We’ve got Winter Storm Orson underway in the area this evening, and for this afternoon’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe we were able to enjoy the storm’s front end snow as it started to unload on Mt. Mansfield. Snowfall began around midday, and ramped up throughout the afternoon, so it was one of those days where the snow quality just got better and better with each run. There were already a few inches of powder down ahead of the storm, consistent with what I’d seen at Bolton Valley yesterday, but it really wasn’t enough to keep you off the crusty subsurface snow in all cases. By the end of the afternoon though, there was a good half foot of powder or more above the crust depending on elevation, and that firm subsurface was starting to become a memory. Coming into the afternoon, the snow quality was already quite good in spots where skier traffic had pulverized the thick layer underneath, so that terrain was getting really fun.
For our tour of the mountain today we headed right over to Mt. Mansfield and kicked things off with a trip down Ravine. Some of the ice falls are hardly noticeable right now, which says a lot about the snowpack in mid-February. We headed to the Kitchen Wall, and then down through the Nosedive Glades to Nosedive, where we discovered that the microburst zone was actually open! No doubt that the deep snowpack is allowing that, but it’s the first time I’ve skied there extensively since it was closed. It’s really fun in there though, naturally it’s a bit more open than it was before, but it offers up some novel lines. One of my initial plans for today was to visit the Sunrise Glades, Chapel Glades, and Birch Glades in case lower-angle terrain was going to allow us to stay off the crusty subsurface snow. Even with conditions much better than I’d expected, that was still on the hit list, so we had an excellent trip through all those zones. We’d caught up with Nolan just before that during an Octagon break, and he joined us on his Telemark gear. We finished off the day back at Spruce Peak with some Sensation Quad runs, and had Spruce Line all to ourselves. The wind and snow were ripping up at the Spruce Peak Summit area, but down out of the wind in places like Green Acres, there was some excellent powder.
“…it was one of those days where the snow quality just got better and better with each run.”
As of this evening, we’ve picked up at least 8 to 9 inches down here at the house from Winter Storm Orson, and I expect tomorrow’s turns to be excellent. We’ve actually got the potential for another storm in just a couple of days, so we’ll be watching that one to see what it might deliver. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake was already at roughly 80 inches today, and it should continue to climb this week.
“The snow in the chute looked so good it was almost spooky.”
My thoughts of a very early departure to Stowe for me and Ty were stymied by the fact that I had to get some work done and send it off to Stephen, but we managed to get going by around 9:30 A.M. I hadn’t eaten by that point, and we stopped in at the DD on Route 100 to really calorie up with some hearty food. Although he’d had some breakfast, Ty followed suit with at least a cream cheese bagel; it was a good idea, because I suspected we’d need those calories, and as we’d find out later in the day… they were going to be burned. We got to the mountain by mid morning, and the slopes were looking very good. The resort was reporting a fresh 9 inches overnight, and they appeared to be in the sweet spot for accumulations. We were of course really happy that the surprise dump of snow coincided with our usual Sunday visit to the mountain. We’d dressed warmly since temperatures were around 10 F, but truth be told, the temperature just didn’t have the bite that it seems to in January. It’s mid March, and either we’re acclimated, or the March sun just helps to fight off the cold.
Ty and I kicked things off with a run on the Sunny Spruce, featuring some Lower Smugglers Trees just like we’d done a couple of weeks ago, followed by a visit to the terrain above Meadows. The new snow was indeed light and dry, and the skiing in the trees was awesome, although the base was stiff in low elevation areas that were unprotected from the sun. I’d suspected that as a possibility based on the dense snow we’d found in the lower elevations at Bolton Valley yesterday, so after that warm up run our plan was to head right up into the higher elevations of Mt. Mansfield, where we knew the snow would be very well preserved.
