Since the storm that came through in the midweek period, we’ve moved under the influence of an upper level low pressure system that is off to our northeast. It’s keeping snow showers in the area, but as of this morning the Northern Vermont ski Resorts had only picked up 1 to 3 inches of snow. Without much in the way of new powder, it was a little hard to get the boys motivated to head up to the mountain today, but E thought that they might be excited by some swimming at the Bolton Valley Sports Center. Indeed that was enough to get them excited, so while E and the boys spent time at the pool, I planned to get in a quick sidecountry and backcountry ski tour. My plan was to head off the back side of the Wilderness Summit to explore a line that I’d seen before, and then connect back onto the trails of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network and return to the village via a front side run. Dylan had to get to a birthday party at 3:30 P.M., so I had to fit my tour into a two to three hour window.
E and the boys dropped me off at the base of the Wilderness Lift as they headed down to the pool, and light snow was already breaking out after a morning lull. Temperatures were comfortable in the low 20s F, and winds were fairly minimal. Rime still coated the trees all over the mountain, and clouds shrouded the upper elevations, leaving the overall views very white. As I approached the Wilderness Summit, the chairs ahead of me began to disappear into the clouds, but visibility at the summit itself would up not being all that bad.
I followed the main route off the back of the Wilderness Chair that I’d taken before, and found a skin track ascending as I began my descent. I initially followed the main drainage right below Ricker Mountain, but continued to head off to the north because I kept finding the terrain much more open. The skiing was quite good, even if the powder was a rather dense, Pacific Northwest style snow, but it covered everything below the snow with such effectiveness that it really proved its worth. There were numerous and continuous open areas, allowing for some big turns. I’d pulled my fat skis out after a couple weeks on skinnier gear, and they were absolutely the call today. The dense snow was accommodated well with girth and rocker, and there were minimal worries about catching a ski under the snow. I continued to descend, heading generally northward when the appropriate opportunities arose, until I’d hit the 2,500’ elevation mark after descending close to 700’. The snow was getting a bit of crust on it down at that elevation, and the terrain was flattening out, so it was the perfect place to stop. I found myself in an area that I knew fairly well from previous tours, and with a little GPS guidance I was able to plot a course up toward Paradise Pass.
As I’d done on the descent, I continued to check the depth of the snow as I skinned up. I generally measured depths between 20 and 30 inches before reaching a real solid subsurface, and although I was only skiing on the top several inches due to its density, it was still quite impressive. All that wind that I mentioned in my Bolton report from February 18th had to put the snow somewhere, and plenty of it got thrown to the leeward slopes. Combined with all the recent snowfall from various storms, it’s mighty deep out there. The Mt. Mansfield Stake is at 63” as of yesterday evening, which is actually about a half foot below average, but at this time of year even being a bit below average means a pretty deep snowpack. The intensity of the snowfall had picked up quite a bit since my tour began, I just about had to wear my goggles even while ascending because of the snow intensity at times.
I got myself up to Paradise Pass, and had to pull out my map a few times and I wound my way over to the section of Heavenly Highway where I planned to make my front side descent. After a couple direction changes, I met my goal, and hit a glade I’d found that brought me right down to Snow Hole. I couldn’t believe that the front side snow in the high elevations was even slightly better than I’d found on the back side. I think that a little more of the recent snow had fallen there, creating a thicker coating atop the denser snow. Whatever the case, it was sweet and allowed me to rip my way down through the terrain. Once down to Snow Hole I called E to check on their status – they were done swimming and were having lunch at the Village Deli. With that info I was able to head toward the base of the Wilderness Lift, and then onward to the deli for some lunch of my own. I was pretty bushed from keeping such a high pace on the tour to ensure that I got back to the village in time, and boy did I devour that sandwich.
Later in the evening we went for a snowshoe tour around the neighborhood and across the Winooski, and the snowfall picked up, providing an excellent wintry scene. We’ve already had more snow tonight than last night, and all these small rounds of snow are going to really help in keeping the slopes fresh.
With everyone having their own unique perspective on skiing, combined with the multitude of weather-related factors involved in winter recreation in general, there’s usually ample room for debate about where a ski season sits relative to average. However, when it comes to the 2011-2012 ski season in Northern Vermont (and perhaps to an even greater extent in other parts of the Northeastern U.S.) most any metric would set it firmly in the lower half of seasons. Some key contributing factors to the outcome of the season were temperatures, which were above average for every month from October through May (specific monthly temperature departures are available in the monthly detail section), overall precipitation, which was well below average during that period, and as expected with that combination, snowfall that was well below average. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and indeed that was the case in Northern Vermont this past season. If numbers aren’t everything, perhaps timing is everything, and the snow machine of the Northern Greens exhibited some impeccable timing for some of the busiest ski periods when it came down to it. There was also a consistency and intensity in backside snows that seemed to heal just about every mixed precipitation event. So while I don’t think that the winter of 2011-2012 can be considered anything but below average around here, the bigger story might just be how “surprisingly good” it was. That story unfolds in the details below.
