Thursday night’s storm did a nice job of coating the mountains with some picturesque snow, and that seemed to be on Josh’s mind when he contacted us about a potential photo shoot today up at Bolton Valley. I hadn’t gotten the details on the timing via the phone message he left with me, but I knew the biggest hurdle with respect to our participation was whether or not it would interfere with BJAMS ski program in the afternoon at Stowe. I wasn’t optimistic about fitting everything in today, but when I checked in with E about the possibilities on Friday evening, she said the scheduled session at Bolton Valley actually looked like it would fit into the day. Josh wanted us in the 8:30 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. timeframe, and that would be easy to fit in prior to our afternoon session. The photo shoot plan would likely be for groomed slopes, so when I got back from skiing yesterday, I packed the ski rack with carving skis for the morning, and fatter boards for the afternoon at Stowe. From actual experiences on my solo trip to Bolton yesterday, and recent Stowe snow reports from Powderfreak, I knew we’d be able to get into plenty of powder on the slopes of Mansfield. The weather continued its cool trend today, with lows at our place somewhere down in the single digits F, so I expected snow surfaces both on and off piste to be preserved in the wintry state I’d seen yesterday.
We got together with Josh in his office, and as we geared up, we met our photographer Mike. I hadn’t met Mike before, but I’d seen him a number of times in some of the great Bolton Valley promotional videos that he’s put out this season. He started us off with an Alta Vista run, and shot stills of us skiing at various angles as he made use of the morning sunlight. Then it was on to some Spillway shots that he had planned, and it was great to see that Spillway was actually in nice shape with respect to a carving surface. Sometimes it can really get stripped of its snow by the winds, but with recent snow and a fresh grooming, our skis were able to bite in quite well. The photos went smoothly and Mike was pleased, so for the bottom half of that run we just had a free ski. That gave us a chance to head off into the powder, so Ty, Dylan, E, and I all jumped off to the untracked snow sitting off to the left along the junction with Sherman’s Pass. I was in the lead and heard a lot of commotion behind me, and when we finally got back onto the groomed snow I found out what it was all about. It turned out that Ty was near the back of the group, and as he looked ahead he found me taking every little powder line that he’d spied. Finally, just as we were about to return to the trail, I opted for something different and a line was going to be his… except Dylan took that one. It was all in good fun of course, but apparently we’ve got some seriously similar thoughts on line choice. I wonder how that could have evolved.
Mike had to be done around 10:00 A.M. for other duties, so we decided to make that the last photo run. He’d already set up Josh for capturing the time lapse of the pond filling for the pond skimming taking place later in the day, so things were definitely hopping at the resort as they set up for that event.
From the bottom of Snowflake it was a quick trip across the Village Circle to Josh’s office, where we got out of ski boots and prepared for the trip over to Stowe for the next phase of the day. One great bonus from today was that Josh gave us a huge promotional Bolton Valley poster that features an image of E and the boys skiing. They’d used it for ski shows and other events, but now they’re done with it. It’s made of fabric and seems quite durable, so it should make a great addition to the walls of the recreational area downstairs.
The Northern Greens picked up about a half foot of snow on Thursday night, and it made for some fun powder skiing on Friday. I couldn’t get out Friday myself, but temperatures stayed nice and wintry to preserve the powder in the mountains, so I headed up to the mountain for a little skiing this afternoon. I knew that Bolton Valley had done well with the storm, and although there would have been plenty of visitors hitting the new snow between Friday and this morning, trips to the usual spots off the beaten path were likely to yield some of that classic Bolton powder.
Temperatures were around 30 F down in the valley, and upper 20s F when I pulled into the Timberline lot at ~1,500’. I was happy to see that the resort is letting folks park in the upper Timberline parking lot near some of the winter driving center terrain, so I parked up there planning to ski right back to the car. Driving through both the lower- and higher-elevation valleys today, one could see that the freezing level must have risen up to around the 2,000’ mark yesterday, because while below that point there’s no notable snow accumulation on the trees, above that point, the trees were remarkably white and wintry. The fresh snow was also especially bright with the late-March sunshine that was out there.
I hopped on the Timberline Quad and I could see that the fresh snow in the 1,500’ – 2,000’ elevation range was just an inch or two, and subsurfaces there were a bit scratchy, but above that, things generally got deeper and softer. I saw that Cam was manning the mid station, and seemed to be having a good time in the sun while he monitored his post. I headed over toward the main mountain, and as I hit Five Corners, I remembered that the Snowflake Lift wasn’t running, so I skated up to the Snowflake Summit to see what the potential was for fresh tracks in the powder. Indeed Snowflake Bentley had just a couple of tracks on it, probably from patrol, so I had almost the entirety of the trail to choose from with 4 to 5 inches of untracked snow on it. That was a treat, and after that I put the Snowflake terrain on the hit list if I found myself in the area again.
I headed up the Vista Quad and took a run through the Villager Trees, finding some nice powder in there. Despite the relatively cold temperatures, it’s till important to pay attention to aspect, because terrain facing the south and exposed to sun has certainly seen more melting underneath than more protected aspects. I found myself near Snowflake again, so I farmed another run of powder next to my tracks from the previous pass.
I thought that White Rabbit might be a good bet for today, so I set a course for Wilderness. On the ride up, I could see lots of people having a great time in the Wilderness Woods – with the soft snow and sunshine it was simply looking great in there. Peggy Dow’s was in nice shape, especially with that high elevation, and White Rabbit had a few tracks, but plenty of untracked powder. Snow Hole was actually skiing really well, and just the way the contours of the snow have evolved in there let me know that indeed our snowpack is currently quite deep.
