Based on my tour of the Bolton Valley backcountry yesterday, I didn’t anticipate skiing much powder today with our BJAMS ski group today at Stowe, and therefore I packed narrower skis for me and the boys. I’d say it was the right call, because we spent most of our time on piste, and aside from our initial runs on the softened slopes of lower Spruce Peak, the snow we found was roughly 20% decent and 80% crap.
Fortunately for us, we did start out on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak for the beginning of this afternoon’s session, and off the Sunny Spruce Quad the snow had softened in the sun from top to bottom. The boys had taken some earlier runs, and announced that we should head for Freddie’s Chute. I couldn’t believe that they were serious, because Freddie’s has all natural snow, faces south, and is loaded with ledges and rocks that quickly catch the sun and burn out the snow. Low and behold though, the coverage was there, so even though we haven’t had any really great winter storm cycles in the past few weeks (or at all this season for that matter) the storms of mixed precipitation that we have had are substantiating the snowpack in the mountains to some degree.
After some good turns on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak, we decided to do a few runs off the Sensation Quad. I hadn’t taken the group there at all this season, so it seemed like a good day to do it with no plans for our typical Mansfield powder explorations. I was actually surprised to see all of Spruce Line open for business aside from the initial headwall, and that’s amazing because patrol never seems to open that even when we have a ton of snow. We decided to make our way there by dropping into Green Acres, and that was where we undeniably found some of the best snow of the day. The high elevation and evergreen protection kept the snow soft and powdery in there, and it was deep enough that it was one of the few times today that I wished I’d brought wider skis. Spruce Line had some good shots, but the snow was generally dense or wind-packed, so while good, there wasn’t any of the powdery snow that we’d found in Green Acres. We did some additional runs off Sensation, hitting Sterling, Upper Smugglers, and Main Street Headwall, but they were all generally a mess of ice and firm snow with decent surfaces few and far between. Ken’s description of the worst areas was “plate ice”, which is that glare ice that’s got no redeeming qualities aside from the novelty of seeing the treads of the groomers carved into it. It’s just hideous stuff that really nobody in their right mind should have to ski.
Clouds were moving in at times, and with afternoon temperatures cooling down, snow that had softened in the sun was starting to firm up, so we headed back down to the lower slopes to finish off the day. We did a few more laps off the Sunny Spruce Quad, and even down there the snow wasn’t as soft as it was earlier, so it was changing from corn to frozen granular and becoming much less inspiring. We found that a number of us have similar boot sized and we started to switch around skis – I got to try Jack’s 163 cm Nordica Bad Mind skis (120-84-109), and that was a lot of fun because unlike my Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots, they’ve got some edge. I stayed on them for the rest of the day, and I thank Jack for the demo. Not only did his skis have edges, but they’ve only got a half season on them, so they’ve still got plenty of pop in them unlike my Salomons that are over a decade old.
As the boys finished off the last few runs on their own, Ken and I took a run through the Ridge Glades and down in the glades below along the right of East Run. Some of that terrain off to the side of East Run is really steep, probably 35 degrees, and in horrible shape. Ken came into one of those steep lines very aggressively and had a pretty big tumble where his equipment went everywhere. He was generally OK, although he did say he tweaked his knee a bit and something popped, so he’s going to have to assess how things go over the next few days to see if it’s anything serious. That area of trees definitely fit in with the general 20% decent/80% crap, where there was probably 20% decent snow on the whole slope, and the rest was a combination of ice, roots, stumps, dirt, and whatever else isn’t snow – it’s just hideous. We do appear to have some snow coming into the area tomorrow, so hopefully that will add a bit more to the snowpack in areas that need it.