Tree Skiing:In the past I’ve used empirical data from trip reports to establish a mean date for the start of tree skiing in Northern/North-Central Vermont, and as I outlined in last year’s ski season summary, that analysis revealed a date of December 10th ± 13 days, with an average depth at the stake of 28.1 ± 6.5 inches. However, after a comment from Powderfreak back on December 12th, in which he indicated that he’d observed tree skiing on appropriate terrain at Stowe to start roughly when the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 24 inches, I decided to run an analysis using snowpack data from the stake. Instead of just the 15 to 20 seasons worth of ski trip reports that are available since the arrival of the internet era, there are almost 60 seasons worth of data available from the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Analysis of the stake data using the first date of attaining 24” of snow depth or higher as the start of tree skiing, actually produced a very similar result (December 12th ± 19 days, with an average depth at the stake of 25.8 ± 2.7 inches) to what was obtained from the empirical data. With the date being so close to what I determined from the empirical data, I’m pretty confident that the date of attaining 24” in the stake data will serve just as well in determining the average start of tree skiing, and the relative start date for individual seasons. With the median and mode for that analysis coming in quite close to the mean, the distribution seems normal, so the standard deviation in the data should have some predictive value. This “24-inch rule” isn’t meant to replace the traditional “40-inch rule”, but it’s there to compliment it as a more practical measure of when people actually start venturing into the trees in this area (the fact that it is corroborated by many years of empirical data can testify to that). The point at which the stake hits 24 inches is a decent mark for when appropriately maintained trees are going to start offering up good turns for those with the right skills and knowledge, whereas once the stake hits 40 inches, skiers can pretty much venture into most off-piste areas with a good degree of confidence. Between those two points is going to be a continuum of increasing access to off piste terrain. Moving from the 24” depth to the 40” depth will typically take place during the month of December, with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaching the 40” mark at the beginning of January on average.
So where did the 2011-2012 season stack up in terms of the start of tree skiing in Northern Vermont? Not surprisingly, when assessed by the new method of reaching 24” at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, it’s down near the bottom of the pack. Below, I’ve added a scatter plot that I generated using the Mt. Mansfield snowpack data; the X-axis is a timeline spanning from October to January, and the blue stars represent the dates when 24 inches of snow depth was attained at the stake for the various years from 1954-2012. The red data point is for the 2011-2012 season (date of attaining 24” = January 3rd, 2012), so the season is indeed more than one standard deviation on the late side (the large vertical line in the plot is the mean, and the small vertical lines are ± 1 standard deviation), although it actually isn’t as late a start as some seasons:
How did the 24-inch snowpack depth analysis compare to what we actually found on the ground this season? Since skiing natural snow terrain on piste began first, I’ll mention that momentarily before discussing the trees. I saw the first signs of people skiing natural snow trails this season on December 27th at Bolton, and coverage certainly looked sufficient on at least moderate terrain. The tracks I saw at that point already looked old, and I suspect that on piste natural snow coverage was actually sufficient the day before (December 26th), thanks to the Christmas Day storm. Bolton picked up close to a foot of snow from that storm, and at the end of the day on the 26th, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 14”. The first day that we actually ventured into the trees at Bolton Valley was December 29th, and as I stated in my report from that day, we only ventured in for one run because the base was just a little too thin to really ski with confidence in there and enjoy it. And, when the snowpack was measured at the Mt. Mansfield Stake later that afternoon, the depth was 21 inches, just a bit shy of that 24-inch mark. By the next day, we were skiing natural snow trails with more than enough coverage, but it wasn’t until January 7th at Bolton that I commented about some of the trees finally being ready after the boys and I skied Wilderness Woods. The measurement from the stake came in at 24 inches that afternoon, and we were clearly reaching another threshold of sorts, so attaining that 24-inch depth at the stake was indeed a decent measure for the start of tree skiing this season in our experience. Powderfreak and I have discussed how that 24-inch number is going to be quite rough, since a 24-inch depth attained mostly with fluff will represent something substantially different that a 24-inch depth attained with cement, but it looks like it’s going to be a reasonable approximation of when people start to take their initial forays into the trees and find the conditions good enough to stay there.
Looking at tree/off piste skiing for the season as a whole, there’s no question that it was curtailed relative to normal. The very late date of reaching 24 inches at the stake in the beginning of January (January 3rd) is 1.13 standard deviations beyond the mean according to the Mt. Mansfield snowpack analysis, putting it close to the bottom 10% of seasons. When this is coupled with the large amount of melting in Mid March due to record heat, which closed a lot of terrain, it equates to a tree skiing season that is roughly 2 ½ months long, compared to the more typical length of 4 to 5 months. The off piste season was certainly condensed, and while coverage was there to enable plenty of access in January (Stowe reached 100% open status by January 14th), tree skiing really seemed to take forever to hit its stride; to wit, the snowpack at the stake didn’t hit the 40-inch mark until the end of January.