We started off with a trip along the Kitchen Wall traverse, and hit some of the deep powder there. There had really been minimal traffic through the area at that point, so we just picked an untracked area in one of the first snowfields and had at it. That essentially led us on a long and meandering trip through various areas of tree skiing that brought us to the Fourrunner Quad. From the top of the quad I took Ty down Pipeline, which I probably haven’t skied in 20 years. I was happy that I was able to find it, but less enthused about how narrow it was. My skis have only gotten shorter since 20 years ago, so I have no idea how I skied it back then. It was already well packed out, which probably doesn’t take much, since in general people are going to side slip a lot of it anyway. It was just as steep as I remembered though, and the fall away views were spectacular. We eventually found ourselves dropping into the Hazelton Zone from the south side, and that resulted in a great run with tons of untracked snow. Somehow we even managed to get into some of the same lines we’d hit back on the 2nd, and I think our noses naturally lead us in certain directions. Knowing more about some of the big, north-facing gullies though, we managed to get ourselves into one of those, and that was pretty sweet. We’ve still got several of those to explore however, the trick is just finding exactly where to enter the zone to get there.
By the time we traversed out of the Hazelton Zone, it was time to head over to Spruce Peak for some lunch, and to meet up with Dylan, E, and all the other folks for the afternoon BJAMS ski program. After climbing and skiing the Cliff Trail Gullylast Sunday as a refresher, today the plan was to kick things up a notch and visit Profanity Chute. Skiing Profanity is a bit of a larger endeavor, since it involves going all the way to the top of The Chin, with a longer hike and a longer descent. This was a great day for it though, with a couple feet of snow midweek from winter storm Vulcan, topped off with another 9 inches of fluff from the overnight snows, the odds were favoring some really nice snow in the alpine. Joe had heard about our plans, and since he was interested in bringing his group up as well, we joined together with him, Ethan, and Julia to make a nice gondola-sized group of eight.
I’d checked on some of the boys packs down in the lodge, so once we got to the top of the gondola, the preparation for the hike went fairly smoothly. The ascent of the Climbing Gully was a little slow at first, simply because of all the fresh snow. The boot ladder was just not consolidated enough. That issue gradually waned as we got up into terrain that had been brushed by the wind a bit more. About 1/3 of the way up the gully, we stopped for a break and to let Jack and Kenny catch up with the group. In order to give them a rest, we waited a bit longer, and with temperatures in the single digits, we had to worry about getting too cold. In the upper half of the hike, I eventually had to put Kenny’s and Jack’s skis on my pack to allow them to keep pace with the rest of the group. That worked well though, and we eventually got everyone up to the Chin and the area atop Profanity Chute. Winds were probably 30-35 MPH up along the ridgeline near The Chin, but fortunately we were able to quickly get on the leeward side of the mountain by the chute.
The snow in the chute looked so good it was almost spooky. There was just one obvious ski track over on the skier’s left, but the right side was a huge field of what appeared to be powder. Just to be safe and to check on wind loading, I ski cut through that area to make sure it wasn’t going to release. It passed that test, and we let the kids just rip it up. I didn’t even have time to get my camera out because they were so quickly enamored with what lay beneath their feet. Indeed that was some mighty fine snow we hit, two to three feet of soft powder, with the denser accumulations from Vulcan topped off with last night’s fluff. I was at least able to shoot some images of Joe in the chute, since he’d waited for all the kids to go. The kids were treated to some fantastic conditions up there, with almost no tracks all the way down the second part of the chute toward Taft Lodge. There’s not much to say other than that the snow was deep, bottomless, and everywhere; that leeward side of Mansfield just really knows how to do snow right.
After following the mazes of tracks and bobsled runs through the subalpine area, getting down to Chin Clip, and then skiing all the way to the base, it was time to head back to Spruce Peak and call it a day. The kids really earned high marks today, and I was amazed at how comfortable with the exposure of the chute up in the alpine. I think that the amazing snow helped with that of course, because even when people did fall, they just immediately stopped thanks to the deep powder. The temperatures were doing a great job of preserving the snow, even when the March sun came out, and it looks like those temperatures will continue to keep preserving the snow as we head into the coming week.