It’s not too often in Northern Vermont that we have winter temperatures and no access to powder, but today was pretty close. Generally, even for winter weather systems with mixed precipitation, there’s at least some snow on the back side of the storm to provide a bit of powder for skiing. As usual, that was the case with Winter Storm Quo that came through earlier this week. The storm dropped 4 to 5 inches on the resorts in the Northern Greens, and the precipitation even remained frozen throughout the event. After the dense accumulation in the middle of the storm, there was some lighter powder, but it was fluffy, and based on the way it has really settled down over the past couple of days here at the house, I suspected things would be similar up in the mountains.
With that in mind, I inquired with E and the boys to see if any of them wanted to go for a ski tour up at the mountain, but didn’t push too hard because I didn’t suspect the conditions would be quite up to the level of what we found last Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. It was a nice sunny day though, with temperatures around the freezing mark down in the valley, so whatever the conditions, it was going to be nice to get out in the fresh air.
Temperatures were in the mid to upper 20s F up at the resort, and it looked like business was good based on the number of cars in the Village lots. Although Winter Storm Quo didn’t deliver a ton of powder, it did substantiate the base depths at the resort, and the open trail count was as high as it’s been in a while. I hopped onto Broadway and headed right up toward Bryant Cabin. The powder had settled to about a half inch at Village level, and I was hoping that it would build with elevation the way it had last weekend, but it never really did. Even up at the cabin I only found about an inch or so of fluff above the base. The overall minimal availability of the powder skiing was pretty evident due to the fact that I saw more people out on the trails today on snowshoes vs. skis.
Noting the minimal powder, I decided that I ski some of the mellow trees between the Bryant Trail and Gardiner’s Lane. The skiing was surprisingly good because thanks to little if any liquid precipitation, the base below wasn’t really icy, it was mostly just dense. The turns there got me interested enough that I headed off toward North Slope to check out some of the glades there. I tried out a new area back down to Gardiner’s Lane, and then poked around in the trees and found some new glades in the A1A area that I don’t think I’d skied before. They brought me right down to the junction of Bryant and Coyote, where I skied Coyote out to World Cup and connected over to the base area. I had some good turns here and there, with some nice ones off in the untouched snow off to the sides of the groomed Nordic trails.
Back in the Village I grabbed some food for E and the boys and called it a day. Over the next week it looks like we’ll have some spring warmth and sun moving into the area, but the weather models do show the potential for some storms, so we’ll have to see if they bring some snow to the mountains.
After our morning session at Bolton working with Josh and Mike, we headed off to Stowe for BJAMS ski program. With the recent fresh snow in the past couple of days and the bright sun of late March, the alpine areas of Mansfield looked blindingly white as we approached from the south. The overall timing of the trip was actually quite good, and we were even able to grab some lunch at the Great Room Grill before the start of program. The line for the main grill area was long, and at first I thought it might be groups of ski racers from the races going on, but upon hearing all the British accents, I quickly realized that that’s who it was. They’re certainly getting some midwinter-like conditions on their ski vacations this weekend.
After lunch we suited up and headed to the base of the Spruce Peak lifts to gather our group for the day. There were some absences, so there were only six students (Ty, Dylan, Wiley, Elizabeth, Luc, and Jonah). I had Joe to help me as a second coach though, so we had a very good coach to student ratio for exploring whatever we wanted. Based on the snow conditions, and in the interest of expanding the student’s repertoire and keeping things fresh, I decided that we should take a trip to the Outer Planets area. I can’t recall the last time I’d been out there, and I didn’t really have a chance to make a recon trip this season, but I knew everyone could handle it.
I told the students that we’d be heading out past Angel Food on the traverse, and that we’d play it by ear as we scoped out the terrain. The traverse was in great shape, and the powder up there was midwinter light aside from areas exposed to significant sun. In those areas you could see that powder was just starting to take on some melt, so we knew that we might want to factor that into our skiing if we had options. Once past Angel Food, we continued on the traverse for a few more minutes and headed upward with some side stepping. I didn’t recall ever seeing any specific trail signs in the area, but I told the kids to keep their eyes peeled for anything they might see in that regard. I didn’t see any obvious trail signs, but I did see an interesting piece of artwork on a paper birch just above the traverse that presumably had some interesting meaning – it was a pair of eyes with almost mask-like surroundings. Not long after passing that image, I felt like we’d gone far enough and opted to take the next obvious line for the descent. I chose one with a couple of tracks, which in this case was good; we were doing a bit of exploring, but I didn’t want to take the kids on anything too exotic that might push things over the edge. Eventually as one gets farther and farther into the notch, things can get overly steep, and that’s not what we were looking for.
