in the room, there was little activity this morning until a knock at the door signaled the arrival of the pastries and juice. We hung out in the room most of the morning until the Pump House Waterpark opened up, and then E and the boys headed off for one more water session while I took advantage of the quiet room to get some work done.
Once everyone was back from the water park, we checked out of the Tram Haus Lodge and headed over to Jay Peak’sStateside area for some skiing. The weather was a bit cooler today, and the air had definitely dried out as well. With a breeze at times it felt almost chilly, even though it was in the 60s F. Once we got over to Stateside, it took a little while to orient ourselves due to the massive changes that have taken place. The removal of the old Stateside Lodge and the addition of the new Stateside Hotel and Base Lodge as well as the Mountain Kids Adventure Center have transformed the area. We actually visited the new hotel during our Jay Peak trip in December to eat at Howie’s, but we came by shuttle and it was a dark, frigid, December night with snow and wind; there was no way we were seeing anything. We had to do a bit of walking up and around the hotel via the big staircase on the side, and found some skiers enjoying the deck area. Below that there’s a lot of landscaping in progress so there isn’t currently much in the way of convenient access to the slopes right above the lodge, but eventually we found our way over to the base of the Jet Triple Chair. It’s a couple-minute walk back and forth between the hotel and the base of the chair, but the pathway has crushed rock to mitigate potential issues with mud. We also found that there were a number of cars parked right at the base of the Jet Triple Chair; there appears to be a small parking lot there, and some folks had set up for tailgating festivities.
The options for skiing today at Stateside were The Jet and Haynes/Mont L’Entrepide as the steeper routes back down to the base of the Jet Triple Chair, and then another route down Montrealer and Angel’s Wiggle that would bring you right back to near the base of the Stateside Hotel. Snow on the steeper runs was decent, a little thick in spots and a little scratchy in others, but classic, soft spring snow overall. Dylan really fired up some wild skiing for the camera on one of our runs, and was having a blast catching air along the edge of The Jet. It was fun watching from the chair as everyone skied The Jet, and at first we didn’t see any Telemark skiers, but then we started to spot them and some of them were really rippin’ it up. E and I got in a great workout navigating the steep bumps with Telemark turns, and E was happy to get a chance to work on her turns on steeper terrain – she’s often frustrated if we head into steep trees when she’s on her Tele gear, and it’s just too much at once to really get in much practice, but today’s snow and pitch was nice, and she commented on having some great sections where the turns flowed. I found one of the most challenging spots was at the very top of The Jet, where the trail is a bit narrower because it’s constrained by the ropes closing off the top of the lift line so skier’s don’t collide with the chair. There are a couple of huge bump lines, but if you want to ski those while deviating from the obvious troughs, it’s tricky.
We finished a final run back down Montrealer and Angel’s Wiggle, which were a bit sloppier and softer when it came to the snow, so my legs were definitely cooked by the time we reached the bottom. I burned them as hard as I could holding Tele turns until that last stretch to the lodge. We poked around the Stateside Hotel for a bit until we found a drop box for our room keys/ski passes, and then headed out.
We stopped down in the Village of Jay for some food, and although it was mid afternoon, we were happy to find that the Jay Village Inn & Restaurant was serving all day. It’s great to have places like inns that are serving food all day, because even in Stowe we’ve had trouble finding mid afternoon options for dining. For those days when you finish up skiing in the mid afternoon, or don’t want to try waiting around until 5:00 P.M. to stop in for a bite, inns with restaurants seem to be just the ticket. The Whip at the Green Mountain Inn has come to the rescue for us a number of times in that regard. It was our first time at the Jay Village Inn & Restaurant, and it’s got a nice homey feel being a combination inn/restaurant. There’s a huge couch and table in one of the main dining rooms, and the boys were quickly sucked in and passing out while we were waiting for our order. We knew they weren’t likely to be awake in the car too long on the ride home. The food was great and the portions were huge, which is pretty much the general theme you’ll see if check out the reviews for the restaurant on tripadvisor®. I had the unique “Atlantic Sea Dog”, which turned out to be a piece of cod that was about a foot long, and shaped sort of like a hot dog, on a huge bun. I didn’t quite get the name before it came out, but it was all too obvious once I saw it!
After this weekend, it’s just Killington running their lifts for skiers in Vermont, and it will be interesting to see how long they’ll keep going. In an event, there’s still a lot of snow out there for earning turns.
We’ve been up at Jay Peak with family leading up to Christmas, and today we got out on the slopes for a few turns. The weather hasn’t been great for the ski conditions, since we just had an extended storm with plenty of mixed precipitation. The storm did bring some snow with it, but also plenty of other precipitation that ultimately led to a hardening up of the slopes. There really wasn’t much to inspire one to get out on the hill today, especially with colder temperatures on the way, but it was snowing when we arrived last night, and that piqued my interest at least a little.
When it finally came time to decide if we wanted to ski today, the boys were game. And since our RFID cards that serve as our room keys and provide access to other areas of the resort, also serve as RFID ski tickets, there wasn’t much of a downside to hitting the slopes. Today was also a chance for the boys to ride the tram, which was already closed for the season the last time the boys and I came to Jay Peak for lift-served turns. Temperatures were starting the day in the mid teens, which wasn’t too bad, but they were expected to drop throughout the day, so we decided that we’d best served by going for our turns in the morning before it got colder.
We started out at the moving carpet, where Luke and Lilly were having their first ski experience ever. We helped Marc and Jill get them going with some tips, and then once they started getting the hang of things, Marc joined up with E and the boys and me for a run on the Tram. The boys finally got their tram ride, and were impressed with how high and fast it traveled. From the summit we headed down Northway to Ullr’s Dream, and conditions were simply heinous up top. The snow was hard and icy, and I’m glad I’d sharpened our skis, but I’m not sure how much good it did. That’s sort of par for the course anyway with the way the wind blows up there, but the recent storm certainly didn’t help in that regard. We didn’t find much to inspire us to really take another run until we got down onto Kokomo along the lower elevations of Ullr’s Dream. Down there, an inch or two of powder has settled in, and combined with the modest pitches, we were starting to encounter some soft turns
The end of that run inspired us to make a second, and this time we used the Metro Quad, which is low, out of the wind, and down in the warmer elevations. We were hoping to head over toward Deer Run, but when we found the terrain on that side of the lift roped off because of snowmaking, we moved toward the Interstate side of the lift. That turned out to be just what we were looking for. Since the vast majority of the people on the trial were there for the terrain features, they were totally ignoring the large area of untracked snow off to the skier’s left. We found an inch or two of fresh powder over a smooth base, and turns were quite inspirational. It was the sort of discovery that definitely injects some excitement into the day. It was so much fun, I felt that we had to do it again. Of course with the rest of the family hungry and eager to get to the water park, I was by myself on that next run, but it was just as sweet.
It’s snowing again tonight as I write this, so as is par for the course for the Northern Greens, they seem to be starting to nickel and dime their way back to nicer conditions. I don’t think we’ll really have time to ski tomorrow with the Christmas Holiday, but I bet our tracks will be covered up again for tomorrow, and there should be fresh turns out there waiting for someone. I’ll update this report with more info on the whole trip as time goes on, but indeed there’s just way more to do here than time often permits. I will say one thing that really impressed and surprised me though, is that with the addition of the new Stateside Hotel, there are now 17 eateries of various sorts up here at the resort. We tried out three new food options on this trip that we hadn’t before, so I’ll talk about those when I add a bit more to this trip report.
