Tag Archives: March

Bolton Valley, VT 07MAR2012

An image of ski tracks in the powder on the Peggy Dow's trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a little powder in the sun today on Peggy Dow’s

This morning saw milder temperatures than what we’ve had in the past few days, but it was still 28 F at the house when I made my observations at 6:00 A.M.  It was a beautiful morning, and since I had to take the car to Burlington for some errands, I decided to stop off at the mountain for some turns on the way.  Heading up the Bolton Valley Access Road around 8:30 A.M., the temperature actually rose somewhat as I ascended out of the valley, but that must have just been a warm layer in the middle elevations, because the temperature dropped again as I approached the Village (2,100’) where it was still below freezing.

With the Vista Quad being the first lift planned to open at 9:00 A.M., I was still somewhat ahead of that time even with my procrastination at the house, so I continued with my plan of skinning up for some earned turns before riding the lifts.  With opening so close, I kept out of the way of potential skier traffic by ascending on Lower Fanny Hill, and I found 1 to 2 inches of new snow at the base elevations.  I hadn’t gone too far up Fanny Hill before I realized that lift service was underway, so I removed my skins, stowed them in my pack, skied down, and caught a ride on the Vista Quad.  Up above the 3,000’ level, snow accumulations were generally in the 2 to 4-inch range, but I even found some depths up to 8 inches that weren’t obvious drifts.

I was still looking to earn some turns in the fresh snow, and since the Wilderness Lift hasn’t been open since Sunday, I pulled the skins back out and made my way up to the Wilderness Summit. When I arrived at the summit (~3,150’) I noticed that the snowpack was close to level with one of the benches up there, and with typically a couple more weeks of snowpack gain to go based on the Mt. Mansfield Stake Data, that’s a good sign of how the higher elevations have caught up from the slow start in terms of snowpack.  So despite the lame initial stages to snowpack building this season, the storms of the last couple of weeks have really helped it catch up to near normal in the highest elevations.

An image of the bench with the Powderbank sign at the summit of the Wilderness area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont - the snowpack is several feet deep and is just about level with the seat of the bench.
Several feet of snowpack at the Wilderness Summit mean that the Powderbank bench is close to getting buried.

I opted for a run on Peggy Dow’s and Lower Turnpike, where I found plenty of nice powder, but it was good that I was out rather early, because the day was warming up quickly and that was already affecting the slopes.  The lower elevations and areas exposed to the sun were feeling it first, and I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have left with good snow, so I quickly hopped on the Vista Quad for another trip.

Up at the Vista Summit, I ran into Quinn and some of his fellow patrollers outside the patrol house.  We chatted about the conditions, and how this weekend might be the last one for Timberline – very spring-like temperatures in the 40s and 50s F are on the way, and with the base at those lower elevations not overly deep, the coverage will be challenged.  Leaving the patrollers, I headed over to check out the Villager Trees and see how the powder was hanging on with the rising temperatures.  I got a few good turns in there, but the window of opportunity for good powder was just about closed, and I encountered a lot of thick snow.  Although the off piste conditions were deteriorating, there was also a plus side to the temperatures edging their way above freezing – the on piste conditions were actually improving with the warmth and the groomed snow was something that you could really bite into.  It hadn’t progressed to corn or anything like that, but it got me excited about spring skiing; I’m still more interested in the upcoming powder possibilities on Friday/Saturday with the front coming through though.  That was my final run for the day, but when I reached Burlington I found beautiful weather with temperatures in the 50s F.  It’s really nice to have this warm spring weather in the valley, but hopefully it won’t come on too fast because we’d like the quality snow to stick around for a while on the slopes.

Stowe, VT 04MAR2012

An image taken from the Sunny Spruce Quad on Spruce Peak at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont, showing some of the trails on Mount Mansfield, with the gondola area under The Chin hidden by snowfall
Snowfall obscures the Chin area of Mount Mansfield