The line we got into, perhaps Yeranus but I can’t say for sure, was well defined, much like a mini Angel Food. As we pushed farther down the line, it got a bit less defined at times, but in general it didn’t matter because the hardwoods all around were eminently skiable and we could just fan out wherever we wanted. The snow quickly transitioned from somewhat settled midwinter powder to a wetter powder as we descended. Fortunately, it skied well, and the main issue arose when you’d stop. You’d melt enough snow to make it sticky, but as soon as you started skiing that went away. The snow continued to transition until we got down into what was becoming a very supportable spring-type snow. That really skied well with a few inches of dense proto-corn that shaved away nicely over a supportable base. A few minutes into the run, I could see that the terrain was going to be rolling over down below us, and it naturally got me wondering if we were going to have to deal with some sort of cliffs. When we finally arrived at the top of that section, I could see that a pair of very steep chutes lay below us. I was fairly committed to the right chute, which was the narrower of the two, and it did have a bit of ice in the throat that I could navigate with a bit of side-slipping. I let the kids know that the chute to the left was larger and offered a better entrance, so those who could, headed that way. Luc was committed to the chute I was in, and got hung up in there and lost a pole below that tumbled down to me. It took a couple minutes of strategic ski placement, and me tossing up his pole, but he managed his way through. Meanwhile, Dylan had circumvented the whole deal simply by skiing the snow just to the left of both chutes – the snow was great there and the trees were quite open. I love how he finds these great ways around obstacles.
Those two chutes quickly converged into a beautiful gully that must have been 30 plus degrees in pitch. I suspect it’s the pièce de résistance of that run, because it’s a few hundred vertical feet from there down to the notch road. The group skied most of it before cutting off to the right where a tree had fallen that required a bit of a limbo move to get past it. I later learned that Ty, or course, ducked under the tree and skied it anyway. On the notch road it was about 10 minutes of traversing before we were back to Stowe’s equipment barns and the Gondola area. There was some grumbling about the trek to get back to the lift, and everyone was dropping layers and getting warm in the sun. It was hard to complain when we were out there cruising along on the snow on such a great spring day, but as fun as it was, I knew I wasn’t going to push the kids to run another lap in there. We’ll have to get back there some time after a nice dump of snow and see how that gully skis.
We made another Gondola run on Gondolier and found the on piste conditions rather mixed – there was some winter snow, some areas of hard refrozen stuff, and some areas of nice soft snow lower down. We took a break at the Midway Lodge, and based on what we’d found for snow, Joe and I decided that it was best to head back to Spruce Peak and see if we could find some good spring snow on its south-facing slopes. The upper elevations of the Sensation Quad were still high enough to be generally a mix of midwinter snow and refrozen snow, and it really wasn’t until we got down to the Meadows elevations before the snow was consistently spring-like.
The day concluded with a BJAMS ski program tail-gating party in the parking lot of the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. Although temperatures were only in the low 30s F, there was no wind and that late Much sun was doing its work. It wasn’t the kind of day that you’d be stripping down to your shorts, but in ski gear it was very comfortable, and indeed we saw a lot of groups having similar parties today. It was a fun way to finish off the official ski program season, although I think many of us will be back in the coming weeks for some additional ski days, even if they aren’t official program days. The nice part about those days is that we can play it by ear with respect to the weather, and there’s no need to cancel if the weather is sour. The forecasts suggest we’ve got some additional storms coming as we head into April, so we’ll see how much extra snow we’ll have before the season finishes up.
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.