With everyone having their own unique perspective on skiing, some of which you can discover at supreme ski morzine skiing school. They tend to love skiing since they teach people how to do it! But combined with the multitude of weather-related factors involved in winter recreation in general, there’s usually ample room for debate about where a ski season sits relative to average. However, when it comes to the 2011-2012 ski season in Northern Vermont (and perhaps to an even greater extent in other parts of the Northeastern U.S.) most any metric would set it firmly in the lower half of seasons. Some key contributing factors to the outcome of the season were temperatures, which were above average for every month from October through May (specific monthly temperature departures are available in the monthly detail section), overall precipitation, which was well below average during that period, and as expected with that combination, snowfall that was well below average. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and indeed that was the case in Northern Vermont this past season. If numbers aren’t everything, perhaps timing is everything, and the snow machine of the Northern Greens exhibited some impeccable timing for some of the busiest ski periods when it came down to it. There was also a consistency and intensity in backside snows that seemed to heal just about every mixed precipitation event. So while I don’t think that the winter of 2011-2012 can be considered anything but below average around here, the bigger story might just be how “surprisingly good” it was. That story unfolds in the details below.
Tree Skiing:In the past I’ve used empirical data from trip reports to establish a mean date for the start of tree skiing in Northern/North-Central Vermont, and as I outlined in last year’s ski season summary, that analysis revealed a date of December 10th ± 13 days, with an average depth at the stake of 28.1 ± 6.5 inches. However, after a comment from Powderfreak back on December 12th, in which he indicated that he’d observed tree skiing on appropriate terrain at Stowe to start roughly when the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 24 inches, I decided to run an analysis using snowpack data from the stake. Instead of just the 15 to 20 seasons worth of ski trip reports that are available since the arrival of the internet era, there are almost 60 seasons worth of data available from the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Analysis of the stake data using the first date of attaining 24″ of snow depth or higher as the start of tree skiing, actually produced a very similar result (December 12th ± 19 days, with an average depth at the stake of 25.8 ± 2.7 inches) to what was obtained from the empirical data. With the date being so close to what I determined from the empirical data, I’m pretty confident that the date of attaining 24″ in the stake data will serve just as well in determining the average start of tree skiing, and the relative start date for individual seasons. With the median and mode for that analysis coming in quite close to the mean, the distribution seems normal, so the standard deviation in the data should have some predictive value. This “24-inch rule” isn’t meant to replace the traditional “40-inch rule“, but it’s there to compliment it as a more practical measure of when people actually start venturing into the trees in this area (the fact that it is corroborated by many years of empirical data can testify to that). The point at which the stake hits 24 inches is a decent mark for when appropriately maintained trees are going to start offering up good turns for those with the right skills and knowledge, whereas once the stake hits 40 inches, skiers can pretty much venture into most off-piste areas with a good degree of confidence. Between those two points is going to be a continuum of increasing access to off piste terrain. Moving from the 24″ depth to the 40” depth will typically take place during the month of December, with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaching the 40″ mark at the beginning of January on average.
So where did the 2011-2012 season stack up in terms of the start of tree skiing in Northern Vermont? Not surprisingly, when assessed by the new method of reaching 24″ at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, it’s down near the bottom of the pack. Below, I’ve added a scatter plot that I generated using the Mt. Mansfield snowpack data; the X-axis is a timeline spanning from October to January, and the blue stars represent the dates when 24 inches of snow depth was attained at the stake for the various years from 1954-2012. The red data point is for the 2011-2012 season (date of attaining 24″ = January 3rd, 2012), so the season is indeed more than one standard deviation on the late side (the large vertical line in the plot is the mean, and the small vertical lines are ± 1 standard deviation), although it actually isn’t as late a start as some seasons:
How did the 24-inch snowpack depth analysis compare to what we actually found on the ground this season? Since skiing natural snow terrain on piste began first, I’ll mention that momentarily before discussing the trees. I saw the first signs of people skiing natural snow trails this season on December 27th at Bolton, and coverage certainly looked sufficient on at least moderate terrain. The tracks I saw at that point already looked old, and I suspect that on piste natural snow coverage was actually sufficient the day before (December 26th), thanks to the Christmas Day storm. Bolton picked up close to a foot of snow from that storm, and at the end of the day on the 26th, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 14″. The first day that we actually ventured into the trees at Bolton Valley was December 29th, and as I stated in my report from that day, we only ventured in for one run because the base was just a little too thin to really ski with confidence in there and enjoy it. And, when the snowpack was measured at the Mt. Mansfield Stake later that afternoon, the depth was 21 inches, just a bit shy of that 24-inch mark. By the next day, we were skiing natural snow trails with more than enough coverage, but it wasn’t until January 7th at Bolton that I commented about some of the trees finally being ready after the boys and I skied Wilderness Woods. The measurement from the stake came in at 24 inches that afternoon, and we were clearly reaching another threshold of sorts, so attaining that 24-inch depth at the stake was indeed a decent measure for the start of tree skiing this season in our experience. Powderfreak and I have discussed how that 24-inch number is going to be quite rough, since a 24-inch depth attained mostly with fluff will represent something substantially different that a 24-inch depth attained with cement, but it looks like it’s going to be a reasonable approximation of when people start to take their initial forays into the trees and find the conditions good enough to stay there.
Looking at tree/off piste skiing for the season as a whole, there’s no question that it was curtailed relative to normal. The very late date of reaching 24 inches at the stake in the beginning of January (January 3rd) is 1.13 standard deviations beyond the mean according to the Mt. Mansfield snowpack analysis, putting it close to the bottom 10% of seasons. When this is coupled with the large amount of melting in Mid March due to record heat, which closed a lot of terrain, it equates to a tree skiing season that is roughly 2 ½ months long, compared to the more typical length of 4 to 5 months. The off piste season was certainly condensed, and while coverage was there to enable plenty of access in January (Stowe reached 100% open status by January 14th), tree skiing really seemed to take forever to hit its stride; to wit, the snowpack at the stake didn’t hit the 40-inch mark until the end of January.
Snow Quality: In last season’s summary, I checked my trip reports and found those days in which we were skiing powder, typically suggesting a fairly high level of snow quality, and those days in which powder skiing wasn’t available, often indicating some sort of thaw (or in one case this season, insufficient base depths). For the list of outings below, I’ve again placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, to reveal the temporal pattern associated with that categorization. Outings with an X may still be providing decent skiing such as wet snow, corn, etc. (or else we’d probably be doing something other than skiing) but aside from the spring period, there’s going to be a price to pay in terms of snow quality after these episodes when temperatures eventually cool back down. Chronologically, the first X appears for the outing on December 10th at Bolton Valley. The lack of powder skiing on that date wasn’t actually due to temperature fluctuations, but instead due to the fact that there just wasn’t enough natural snow; substantial snowfall was very slow in coming in early December. The natural snow depth up above 2,000′ in the Bolton Valley Village was still only 2-3″ at that point, so short of junkboarding, skiing was really restricted to just the limited terrain that had manmade snow. The next X appears on our Bolton Valley outing on December 31st, and it represented a notable bump in the winter weather. The holiday week wasn’t too cold, but it was certainly snowy like one would expect at Christmas time in Vermont, with three decent snowstorms totaling more than two feet of snow at the northern resorts (refer to the December entry in the detailed monthly section for more information). So there was indeed some great powder skiing during that stretch. The main factor that kept the overall quality of the skiing from being really outstanding was the lack of base. The natural snow terrain that was open was excellent, but there still hadn’t been enough snow to open the steepest terrain without snowmaking. The X in this case comes in at the tail end of the holiday period where there was a thaw. I described the skiing on New Year’s Eve as reminding me of the Pacific Northwest, with low hanging clouds on the mountains, and dense snow underfoot. I’m not sure how long the resulted firm snow conditions lasted, because three small to moderate storms came through the area that week, with the first one dropping a half foot of snow in the mountains. By the following Saturday there was powder skiing again for the weekend. From that point on there were no interruptions in powder skiing though to mid March – at least from our perspective; we don’t ski every day of course, but we did ski every weekend through that period. However, Powderfreak does ski just about every day of the season at Stowe, and he noted that there were only a few select days without powder. I’ll speak more about that at the end of this section. By far the section of the outings list that stands out the most is the second half of March – the dramatic change in conditions is quite obvious, with seven outings in a row marked with an X. Record warm weather came in with a vengeance in mid March, and it was all spring skiing until the weather cooled back down to normal levels and produced snowstorms for the final two thirds of April. We finally finished off our season with a couple of corn snow days in May, a point in the season where that type of snow is the norm.