The local mountains have received multiple feet of snow over the past week or so, and the ski conditions have been mid-winter fantastic, but the continuous stretch of perfect snow looked like it might end in some areas yesterday as temperatures began to edge above freezing.  I was at Bolton Valley yesterday, and we had a great morning of powder and packed powder conditions, but when the sun came out in the afternoon, temperatures shot up above freezing, and the powder began to get mushy.  Temperatures dropped back down last night, which meant that any snow softening eventually stopped, but the question remained as to just how high the freezing levels had gone.  There had been some concerns about rain overnight, but none of that seemed to materialize.  We even had a touch of graupel/snow down at the house to sweeten up the surface of the snowpack, but what we really wanted to find out was what had gone on at Stowe, because that was our destination for today.  Had it warmed up enough yesterday to affect the snow surfaces, and how much new snow had fallen on the mountain after that point?  More snow was actually in the forecast for today, and that potential was encouraging, as it offered the chance to freshen up any surfaces that had deteriorated with the temperature changes.  There were plenty of possible outcomes for today’s ski surfaces, but our questions wouldn’t really be answered until we actually got on the snow in the afternoon.  Fortunately, the snow that was in the forecast had already materialized, and Mt. Mansfield was busy catching its share.

When we finally headed off to Stowe in the late morning, we found that snow was falling lightly in the mountain valleys to the east of the Greens.  Meanwhile, off to the west, the mountains themselves were hidden behind a veil of more intense snowfall.  As we approached Mt. Mansfield the snowfall grew steadier and heavier, and while it would still be considered light in intensity, it was accumulating even at the base elevations (~1,500’) when we arrived at the resort.  As is often the case, the snowfall was heaviest over by The Chin, so we knew that there would be some decent accumulations up there.

It was pretty much the usual Sunday routine at the resort today, although the number of visitors was definitely on the low side.  We had our standard coaching group, with me, Ty, Dylan, Luke and Jack.  Claire was likely to be with us as well, but she had to make sure that all the groups were set for coaches, so the rest of us did a warm up run while she took care of coordinator duties.  We made a trip up the Sunny Spruce Quad, and up top at around 2,500’ we found new snow accumulations of roughly two inches.  The warming from yesterday had indeed hit Spruce Peak up to that elevation though, as there was a melt/sun crust below the new snow that made the off piste skiing not nearly as blissful as what it had been last week.  With that said, it wasn’t a massive warm up, so our forays into the trees in the Side Street area revealed some decent turns, but you really had to be on your game due to the variability of the subsurface.

While not fantastic, the off piste conditions on the lower slopes of Spruce were encouraging enough to make me suspect that with both higher elevations and a much better aspect, the snow on Mt. Mansfield could be really good.  So, as soon as Claire found out that all the program groups were set, we met up and were immediately on the Over Easy to the big mountain.  Last Sunday we’d brought the boys to the Chin Clip Streambed for the first time, and this new playground was met with resounding enthusiasm.  To continue the trend of terrain introductions, I decided that it was time to get them out to the Kitchen Wall.  Today was the perfect opportunity to do it as well, since if anywhere on the mountain had preserved winter snow, the Kitchen Wall would do it.  As a test of snow conditions, for our first run we cut in below the Kitchen Wall traverse – I didn’t quite want to bring them all the way out on the full traverse if we were going to be dealing with some sort of nasty crust.  There was no cause for concern though, the cooling power of Mt. Mansfield had been in full effect yesterday; thus there were no signs of crust and the powder was fantastic.  We skied through the catacombs of trees that brought us back to Cliff Trail, and the snow was simply amazing, mid winter powder down to the 3,000’ elevation.  We caught Rim Rock over to Switchback, and while not quite as stellar as it had been above the 3,000’ mark, the snow still stayed decent all the way down to ~2,500’.  Below that elevation you could manage some OK turns off piste, but the returns on your effort were minimal, so on piste was the way to go.  Grooming and/or skier traffic took care of any subsurface issues, so turns were beautiful if you stayed on piste.  Still, a half run with off piste options topped off with another 1,000’ of groomers made for quite a nice descent, so we immediately hit the gondola for another round.

An image of deep pillows of snow along the Kitchen Wall Traverse at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Snow formations speak of the deep snowpack along the Kitchen Wall Traverse at Stowe