I decided to head up the Vista Quad again and take a big, varied run all the way back to the car to finish off the session. I skied a nice long full vertical run of Vista à Cobrass à Five Corners à Sixth Corner à Timberline Lane à Tattle Tale Woods à Split Rock Traverse à KP Glades à Spur à Corner Pocket Glades à Timberline Run à Car. That definitely got the Telemark burn going, and left me with a very satisfying feeling with respect to exercise by the time I’d hit the car. Just about as good though was being able to change boots and put my gear away in that warm sunshine. It’s fun this time of year to get midwinter snow surfaces and a taste of spring warmth at the same time.
It’s been another one of those weeks without much new snow, so we didn’t have a ton of inspiration to get out on the slopes this weekend. There was a day or two during the midweek period that got into the 30s F in the valleys, and it might have warmed some of the south-facing or lower-elevation slopes in the mountains, but it didn’t seem like there had been enough warmth to affect the conditions in the higher elevations. Yesterday in a post on the American Weather Forum, Powderfreak mentioned that at Stowe, the upper mountain was in midwinter form. We didn’t ski yesterday with somewhat gray skies and mountain temperatures in the low 30s F, but today we had to head out in the afternoon for ski program. The forecast looked very unappealing – single digits at the summit elevations with winds pushing practical temperatures down into the -20s F. Morrisville canceled their ski program for today based on the forecast, and E considered it, but canceling for cold in late March just didn’t seem right. With a sun angle equivalent to September, it’s really hard to get that feel of deep winter cold this late in the season. Even when the temperature is the same, late March cold is just not what it is in mid-January. It would have been hard to inform everyone of a cancellation of the program this morning anyway, so ski program was on, and off to Stowe we went. I wasn’t too optimistic about the overall conditions off piste, and planned on a lot of on piste skiing, so it felt strange not packing the fat skis on the rack for the first time in what must be at least a couple of months.
It was indeed brisk as we walked into the wind through the Spruce Peak Village, but as we gathered for meeting up with our ski groups in the sunshine at the base of Spruce Peak, it was clear that the March sunshine was beating out the cold. My plan was to take the group over to the Gondola to stay out of the wind and get a feel for the conditions in the higher elevations, and a quick conversation with Rick confirmed that the woods were the place to go. He said that the wind had pushed a lot of snow into the trees and the powder was fantastic. Hearing that, I decided that we’d explore some of the terrain that we’ve been eyeing above us whenever we return on the traverse from Angel Food. Very few people cut off the outward traverse prior to the main Angel Food line, and the powder just sits there. Several people from our group were actually out today for various reasons, so our crew was only six students with Ken and myself as coaches; that would be a very manageable number for out in the Angel Food trees
“I told everyone to hold up as I assessed the terrain options below, and found that we were right atop a 15-foot, double-decker frozen waterfall.”
Embarking on our first run, we were faced with the reality of what the wind had done to exposed slopes. The first hundred yards of Upper Gondolier was a heinous, bulletproof disaster. None of us generally pay too much attention to the sharpness of our ski edges since they’re typically not that critical for our usual skiing, but it hardly seemed to matter what edges were like on the start of that run. My carving skis typically have at least some edge, but heck if I could get a good hold on the stuff we hit. Fortunately, the snow improved as we got lower on the trail and the loose snow hadn’t been blasted away by the wind. Picking the right spots where the snow had collected actually yielded some decent turns, but you still had to be aware of scoured areas.
Fortunately we were into the trees within another couple of minutes, and it was an entirely different world. It was obvious that the idea of a spring thaw clearly has not caught on in the higher elevations; as everyone started to probe the state of the snowpack, they found themselves pushing their ski poles down past the handles as they disappeared into bottomless nothingness. We stopped on the Angel Food traverse about 50-100 yards before Angel Food itself, chose a nice area of untracked snow, and dropped in. As we headed down, a snowboarder on the traverse told us that we should be careful down there. I could only assume that meant cliffs or some sort of terrain trap, but whatever the case, I knew the kids could handle it.
The powder skiing was fantastic, and everyone devoured the lines we found. At the completion of our first pitch, it was obvious what the guy up on the traverse had been talking about. I told everyone to hold up as I assessed the terrain options below, and found that we were right atop a 15-foot, double-decker frozen waterfall. I let the group know what lay below us, and said that everyone could take a look and decide what they wanted to do. Dylan said that he’d start looking for a way around that everyone could use as needed, and headed off to skiers right. I dropped into the icefall to get below it and scout the area, carefully negotiating a landing off to skier’s left to preserve the main landing zone for anyone else that wanted to jump. There was no doubt that it was a technical line; the options were either to drop the whole thing at once, or carefully dial in a landing on the small shelf below the first tier and then finish off the final drop into the powder. The entrance was very narrow, and I told the members of the group up top that if they wanted the most options, they should set themselves up for the entry with their ski tips to skier’s left. I assured them that the landing zone was clear, and filled with bottomless powder at a reasonable slope. Some folks assessed the jump from above; others could tell from afar that it was more than they were looking for and followed the route that Dylan had made around the side. Ultimately it was Ty and Wiley that decided to go for the drop. Although I made sure that they knew of the more conservative route of pausing on the middle tier, they both pretty much straight-lined it from the top. Ty went first and made an impressive show of essentially just touching down briefly on the middle tier during his drop, much like running a pillow line. Wiley took a line a bit more off to skier’s left and did a nice job, although he did eject when his skis sunk into the deep powder at the base of the icefall. Ken contemplated the drop as well, but after discussion we decided that it was better for him to go around and play it safe. Hats off to Ty and Wiley for going forth on that one, because I can tell you that when you looked down from the top of that thing you realized that you were higher than the roof of a single story house. Even with plenty of sloped, bottomless powder below, it still takes some skill and confidence to negotiate such an obstacle.