The 2010-2011 ski season was the first one to which I applied this type of powder skiing analysis, and relative to what I thought it would look like, I was certainly surprised by the consistent availability of powder conditions once I saw the data lined up. But as surprised as I was with that result, the 2011-2012 analysis is even more astounding. Somehow there was good to great skiing every weekend/holiday period throughout most of the core ski season, despite the overwhelmingly warm temperatures and low snowfall. As I mentioned above in the snowfall section, Bolton Valley reported just 159″ of snow for their entire season. That’s ridiculously low – it’s half their usual snowfall, and we typically average more snow than that at our house, almost 3,000′ below the upper elevations of the resort where the snowfall measurements are taken. That amount of snow might suffice for some decent skiing in an environment like the high elevations of the Rockies with very consistent winter temperatures, but this season in Vermont was anything but that. There were temperature issues throughout the season, and January was a perfect example – at the end of the month, local meteorologist Roger Hill pointed out that we’d had seven January thaws. I had many ski weather-related conversations with Powderfreak in the 2011-2012 ski thread at American Weather’s New England Subforum about the surprisingly high quality of the skiing, and there was certainly consistency in conditions, but we also determined that it was an issue of timing. Snowfall was low, and spells of warm temperatures abundant, but storms were just timed well to ensure that most snow quality issues were remedied by the weekend. Although the season was warm on average, we didn’t have many big rain events, and any that we did have seemed to be quickly covered by backside snow. There was indeed something special about the timing though, because somehow we had weekend after weekend of nice skiing with powder on Bolton’s 159″ of snow. The detailed reports below and the monthly ski summaries that follow, provide the specifics of how it all went down, and the frequency and distribution of P in the outings list really speaks to that theme of “surprisingly good”:
November: I’ll put November 2011 into perspective by looking at November 2010, in which the ski conditions were apparently poor enough that we didn’t ski once. Fortunately, that didn’t happen this season – even if just by a day. The near lack of snow in November 2010 could be considered demonstrative of typical November snowfall in the valley though, because up to that point it had truly been feast or famine since we moved to our current Waterbury location in 2006. However, this past November finally bucked that trend by coming in with 11.4″ of snow (128% of average) which is as close to “normal” snowfall as I’ve ever seen for the month based on my data. We had a couple of minor accumulating snowstorms early in the month, and then another mid month, but it was a storm near the end of the month that really produced 95% of our November valley snowfall. That storm dropped almost a foot of snow at the house, and got me to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns. In terms of skiing, options for catching the new snow atop a manmade base were rather limited because most of the local resorts were of course using their manmade snow to serve customers, but I headed up to Bolton Valley to see if the natural snow alone was enough for some turns. Since they don’t open until December, Bolton hadn’t yet made any snow by that point, but it turned out that the storm had dropped over a foot of snow up there, and it was dense enough that one didn’t need much of it to keep them off of whatever lay beneath. I enjoyed some decent turns, even if that outing wound up being the only one for the month. This past November was a decent step up from the previous couple of seasons with little to no snow, but we’ve still yet to have a very snowy November since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons; both those seasons delivered roughly 20″ of snow in the valley, and plenty more in the mountains. The general seasonal trend of warm weather continued right through the month as well; although much colder than October on an absolute basis, November was even warmer relative to its long range average, coming in 5.1 degrees above normal at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington.
December: The first two thirds of December simply felt like a continuation of November; the pre-holiday period was hampered by above average temperatures, but the more notable issue was the absence of significant storms. The Northern Greens were holding their own thanks to numerous small snowfalls, and these events were definitely enough to get us into some powder skiing, but they weren’t enough to really build a deep base of natural snow. The last third of the month was really the highlight in terms of snowfall. As the all-important holiday week approached, Central Vermont northward finally got into some moderate storms. The localized nature of these storms was good for highway travelers from down south, and one could hardly ask for better timing of fresh snow for the holiday week. Storm 1 hit on Friday the 23rd, dropping roughly half a foot from Killington northward, storm 2 was on the 25th, centered on Stowe where they received over a foot, and storm 3 began on the 27th, with totals again topping out around a foot. The skiing was quite good, indeed excellent by the end of the week as the snow from the storms continued to pile up, but the lack of snowfall earlier in the month meant that the natural base depths weren’t there like they would normally be. Fortunately, some natural snow terrain was open, but certainly not the steepest stuff, and the natural snowpack was still just a bit too lean to spend much time in the trees. In any event, we skied eight times during that holiday stretch, a sign that there was definitely some good skiing. With all the new snow, our local area certainly had it a lot better than many places in the country did during the holiday week, so in that regard we were lucky. I’m sure business was still down at the Vermont ski areas in general, but people may have been hearing about the holiday snow that Northern Vermont was getting, because Powderfreak posted on Christmas Eve how lodging space was still very tight in Stowe. Despite the snow in the northern half of Vermont though, the general talk around the region was how poor and snowless it was in general, so I’m sure many places lost some potential visitors due to that. Even with those moderate storms at the end of the month, when all was said and done, we still ended up quite low on snowfall down at the house; the 24.7″ we received was just 59% of our average for the past six seasons. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: With the slow start to snowfall, we didn’t even ski during the first weekend of the month, but we did get out for the other four. The second weekend was the one where there was no powder simply because there wasn’t enough snow. Temperatures were certainly above average as a whole (NWS in Burlington was +4.8 F on the month), but December mean temperatures start getting cold enough that even above average departures can still be sub-freezing and produce snow in the mountains . The third weekend of the month had some decent conditions at Stowe, and then the final two weekends sort of lose their definition with the big holiday week, and that period gets lumped together. Conditions for the holiday week were mostly wintry; strictly speaking though, the last weekend of the month did see a thaw, but in the context of the whole holiday week it was rather insignificant.
March: The first half of March felt like a continuation of that decent stretch at the end of February, even if we didn’t get any additional three to four foot storm cycles. Just a few days after the big February storm ended, another decent cycle came through heading into the 1st of the month, with close to a foot of additional snow at the northern resorts, and a foot and a half at the southern resorts. Amidst other freshening events, a storm on the 4th dropped about a half foot of snow, and then over a foot fell from a storm on the 9th that targeted the north-central resorts. The boost from the big February storm was felt in base depths and surface conditions, and you could feel that the season had really turned into what one would expect for March. Even as unseasonable warmth started to intrude and occasionally turn the powder wet through the first half of the month, there was usually enough time to get in turns for a good part of each day while the powder was still dry, and then more snow would come along to freshen things back up. The weather through that period was certainly on the warm side, but it was during the second half of the month when all hell broke loose with regard to temperatures. That expression is somewhat apt, because for March, it felt like that when five consecutive days of record temperatures with departures of +40 F hit the state from the 18th-22nd. Combined with the more moderate warmth during the rest of the month, the result was an incredible +12.2 F departure from the average March temperature at the NWS in Burlington. With almost no new snow in the valley during that warm second half of the month, March snowfall was a paltry 14.2″ at the house, just 60% of average. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: The list of ski outings from above shows the trend here quite well, the first two weekends offered powder conditions, and from then on it was spring skiing. However, powder had been available for every weekend or holiday period since the middle of December by the point at which the snow conditions flipped, and that’s a commendable three-month stretch for such a season. Beyond the middle of the month, X was the only way to describe the powder conditions until we finally got to April. There was decent corn snow and great weather during that second half of March, but it was so warm that trail counts dropped rapidly at many resorts; even the huge snowpack gains made by the northern resorts at the end of February were lost as the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake fell well below where it had been before the big climb. Despite the good spring skiing, it seemed like many resorts closed down simply because people had given up on winter by that point. The slow start and rapid end to winter seemed to take the wind out of everyone’s sails and, it had them looking to quickly put the season in the rearview mirror.