Snow Quality: In last season’s summary, I checked my trip reports and found those days in which we were skiing powder, typically suggesting a fairly high level of snow quality, and those days in which powder skiing wasn’t available, often indicating some sort of thaw (or in one case this season, insufficient base depths). For the list of outings below, I’ve again placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, to reveal the temporal pattern associated with that categorization. Outings with an X may still be providing decent skiing such as wet snow, corn, etc. (or else we’d probably be doing something other than skiing) but aside from the spring period, there’s going to be a price to pay in terms of snow quality after these episodes when temperatures eventually cool back down. Chronologically, the first X appears for the outing on December 10th at Bolton Valley. The lack of powder skiing on that date wasn’t actually due to temperature fluctuations, but instead due to the fact that there just wasn’t enough natural snow; substantial snowfall was very slow in coming in early December. The natural snow depth up above 2,000’ in the Bolton Valley Village was still only 2-3” at that point, so short of junkboarding, skiing was really restricted to just the limited terrain that had manmade snow. The next X appears on our Bolton Valley outing on December 31st, and it represented a notable bump in the winter weather. The holiday week wasn’t too cold, but it was certainly snowy like one would expect at Christmas time in Vermont, with three decent snowstorms totaling more than two feet of snow at the northern resorts (refer to the December entry in the detailed monthly section for more information). So there was indeed some great powder skiing during that stretch. The main factor that kept the overall quality of the skiing from being really outstanding was the lack of base. The natural snow terrain that was open was excellent, but there still hadn’t been enough snow to open the steepest terrain without snowmaking. The X in this case comes in at the tail end of the holiday period where there was a thaw. I described the skiing on New Year’s Eve as reminding me of the Pacific Northwest, with low hanging clouds on the mountains, and dense snow underfoot. I’m not sure how long the resulted firm snow conditions lasted, because three small to moderate storms came through the area that week, with the first one dropping a half foot of snow in the mountains. By the following Saturday there was powder skiing again for the weekend. From that point on there were no interruptions in powder skiing though to mid March – at least from our perspective; we don’t ski every day of course, but we did ski every weekend through that period. However, Powderfreak does ski just about every day of the season at Stowe, and he noted that there were only a few select days without powder. I’ll speak more about that at the end of this section. By far the section of the outings list that stands out the most is the second half of March – the dramatic change in conditions is quite obvious, with seven outings in a row marked with an X. Record warm weather came in with a vengeance in mid March, and it was all spring skiing until the weather cooled back down to normal levels and produced snowstorms for the final two thirds of April. We finally finished off our season with a couple of corn snow days in May, a point in the season where that type of snow is the norm.
The 2010-2011 ski season was the first one to which I applied this type of powder skiing analysis, and relative to what I thought it would look like, I was certainly surprised by the consistent availability of powder conditions once I saw the data lined up. But as surprised as I was with that result, the 2011-2012 analysis is even more astounding. Somehow there was good to great skiing every weekend/holiday period throughout most of the core ski season, despite the overwhelmingly warm temperatures and low snowfall. As I mentioned above in the snowfall section, Bolton Valley reported just 159” of snow for their entire season. That’s ridiculously low – it’s half their usual snowfall, and we typically average more snow than that at our house, almost 3,000’ below the upper elevations of the resort where the snowfall measurements are taken. That amount of snow might suffice for some decent skiing in an environment like the high elevations of the Rockies with very consistent winter temperatures, but this season in Vermont was anything but that. There were temperature issues throughout the season, and January was a perfect example – at the end of the month, local meteorologist Roger Hill pointed out that we’d had seven January thaws. I had many ski weather-related conversations with Powderfreak in the 2011-2012 ski thread at American Weather’s New England Subforum about the surprisingly high quality of the skiing, and there was certainly consistency in conditions, but we also determined that it was an issue of timing. Snowfall was low, and spells of warm temperatures abundant, but storms were just timed well to ensure that most snow quality issues were remedied by the weekend. Although the season was warm on average, we didn’t have many big rain events, and any that we did have seemed to be quickly covered by backside snow. There was indeed something special about the timing though, because somehow we had weekend after weekend of nice skiing with powder on Bolton’s 159” of snow. The detailed reports below and the monthly ski summaries that follow, provide the specifics of how it all went down, and the frequency and distribution of P in the outings list really speaks to that theme of “surprisingly good”:
November: I’ll put November 2011 into perspective by looking at November 2010, in which the ski conditions were apparently poor enough that we didn’t ski once. Fortunately, that didn’t happen this season – even if just by a day. The near lack of snow in November 2010 could be considered demonstrative of typical November snowfall in the valley though, because up to that point it had truly been feast or famine since we moved to our current Waterbury location in 2006. However, this past November finally bucked that trend by coming in with 11.4” of snow (128% of average) which is as close to “normal” snowfall as I’ve ever seen for the month based on my data. We had a couple of minor accumulating snowstorms early in the month, and then another mid month, but it was a storm near the end of the month that really produced 95% of our November valley snowfall. That storm dropped almost a foot of snow at the house, and got me to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns. In terms of skiing, options for catching the new snow atop a manmade base were rather limited because most of the local resorts were of course using their manmade snow to serve customers, but I headed up to Bolton Valley to see if the natural snow alone was enough for some turns. Since they don’t open until December, Bolton hadn’t yet made any snow by that point, but it turned out that the storm had dropped over a foot of snow up there, and it was dense enough that one didn’t need much of it to keep them off of whatever lay beneath. I enjoyed some decent turns, even if that outing wound up being the only one for the month. This past November was a decent step up from the previous couple of seasons with little to no snow, but we’ve still yet to have a very snowy November since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons; both those seasons delivered roughly 20” of snow in the valley, and plenty more in the mountains. The general seasonal trend of warm weather continued right through the month as well; although much colder than October on an absolute basis, November was even warmer relative to its long range average, coming in 5.1 degrees above normal at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington.