This time, I brought Claire and the boys on the full Kitchen Wall traverse, and the ups and downs on the unknown route into what seemed like wilderness, brought plenty of excitement to the boys’ faces.  As usual, we encountered lots of cool snow formations that had been brought about by almost a season’s worth of leeward snow accumulations from winter storms.  When I felt that we’d traversed far enough, we stopped atop one of the snowfields, and let the boys play around in the snow and soak in the atmosphere.  They had a great time, climbing on the rocks, poking their noses into caves, playing in the steep and deep faces of snow, and just being boys in winter.  The snow quality was fantastic up there, and with layer after layer from the recent storms, it was indeed starting to get deep.  Writing this report up now, as I look at the notes I made myself about the Kitchen Wall I see the words “bottomless, bottomless, bottomless”.  I’d say that sums it up right there.  Dropping steep turns through one of the Kitchen Wall snowfields was certainly a primo experience, but all down through the trees below, the snow was excellent.  We eventually made our way along Cliff Trail, over to Nosedive, and then worked into the Goatdive woods to see just how low we could go with good snow off piste.  We hung in there for a while before eventually merging back on piste at Goat, where the bumps were in mid winter form.  When one starts a run at the Kitchen Wall, it can seem like the run goes on forever, and this was one of those.  When we finally reached the base of the Fourrunner Quad, it felt like ages had gone by since the boys were floundering around in the deep powder way up below the Mansfield ridgeline.

An image of Ty exploring deep snow in a steep snowfield in the Kitchen Wall area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty explores the steep and deep terrain of the Kitchen Wall

Powderfreak recently posted a picture from a run on Stowe’s Lookout trail in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather, and it got me thinking about what a great trail it is, so I brought it up as a descent option and the boys were game.  I’m not sure how long it’s been since we’ve taken a run down Lookout, but I’m continually impressed with just how steep and long it is.  We got treated to some great snow surfaces, and the sight of big beautiful flakes falling from the sky as Mother Nature continued to beef up the cushioning of the surfaces for us.  The boys still hadn’t had enough after that run though, so from back at the Gondola we skied the Tombo Waterfall down to Perry Merrill.  Ty led an amazing charge down Perry Merrill, with relentless slalom turns along the skier’s right of the trail.  It was all I could do to keep up with his pace, and anyone that hung with us got quite a workout.  If I’d been on my Telemark skis there was no way I would have been able to keep that pace for that long, so thank heavens for alpines.

An image of Jack, Dylan, Luke, and Ty pausing on the Lookout trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The boys pause on Lookout

So although there was some 32+ warming below the 2,500’ level on Mt. Mansfield yesterday, the conditions really were quite impressive over much of the mountain today.  Although not intense, it snowed all afternoon, and that really helped to keep improving those surfaces that needed it.  There had to be a few inches of new accumulation up above 3,000’, and since it doesn’t seem like those areas ever went above freezing anyway, they’re just going to be getting better.  Basically everything on the upper half of the mountain was very much like it’s been all week, deep and soft like you’d expect to find in Northern Vermont in March.  Some of the heaviest snowfall we saw today was actually when we were leaving, and it was still snowing in the valleys most of the way home.  The snow gradually dropped off in intensity as we headed toward Stowe Village, and was fairly minimal through Waterbury Center and Colbyville, but as we headed down the hill from Colbyville into Waterbury, it began to pick up and I suspected it was even more intense at the house.  We looked down the Winooski Valley and saw that indeed there was an impressive wall of white in that direction.  By this evening, we’d picked up another couple of inches of snow at the house, which should translate into at least that much in the mountains.  Conditions are very good, so get out and get those turns.

Bolton Valley, VT 03MAR2012

An image of sun lighting up powder that is caked on evergreens near the Vista Summit at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Evergreens near Bolton's Vista Summit being lit up as the sun begins to appear in the afternoon

Our past couple of ski sessions have been at Stowe, but today I was back at Bolton Valley to make some turns and catch up on conditions.  After our midweek storm that dropped a general 9 to 10 inches of snow in the local mountains, we had another small storm that began last night that delivered less than an inch at the house, with a general 1 to 3 inches at elevation.  E and the boys weren’t heading to the mountain with me today, but I knew Stephen and his kids would probably be there, so I’d be able to catch up with them.  Checking the snow report, I found out that the Wilderness, Timberline, and Snowflake Lifts were all on wind hold for some reason, so I packed my skins and some water in my fanny pack in case I wanted to take advantage of that setup to earn some fresh tracks.  There has been the threat of mixed precipitation with this storm, but thus far it’s been pretty minimal and not an issue for ski surfaces.  The big weather question for the day involved temperatures, since even some of the mountain elevations were expected to go above freezing, and if it got warm enough it could turn the recent powder to mush.

I headed up to the mountain around 9:30 A.M., at which point the temperature was mid 30s F in the valley (300’ – 500’) and up at the Village (~2,100’) it was right around the freezing mark.  It was spitting a little mixed precipitation when I arrived, but consistent with what had happened with the storm overnight, there wasn’t really much of significance that would appear to affect the snow surfaces.  For the most part we were in the dry slot of the storm by this morning, so good or bad, it didn’t look like we were going to get much more precipitation.