We didn’t encounter any more huge icefalls on that run, but we did find ourselves in a lot of untracked bottomless powder. We worked our way in and out of various gullies and ravines, and found that it was a veritable skier’s playground. After a while we ran into the main return traverse, and contemplated taking a longer run all the way down to Route 108, but the powder down at the base elevations was starting to get a bit shallower due to dense layers below that had been partially affected by spring temperatures. It seemed like the best bang for our buck would be to simply take the Gondola up and start from the top again. We paused for a brief snack and bathroom break in the Midway Lodge, and found the typically deserted upstairs seating area filled with people. To find it like that in the middle of a routine Sunday afternoon was very surprising, so there must have been something going on. We headed to the downstairs seating area instead, and found that it was fortunately deserted.
After our break it was right back up the Gondola and all the way out to Angel Food proper. Our approach this time was to ski the first pitch of the run, and then cut skier’s right into lines that would be farther north than what we’d just skied. After a bit of cutting through the evergreens, lines began to open up and the group was off into powder city again. We caught some great additional lines, and gradually found ourselves in some of the same drainages that we’d hit on the previous run. We mixed up our lines a bit based on our prior experience, and wound up coming out right at the bridge at the bottom of the traverse. The kids remarked at the four to five feet of snow that sat atop the bridge, which was a testament to the impressive snowpack that sits even at the base elevations of the resort.
We headed back to Spruce Peak and while most of the kids headed off to the s’mores area, Kenny and Luc wanted to take another run, so I said I’d join them. Of course the quality of the snow was nothing like what we’d just been skiing, but I got to watch Kenny on the groomed snow putting down some impressive carves. He’s really improved a ton in the past couple of seasons, and as I’ve always expected with his athleticism, time on snow was all he’d need. I’d say my only regret from today was thinking that we’d be skiing on mostly groomed snow and not bringing our fat skis. My carving skis are fine, but I could feel the lack of width and rocker making turns just that little bit tougher when the powder started to get a bit shallower. I guess that’s what one gets for doubting Mt. Mansfield. The Mansfield manta should probably be, “If in doubt, bring the fat skis.” The powder skiing was great though, and by riding in the Gondola and skiing in the trees, any cold and wind were essentially non issues. When someone would crash in the powder today, the rest of the group would just sit down in the sun and relax, and it was really comfortable. Despite the initially daunting weather forecast, I have to admit that it was a fantastic day. By the end, Dylan had devised his own version of what the forecast should have been; he said the forecast should have indicated that “There was a high chance of awesomeness.” I’d say that forecast verified.
The weather shifted into a bit of a spring-like pattern this past week, with temperatures getting above freezing even in the mountains. Knowing that the snow had tightened up as colder temperatures moved back in by Thursday and Friday, we didn’t ski yesterday, but instead waited until today when Mother Nature brought in our latest winter storm. The storm actually started up yesterday at a rather modest pace, and accumulations were generally just 3 to 5 inches at the resorts as of this morning. It was a high water content snow though, and it really held the potential to cover up the underlying subsurface. And, that snow even continued to fall throughout the morning at a more fervent pace, so the prospects for bottomless powder this afternoon were looking very good.
“I was amazed at how good the snow was; we knew the surface powder was going to be good, but it really seemed like traffic had been light in there because even the packed snow underneath was really quite nice.”
We arrived at the mountain early enough to take a quick run off the Sunny Spruce Quad before ski program began, and we could tell that the mountain had already received a nice resurfacing. Trails that people had skied showed a few firm areas, but anywhere that hadn’t been touched was beautiful. When the lower slopes of Spruce Peak have been resurfaced, you know that the slopes of Mt. Mansfield are going to be excellent. As I looked over toward The Chin and saw how the Gondola simply disappeared into the snowfall, I knew we were going to make our way over there in short order.
Today’s group was one of our biggest of the season, with Ty, Dylan, me, Joe, Ethan, Luc, Elisabeth, Kenny, Jack, Wiley, Johan, Julia, and big Luke it numbered 13. Last Sunday we hiked up into the Mt. Mansfield alpine, and it was tough to manage at times with a group that size, but with today being a storm day we were staying down low and I expected it to be much easier. Today Joe and I assigned everyone a buddy that they were to keep tabs on as well; since we’d be skiing a lot (as it turned out, almost exclusively) in the trees, we definitely wanted that system in place. It’s just too easy for folks to get separated when tree skiing, and the bigger the group, the harder it gets to keep everyone relatively coalesced.