December: The first two thirds of December simply felt like a continuation of November; the pre-holiday period was hampered by above average temperatures, but the more notable issue was the absence of significant storms. The Northern Greens were holding their own thanks to numerous small snowfalls, and these events were definitely enough to get us into some powder skiing, but they weren’t enough to really build a deep base of natural snow. The last third of the month was really the highlight in terms of snowfall. As the all-important holiday week approached, Central Vermont northward finally got into some moderate storms. The localized nature of these storms was good for highway travelers from down south, and one could hardly ask for better timing of fresh snow for the holiday week. Storm 1 hit on Friday the 23rd, dropping roughly half a foot from Killington northward, storm 2 was on the 25th, centered on Stowe where they received over a foot, and storm 3 began on the 27th, with totals again topping out around a foot. The skiing was quite good, indeed excellent by the end of the week as the snow from the storms continued to pile up, but the lack of snowfall earlier in the month meant that the natural base depths weren’t there like they would normally be. Fortunately, some natural snow terrain was open, but certainly not the steepest stuff, and the natural snowpack was still just a bit too lean to spend much time in the trees. In any event, we skied eight times during that holiday stretch, a sign that there was definitely some good skiing. With all the new snow, our local area certainly had it a lot better than many places in the country did during the holiday week, so in that regard we were lucky. I’m sure business was still down at the Vermont ski areas in general, but people may have been hearing about the holiday snow that Northern Vermont was getting, because Powderfreak posted on Christmas Eve how lodging space was still very tight in Stowe. Despite the snow in the northern half of Vermont though, the general talk around the region was how poor and snowless it was in general, so I’m sure many places lost some potential visitors due to that. Even with those moderate storms at the end of the month, when all was said and done, we still ended up quite low on snowfall down at the house; the 24.7” we received was just 59% of our average for the past six seasons. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: With the slow start to snowfall, we didn’t even ski during the first weekend of the month, but we did get out for the other four. The second weekend was the one where there was no powder simply because there wasn’t enough snow. Temperatures were certainly above average as a whole (NWS in Burlington was +4.8 F on the month), but December mean temperatures start getting cold enough that even above average departures can still be sub-freezing and produce snow in the mountains . The third weekend of the month had some decent conditions at Stowe, and then the final two weekends sort of lose their definition with the big holiday week, and that period gets lumped together. Conditions for the holiday week were mostly wintry; strictly speaking though, the last weekend of the month did see a thaw, but in the context of the whole holiday week it was rather insignificant.
March: The first half of March felt like a continuation of that decent stretch at the end of February, even if we didn’t get any additional three to four foot storm cycles. Just a few days after the big February storm ended, another decent cycle came through heading into the 1st of the month, with close to a foot of additional snow at the northern resorts, and a foot and a half at the southern resorts. Amidst other freshening events, a storm on the 4th dropped about a half foot of snow, and then over a foot fell from a storm on the 9th that targeted the north-central resorts. The boost from the big February storm was felt in base depths and surface conditions, and you could feel that the season had really turned into what one would expect for March. Even as unseasonable warmth started to intrude and occasionally turn the powder wet through the first half of the month, there was usually enough time to get in turns for a good part of each day while the powder was still dry, and then more snow would come along to freshen things back up. The weather through that period was certainly on the warm side, but it was during the second half of the month when all hell broke loose with regard to temperatures. That expression is somewhat apt, because for March, it felt like that when five consecutive days of record temperatures with departures of +40 F hit the state from the 18th-22nd. Combined with the more moderate warmth during the rest of the month, the result was an incredible +12.2 F departure from the average March temperature at the NWS in Burlington. With almost no new snow in the valley during that warm second half of the month, March snowfall was a paltry 14.2” at the house, just 60% of average. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: The list of ski outings from above shows the trend here quite well, the first two weekends offered powder conditions, and from then on it was spring skiing. However, powder had been available for every weekend or holiday period since the middle of December by the point at which the snow conditions flipped, and that’s a commendable three-month stretch for such a season. Beyond the middle of the month, X was the only way to describe the powder conditions until we finally got to April. There was decent corn snow and great weather during that second half of March, but it was so warm that trail counts dropped rapidly at many resorts; even the huge snowpack gains made by the northern resorts at the end of February were lost as the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake fell well below where it had been before the big climb. Despite the good spring skiing, it seemed like many resorts closed down simply because people had given up on winter by that point. The slow start and rapid end to winter seemed to take the wind out of everyone’s sails and, it had them looking to quickly put the season in the rearview mirror.