One of the early signs that Stowe has received a decent shot of overnight snow, is when Powderfreak sends out a pre-sunrise update and you see some nice depth to the snowy tire tracks in the parking lot. That’s the way it went this morning, and since a few inches down low can mean even more up high. It definitely piqued my interest, and suggested that we should go for one of those morning starts ahead of our afternoon ski program. With Dylan still under the weather, and E staying home with him, it would be just Ty and I heading out today. I waited until Ty woke up, he grabbed a quick bite, and we were off.
“Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know.”
The lifts hadn’t been running too long at Spruce Peak when we arrived, and you could tell by the tracks that were appearing that there was some great fresh snow. We suited up in Spruce Camp, and then hopped on Sunny Spruce for a quick first run. When we saw that Freddie’s Chute was open, we headed right there and caught some of the fresh lines still available along the skier’s right. The snow that fell overnight was some gorgeous light and dry Champlain Powder™. There were several inches of new snow, and it skied really well, even if it didn’t have the density to keep you off the subsurface in previously tracked areas. We grabbed first tracks on some lines we knew in the Lower Smugglers Trees, and found the turns to be mostly bottomless there. We finished off with a run through the terrain above Meadows – there wasn’t quite enough powder to be bottomless down at those low elevations on south facing terrain, but the snow provided a good amount of resistance to make the turns fun.
“It was just me and Ty, and a couple hundred acres of fluff.”
It was off to Mansfield next for some Gondola runs. We started with a run in which I introduced Ty to a full trip through the Hazelton Zone. With the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake above 60” now, there are no concerns about coverage. We just let our noses guide us through the terrain, and it was powder-filled adventure through streambeds, powder fields and steep river banks. We didn’t see another soul, and we didn’t even run into any tracks until we got down toward the main line in the bottom half of the area. It was just me and Ty, and a couple hundred acres of fluff. Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know. South facing chutes were where that crust was evident though – there featured conditions with more like six inches of powder with a crusty base underneath. Once we found that out though, we stuck to the north facing terrain and other aspects where there were no problems. Ty said he loved the explorations and skiing in the area, along with the roller coaster exit traverse at the end. One comment he made was that the run seemed sort of long, which I’d argue is a nice problem to have. Our next run was through the Tombo Woods followed by some of the Switchback Trees, where the snow was great all the way to the bottom. When I did a depth check around the 2,000’-2,500’ mark on Switchback, I got a reading of 6 inches for the new snow. Ty noticed that his fat skis were serving him well, keeping him planing atop the snow and moving even when the terrain flattened out.
Ty and I headed in for lunch at the Great Room Grill, getting sandwiches from the deli area, and then met up with Luc and Jack for our afternoon session. We started them off with the run that Ty and I had skied in the morning, and Ty like the fact that he’d had both first and third tracks through the Lower Smugglers Trees for the day. Back over on Mansfield, we took a great run through the Kitchen Wall area, and worked our way all the way through the Goatdive Woods and some of the Liftline Trees. Jack hurt his leg a bit on a run through the Sunrise trees, so we made our way back to Spruce, where he took it easy for the last hour in the lodge while the rest of the group finished off with some runs on Sensation. Main Street was an interesting mix of hard manmade racing snow below the fresh stuff, but outside the racing fences was some really good powder. We’ll definitely be back to check out some of the new routes we learned there. This was definitely one of those sleeper Stowe powder days that sneak in under the radar – we were psyched to have it on a Sunday.
We kicked things off before program started, with a warm up run off the Sunny Spruce Quad. Conditions last Sunday were certainly decent, but it was easy to see that they’d taken a significant step upward today. On piste, the snow from Nemo had been worked into the groomed surfaces to make them quite soft, and off piste there was a good foot of fairly fresh powder everywhere. The boys requested a descent along the Sunny Spruce lift line on Lower Smuggler’s and it was some fine cruising. We had time for a second quick run since people were still assembling, so we checked out Nastar Hill and the open terrain above Meadows. When we’d initially arrived at the resort today I hadn’t seen many tracks up in that area, so I figured it might be crusty or tough to ski, but it was anything but tough. It was partially skier-packed snow that was gloriously soft. After ripping his way down that face Ty proclaimed, presumably with some hyperbole, that it was his “best run ever”. I get where he was going with that though, in that it was almost effortless. That’s low elevation, south-facing terrain, and the conditions were extremely impressive. After experiencing that, and having skied west-facing terrain at similar elevations at Bolton Valley yesterday, I’d say that Stowe currently has the edge in terms of conditions.