Once gathered we headed right over to the Gondola and were surprised to find a rather large queue sticking right out of the lower terminal. There was a big AIG event going on, but we suspected the line was in part due to folks riding the Gondola to stay out of the wind. Elisabeth told us that it was really windy on the Fourrunner Quad, and I could tell that today was going to be a windy one even when we were on Sunny Spruce. It was a perfect day to stay in the shelter of the trees, so our first run was down Ravine. I was amazed at how good the snow was; we knew the surface powder was going to be good, but it really seemed like traffic had been light in there because even the packed snow underneath was really quite nice. Ravine is in excellent condition as one would expect this time of year, with many of the ice falls looking rather small because so much snow has piled in. Everyone tackled the large ice fall well, and each person did it in their own style as I shot photos. Some of us made forays into the powder in the trees off to the sides of the main ravine, and that powder was sweet. Although in spots, the trails bore the firmness that suggested temperatures had risen above freezing at some point, with the off piste skiing it was really hard to tell.
We might have stayed for another run on the Gondola were it not for that surprisingly long lift queue, but leaving meant that we were quickly on to my other plans for the day. With the Fourrunner Quad really getting up there into today’s winds, I decided that we should stay low and work the trees off the Mountain Triple Chair to see how the snow was faring down there. We started off heading through the Chapel Glades, and as soon as I got off into the untracked powder outside the main lines, I knew that we’d found an activity that would keep us going the whole afternoon. The group proceeded to work just about every segment of off piste terrain from that southern end of the mountain, and there was so much untracked powder that even our group of 13 was going back to areas more than once.
“Whether it’s the awesome coverage, the great snow, or their abilities hitting their stride as we get into the latter part of the season, the students seem to be firing on all cylinders.”
Whether or not it was the buddy system helping out, or the newer members of the group simply learning our typical dynamic and modus operandi, things just worked today. As large as it was, the group somehow meshed and there was no splintering or wandering. Folks knew just when to wait (such as when we’d encounter a trail) and when someone crashed or got stuck in the powder, people always chipped in and helped them right out. One thing I’m very excited about is that everyone’s tree skiing is now at a level where I can take them on just about anything without much forethought. If I see a chunk of terrain that looks interesting, I just dive in and say let’s go. If we come upon cliffs, or drainage traps, or denser areas of trees, it doesn’t matter because everyone can handle it. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed by everyone’s skiing today. Whether it’s the awesome coverage, the great snow, or their abilities hitting their stride as we get into the latter part of the season, the students seem to be firing on all cylinders.
“That boy can really ski trees.”
Dylan was sticking with me a lot so I got to watch him ski, and he was simply on fire today. I was blasting through what I thought were some tricky lines, and he was always right there if he wanted to follow me. Sometimes he’d go first and I was just amazed at the lines he’d take. He was just gliding effortlessly through whatever came his way today; it didn’t matter how tight or open the vegetation was, he was just making it all look like he was out for a Sunday stroll. That boy can really ski trees.
“…I hit the first drop of probably 6 to 8 feet right down onto another pillow, and from there the line just flowed with fresh powder…”
One of my favorite times today was somewhere in the woods near Gulch. We’d just come down through Upper T-Line and cut our way southward into a new set of trees. Everyone was choosing their own unique paths, and Wiley had followed me to skiers left as we all approached a band off cliffs and ledges that represented a cumulative drop of probably 50-100 feet. The area that Wiley and I had was all untracked, and it was steep with some pillow drops. I told Wiley to come along as I hit the first drop of probably 6 to 8 feet right down onto another pillow, and from there the line just flowed with fresh powder right down until the terrain began to mellow out. Wiley did a great job getting down through there, and indeed everyone had managed to find their own way through the steep terrain. Watching everyone make quick work of such a challenging chunk of terrain and quickly regroup when we hit the next trail below really epitomized the way that the afternoon played out. If we can keep everyone on this wavelength and in synch the way they are, our group is going to have a lot of fun going forward. Today it seemed like every off piste shot I chose delivered great terrain and untracked snow in spades. So indeed I love it when a plan comes together, but it’s even better when it brings the group together, and that’s exactly what seemed to happen today.
It’s that time of year again – the snowpack is deep, the weather is getting warmer, and it’s time to head into the alpine on Mt. Mansfield. After checking the forecast, the plan for our group in this afternoon’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe was to head up for some skiing in the alpine. E gave everyone in our group the heads up and told them to bring their ski packs, water, and snacks for a trip up toward The Chin. One idea I was tossing around was to bring our group all the way up to The Chin and ski Profanity Gully as we did last year, but I was also concerned that with some new students in the group that hadn’t hiked into the alpine before, something like Cliff Trail Gully would be a safer bet. When Ty started grumbling in the car about the length of the trip up to Profanity, that was enough to convince me that we should start with something a bit less involved. As we’d find out, that was probably a good call.
As we gathered the groups for ski program at the base of the Spruce Peak lifts, the composition of our group gradually took shape. We wound up with ten students, and fortunately, four adults as well. That was the largest group yet that we’d be bringing up above tree line, so the added help of multiple coaches was important. We’d had on and off snow showers around the mountain, but the weather was generally just cloudy as we took the Over Easy and the Gondola up to the Cliff House. For folks that had brought their packs to carry their skis, we took a few minutes and got everyone’s equipment set, then we headed up the boot pack. The snow in Cliff Trial Gully looked excellent, and it appeared as though only one hiker had been up the gully at all since the most recent resurfacing. Unfortunately whoever set the boot pack put in some pretty big steps, and that made for a real challenge for the kids – at times they said that had to make steps that were as high as their waist! I put in some intermediate steps to make things easier, but I could only put in so many new steps and still keep a good pace of climbing. We took a good break about halfway up where everyone was able to regroup, relax, and have snacks. Wiley had an entire box of Cheez-its, and I had to laugh. It was classic because I’d done the same sort of thing on one of my hikes to The Chin. For the final half of the hike, Dylan was a monster – he took the lead and blasted in a lot of kid-sized steps to make it easier for everyone. I took the lead again for the final five to ten minutes to the ridge line, and he’d inspired me to really put in a lot of extra steps, so hopefully it made it easier on everyone behind us.