As I arrived at the base, I saw Stephen, Helena and Thomas going up on the Vista Quad, so I called Stephen on the phone and met them at top.  I convinced everyone that we should check out Hard Luck, and indeed it was well worth a visit; off to the skier’s left in the untracked areas we found about a foot of moderately dense powder, which skied so beautifully that you didn’t want it to end.  Generally cloudy skies and temperatures below freezing were keeping the snow dry, and the logical choice was to enjoy it as long as possible, because we knew that quality could easily head south if the sun came out.  We cut over to Show Off near the bottom of the upper mountain, and got some nice fresh tracks in the powder there, but Helena was just not in the mood for powder, and by Mid Mountain she was fuming mad and wanted to call it a day.  She headed down on her own on groomed terrain, while I joined Stephen for a trip down GladesGlades had seen plenty of skier traffic and was mostly packed down, but it was a very nice surface.

A view to the south from the Vista Peak area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort showing blue skies mixed with fluffy cumulus clouds
Eventually, the clouds lifted off the mountain to reveal some stupendous views, but the sunshine also accelerated the warming of the snow.

Stephen headed into the lodge to see what Helena wanted to do with the rest of her day, while I stayed out and did a couple of runs with Thomas, one of which was a combination of Alta Vista to Sherman’s to Schuss, to Bull Run, to Glades.  All throughout we had great snow, but the freezing level seemed to be rising, so we didn’t know how long we’d have before stickiness set in.  I checked in with Stephen, and it turned out that Helena had gotten her groove back; they had already reached the Vista Summit and were making their descent.  The sun came out and began to accelerate the warming process, but the four of us got together to ski Cobrass and the snow quality was still fine on the upper mountain.  I took a side diversion into the Cobrass Woods and the snow was excellent, even down to Mid Mountain and below; we skied the lift line right under the Vista Quad on the lower mountain and still had no complaints.  We got together for one more run down Cobrass, and I split off right at the top to get some pictures now that the sun had emerged.  I also took a solo jaunt into the Villager Trees; the snow was definitely getting sticky by that point, and it was obvious that the window had just about closed for easy off piste skiing at that elevation.

I was alone at that point, so to finish off the day I decided to skin up to the top of Wilderness to make some turns.  I descended on Alta Vista from the Vista Summit, then skinned up Upper Crossover to top of Bolton Outlaw, where I had a snack and got to watch a batch of clouds move in on the mountain.  The clouds were pushed along by strong winds, so it was quite an experience to see them come in while I was situated near the top of the Wilderness Lift.  I descended Bolton Outlaw; it was getting a bit sticky, but nothing like I’d dealt with in the lower elevations.  I continued on down to the Wilderness Lift Line, with the snow gradually getting heaver as I descended, but I had the whole area to myself and made some sweet turns.  I think the lift line had been groomed at some point, because the powder was only an inch or two deep.  It was quite smooth and fun though, as I tossed each turn’s worth of snow spray off to my sides, a neat pattern was left on the trail.  All in all though, the quality of the turns had dropped a lot once the sun had emerged, so I was ready to call it a day once I got back to the base.

An image of ski tracks in a couple inches of powder on the Wilderness Lift Line trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Leaving behind a track after spraying around a couple inches of powder on the Wilderness Lift Line

I called to check in with Stephen, and he was just coming down from a run, so we were able to meet up before I left.  His knee was bothering him, so he was heading into the lodge, while Thomas and Helena kept going on their own.  With the temperatures warming and the snow becoming stickier by the minute, I was definitely happy to head home to save up some energy for tomorrow’s skiing at Stowe.  There’s the chance for some additional snow tomorrow, so that’s great news for the slopes.  And, knowing Mt. Mansfield, it may not have warmed up there quite as much as it did at Bolton today, so the quality of the skiing could be even higher.  The really impressive spring-like temperatures were in the valley today though; when I got home, it was sunny, with temperatures in the 40s F, and Kenny and the boys were having a blast with snowballs in the yard.  Spring is definitely starting to make inroads in the valley.