We finally met up with Ken and Jack and made our way over to Mt. Mansfield. With the new snow that has fallen thanks to Nemo, I decided that a Kitchen Wall run was in order, and the boys were fired up for that. The snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake has jumped to 55 inches with the addition of the recent snow, so that’s getting it up not too far below average. The Kitchen Wall traverse is in decent shape, although certainly not as soft and filled in as it could be. The snow in there was nice, with plenty of areas of untracked powder remaining if you were willing to poke around. Down below we found Nosedive a bit firm in the middle at times due to the manmade snow, but the edges were great and we worked those all the way back down to the Gondola.
“It was partially skier-packed snow that was gloriously soft.”
Another big plan for the day was to bring the boys out to the Bench Woods, since only Dylan has been in there with me. The first chutes bypassing Upper Gondolier were simply heinous – they’re cut overly tight for their very steep pitch to begin with, and with the traffic that has been in there, the coverage is worn down way too low. Another couple feet of base are needed in there to make them respectable. Even before we went in, I told the boys that I usually skip those chutes because they hardly ever ski well, but I wanted them to at least experience what they were like. Well, one trip was enough for them to realize why those chutes just aren’t that great. Down in the Bench Woods the powder was actually quite plentiful. Ken and I had a blast gliding our way down the center of a small streambed that just kept going and going. Luke and Jack definitely struggled in there though, since there are a lot of saplings that make many lines feel tight, and they don’t have a ton of experience in that terrain. Ty and Dylan handled it well, although they did get a bit bored waiting for the other boys if they were getting stuck in the powder or having trouble navigating. It’s a long run as it is, but between the struggles and boredom, Ken and I were probably the only ones really having an all out blast. However, we had a lot of good teaching moments dealing with the nuances of skiing that sort of terrain. The past couple of times I’ve been in there, it’s seemed like there’s a lot more underbrush compared to what I remember back in the 90s – I just think the whole place needs a good pruning and it will ski many, many times better.
Coming back out of the Bench Woods felt like a never ending saga for the boys, so when we finally arrived, I decided that they’d earned a good snack break in the Midway Lodge, just like Dylan and I had done that last time we’d skied in there. And, just like Dylan and I had done, we kicked back near the Fireplace in the near solitude of Midway in the late afternoon. For a snack I grabbed what looked like some maple granola made by Mitzi’s, a local Stowe company also known as Fresh Mountain Foods. That granola is fantastic, and when I shared it around among the group everyone was impressed. I suspect they carry it in other parts of the resort, but it’s going to be an excuse to get me back to the Midway Lodge.
“Ken and I had a blast gliding our way down the center of a small streambed that just kept going and going.”
After the extended break to recover from our Bench Woods adventure, we had time for one more run. We decided to keep it simple due to the late hour, so we just did a Perry Merrill to Gondolier run. The snow was again quite good, and excellent along the edges. About halfway down I heard the boys yelling about something they could see off in the distance, and the best we could tell, since it was way down in the base area, it looked like a car was on fire. Black smoke was billowing hundreds of feet in the air, but it was hard to imagine that it could actually be a car on fire. We rushed down to the base, and low and behold there was indeed an SUV on fire. It was the weirdest thing, and not something you’d expect to see at the base of a ski resort (or I guess most places for that matter). I’m not sure what caused it, but perhaps we’ll hear about it in the paper.
The boys wanted to hang around for some food, so we had a mellow meal by one of the south windows in the mostly deserted Great Room Grill. Claire is off to Africa for a couple of weeks, so she and Luke weren’t there, and Jack and his family were with some other folks over by the Spruce Camp Bar. Jack and the boys played some sort of hide and go seek around the lodge though, and kept themselves amused until we finally had to reel them in. At least E got them to eat most of their food – they often forget to eat and then they want more food when we get home.