At the ridge line it was of course time for jumping into the powder on the leeward side of the ridge, and that went on for quite a while – essentially until they’d bombed all the powder they could find. Finally, it was time for the descent. I’d contemplated checking out a couple of other gullies nearby, but once I’d seen how good the snow was in the gully, there was no need. There were no tracks in it at all, so we had plenty of fresh snow. Just about everyone had begun their descent when we learned that one of Kenny’s skis wouldn’t go on. It turned out that he taken one of his mother’s boots by accident since it was very close in size to his, and it was too big to fit into is binding. Rick and I worked for a while on adjusting his binding, but there was just no getting that boot in there – even the longest setting was ¾ of an inch too small. Kenny had to work his way down the gully on one ski, and it was definitely good that we hadn’t gone all the way up to the Chin and skied Profanity. That would have been quite a chore. The powder in the gully was nice, but it was only a few inches deep up top where apparently the wind had hit the underlying snow. In the lower ¼ of the gully the powder was notably deeper, presumably because it was protected from the wind.
With the assistance of the helpful lift service staff, we set Kenny up with a trip down in the Gondola, and said we’d meet him over at Spruce as soon as we did the next run. That would give him plenty of time to work out the ski boot issue. The group hit the Tombo Waterfall and everyone did really well – the coverage is awesome in there. We got into a lot of the trees to the right of Gondolier and Joe really had some nice turns in there that kept him raving about that terrain the rest of the afternoon.
Back at Spruce we found Kenny, who had worked everything out, and we had time for a couple more runs before the end of the day. We hit Sunny Spruce a couple times and just enjoyed some good on piste turns. Joe was really interested in working on his bump skiing, so Dylan and I gave him some tips as we skied West Smuggler’s.
The weather was interesting today; snow really started to come in when we were up on the ridge line, and it gradually ramped up through the afternoon until it was absolutely dumping at the end of the day. You could hardly see 50 yards at times as the air was filled with massive flakes. I’m not sure how much the mountain was going to get, but if it was snowing that hard at the base, it must have been ridiculous up high. I suspect there will be some fun turns out there for folks tomorrow.
We had some snow earlier in the week, but there hasn’t been much in the past few days and we weren’t in any rush to head off to the mountain early today. Temperatures were pretty nice though, approaching the freezing mark in the valley, so we did want to get out for a few runs. We also thought that it would be nice to get Ty and Dylan out for some Telemark skiing since they haven’t been out on the groomed slopes for Tele practice in a while. As we took care of everything else during the day, we eventually decided to make in an evening session up at the mountain under the lights.
We headed out around 6:00 P.M. and found temperatures in the 20s F up in the Bolton Valley Village. We’re expecting a bit of snow tonight with a weak system passing through, and while there wasn’t any sign of incoming snows when we first arrived, as soon as we made our initial trip up the Vista Quad we started seeing flakes. The intensity of the snowfall increased as we headed up toward the Vista Summit until it was a steadier light snow up there. Winds were light, so it was pretty comfortable overall even up in the higher elevations.
As soon as we hit the first pitch on Sherman’s Pass, everyone started remarking about the strange snow surface underfoot. We actually didn’t know what we were going to get this evening; it had warmed up above freezing earlier this week for the first time in a long time, and we didn’t have a feel for what had really gone on in the mountains. If it did going above freezing, it must have been very slight, because there was no sign of any effect on the snow surfaces. The groomed surface was very much midwinter, and when I headed off trail, everything was dry and powdery. So, we couldn’t figure out what was up with the snow on the trail. We all felt it had a strange consistency, but couldn’t put our fingers on what it was. I think it might have been the way that the loose snow on top that had been kicked up by skiers wasn’t bonding to the groomed snow underneath, and it felt like it made you slide out a bit as if you were on ball bearings. Everyone felt it, and indeed it’s been a while since we’ve been out on groomed slopes with our Telemark skis, but it was a surprising experience. For me personally it was my first time back on my RT-86 skis in a couple of months since I was having a warranty repair being done on one of the toe pieces. I’d forgotten how light those skis are relative to my other pairs. Also, with the way the snow has been and the type of skiing we’ve been doing, it was my first time on skis much under the ~100 mm waist range in a while, so that took a bit of adjustment. As I gradually got used to the snow I was reminded of how snappy the RT-86 is on turns.
We just did a few runs, and it was a nice evening for turns. E’s toe that she’d injured was feeling pretty good, and she had definitely been worried about putting stress on it via toe-bending Telemark turns. Ty was feeling good, but Dylan was struggling somewhat with his turns and it was evident that it had been a while since he’d been on his Telemark skis. He definitely improved with each run though, so he was starting to get back in the groove. Both boys had a lot of fun doing 360 spins on the trail, and the snow conditions really lent themselves to it. We’ll be watching for some additional evening opportunities not that the weather is warmer, because it was definitely good for the boys to get out for some groomed skiing on the Teles.