April: Temperatures for the month of April still came in above average (+1.2 F) at the National Weather Service in Burlington, but after the unprecedented warmth of March, that felt downright cool by comparison. Indeed April was more typical though, and some good skiing returned, even if the slightly warm temperatures kept the snow especially elevation dependent. With that trend, snowfall down at the house was almost insignificant, just 0.5 inches or 8% of average. That’s the least snowy April we’ve encountered in the six years that I’ve been monitoring snowfall at our location. Storms nailed the mountains with snow though, in the form of a minor event on the 4th of the month, then a big cutoff low dropping 2 to 2 ½ feet on the 9th. That snow was fairly dense and represented an unmitigated resurfacing of the slopes as one headed up in elevation. The skiing was great, at least in a Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete sort of way where it doesn’t take much to cover whatever is below, but it would have been even better if the March warmth hadn’t deteriorated the snowpack as much as it did. With most ski areas closed after March sapped people’s interest in the season, plenty of great earned turns were made, but at the resorts that had stayed open, there was also some excellent lift-served skiing. April finished off with one final storm at the end of the month, which was nothing like the big one earlier, but it dropped about a half foot in the upper elevations and that was enough for some final powder skiing before we moved on to May. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: While certainly not up to the level of April 2007, we did get to ski powder on all of our April days except April 1st. Most of what fell during the month for snow was rather dense, but it was still a nice reprieve to have fresh snow after the way March had gone. We only skied three of the five weekends that month, as half of our outings ended up being midweek.
May: After some tempering of the heat for April, Mother Nature was back at the stove for May, with a +5.3 F departure for the month at the NWS in Burlington. We didn’t have any accumulating snow in the valley, although that’s typically the case down at our elevation. There were actually no significant winter storms to speak of, but we did have one Vermont ski day on the 12th, enjoying the last of the corn snow up at Jay Peak. We took advantage of a Mother’s Day package that offered a chance to sample a lot of the new facilities up at the resort (water park, arcade, restaurants, etc.), and indeed taking in that smorgasbord of activities is an especially nice way to go when skiing is only going to be a minor part of a trip. Our other day in the month was actually out of state in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend, taking our traditional camping trip Auto Road ascent with the boys to ski the snowfields. The snowfields were somewhat on the lean side this year, but not bad considering what the region went through meteorologically during the winter season.
At the monthly level, the 2011-2012 ski season was a simply amazing stretch of positive temperature departures followed by even more positive temperature departures, and that trend has continued right into the summer, with June and July coming in at +1.9 F and +2.4 F respectively. August is currently coming in with a positive departure as well, and if it ends up staying that way, it will be the 17th month in a row in the positive departure streak for Burlington. Those departures are going to flip at some point, and it’s going to feel quite chilly by comparison. Despite that trend though, even when combined with below normal precipitation, the quality of the ski surfaces encountered this past season in Northern Vermont was quite good. I’m not sure if I’m willing to say better than average, since I don’t think surfaces were better than average at Bolton Valley, but I am willing to say that in our visits to Stowe this season, the typical on piste surfaces we encountered were actually better than the previous season. One thought is that the lack big storms in general also played out as a lack of notable rainstorms, which while generally infrequent in the heart of winter anyway, are likely more detrimental to the snow surfaces than more modest events with simply some mixed precipitation in the middle. The Northern Greens certainly showed throughout this past season that they have the ability to cover the back side of mixed precipitation events with additional snow quite effectively when there’s at least some moisture in the atmosphere to be wrung out. The fact that business was down somewhat at the resorts, may also have contributed to less skier traffic and slightly elevated on piste snow quality. Whatever the case, for a ski season that felt like an abysmal “perfect storm” of sorts with regard to temperatures and precipitation, 2011-2012 in Northern Vermont can certainly be described as “surprisingly good”.
The first item that I’ll highlight from the winter of 2011-2012 is the monthly snowfall plot for our location. As meager as the snowfall was this season at our location (just 115.3” of snow, or 67.0% of our 2006-2011 average), the monthly distribution of snow did retain an aesthetically symmetrical look, peaking in January with February close behind:
So although 2011-2012 will go down as our least snowy in the six years that we’ve been collecting snowfall here in Waterbury, the 67.0% of our 2006-2011 calculated average is relatively decent compared to the snowfall experienced at some of the first-order New England stations like Burlington (51.4%) or Boston (21.2%). These types of seasons happen, but next season is already closing in fast, and hopefully snowfall totals will be much improved.
The next piece of information is our updated yearly snow/snowfall data table, with the 2011-2012 season now included.