We’ve got another winter storm coming into the area tomorrow. It’s a low pressure system that will be working in nearly overhead out of the Midwest, and in The Weather Channel naming scheme this one is called “Orko”. Down here in the valley it sounds like we’ll have a bit of rain with snow on the front and back ends of the storm, but it sounds like the higher elevations are going to be mostly snow with perhaps a little sleet. The current forecast calls for 5 to 9 inches in the Mt. Mansfield area, although the models are showing some good potential for upslope snow on the back side lingering into Tuesday night, so totals could ultimately be higher than that if the upslope really kicks in.
The local mountains have received multiple feet of snow over the past week or so, and the ski conditions have been mid-winter fantastic, but the continuous stretch of perfect snow looked like it might end in some areas yesterday as temperatures began to edge above freezing. I was at Bolton Valley yesterday, and we had a great morning of powder and packed powder conditions, but when the sun came out in the afternoon, temperatures shot up above freezing, and the powder began to get mushy. Temperatures dropped back down last night, which meant that any snow softening eventually stopped, but the question remained as to just how high the freezing levels had gone. There had been some concerns about rain overnight, but none of that seemed to materialize. We even had a touch of graupel/snow down at the house to sweeten up the surface of the snowpack, but what we really wanted to find out was what had gone on at Stowe, because that was our destination for today. Had it warmed up enough yesterday to affect the snow surfaces, and how much new snow had fallen on the mountain after that point? More snow was actually in the forecast for today, and that potential was encouraging, as it offered the chance to freshen up any surfaces that had deteriorated with the temperature changes. There were plenty of possible outcomes for today’s ski surfaces, but our questions wouldn’t really be answered until we actually got on the snow in the afternoon. Fortunately, the snow that was in the forecast had already materialized, and Mt. Mansfield was busy catching its share.
When we finally headed off to Stowe in the late morning, we found that snow was falling lightly in the mountain valleys to the east of the Greens. Meanwhile, off to the west, the mountains themselves were hidden behind a veil of more intense snowfall. As we approached Mt. Mansfield the snowfall grew steadier and heavier, and while it would still be considered light in intensity, it was accumulating even at the base elevations (~1,500’) when we arrived at the resort. As is often the case, the snowfall was heaviest over by The Chin, so we knew that there would be some decent accumulations up there.
It was pretty much the usual Sunday routine at the resort today, although the number of visitors was definitely on the low side. We had our standard coaching group, with me, Ty, Dylan, Luke and Jack. Claire was likely to be with us as well, but she had to make sure that all the groups were set for coaches, so the rest of us did a warm up run while she took care of coordinator duties. We made a trip up the Sunny Spruce Quad, and up top at around 2,500’ we found new snow accumulations of roughly two inches. The warming from yesterday had indeed hit Spruce Peak up to that elevation though, as there was a melt/sun crust below the new snow that made the off piste skiing not nearly as blissful as what it had been last week. With that said, it wasn’t a massive warm up, so our forays into the trees in the Side Street area revealed some decent turns, but you really had to be on your game due to the variability of the subsurface.
While not fantastic, the off piste conditions on the lower slopes of Spruce were encouraging enough to make me suspect that with both higher elevations and a much better aspect, the snow on Mt. Mansfield could be really good. So, as soon as Claire found out that all the program groups were set, we met up and were immediately on the Over Easy to the big mountain. Last Sunday we’d brought the boys to the Chin Clip Streambed for the first time, and this new playground was met with resounding enthusiasm. To continue the trend of terrain introductions, I decided that it was time to get them out to the Kitchen Wall. Today was the perfect opportunity to do it as well, since if anywhere on the mountain had preserved winter snow, the Kitchen Wall would do it. As a test of snow conditions, for our first run we cut in below the Kitchen Wall traverse – I didn’t quite want to bring them all the way out on the full traverse if we were going to be dealing with some sort of nasty crust. There was no cause for concern though, the cooling power of Mt. Mansfield had been in full effect yesterday; thus there were no signs of crust and the powder was fantastic. We skied through the catacombs of trees that brought us back to Cliff Trail, and the snow was simply amazing, mid winter powder down to the 3,000’ elevation. We caught Rim Rock over to Switchback, and while not quite as stellar as it had been above the 3,000’ mark, the snow still stayed decent all the way down to ~2,500’. Below that elevation you could manage some OK turns off piste, but the returns on your effort were minimal, so on piste was the way to go. Grooming and/or skier traffic took care of any subsurface issues, so turns were beautiful if you stayed on piste. Still, a half run with off piste options topped off with another 1,000’ of groomers made for quite a nice descent, so we immediately hit the gondola for another round.