Today it was back to Stowe for BJAMS ski program, and a few key considerations came into play as I planned out our session. New snow this past week has been fairly minimal, but it’s also March 1st and we’ve got a healthy late-winter snowpack hovering around 80 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Temperatures were expected to be in the 20s F, so that would plenty comfortable for any extended backcountry or sidecountry runs with the kids. It seemed like a great day for a run on the Bruce Trail, and to add a little icing on the cake, I figured we could tack on some extra vertical and hit Old Nosedive to start the run.
The temperatures were simply perfect as we gathered everyone up at the usual group meeting place by the base of the Spruce Peak lifts. We took a run on the Gondola to warm up and get us over to the Fourrunner Quad, and without new snow that we had last weekend from Winter Storm Pandora, there were no lift queues like last Sunday. In fact, there were no lift queues at all. We warmed up on Cliff Trail, and found that it was a real zoo when we got to Nosedive. I’m not sure where all the people had come from, but if one hadn’t wanted to escape to a run on the Bruce Trail before that, it certainly would have made it more appealing. As is often the case, there was plenty of firm snow on Nosedive, and with the temperatures being so consistently wintry, it presumably had to be from snowmaking and skier traffic. We finished off the run with everyone working the bump lines on Lower National while thinking about their pole work, and the snow was much better down there.
From the top of the quad we headed up Old Nosedive, and hiked a couple hundred vertical before we got to some of the narrower shots and I decided that would be enough. I hiked on a bit father for some of the views from the Nose, and I could see lots of clouds from our next incoming storm while some of the first light flakes swirled around me. The descent was fun, and the snow was generally tracked but quite soft. There were even some pockets of powder still off to the sides.
We headed down to the start of the Bruce Trail next, and after getting a couple of photos of the group, everyone dove in. The snow on the Bruce was well tracked and generally packed, but I’ve got to say that the overall conditions were right up there as some of the most consistently awesome I’ve had on there. Since much the Bruce faces south, it’s easy for some of those steep, south-facing shots to lose coverage, or at least start to thaw and refreeze a bit, but there was none of that. The coverage was simply wall to wall on every single pitch, and there just wasn’t any firm snow anywhere. I’ve certainly had softer snow on there closer to a storm, but I don’t know if I’ve seen coverage quite this perfect. There was plenty of powder everywhere off in the trees, and as usual it was untouched. Now that I’ve done the Bruce a few times I’m starting to learn that you can ski so many of the natural trees around there that you can turn it into quite a powder run if you want to. Wiley followed me through a great streambed when we were still up in the evergreen areas, and we got some beautiful first and second tracks through there. I got more untracked powder turns down in the hardwood areas than I think I’ve ever had this far from a storm, but really all you have to do is cut off the trail in those areas and the lines are all over the place. The snow was still wintry and quite fast when we were down on the Nordic trails, and we made good time aside from the typical hijinks from the boys. We had just enough time to stop in at the Notchbrook Convenience Store for snacks before we caught the bus back to the resort.
The bus dropped us off right at the temporary sport for the village fire pit, so we caught the daily s’mores for the first time this season. We hung out for a while, then some folks called it a day while I went out with the boys for one more run off Sunny Spruce. We got into the trees west of the boundary like we’d done last week, and many of our tracks were still there, only buried a bit by the few inches of snow we’ve had since then. Open areas down low had even taken on a bit of a sun crust since they face south, but I guess that’s going to happen now that we’re into March.
It looks like the pattern of storms is going to pick back up this week, with one going on already this evening and persisting for the next couple of days, and another one later in the week. Hopefully Mother Nature can cover up those tracks for us and we’ll have some fresh lines to check out next weekend.
I was a little concerned about the potential ski conditions at Stowe today based on what I’d seen at Bolton Valley in the morning, and asked E if she was thinking of cancelling the BJAMS ski program in the afternoon. But, she decided that the conditions looked reasonable enough to keep it scheduled and avoid having to do a make-up day next weekend. It was definitely the right call, because by the time we got to the mountain, any precipitation had shut off, and it looked like the conditions on Spruce Peak were excellent.
“There were still areas of untracked snow on the sides of trails, and it would just peel away beautifully with each turn, just like I’d encountered at Bolton.”
At Bolton valley in the morning, the lower half to two thirds of the main mountain was the place be, with those smooth turns in the fresh shot of dense snow. You generally wanted to be somewhere underneath the 2,500 – 2,800’ elevation range to get fresh tracks below the more substantial rain crust near the summits. The Sunny Spruce Quad covers the lower half to 2/3 of Spruce Peak, which would be in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range, so it was likely a good option. Indeed, any concerns about conditions on that terrain were removed when I took an initial run off the Sunny Spruce Quad with the boys. There were still areas of untracked snow on the sides of trails, and it would just peel away beautifully with each turn, just like I’d encountered at Bolton. The snow was so dense that it was easily bottomless and you weren’t touching down on any old surfaces. I’d traded in my fat Tele skis for some skinnier alpine skis, and I was definitely wishing I had some cambered fats like the boys did for smearing turns in that snow. We heard reports from others in our ski program who had ventured up higher to the top of the Sensation Quad at ~3,200’, and that turned out to be up into the crust elevations at that point, with ongoing freezing mist/rain that would coat your goggles. In general though, the precipitation that we’d seen in the morning had tapered off, so it was just cloudy for much of the afternoon. We joined up with E and Claire, who both had some free time to ski since there were so few participants at the program today, and we had a similarly great run off Sunny Spruce. The snow might have been just a touch heavier on that second run. It was either that, or I got that impression after not surfing quite as much untracked snow.