The table touches on some of the highlights (or in this case lowlights) from this past winter season (top data row of the table). The 2011-2012 winter season had the somewhat dubious honor of being the “worst” in our data set in three categories: total snowfall, maximum snow depth, and snow depth days (see the red entries in the top row). The snowfall and max snow depth values weren’t all that far from the runner up values, but the big standout was snow depth days, which was well below the next closest season. It’s amazing to see a number so far below the 1,000 day·inches mark, which speaks to the state of the snowpack this season. We still had continuous snowpack at the house for about three months (vs. the typical four months) but the big factor in the low snow depth days was that the snowpack just never got that deep. It sat around at a bit below the one foot mark for most of the season and just didn’t build beyond that except for a couple of periods in February/March:
With only six seasons worth of data, the low snowfall this season did deal quite a blow to the overall calculated snowfall average, dropping it by almost 10 inches from up above 172 inches per season down to 162.7 inches per season. That’s probably Mother Nature at work getting to her real averages after some banner years. Even though two of the past six seasons have been up around 200 inches of snowfall, presumably that is going to happen only so often.
As for the rest of the parameters that I track in the table, they were either right around or slightly better than average this season. An interesting note is that the number of snowstorms this season (45) was right around average, so naturally with low snowfall, the amount of snowfall per storm had to take a hit. Indeed, while the average amount of snowfall per storm is typically up around 4 inches, this season it came out at just 2.6 inches, so there were clearly a lot of systems that were weak on snow. This average snowfall per storm was a huge deviation from the mean (almost 2 S.D.), so that must say something about the weather pattern during the past winter, even if I’m not exactly sure what it is at this point.
While the detailed reports of the 45 accumulating snowstorms from the past season are available with more information at the 2011-2012 winter weather summary page, they’ve also been posted here for quick access. If you know of a storm that interests you, you can head right to it. The reports are comprised of text, links, graphs, photos, etc., and much of the text is derived from my posts and dialog from the Americanwx.com New England regional forum. Thanks to the great features available on the forum, you can click on the icon associated with any quoted text in the report, and you’ll be linked right to that post its respective thread. Hopefully this will be useful for folks that are researching/reviewing winter storms. The list of linked winter storms observed at our house is listed below:
The sky cleared out for us yesterday at Stowe to produce some excellent spring skiing, but with snowfall on the way for tonight, this morning’s clouds were expected to stick around and the prospects for soft snow didn’t seem quite as good today. Due to the potentially marginal snow conditions, E and the boys chose not to head to the mountain, but I decided to stop in for a couple of afternoon runs to get in a quick workout and see what the slopes offered. The main parking lot at Mt. Mansfield wasn’t nearly as full as what we saw yesterday, but there were still a good number of cars there when I arrived in the mid afternoon.
Roughly halfway up my first ride on the Fourrunner Quad, flakes began to appear in the air, and it snowed lightly on and off all the way to the top. At the summit of the Quad I took in the views, and all around, the higher summits were disappearing with the onset of the light snowfall. I figured I’d warm up with a run on the Ridge View/Sunrise/Tyro/Crossover/Dalton combination that we’d been skiing with the boys over the past couple of visits, and it was immediately apparent that temperatures had not reached that critical threshold for snow softening in the higher elevations today. The main surfaces were refrozen granular, and while there had been some loose, sandy piles of granular snow kicked up and pushed together in places due to skier traffic, these areas were too few and far between. Skiing in the upper elevations definitely required some significant contact with the frozen granular surfaces, and I definitely did not have the edges for that. Around the elevation of the Sunrise/Tyro junction the snow began to soften somewhat and the piles of loose granular became more plentiful, but it still wasn’t possible to get continuous turns on soft snow. I called E when I got down to Crossover and let her know that she and the boys had made the perfect decision to stay home today. The snow got softer still down on Dalton, but so much of the route had been a tilted ice rink that the route didn’t seem like it was worth another run.
Skier traffic had actually been reasonably heavy on that route, presumably because a lot of people had been skipping the steeper terrain due to the slick conditions. It had made the skiing even more challenging though, because one had to navigate around other skiers and riders, further limiting the options to get to any soft snow. With that in mind, I decided to go for one more run and take one of the alternate routes. From the summit I opted for Lord Loop, which was similar to Ridge View in consistency, but it had nobody else on it and I was able to head wherever I wanted in order to get the best snow. I then stopped at the top of Centerline and looked down – the bumps looked really good, so good that I figured it would be worth dealing with some slick spots to check them out. It was the wrong decision; after a few Telemark turns, when I was already in too far to change my route, I found out just how hard the snow was. As the slope steepened, I went from Telemark turns, to occasional Telemark turns, to alpine turns, to “get me the hell of this frozen egg carton before I kill myself!” The bump lines were so tight and appealing looking too, but the snow was just too nasty. Alpine skis would have made life much easier, but it still would have been more hassle than it was worth.