This time, I brought Claire and the boys on the full Kitchen Wall traverse, and the ups and downs on the unknown route into what seemed like wilderness, brought plenty of excitement to the boys’ faces. As usual, we encountered lots of cool snow formations that had been brought about by almost a season’s worth of leeward snow accumulations from winter storms. When I felt that we’d traversed far enough, we stopped atop one of the snowfields, and let the boys play around in the snow and soak in the atmosphere. They had a great time, climbing on the rocks, poking their noses into caves, playing in the steep and deep faces of snow, and just being boys in winter. The snow quality was fantastic up there, and with layer after layer from the recent storms, it was indeed starting to get deep. Writing this report up now, as I look at the notes I made myself about the Kitchen Wall I see the words “bottomless, bottomless, bottomless”. I’d say that sums it up right there. Dropping steep turns through one of the Kitchen Wall snowfields was certainly a primo experience, but all down through the trees below, the snow was excellent. We eventually made our way along Cliff Trail, over to Nosedive, and then worked into the Goatdive woods to see just how low we could go with good snow off piste. We hung in there for a while before eventually merging back on piste at Goat, where the bumps were in mid winter form. When one starts a run at the Kitchen Wall, it can seem like the run goes on forever, and this was one of those. When we finally reached the base of the Fourrunner Quad, it felt like ages had gone by since the boys were floundering around in the deep powder way up below the Mansfield ridgeline.
Powderfreak recently posted a picture from a run on Stowe’s Lookout trail in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather, and it got me thinking about what a great trail it is, so I brought it up as a descent option and the boys were game. I’m not sure how long it’s been since we’ve taken a run down Lookout, but I’m continually impressed with just how steep and long it is. We got treated to some great snow surfaces, and the sight of big beautiful flakes falling from the sky as Mother Nature continued to beef up the cushioning of the surfaces for us. The boys still hadn’t had enough after that run though, so from back at the Gondola we skied the Tombo Waterfall down to Perry Merrill. Ty led an amazing charge down Perry Merrill, with relentless slalom turns along the skier’s right of the trail. It was all I could do to keep up with his pace, and anyone that hung with us got quite a workout. If I’d been on my Telemark skis there was no way I would have been able to keep that pace for that long, so thank heavens for alpines.
So although there was some 32+ warming below the 2,500’ level on Mt. Mansfield yesterday, the conditions really were quite impressive over much of the mountain today. Although not intense, it snowed all afternoon, and that really helped to keep improving those surfaces that needed it. There had to be a few inches of new accumulation up above 3,000’, and since it doesn’t seem like those areas ever went above freezing anyway, they’re just going to be getting better. Basically everything on the upper half of the mountain was very much like it’s been all week, deep and soft like you’d expect to find in Northern Vermont in March. Some of the heaviest snowfall we saw today was actually when we were leaving, and it was still snowing in the valleys most of the way home. The snow gradually dropped off in intensity as we headed toward Stowe Village, and was fairly minimal through Waterbury Center and Colbyville, but as we headed down the hill from Colbyville into Waterbury, it began to pick up and I suspected it was even more intense at the house. We looked down the Winooski Valley and saw that indeed there was an impressive wall of white in that direction. By this evening, we’d picked up another couple of inches of snow at the house, which should translate into at least that much in the mountains. Conditions are very good, so get out and get those turns.