April: Temperatures for the month of April still came in above average (+1.2 F) at the National Weather Service in Burlington, but after the unprecedented warmth of March, that felt downright cool by comparison. Indeed April was more typical though, and some good skiing returned, even if the slightly warm temperatures kept the snow especially elevation dependent. With that trend, snowfall down at the house was almost insignificant, just 0.5 inches or 8% of average. That’s the least snowy April we’ve encountered in the six years that I’ve been monitoring snowfall at our location. Storms nailed the mountains with snow though, in the form of a minor event on the 4th of the month, then a big cutoff low dropping 2 to 2 ½ feet on the 9th. That snow was fairly dense and represented an unmitigated resurfacing of the slopes as one headed up in elevation. The skiing was great, at least in a Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete sort of way where it doesn’t take much to cover whatever is below, but it would have been even better if the March warmth hadn’t deteriorated the snowpack as much as it did. With most ski areas closed after March sapped people’s interest in the season, plenty of great earned turns were made, but at the resorts that had stayed open, there was also some excellent lift-served skiing. April finished off with one final storm at the end of the month, which was nothing like the big one earlier, but it dropped about a half foot in the upper elevations and that was enough for some final powder skiing before we moved on to May. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: While certainly not up to the level of April 2007, we did get to ski powder on all of our April days except April 1st. Most of what fell during the month for snow was rather dense, but it was still a nice reprieve to have fresh snow after the way March had gone. We only skied three of the five weekends that month, as half of our outings ended up being midweek.
May: After some tempering of the heat for April, Mother Nature was back at the stove for May, with a +5.3 F departure for the month at the NWS in Burlington. We didn’t have any accumulating snow in the valley, although that’s typically the case down at our elevation. There were actually no significant winter storms to speak of, but we did have one Vermont ski day on the 12th, enjoying the last of the corn snow up at Jay Peak. We took advantage of a Mother’s Day package that offered a chance to sample a lot of the new facilities up at the resort (water park, arcade, restaurants, etc.), and indeed taking in that smorgasbord of activities is an especially nice way to go when skiing is only going to be a minor part of a trip. Our other day in the month was actually out of state in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend, taking our traditional camping trip Auto Road ascent with the boys to ski the snowfields. The snowfields were somewhat on the lean side this year, but not bad considering what the region went through meteorologically during the winter season.
At the monthly level, the 2011-2012 ski season was a simply amazing stretch of positive temperature departures followed by even more positive temperature departures, and that trend has continued right into the summer, with June and July coming in at +1.9 F and +2.4 F respectively. August is currently coming in with a positive departure as well, and if it ends up staying that way, it will be the 17th month in a row in the positive departure streak for Burlington. Those departures are going to flip at some point, and it’s going to feel quite chilly by comparison. Despite that trend though, even when combined with below normal precipitation, the quality of the ski surfaces encountered this past season in Northern Vermont was quite good. I’m not sure if I’m willing to say better than average, since I don’t think surfaces were better than average at Bolton Valley, but I am willing to say that in our visits to Stowe this season, the typical on piste surfaces we encountered were actually better than the previous season. One thought is that the lack big storms in general also played out as a lack of notable rainstorms, which while generally infrequent in the heart of winter anyway, are likely more detrimental to the snow surfaces than more modest events with simply some mixed precipitation in the middle. The Northern Greens certainly showed throughout this past season that they have the ability to cover the back side of mixed precipitation events with additional snow quite effectively when there’s at least some moisture in the atmosphere to be wrung out. The fact that business was down somewhat at the resorts, may also have contributed to less skier traffic and slightly elevated on piste snow quality. Whatever the case, for a ski season that felt like an abysmal “perfect storm” of sorts with regard to temperatures and precipitation, 2011-2012 in Northern Vermont can certainly be described as “surprisingly good”.
The boys and I had visited Jay Peak exactly one month ago today to take advantage of the 2+ feet of upslope snow that a cutoff low pressure system had dropped on the Northern Greens. It was great to catch up on all that had happened at the resort over the past couple of seasons, and since that visit I’ve been checking in on the Jay Peak website to keep up on the latest news. I’d looked into lodging deals for that trip with the boys last month and hadn’t found quite what I was looking for at that point, but over the past couple of weeks they’ve been promoting a Mother’s Day brunch/lodging/water park package that looked quite attractive. Prices started at $159 for brunch and lodging for two, and options were available to add on additional people and water park access.
I mentioned the idea to E earlier this week, and she thought it was a possibility, but we let it simmer for a while as we thought about what we might do with my parents over the weekend. The boys caught wind of the Jay Peak idea, and they were of course gung ho about the whole thing, since it included visiting the Pump House Waterpark. Finally, after finding out yesterday that my mom was heading with my sister to New York for the weekend, we decided to go ahead and book a room at the resort. Since it was technically Mother’s Day on Sunday, we made sure that it was what E wanted to do, and she was excited about the idea. I called up Jay Peak, spoke with a representative, and they set us up with a nice room in the Tram Haus. The package included the Mother’s Day brunch at Alice’s Table, two days worth of access to the Pump House Waterpark, Ice Haus Arena access, and apparently a collection of other goodies that we saw listed on the website. Another very cool part of the trip was that there was still snow for skiing. Earlier in the week the resort had posted a photo of all the snow left at the Stateside area with the caption “May snow for the motivated”. The snow looked good and I was motivated to get some turns, and I suspected that I could get E and the boys motivated as well.
After taking care of some yard work and other stuff at the house in the morning, we headed off to the resort around mid afternoon today. Temperatures were around 70 F, and skies were partly clear with some clouds building in ahead of precipitation that’s expected overnight. As we crested the top of Route 242, which is somewhere above 2,200′ in elevation, the effect of the altitude was very obvious as the temperature dropped well down into the 60s F. We checked in at the Tram Haus and found our room there to be quite impressive; various locally crafted materials were used in the construction, and the craftsmanship seems first rate. Our room was a suite-style setup, with a full kitchen and a good size living area that contained a pull-out bed for the boys. Our balcony looked out right over the slopes, and we could even see the snowy slopes over at the Stateside Area.
After getting settled in the room for a bit, we hopped back in the car and drove over to Stateside to make some turns. A quick look revealed that the Haynes/Mont L’Entrepide route seemed to have the most continuous snow, so we made use of the access road to the Jet Triple Chair, which allowed us to drive right up to the base of the runs. It was nice dry grass there at the bottom of Mont L’Entrepide, and made for a great place to prepare the gear and get suited up. There was a brisk breeze at times, and being Jay Peak, the weather was doing its own thing, so we even had a few spits of rain among the mixed clouds and sun. We were thankful for the breeze when it was there, because black flies were already starting to appear. They didn’t seem to be biting much yet, but they were still annoying when the breeze didn’t keep them away.
We hiked for the first couple pitches of the ascent with our skis on our packs, and E and I took care of carrying the boys skis so that they could enjoy the ascent. We saw a couple of other guys making the ascent as well, and climbing on the skier’s right seemed to be the most practical route. Small patches of snow started to appear almost immediately as we headed upward, and then after passing a one relatively large area of snow, we were able to put on our skins for the rest of the ascent. The snow was generally decent corn, although there were some areas where it was icier – we tried to avoid those areas on the ascent because they didn’t offer the skins very good grip. One didn’t really need an established skin track for the ascent, but we generally followed what was set up by other skiers. The continuous snow reached to just about the top of the trail, and for the last third of the ascent, E was really blazing the path and set up some a skin track with nice switchbacks.