We didn’t stick around too long at Spruce because we were thinking of making a run down the Bruce Trail. However, when we got to the entrance at the top of the Bruce, we saw that not a soul had skied it. We could have had the entire trail to ourselves with first tracks, but between breaking trail through the high-elevation crust up top, and then potentially dealing with mushy, untracked snow down below, we didn’t think it was worth it. We took a run down Hayride instead, which had excellent, soft snow. Later, when we headed up to the top of the Gondola at ~3,600’, we could tell that the freezing level had definitely risen to bring those higher elevations more into play with respect to softening. You still didn’t want to break fresh lines up there because of the substantial crust, but stuff the people had skied was in great shape by that point and the on piste runs were excellent from top to bottom. We had great Perry Merrill and Gondolier runs; you could just carve so hard into the snow and it would hold and push right back. In between we had a good break at the Midway Lodge, where everyone got to rest those legs that were pushing hard through the new snow. I think that was our first stopover at Midway this season, and although E and Claire don’t get to head over there much with their usual ski groups, I let them know how quiet it typically was if they were looking for a peaceful place to give their students a ski break. We got some snacks and hung out by the fire, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any of Mitzi’s granola to buy. I mentioned it to Claire, and she pointed out a woman over by the ticket counter who was in fact Mitzi herself. On our last ride in the Gondola around 3:30 P.M., we were noting some sleet coming down. Normally that’s not a great sign relative to pure snow, but in this case it was a sign of some colder air somewhere up there in the higher elevations.
It was approaching 4:00 P.M. when we returned to Spruce Peak, but the boys managed to squeeze in one more run before the end of the day. Despite this past storm not being 100% snow, the conditions came together in a great way nonetheless. We may have some additional chances for snow coming in the next week or so, and we’ll have to see what kind of snow we’ll get out of them. Whatever the case, the base is in great shape for a nice long continuation of the season as we head into April and May.
Our latest winter storm to come into the area was lean on cold air, bringing the potential for mixed precipitation into the picture. The northern Vermont resorts managed to get some snow accumulations though, with 5 inches reported by Bolton Valley in the morning. Well ahead of opening, they announced that the Vista Quad was starting on wind hold, and that Mid Mountain would be the early lift. So, I threw my skins in my pack before heading up to the mountain.
The temperature was around 35 F in the valley, and only dropped a degree or two as I headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road. Accumulations of snow on the road naturally increased with elevation, and by the time I got up to the Village, you could see that the plows had cleared away some dense, wet material. The precipitation at the base was a mist of light rain with occasionally heavier bouts.
As I approached the base of the mid mountain chair, I ran into Quinn, who was just coming down from a run. Our conversation noted the wet weather, and you could tell by the state of Quinn’s outerwear that he’d been out working in it. He said that skiing was lots of fun though, and that was a good sign. The state of the skiing on the lower mountain was quickly confirmed during my ride on the mid mountain chair; beneath my feet, I watched a couple of ski instructors on Beech Seal cut beautiful arcs through the fresh layer of dense snow. The chairs of the mid mountain chair were in quite a state – they had icicles all over them from freezing rain, and it seemed like the icicles were enhanced as the chairs went through repeated cycles of freezing and thawing on their circuit up and down through various elevations.
At mid mountain, I’d just strapped on my skins and started upward, when I heard a sled approaching. It was Quinn, and he gave me a quick lift to the Vista Summit on his way to check things out. The temperature dropped below freezing, and the depths of new snow increased as we headed upward. My depth checks revealed as much as 6” of new snow up top, with the caveat that it was a bit tough to tell where the new dense snow ended, and the old snow began. The only downside, and unfortunately it was big one, was that a fairly thick crust had formed on the snow in the higher elevations due to some rain falling into the colder temperatures. Because of this, I stuck to the groomed Alta Vista for the first part of the descent. The groomed snow was much easier to manage, but it was still firm with a layer of ice on it.
I next followed Swing over to Wilderness, and ran into Quinn again as he was making his way about the mountain. I filled him in on the conditions I’d experienced on my descent from Vista, letting him know that ski condition in the lower elevations were actually much better because of the lack of crust. I made a depth check of the new snow at that Wilderness Mid Station (~2,800’) and found roughly 4 to 5 inches. Below the Wilderness Mid Station was where the turns really started to get nice. I got into that beautiful snow that I’d seen the instructors and others skiing on Beech Seal, and cut some nice arcs. It was really interesting to have the skiing improve with every turn I took downward in elevation, because it’s often the reverse due to deeper snow accumulations up high. Since I’d found that some areas in the trees on the upper mountain had been protected from the freezing rain, I dipped into the Wilderness Woods briefly to see how they were skiing. Down at that elevation, it really didn’t make much of a difference, so I quickly ended up back out on the trails since they had large expanses of untracked snow.
I rode the Mid Mountain Chair again, this time heading out on Deer Run and over to the Butterscotch Terrain Park. I ended up just skiing the park, since it wasn’t open and had plenty of fresh snow. Usually, with the more limited terrain, it’s not great when the Vista Quad is down and the main option is the Mid Mountain Chair, but with the way the new snow was set up today, it was almost the perfect option. I didn’t stick around too long this morning because I wanted to get home and dry my gear to get ready for Stowe in the afternoon – I was certainly eager to see how Mt. Mansfield fared in this latest storm.