I got myself down onto North Slope, and worked the best I could to ride the berms of sand-like granular snow along the edges of the trail. Access to this type of snow gradually increased as I descended, and I was able to burn out my legs pretty well with lots of tight turns thanks to those soft lines. The final descent of North Slope above Crossover and on to Dalton’s was the best part of the run, and I pushed my legs hard enough with very short radius Telemark turns that I felt good calling it an afternoon. I’d seen enough of what was available, and had enough close calls and unnerving situations with the Teles on the upper mountain, that leaving was easy. As I skied down the last slope to the lodge, I heard a guy mention to his friend that he was going to see if he could turn in his ticket and get a refund or voucher. I don’t blame him, since with the combination of terrain and conditions probably put the day in that bottom 10% for the season.
I’d definitely call today a rather inauspicious ending to Stowe’s lift-served ski season, in what was certainly an inauspicious season for snowfall (it looks like Stowe’s final snowfall tally will be 211 inches, which is just 63% of normal). Back at home, E had commented that we’d had a nice sunny spring day with good snow yesterday, and today wasn’t really going to top it; she was happy to end on yesterday’s note and that’s a good day to have for the last of Stowe’s lift-served skiing. I’m happy with the workout I got today, and glad I coupled the trip to the mountain with the grocery shopping that had to be done, but folks who didn’t make it out you really didn’t miss much. These sort of firm conditions certainly happen on cool, gray days in the spring, but normally we’d have a few weeks left to catch up on some more soft conditions due to powder or sun. Stowe’s early closing almost seems like it’s a manifestation of the collective psyche of the skiers, who appear to be finishing off the season earlier than usual, intent on putting 2011-2012 behind them. Other local areas are certainly staying open for a while though, so we’ll see where our ski travels take us next.
Temperatures have been fairly seasonable over the past week, with a couple rounds of light snow in the mountains to produce some small powder days on Monday and Friday. Today dawned sort of gray with a snowstorm passing to our south, but the clouds gradually dissipated, the temperatures rose to around 50 F at the house, and we decided to head off to Stowe for some afternoon runs. We’d been eyeing the forecast in the morning and it had seemed really iffy in terms of getting warm enough to soften the slopes, but eventually it became obvious that even the mountains were going to get there.
En route to the resort we caught some views of Mt. Mansfield, and you could still see the signs of yesterday’s snow in the alpine. Indeed, even in some shady spots down below 1,000’ in elevation, vestiges of the recent snow were still hanging around. We opted for the Mansfield Base Lodge again as we’d done last Sunday, but the parking lot was nothing like what we’d seen then; it was obvious that it was a Saturday and the weather was nice, because the main lot was packed. Temperatures were in the 40s F, and the sun was out, so folks were all around the mountain and parking lots having a good time.
We worked with the boys on their Telemark Skiing using the same Ridge View/Sunrise/Tyro/Crossover combination that we’d skied last weekend. With the beautiful weather, the skier traffic was much higher today than what we’d encountered on Sunday, and that changed a couple of things. The terrain got a little more bumped up, which gave the boys some opportunities to try some Telemark turns through the moguls. Dialing in Telemark turns through the moguls requires quick footwork and good transitions, but the boys are at least getting to the stage in their progression that they can piece together some good segments. Dylan had a fall at one point that actually cracked his goggles a bit, so it looks like he’ll be able to get some fancy new ones like his brother. We even discovered that yesterday’s powder was around in areas off the edges of the trails. It had often thickened (and become good for building snowballs as we tested) but it was pretty nice in spots and it was refreshing to get a few floaty turns.
The downside of the nice weather was the increase in skier traffic to Stowe-like levels, which was unfortunately exacerbated by the reduced terrain options. Even sticking to the moderately-pitched routes, there were way too many people skiing way too fast for comfort. Ty and Dylan are definitely well into that intermediate stage with their Telemark turns, and while the terrain was perfect for them, the number of people straight-lining the slopes is really incompatible with kids trying to work on the larger radius turns that are common at their stage of learning. We had a few close calls, but fortunately no collisions.
Eventually the Quad shut down for the day and we had to call it an afternoon. Back in the Mansfield Base Lodge we got to listen to the après ski band they had playing. It’s been kind of nice visiting the scene there; it’s really the old school alternative to the Spruce Camp Base Lodge. On the way home we checked in at some of the ski shops on the Mountain Road for a new pair of goggles for Dylan, and stopped for dinner at the Crop Bistro & Brewery, which is the new restaurant where The Shed used to be located. The caliber of the food appears to be a bump up from The Shed’s offerings, and not surprisingly, the prices have increased to match. As anyone who has been up the mountain road in the past several months has seen, the exterior of the building has been changed from the red of The Shed to a more yellowish color, and the interior has been all redesigned as well. They’ve gone with that “contemporary rustic” style, and have included several impressive (and large) photographs of the Vermont countryside from one of the local photographers. The overall feel of the Crop actually reminds me a lot of the Farmhouse Tap & Grill in Burlington, featuring high-quality food that is locally sourced as much as possible and really showcases what the local agriculture has to offer.
I had an amazing pasta special with nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and a spectacular sauce. E had a cheeseburger, which was accompanied by some of their homemade sauces, and we all shared an appetizer of bread, honey, nuts, and an assortment of local Vermont cheeses. The boys got the grilled cheese, which was made with Cabot Cheddar. Price wise, the Crop doesn’t seem like it’s quite going to be the place that The Shed was for popping in for meals off the bike path, but the locavore approach is nice to see, and the food we had was really good, so it’s a nice addition to the dining options in Stowe.