We enjoyed some relaxing time at the top of the ascent on Haynes as we soaked in the views of the resort and the wilds of the Northeast Kingdom. The sun was in and out of the clouds, but the temperatures were perfect, and with the wind picking up as we ascended, any black fly issues disappeared for the most part. The Haynes Trail is actually quite steep, so we were excited to see if the boys were going to go for some Telemark turns, or simply stick with alpine turns. They actually mixed it up, with Ty making Tele turns throughout much of the descent regardless of pitch, and Dylan throwing them in where he felt comfortable as the pitch decreased a bit. There was some really nice snow near the top of Haynes on the skier’s left – some fun, steep corn snow that let you push hard into the turns. We did our best to avoid the dirty, icy areas, and we still had to hit some, but they were manageable. We were able to make our way to the end of the last big patch of snow crossing just one notable gap, and then we strapped our skis back onto our packs and had about a five-minute descent to the car. It was definitely fun to get in some May turns today, because even though May skiing is pretty standard most seasons, the combination of low snowfall and incredibly warm weather this March depleted the snowpack much quicker than usual.
The boys were actually in very good spirits for today’s ski session, because they knew that a trip to the water park was coming right on its heels. We made it back to our room at the Tram Haus, got suited up for swimming, and headed out quickly to the water park because it was actually getting late. One very cool thing we discovered today is that although the Pump House Waterpark is in the Hotel Jay, even if you are in the Tram Haus Lodge, you don’t have to go outside to get to the water park. It turns out that the Tram Haus and the Tramside Base Lodge are connected to the Hotel Jay and water park by an underground tunnel; you never even have to go outside because the buildings are essentially all part of one huge complex. I had initially inquired about getting a room at the Hotel Jay since we knew the water park was going to be big with the boys, but it was great to find out that staying at the Tram Haus works out just as well. I’m sure this is a huge benefit to people in the winter; imagine being wet from the water park and having to head out into the elements at a place like Jay Peak. It’s actually quite a labyrinthine trip to get through the whole complex from the Tram Haus to the Pump House, but it’s fun and you get to see a lot of what the resort has to offer. You go right past Mountain Dick’s Pizza, so you can stop in if you want to get a bite to eat, and we saw that the Hotel Jay even has a big family/game room for people to use. In addition, right next to the water park there is a huge arcade. Overall it’s quite a mesmerizing place to be a kid, and the boys were really bouncing off the walls due to the dizzying array of things to do.
As for the Pump House Waterpark, it was the first time visiting for me, but E and the boys had been before so they were my tour guides. They started things off with a couple of laps in the Big River, which is the lazy-river style stream of water that encircles the area of the water park. It’s actually got a decent current, and you can ride tubes or just swim around and go with the flow. I was next introduced to the four main water slides. I joined Dylan on the “blue” water slide, where you ride on one of the inflatable tubes just like in the Big River. It’s been years since I’ve been to a water park, but man, these slides are fast! The last time I’d been on a water slide before these ones was when we were at a party back home and someone had rented one from their local water slide hire shop, it was great fun but nowhere near as big as these ones. In one section you go into complete darkness and as the slide dips and turns, it really throws you around. I was yelling up a storm on the blue slide once the darkness hit – you really have no idea which way the slide is going to go next, so you’re just on the edge of your seat. The “green” water slide has a similar setup, and Dylan and I started on our knees on our double tube – we had a pretty bad tumble in the dark section of the slide and ended up falling off our tube! It was pretty crazy, and if you’re looking for something tame, these slides are certainly not it. I was next introduced to the “orange” slide, which kicks it up a notch – you don’t ride a tube, and there are some serious g-forces if you let yourself pick up speed in that one. To finish off, I tried the “red” slide, which is called “La Chute”; it has an off-axis loop in it. Whoa, that one really is in a league of its own. You take an extra staircase that gets you up into a little room sticking out of the top of the water park structure – that’s already a message right there. You start off standing in what is essentially a clear, vertical coffin that gets closed around you, then the floor drops out from beneath your feet and you are just about free falling – that is until you start to get into the loop and you are crushed to the outer wall of the slide. It is a huge, harrowing rush of a ride. One very cool thing about our visit to the Pump House this evening was that since we were near the end of the day, we just walked right onto all the slides and there were no lines. We also visited a bunch of other attractions in the water park – one that I really liked was the bouldering wall that is perched right above the water, so that when you release, you just splash down. I want to get back to work on that one tomorrow. We finished off in the huge “Hot Springs” hot tub, which has a number of little coves that act like little secluded hot tubs of their own. I’d heard quite a bit about the Pump House from E and the boys and other folks that have gone, but I still wasn’t quite sure what my own experience would be like. Now that I’ve been, I’ve got to say that almost anyone will find something there that they’ll enjoy. I’d like to try the surfing wave tomorrow; there always seems to be at least a bit of a line there even when it’s slow, but it looks like it would be a lot of fun.
We stayed at the Pump House right up through the 9:00 P.M. closing, and then headed back to the room and cooked up a late dinner of pasta, bread, salad, and other stuff that we’d brought from home. The kitchen in our unit has plenty of space and naturally everything you need for cooking and cleaning is available. The boys say they already can’t wait to come again, so we’ll be watching for more lodging packages. The water park really makes the trip quite unique, and it’s certainly an incentive to stay over and make it a multi-day event. It’s also nice to be able to acknowledge Jay Peak’s efforts to make the resort a place that has got so much to offer that people will really want to come here, even if they aren’t skiing. Being able to come up and have a good time, while supporting the economy in a part of the state that could really use the boost is a win-win as far as we’re concerned. We came up two years ago for the Mother’s Day brunch at Alice’s Table for a day trip, but with all the additions to the resort since then, an overnight stay was a really good fit this time. I’m sure the incentive to take similar trips will only increase as the resort’s developments continue – I can’t wait to see what the West Bowl ski terrain expansion will be like if the resort is able to continue with their plans. On a practical note, I was able to hop right on to the free wireless here at the Tram Haus and upload this report with ease. The signal was strong, and upload and download speeds were both in the 20 Mb/sec, so uploading pictures for the trip report was a snap.
Sunday update: As forecast, the sky was gray this morning. There wasn’t any notable precipitation when we first awoke, but from our room we could see umbratilous clouds pushing their way down from Jay Peak to hide the upper mountain slopes. Brunch down at Alice’s Table was excellent, just as we’d experienced on our last Mother’s Day trip, and it felt like there were even more options available this time. While at brunch, the rains finally came, and that quickly evoked memories of the snowstorm that was taking place the last time we’d been eating there – we were even sitting at the same table!
Our brunch was right at the start of the morning, so when we were done we had time to head back to the room and relax for a while. The boys were of course chomping at the bit to get back to the water park, but they were at least able to amuse themselves watching some TV and playing their video games. They asked me some things about league of legends boosting, which I didn’t really understand, but they seemed to know a lot about and it made them happy when I helped them. Most importantly, Mom got to spend at least some of the morning relaxing in her big king bed in the master bedroom, and the boys generally let her do that. When we finally checked out, I was still curious about all those additional perks that we’d heard about on the website. The associate at the front desk eventually realized that they were part of a coupon book, and she passed a copy along to us. Indeed it’s chock full of some great Jay Peak deals, such as a family tram ride, an additional ticket for the water park, a $10 gift certificate that was good anywhere at the resort, tokens for the arcade, equipment rental at the Ice Haus Arena, etc.