Stowe, VT 02MAR2012

An image shot from above of Ty slashing a ski turn in the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Looking down on Ty in the Chin Clip Streambed today as he slashes a turn in the snow

Since midweek, a moderate winter storm has been affecting the state of VermontSnow began to fall Wednesday evening and accumulated slowly through to this morning, at which point we’d received 4.8 inches of snow at the house.  The ski resorts in the northern half of the state picked up a general 9 to 10 inches from the storm, with the Southern Vermont Resorts faring a bit better and topping out with accumulations around a foot and a half.

I went in to work to take care of some things in the morning, then met up with E and the boys back at the house and we headed off to Stowe.  Although only a Friday, the resort was certainly hopping with visitors today; the main Spruce Peak lots were pretty full, so we ended up parking a bit farther down at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.  By happenstance, we parked right next to Marlene, who like me had done some work in the morning and was coming to the resort for some afternoon turns with the family.  Jeff and the kids had been out on the slopes early, and we were all hoping to get together for some fun runs in the new snow.  Although it’s a bit farther away from the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, parking out where we did is a nice option, since the route to the lodge is fairly flat and takes you on easy, paved walkways past the Performing Arts Center itself and the various wings of the Stowe Mountain Lodge.

After getting everyone into their ski gear and gathering outside the lodge, we split up into two parties.  Marlene, Liana, and Isabella stuck around on Spruce Peak, and the rest of us headed over to Mt. Mansfield.  After Sunday’s successful visit to the Chin Clip Streambed, we were eager to get back in there again.  Being a veteran of many snowboard-bumming seasons at Stowe, Jeff is quite familiar with the streambed, but Kenny had never skied it before, and he was going to be the big question mark.  Kenny only started skiing last season, and advanced intermediate runs (or as E describes them, “intermediate runs with an edge”) are really the terrain in his wheelhouse.  Skiing powder isn’t an issue for him; he just skis it like he skis groomed snow, so he’s probably going to be another one of those kids like Ty and Dylan that never spends a lot of time “learning” to ski powder, they just ski it.  So with his ability to handle unconsolidated snow, and his impressive natural athletic ability, we figured he’d be able to rise to today’s challenge.  The streambed is easily handled by an intermediate in some areas, which are wide and of modest pitch, but the 5 to 10 foot waterfalls and steep, narrow sections really elevate it to the level of an expert run.  It was also going to be E’s first time ever in the streambed, and since she was on her Telemark gear, it wasn’t a given that she’d just be able to stroll her way down through the terrain.  We were about to find out how both Kenny and E handled the challenge.

An image shot from above of Kenny skiing the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Kenny takes on the Chin Clip Streambed

One thing that everyone had going for them was the quality of the snow; it’s been fantastic since last weekend’s big storm, and we generally found the trails loaded with plenty of soft, medium weight snow that had been packed from skier traffic.  Upper Gondolier had some scoured areas, but those faded once we got down out of the exposed upper section, and then it was quickly into the bumps of Switchback and Chin Clip.  E worked on her Telemark turns in the steep bumps, and semi-jokingly lamented that fact that her legs were already cooked by the time we’d reached the entrance to the streambed.  We all gave Kenny some encouragement that he’d be able to handle it, and then dove in.  After the steep entrance, we were into some of the intermediate-style terrain, but it wasn’t too long before we began to run into frozen waterfalls and steep, half pipe-style environments.  Ty and Dylan were having a blast as usual on the steep walls of the streambed, finding powder pockets and jumps that provided lots of fun.  There was so much snow that I was even able to slip down through the big roped off cliff area, which was steep, but well covered and quite skiable.  Kenny took his time throughout the whole descent, and really did a nice job negotiating some of the waterfall drops.  The Chin Clip Streambed is relentless though, and since Kenny had to work so hard, we could see him tiring on the bottom half of the run.  E had to work hard on her Telemark skis as well, but years and years of experience on skis allowed her to descend efficiently and conserve energy when needed.  She did a great job of coaching Kenny down through the last steep drop where the terrain fans out away from the streambed into steep trees.  Kenny was just about tapped out at that point, but he made it – his first run down the famous Chin Clip Streambed.