Today will simply have to go down as one of the best days of the season at Stowe; I just can’t see how it wouldn’t. Another half foot of snow fell overnight, bringing snow totals to 20 inches in the past 72 hours, and that’s on top of the multiple feet of snow that have fallen in the past three weeks. Off piste, people push their ski poles into the snow and they go up to and beyond the handle before they hit a firm surface, and the depth of the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is approaching 90 inches. While that’s really just the average peak snowpack depth for the higher elevations of Mt. Mansfield on a seasonal basis, it clearly marked a threshold of sorts for the snowpack at all elevations on the mountain today. When even the base elevations have over 40 inches of snowpack, three to six foot trees across the mountain have now simply disappeared under the snow. All one needs to do is pull off trail, glide into the trees, and the acres upon acres of powder lines just open up. It’s that time of year when lines appear that you forgot even existed… and they’re everywhere. Stowe’s already incredible tree skiing simply rises to another level, and you are quickly overwhelmed by the fact that in a day on the mountain you won’t even be able to scratch the surface of what’s available. Let’s not forget the weather that Mother Nature provided today, in the form of brilliant late March sun. And, lest that strong sun try to mess with the quality of the powder out there, Mother Nature also saw fit to keep it just wintry and cool enough to keep even low-elevation, south-facing snow in fluffy, pristine, midwinter form. Indeed it all came together today.
When we got the word about the decent shot of additional fresh snow overnight, we decided to get an earlier than usual start so that the family could do some runs together before the start of the BJAMS ski program. As we ascended toward the first run of the day on the Sunny Spruce Quad, my eyes were drawn to the lines in the trees all around us, and how they were simply choked with snow. We tried out a new line in the Lower Smugglers Trees, and then let brought Mom to one of Ty’s favorite lines in the area so that she could have first tracks in that section. We headed under the alpine slide tunnel and onto the open terrain above Meadows, which held fantastic snow. I tried to impress upon E and the boys just how ridiculously good the quality of that snow actually was – we’re talking essentially base-elevation, south-facing terrain in late March, and there wasn’t a hint of hard base to find under there or any effects of the full sun on the snow. The fact that they weren’t flabbergasted like I was suggested that they weren’t quite as impressed, but there was no denying the quality of the powder we’d encountered off piste. It was just… so… bottomless. The powder had that density gradient that just keeps going and going, and the hard you would push down, the deeper you’d go before you’d find that there was just nothing there. E had time for one more before she had to get ready for the ski program, so we skied some similar lines with similarly fantastic results. Ty and Dylan and I followed up with a run by ourselves that included the Ridge Glades, and it was fun to watch Dylan drop through the deep powder in one of the steep entries. He’s been right back on his game, even after a few weeks off his skis.
For ski program today, we teamed up with Joe and Ken’s group, bringing in Ethan and Jack into the crew along with Ty, Dylan, and Luc. Luc’s dad joined us as well, and we did one more warm-up run on Sunny Spruce while my friend Chris got ready to meet us down at Spruce Camp. Ken suggested that we head out to some of the Ridge Glades and Side Street Trees, and that was lots of fun. Dylan followed my explorations, and naturally I managed to get us down into some ice cliffs that required some steep turns and drops, but he found a nice line to take him smoothly through.
“…it was just one of those days where everything came together to make the skiing fantastic.”
We met up with Chris, and our group of ten headed over to the Gondola with thoughts of an Angel Food run. With the snowpack this deep and fresh snow to boot, it was an obvious choice. The traverse was well set with many other folks having the same idea today, but the snow quality out there in Angel Food was simply excellent. Everyone seemed to have a great time on the snow, and Ken and I nailed our desired return traverse to the letter. One of my favorite parts of the run was spreading out among the trees on the return traverse, and getting fresh lines of powder that kept going and going and going. It was such a good run that I was totally ready to hit it again and explore more of those are to the skier’s right with fresh powder.
Some folks from the group headed back to Spruce Peak after that, but Ken, Chris and I stuck with Ty, Dylan, and Luc for another Gondola run, this time down Chin Clip and the Chin Clip Streambed, a.k.a. “Ravine”. Conditions in the streambed were excellent, and Dylan’s run through there produced one of the best comments of the day. He was having so much fun jumping off all the ice waterfalls in the streambed, that he couldn’t believe he had ever spent his time going around many of them – his comment was, “I can’t believe I was missing that in my life!” I explained to him that it’s because he’s becoming a better and more confident skier, and that a year or two ago jumping off those kinds of drops would have represented a much bigger challenge. It can be hard to recall exactly how things appeared when you were at a different stage of skiing, but he’s certainly enjoying the streambed from a whole new perspective now.
We headed over to the quad for a run from the very top of Lookout, and it was a bit windblown in spots, but improved as we got farther down. I don’t think we saw another person during the entire run. We finished off with the boy’s request for a cruise down Perry Merrill, but not before we hit the Tombo Woods and the Tombo Waterfall. The waterfall is actually getting pretty small because of all the snow that has now built up below it, but it was great fun. We even got in a little extra powder skiing along the edge of the Hazelton Zone, and it was fantastic snow just like we’d been encountering everywhere else.
Since Chris had some time, we stopped off for some dinner at Sushi Yoshi, and had quite a good feast with a variety of different sushi rolls. Ty ate a lot of sushi, but I still think he was ready to keep eating more even after it was gone. One of these days we will find out how much it takes to fill the bottomless hole he has for sushi. It was a great cap to what will definitely remembered as one of the best days of the season, and it wasn’t even the result of a big storm, it was just one of those days where everything came together to make the skiing fantastic.