After checking out, we moved on to the water park for another session, and as we headed from the car through windy sheet drizzle, it only reinforced the fact that an indoor water park is absolutely the way to go when it comes to Jay Peak. You get the winter access of course, but at any time of year, you never quite know what the mountain is going to deliver for weather. There were a few more people at the water park today compared to last night, but the slides were essentially “walk on” again, with occasionally two or three people in front of you at the slide entry. I didn’t get a chance to try the surfing, but it looks like one of the coupons we received provides a lesson with one of the instructors, so that may be useful. I’d managed to eat well at brunch (not surprisingly), but E and the boys can’t quite pull that off, so they had some lunch at “The Warming Shelter” snack bar attached to the water park. By that point, Ty and I were done swimming, so we hung out in there while E and Dylan went back out for several more laps in the Big River. Ty and I were able to watch them from our seats as they’d float by, and we had a good time chatting and relaxing in the snack bar. It’s quite a disparity of environments when you are behind the glass there. Out in the water park it’s warm, humid and loud, but in the snack bar it was the exact opposite.
Before leaving, we stopped in at the Elevation 1851′ Family Arcade, used our coupon tokens for some skee ball, and the boys played a round on one of the video games where you ride on motorcycles. We also checked out the surf shop to see if they carried any Jay Peak surf shirts; a lot of folks (including Ty and Dylan) use those type of shirts at the water park, and they help to keep you a bit warmer if you’re going to be in the water all day. I’ve got one that I use for kayaking, which also keeps away that board rash from long days of boogie boarding, and E has been wanting one for a while. The surf shop is fairly big, with lots of Jay Peak merchandise, but we had no luck on Jay Peak-specific surf shirt. That would be kind of a neat item though, a surf shirt from a ski area. As we headed home, the sky gradually brightened and eventually gave way to partly cloudy conditions, and a check of the rain gauge at the house revealed that we hadn’t even received any precipitation while we’d been gone. In the winter that precipitation pattern probably would have meant some snow for Jay Peak, while even just an hour south at the house we would have totally missed out on it – just some off season work by the famous Jay cloud.
E has been at a teacher’s conference in Boston for the past couple of days, and with the boys on spring break, I’ve been mostly out of the office to watch them. With the recent snow we’ve had, today was an obvious day for us to get out for some skiing, but based on my experience with the snow quality on Mt. Mansfield on Tuesday, skinning for turns wasn’t going to cut it with the boys. Depending on elevation, the dense Sierra Cement-style snow had been quite challenging to ski, and in order to get to the best snow, one really has to make the long trek above the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range. That’s a big ascent to ask of the boys, only to deliver challenging snow conditions that would probably frustrate them anyway, so lift-served skiing with the potential for some groomed runs seemed to be the way to go. Killington and Jay Peak were running lifts today, and since both were reporting about a foot and a half of new snow, deciding between them was a toss-up in that regard. I decided on Jay Peak, being a touch closer and hopefully a touch colder; I was also hoping to check out all the expansion that has gone on at the resort since my last visit.
Even with all the snow that the mountains have received over the past few days, there’s literally no snow in the lower valleys, and it wasn’t until fairly high elevations along Route 118 south of Montgomery that we saw any snow along the road during our trip to Jay Peak. What we saw were just a couple of old north-facing snowbanks along the side of the road, but snow cover did build steadily once we got up high enough up on Route 242, and it carried through right to the base of the resort. We parked on the tram side, and the changes in the area’s development were obvious. The last time I’d visited Jay Peak was during the Mother’s Day snowstorm in 2010, and while the Tram Haus Lodge was there and we got to eat at Alice’s Table, the new Hotel Jay and the massive Pump House Indoor Water Park were not. I could see that the new Hotel Jay was quite a step up in size from the old one, and while I couldn’t see any sign of the water park that everyone has been talking about, I figured we’d have some time for exploring the area after we gotten in some skiing.
The weather in the late morning was a mixture of clouds and blue sky, and we were presented with some impressive views of the snowy slopes. I’m not sure what the slopes had looked like before the storm, but they were totally covered today. I’d told the boys about the tram, and let them know that while it was closed for the season for skiing, they’d at least get to have a look at it. The tram was in action though, apparently running in association with some maintenance, and the boys just had to watch it dock at the Tramside Base Lodge. We booted up inside the lodge, and there was literally nobody there but employees. We could see that there were about a dozen ski bags hung in various spots along the walls, but it was obvious that we weren’t going to see too many others out on the slopes. It’s easy to see how dicey the prospects for making a profit must be on these midweek days in April, but we were thankful that the mountain was open and they were definitely getting our business. Tickets were reasonable at $45 for me and $25 apiece for the boys, and from what I’d heard, they had about two thirds of their terrain open. The resort now employs an RFID ticket system like we’re used to using at Stowe. In fact, when we bought our tickets, the associate recommended removing our StoweRFID passes just in case they interfered with the signal on our Jay Peak tickets.
We kicked things off with a ride on the Flyer Express Quad, which whisked us right up toward the peak. We did see some skiers down below us on Exhibition, and the snow looked fantastic. Coverage was deep and soft thanks to the storm, so the only concern was whether or not the snow was sticky; unfortunately it’s not easy to tell that from just watching a skier make turns, since you can’t see the subtle corrections being made by their muscles as they adjust their balance, but the folks we saw sure seemed to be enjoying themselves as they silently cut arcs into the groomed snow. The air temperature was definitely cooler when we reached the summit of the Flyer, and we found that the snow itself was actually pretty cold and wintry. It was very dense like one would expect, and in untracked areas you only sunk into the snow an inch or two, so it certainly wasn’t mush. In fact, the mountain had a sign up about how the off piste snow was going to be difficult for the first part of the day until the temperatures warmed up a bit, since areas that had seen skier traffic were going to have relatively stiff, uneven snow surfaces.
On our first decent we set off alongside the lift on Northway, and the snow was indeed in good shape – it was somewhere between winter and spring in consistency, but stickiness wasn’t an issue. We worked our way back toward the lift line of the quad on Upper Goat Run, which was our first taste of something steeper. The snow was holding up well in consistency, even as we descended in elevation. As we merged back toward the lift line, Dylan seemed hesitant for us to drop into the steepest terrain because ski patrol had placed some poles at the top of the “slow skiing area”, but it was just serving as the warning about speed control, and there were no coverage issues. You could just sink your edges in and let the skis ride. We’d soon reached the top pitch of Upper Exhibition, something we’d seen from the lift that was steep, groomed, and looked like it was a lot of fun for the skiers that were on it. We opted to save it for after a little more warming up, and instead veered to the right down Upper Goat Run and over toward Lower River Quai. Lower River Quai is actually a bit steep, and while there, we met a family that was picking their way down it. The snow was starting to get a little tricky at that elevation, and by the time we hit the Interstate trail below, the snow had indeed taken on that stickiness that made it a challenge. I was excited about the conditions though, our sampling of the terrain suggested that we’d only have to deal with sticky snow in the low elevation runout trails, and if that was the case then we were in for some great runs.
The boys had been quite intrigued by the resort’s covered magic carpet lift, and since it was running, they just had to check it out. It feels a bit like one of those informational rides at a theme park, or maybe like the Light Tunnel in the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit Metro Airport, without the lights. Stowe has a small cover that they place over their magic carpet at night to keep off the snow; it’s only a couple feet high and the boys got a kick out of imagining what it would be like to ride with that in place. Having a full cover probably means less hassle dealing with snowfall during storms. We immediately headed to the Flyer again, and took a similar descent route with the change to Upper Exhibition this time. Exhibition delivered some nice steep turns, and was above the elevation of the sticky snow issues, but of course the flats of Harmony Lane were a slow return to the base.