An image of Dylan, Ty, and Jeff standing in the Chin Clip Streambed during a run at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Boys 'n the Streambed - Dylan, Ty, and Jeff

We stayed at the gondola for a couple more runs, hitting Perry Merrill and working in a run down through the Tombo Waterfall.  Ty, Dylan, and I joined Jeff for the waterfall run, while the others looped around on Upper Perry Merrill to watch.  Coverage was great, and it’s getting to the point where enough snow has sloughed down the chute that the waterfall is getting smaller.  Ty sliced and diced the whole chute and waterfall jump with ease; Dylan struggled a bit and opted to take the cut around the skier’s left of the waterfall, but he had some nice turns in there.  Ty’s got a couple years of skiing experience on Dylan of course, but when Dylan is on, he’s pretty fearless, so it’s going to be fun to work on that line with him in the future.

An image of Jeff jumping off the Tombo Waterfall on his snowboard at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Jeff launching the Tombo Waterfall today at Stowe

For the last part of the day, we were back over at Spruce, where we met up with the girls for some big runs as a group.  We took the traditional Sunny Spruce to Side Street route to get us over to the Sensation Quad, and it was fun having everyone together.  From the summit, most of us took Whirlaway, although Liana took it a bit easier and E brought her down Sterling.  That was probably a good idea, because everyone was pretty cooked by that point.  Even though we’d only been out for the afternoon, long Telemark runs with Stowe’s high speed lifts definitely work me, and E said that she was feeling it.  She headed in with most of the kids, but it was too hard to pull away from all the great snow, so I ended up staying out with Jeff and Liana for another run down Main Street.  My legs were quite cooked after that one, but it was very satisfying.

A winter image of the snow-covered exterior of Piecasso restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Apres ski today was at Piecasso

Not surprisingly, everyone was famished from a fun day of battling Stowe’s terrain, so we all headed to Piecasso for dinner.  Things can get pretty crazy having all five kids together, but they were pretty well behaved and did a decent job of replenishing their fuel reserves with pizza, salad, and even some calamari.  It does look like we’re going to need plenty of energy in our legs though, since there’s more snow on the way and we’ve still got the rest of the weekend to ski.  The next storm is already on our doorstep (flakes were flying here as of ~10:15 P.M. or so), and Winter Weather Advisories are up for most of the state.  Snow possibilities will be around through the rest of the weekend, so we’ll be on the lookout for more fresh turns.

2010-2011 Ski Season Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stowe, Hourglass Chute, & Hell Brook Trail, VT 22MAR1997

Well, the weather setup leading into this weekend was a 4 to 6 inch snowfall yesterday; so it came just in time for weekend turns.  Somehow, there came to be a bit of a crust on top, but unlike last weekend, it was paper thin and didn’t really affect the non-groomed terrain.

Today I caught up with Shawshank at Stowe sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M. and we hit the usual stashes with other folks that we knew.  The big event came in the afternoon with a 1:00 P.M. meeting at the top of the Gondi and a hike into the swirling mists of The Chin.  Let’s just say, without the guidance of Shawshank, there would have been no way to find anything up there in the near zero visibility.  The wind was probably gusting to 40 mph at times, but it wasn’t bad for the top of a mountain, and by the time we reached the Hourglass Chute, we were protected altogether.  Hourglass was fun, although it seemed to be over so quickly.  I remember reaching this one point about as wide as the length of my skis (the narrow part of the hourglass) and four turns later we had to bang a left to make the connection to Hell Brook.  We traversed for about 50 feet, took a quick step up a short incline, then dropped a nice little section into the low point between the Adam’s Apple And The Chin (so I was told; still socked in).  After a bit more of a traverse, we found ourselves at the top of Hell Brook.  I thought that it was going to be a singletrack adventure down into the Notch; I was definitely wrong there.  As it turns out (at least at this time of year) it is much like an interconnected patchwork of trails, snowfields, and gullies which gradually narrows into a single gully towards the end.  Actually, a lot of it reminded me of the gullies at Alta or Snowbird, except that it was a lot longer and there were hardwoods about.  One could take this thing 20 times and still not know the whole maze; it makes for some very fun exploration.  A word of caution:  there were numerous spots where a wrong turn would mean a big drop or other hazards that could ruin your run so take it easy.  Shawshank lost his goggles in a little open water spot and before anyone knew what was up, they were down the brook and under the snow.  Damn.  We finally wound up on Route 108 for a mostly (one bit of uphill) downhill traverse back to the Gondola and nearly 3000′ of vertical in one run.  By the time we got back to the quad it was about 3:30 P.M. and we were kaput.

I stopped in at the Stowehof where my friend Chris was staying.  It’s a real quaint place with great views.  I think that the bar and restaurant are open to the public, but just walking around in there is a lot of fun.