With all the new snow, the mountain did indeed have quite a bit of its terrain open, so I definitely wanted to get the boys out for some farther-reaching explorations over toward the Stateside area. From the top of the Flyer we followed the usual Northway Route, and on the way noticed a skier come down from one of the untracked trails above us. He was skiing some of the dense powder up there, and although he only sunk into the snow a few inches, it looked pretty fun. We’d been playing around in the powder off to the sides of the trails a bit, but with it still being somewhat dense and stiff, you really wanted some reasonably large untracked areas to have the best experience. We were eventually lured off Northway to our right, into some terrain in the Catwalk area that hadn’t been groomed; the snow was decent, so we just sort of kept going. We found ourselves above some steep tree lines there, and I was leery of the snow conditions, but Ty really wanted to jump in… so we did. The lines were generally tracked, and we were low enough in elevation that the compaction of the snow was probably for the best, as the untracked snow was getting wet and difficult to ski. Ty and Dylan ripped up the lines though, and we found ourselves continuing on non-groomed terrain all the way to Stateside. There seemed to be just enough snow to cover the natural terrain down to the base with a couple of careful water bar navigations. That last part was a lot of fun, as I knew our general location, but had no clue of exact where we were until we popped out at the base of the Jet Triple Chair. I’ve got a reasonably good knowledge of Jay Peak, and there was definitely enough semi-obscure terrain open to keep us exploring.
The weather had continued to be a mix of clouds and sun through midday, and all around us we’d continually see these huge billowing cumulus clouds that made if feel like spring or summer. At times, we’d be able to watch snow crash out of these clouds atop various surrounding peaks. This was going on all over the place, but we had some gorgeous views of it from the summit of the Jet Triple Chair, and of course being Jay Peak, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we were going to get blasted with snow. The Jet trail itself looked really enticing, so we hit that up, and indeed the carving was fantastic. We watched a really accomplished Telemark skier crank some amazing turns down The Jet, and he seemed to be doing lap after lap. He really liked the boys’ alpine skiing though, and made a comment to me about them. If they can get their Telemark turns to be half as graceful as that guy, they’ll be well on their way to some great Telemark skiing. They had a lot of fun with the turns on The Jet, but probably just as much fun with the snowballs they were carrying and tossing at each other. Because the snow was so good, I wasn’t sure that we wanted to pull away after just one run on The Jet, but I knew the boys were soon going to request a mid afternoon snack, so we started to work our way back toward the tram side. We found ourselves in the same Catwalk trees that we’d hit on the way over, so we skied those again. After a few more pitches, the rest of the trip back was rather flat and sticky though, so I’d often help Dylan along with some pushes to keep him up at Ty’s pace.
I’d hoped to introduce the boys to some poutine in the lodge, but the cafeteria had already closed; apparently they were only keeping it open for the immediate lunchtime period on weekdays. Fortunately we’d brought a collection of our own food, and it was enough to hold us until dinner. It was still quite quiet in the lodge, but a few skiers were around, those that had apparently skied the morning and were calling it a day.
When we headed back out onto the slopes, we gave Dylan the choice of lift and descent route, and he decided on the Metro Quad. Both Ty and I told him that it only serviced the bottom flat area of the mountain (which had the stickiest snow) but he was keen on giving it a try, and it would mean we’d ridden every open lift on the mountain. The partly sunny conditions of the morning had been gradually giving way to a few more clouds, and this was actually cooling the air down enough to let the stickier snow tighten up a bit. It was a subtle change, but definitely there, and much appreciated when we were in the lower elevations.
Clouds continued to build as we made another lap on Exhibition and enjoyed the good snow, and meanwhile, the skies began to darken around us with the promise of snowfall. During the day we’d already encountered various snow showers on the mountain; we’d seen rounds of regular snow, graupel, and even these pyramidal-shaped (or miniature Hershey’s kisses as Dylan described them) flakes falling from the sky. Our next ride on the Flyer was when things really started to get exciting though. On our previous ascent we’ seen heavy precipitation in the peaks just off to our north like Jay Peak West, Middle Jay and North Jay Peak. Those peaks had soon disappeared in a maelstrom of white, and that snow clearly seemed to be building in our direction. A few minutes later it moved in on us, and it meant business. The snowfall was so intense that at a couple of points we could see a wall of flakes in front of us, and we had only a few moments to batten down the hatches (i.e. hoods and parka collars) before the lift carried us right into it. We got hit with some very heavy snowfall comprised of huge, wet snowflakes . The gargantuan flakes were at times falling so intensely that they rapidly accumulated on our goggles to the point that we could barely see, and we had to keep wiping them off almost continuously during the height of the squall; I’d say we picked up about a half inch of snow in just 10-15 minutes in that episode. The clouds and precipitation associated with that blast of snow even gave an additional shot of cooling to the air. The huge flakes also put down a fresh, stippled coating of snow on everything that was very picturesque. That whole squall cycle was a fun experience, and the same thing appeared to be going on throughout the high peaks of the Northern Greens, because Powderfreak sent in a very cool report to the American Weather Forum entitled “Photos of the passing of a convective snow squall”, in which he documented the whole progression of one of these convective snowstorms today from Stowe. He photographed the scene on Mt. Mansfield from blue skies with white, billowy cumulous clouds, to dark clouds building in, to getting hit hard with massive snowflakes, just like us. The report was very nicely done with the usual quality pictures that Powderfreak produces, and folks on the weather board seemed to enjoy it a lot.
The boys started picking areas of the mountain that they wanted to explore, and one area that we’d not yet visited was the slot between Exhibition and Northway. We eventually found ourselves approaching to top of Upper Can Am, and I was definitely concerned about what we’d find down there. I was expecting deep snow that hadn’t seen any grooming, and indeed that’s just what we found. Dylan definitely had some trepidation about dropping in, but Ty was so eager that his enthusiasm won out. There had been some skier traffic since the storm, so we found 16” of partially tracked, dense snow. Ty was flying down like a madman, but Dylan was struggling, and started to get upset because he seemed to be falling every time he made a few turns. We gave him some reassurance, and I let him know that I was battling the slope on Telemark gear, so he could definitely do it on alpine gear. As before, the fact that there had been some skier traffic was good, because the bottomless cement was the most difficult part to ski, and the partially compacted areas were better. Dylan eventually got himself into a better rhythm, and soon I found that both boys has already descended through the steepest terrain and were waiting for me. As difficult as the turns were on my Teles, the challenge was worth it. We had all this steep terrain to ourselves that had just seen a major resurfacing with 2+ inches of liquid equivalent. Coverage wasn’t an issue, and if you got your groove going you could just let the turns fall away. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to have my alpine fat skis to really crank things up, but it was a heck of a lot of fun convincing the Teles to do their job.
The traverse back to the tram base was still somewhat slow and sticky, so any cooling of the air hadn’t helped out down that low. The boys amused themselves with another ride on the magic carpet, and then we thought about finishing out the day. The snow up top was so good that we couldn’t pull away without at least one more run, even though the boys were getting anxious for some après ski food (which they knew was going to be pizza). I convinced them that we needed to do at least one more run, and said that we’d check out something new.
I wasn’t sure exactly what that something new was going to be, but we got ourselves to the big intersection below Upper Goat Run and had to make a choice. The top of Green Mountain Boys was in view, and it was only then that I realized just how good it looked. It had been groomed, and then it had seen some traffic, but it looked smooth, soft, and fast. I had the boys read the trail sign at the top of the stack… “Green… Mountain… Boys”, Ty said at a reading pace. The boys were excited to try it out, and I got a picture of them pointing to the sign with their poles. The different generations of intermediate trail signs left Dylan intrigued by the fact that Green Mountain Boys seemed to be not a blue square trail, but a purple square trail. He started to discuss what that might mean before I eventually suggested that it was likely just a different shade of blue from a different batch of signs. The boys didn’t want to wait around long though; they wanted to get at it, and quickly dropped in. Within moments they both moved into big, fast, swooping arcs down the trail, because they immediately felt how perfect the surface conditions were, and they knew that their edges were going to hold whatever g-forces were thrown at them. It was deep snow that had been freshly groomed and softened to perfection for carving, and matched with the fairly steep terrain, it was just beautiful. Dylan was especially invigorated by how fast he could go – when he’d make his big, fast arcs, he said it was his “gliding” technique. The end result was that they flew down the trail in a state at high speed, somewhere shy of reckless abandon, and I had my work cut out for me keeping up. Indeed they skied it like you’d expect from a couple of Green Mountain Boys, and I suspect Ethan and Ira Allen would have agreed.
I hadn’t held out much hope for interest another run, since the boys had already had pizza on their minds before the last one, but something about the experience that Green Mountain Boys had offered them lit a fire under their ski enthusiasm. When I said that we had time for another, and that we could do Green Mountain Boys again, they jumped at the opportunity. If the skiing can pull Dylan back to the slopes and away from potential pizza, you know it’s got to be good. The descent was just like the previous run, and whether it was the extra round of cooling from our earlier snow squall, or just the correct timing of the day, something had left the trail in a state that really impressed the boys. Had the lifts still been running, I think I could have kept them going, and at that stage of the day that’s not easy to do. To say that they finished the day on the highest of notes would still be an understatement.
The boys’ transcendent vibe continued as we headed into the lodge and changed out of our gear. The lodge was essentially deserted at that point, so they had the run of the place. Once they’d taken off their ski boots, they played hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in the various nooks and crannies of the Tramside Base Lodge, while I packed up the rest of the gear. We dropped everything off at the car and then went to check out Mountain Dick’s Pizza on the ground level of the new Hotel Jay. It’s got one of those modern, part wood, part metallic decors, along with some funky accessories like coat racks made of wooden spoons, and it seats about 30 to 40 people. I ordered a pie for each of us (to ensure that there would be plenty of leftovers of course, since Mom was out of town) and the boys picked out some funky looking drinks from the cooler. The pizza is good; I wouldn’t put it up quite at the level of Jimmz Pizza in Waterbury Center, but we all liked it and everyone ate their fill.
While we’d waited for our pizza to come out, I searched around and discovered that Mountain Dick’s is connected right to the interior of the hotel; eventually I realized that some of the people we’d seen picking up pizza had called from their hotel rooms. When we’d finished up our meal and boxed up our extra slices, we decided to head right through the hotel so that the boys could show me the water park. We wound our way through some halls, headed up an elevator, and came out at an elevated area at the water park entrance, overlooking all the features. It was even bigger than what I’d surmised based on all the pictures I’d seen, and the boys gave me a quick visual tour from the overlook, and they were quickly spotted by their schoolmate Connor, who was there with his family. We all got to chat a bit and catch up on the day as we headed back to our cars. While E and the boys have already been to the Pump House, it’s definitely on my list to join them next time as I’m sure we’ll have a blast.
I’ve got to say it was really nice being back at Jay Peak, having not been to the mountain for a couple of seasons. With so many great ski areas like Bolton Valley, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen notably closer to our location in Waterbury, we don’t frequent Jay Peak all that much right now. Along with the slightly longer distance though, there are also some aspects of Jay Peak that knock it down on my list: the cold, the wind, some of the long flat areas on the Tram Side, and the way the glades and trees can get tracked out (and indeed even bumped up) so quickly (relative to what I’ve experienced at places like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush where lines can sit untracked for days after a storm). Jay Peak has always touted its glades, so of course people go there for that type of skiing and those areas get a lot of traffic. I love Jay Peak’s snowfall of course, but after scrutinizing and documenting the snowfall patterns in Northern Vermont’s mountains very carefully over the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana, I’ve noticed how marginal the difference is between the snowfall at Jay Peak and that at Mt. Mansfield. I think the weather patterns over the past few seasons have exacerbated that, as they really haven’t favored Jay Peak as much as they have traditionally, but I’ve paid more attention to just how much snow Mt. Mansfield gets, and it’s impressive.
The above is really just nitpicking for the sake of comparison though, because Jay Peak is a fantastic resort that offers some excellent terrain and amazing powder – there are numerous resorts even out in the Western U.S. that would probably love to receive the amount of snowfall that Jay Peak gets. And, the whole Jay Peak experience seems to be getting better with the developments going on around the resort, at least based on what we saw on this trip. While the host of resort enhancements that have been added at Jay Peak over the past few seasons may be a turn off to some hard core skiers, they are definitely a plus in my book; not from just the family perspective, but a personal perspective as well. The developments are things that if anything will lure us up there more. One aspect is simply knowing that the resort will be active year-round, and that whenever we go we can anticipate that some dining options will be available. In the days leading up to our trip, I knew about the upcoming spring snowstorm and was very close to getting a package of a room along with ski and water park tickets. I didn’t quite find the level of discount I was looking for this time, especially since the pricing per person wasn’t as efficient without Mom along, but it was absolutely a factor luring us toward the resort. They had a really good ski and stay package going at the Tram Haus Lodge a couple of seasons back, and I’m sure that there will be some similar April deals out there in the future, since it can be a slow time of year for skiing. We’re certainly excited to check out all the new terrain when the resort expands into the West Bowl area with lift service; the feel of the mountain is really going to be different when that happens, and I’m eager to see what it’s like. Perhaps it will spread out the visitors and keep the glades and trees from getting tracked out so quickly. The sidecountry, backcountry, and in-bounds opportunities that would be provided by the new trails and lifts look really impressive. Now that the boys are older and day-ticket style skiing is becoming more practical, Jay Peak will certainly be high on our list for visits, especially if they keep staying open longer than other resorts in the state.
After that quick inch of snow we picked up yesterday, that was it for snowfall down here at the house as far as I can tell. We were back up at Bolton for some more turns starting around midday, and it was snowing pretty hard for the first part of the afternoon. Friends that we met up there said that it had snowed like that all morning. It’s nice to see what’s going on up at Jay, because they were a bit left out of the pattern earlier in the season with so much activity focused to the south. I’ve added the 7-day and seasonal snowfall totals for some of the VT resorts below:
Right now the snowpack is 98 inches at the Mt. Mansfield stake, and if one looks at the SkiVT-L plot for the snow depths, this is right around the date for the typical maximum. The historical data suggests a small dip after the end of March, but the snowpack really seems to hang around at this level until roughly mid April before it actually starts to fall off., so I could see the peak snowpack depth being anywhere in that range, especially with the current weather pattern.
Well, the first thing I’d like to say about today is that I love the new Sugarbush policy of opening trails as soon as they can (I was told that they were emphasizing opening trails this year whenever possible). Patrol opened Spillsville, along with Lower Paradise plus some others that I can’t recall. The coverage was all natural and plenty rocky, but at least they gave us the choice. The powder was pretty heavy, but floatable and it seemed to snow on and off with a few inches of accumulation. Not surprisingly, it sounds like the situation is similar at Jay Peak, with Mark Renson indicating powder up to his knees and even some open tree skiing areas in his report to SkiVT-L. There’s only 15” of snow at the Mt. Mansfield stake as of today’s report, which seems a bit on the lean side to be jumping into the woods per the 24-inch rule, but since we’re talking about Jay Peak, it’s very possible they’ve had a bit more snow than other areas. In any event, Jay Peak patroller Walter Pomroy certainly confirmed the ability to hit the woods in his SkiVT-L report; he was able to go into some areas like Timbuktu and Kitz Woods that are still officially closed, but just like our experienced at Sugarbush today, he spoke of the benefit of the somewhat dense snow, although he still recommended rock skis. Even farther to the south, people were getting off piste; in Dave Barcomb’s report from Killington today, he also indicated that they were skiing the woods, so there is definitely some good early season coverage out there. It’s great to be able to get into the trees before we even hit Thanksgiving; this is two to three weeks ahead of average based on the mean date of roughly December 12th for hitting the 24-inches of depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake that typically supports initial forays into the trees.