Stowe is planning to make tomorrow their last day running the lifts, and it seems to be mostly due to the lack of interest from skiers. There’s supposed to be some additional snow coming in later in the day tomorrow, but we’ll have to see what the clouds and potentially cooler temperatures do to the snow surfaces, and whether it’s worth heading out for the resort’s last lift-served day this season.
Yesterday, Bolton Valley finished up its lift-served season, and we were able to get out and make good use of the soft spring snow as the boys worked on their Telemark turns. Weather conditions were fairly similar today, with temperatures around 40 F or so at the mountain elevations, so we were anticipating the chance for more spring snow on the slopes as we headed off to Stowe. On the way to the resort I was surprised to see a couple of pockets of natural snow all the way down at the elevation of the Matterhorn around 1,000’, but in general one had to head up above 2,500-3,000’ to really get into substantial natural snow. The snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is down to just 26 inches after being at over 80 inches near the beginning of the Month – and this is at a time when the snowpack on Mt. Mansfield should still be increasing. Based on the forecast, it looks like the melting will cease for a while, and there could even be some increases with additional snowfall, so this may mark the end of the most precipitous melting. The rapid jump in snowpack in February combined with the quick drop in March makes for quite a dramatic plot of the Mt. Mansfield snow depth.
With the gray skies today, we weren’t surprised to see that parking lots were minimally occupied. For a change of pace from the rest of the season, we decided to park on the Mt. Mansfield side of the resort, and we were able to get a convenient spot right in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge. It was fun stopping in there and checking out the scene, since we’ve been over at the Spruce Camp Base Lodge all season. Stowe has currently got the most available terrain in the state thanks to their snowfall and snowmaking, and when I checked on the trail report on their website, I saw that there would be plenty of low/moderate angle terrain that would suit the boys as they worked on their Telemark turns.
Much of the mountain was shrouded in fog, but the snow was nice and soft right from when we arrived around midday. The route that we used was Ridge View to Sunrise to Tyro to Crossover to Dalton/Liftline, and it was a perfect mix of pitches for the boys. Both Ty and Dylan had obvious “vanilla” (in this case turning to the right) and “chocolate” (turning to the left) sides today, so we worked on catching that chocolate side up to the vanilla. We noted that on their bad side, the boys would often have their weight a bit too far back, so we were able to pass that along to them and they were able to use it to consciously work on fixing those turns. With this being their third day in a row on their Telemark skis though, their improved comfort level and increased skills were very apparent, and they were having a lot of fun with their turns. E commented on how they were quite disciplined and rarely ever needed to resort to alpine turns, and she was especially impressed when she’d find herself in tight quarters throwing in an alpine turn and find that the boys were still dropping the knee. The boys were certainly feeling those long Stowe runs in their legs, so we took a break up in the Octagon before it closed; it was mellow scene with just a few people around.
On one of our runs we stopped and watched what appeared to be an impromptu session taking place in the lower terrain park near the Mountain Triple Chair. They had a tent set up with an announcer on a loudspeaker and music, and he was calling out the tricks that the athletes were throwing down. It seemed like they were having a lot of fun making good use of the soft spring snow. The weather is really supposed to cool off for the next couple of days, with a chance for a little snow tonight and mountain temperatures in the single digits tomorrow night. I think we got lucky with the soft snow surfaces this weekend, but there definitely won’t be softening with high temperatures only in the 20s F tomorrow. The snowpack is certainly going to be preserved this week though, and perhaps we could even see some increases depending on how much snow falls, so that will help keep the ski season going as we head into spring.
Record warmth occupied the region over the past week, with temperatures that topped out in the 70s and 80s F, forcing the closure of many trails at the local ski areas. Fortunately, Bolton was able to keep things rolling by managing their available snow, and they were open for skiing today. Although the warmth of the past couple of weeks has meant a lack of powder, altering terrain choices from the trees to more on piste alternatives, it’s been a boon for Ty and Dylan’s Telemark skiing. They worked hard on their turns last Saturday at Bolton, E brought them to Stowe yesterday where they worked some more, and the plan was for them to keep at it again today. They don’t often get back to back days of Telemark skiing, so we were excited to get out there today to really put in a reinforcing shot in their progression.
After the warmth of the week, temperatures cooled and clouds came in today, so we were concerned about the snow surfaces stiffening up. When Powderfreak mentioned that the mountain temperatures were cool enough to firm up the snow at Stowe, it didn’t instill a lot of optimism, but we decided to head up to Bolton anyway and check things out. We got up to the Village around 10:00 A.M. for the opening of the Vista Quad, and the temperature was 41 F at the base. Plenty of parking was available in the top tier lot because so few skiers had come out, and the base area was pretty quiet aside from a large group of what looked like kids and ski instructors. It didn’t appear as though they were going to ski; it just seemed like they were going to have some sort of end of the season gathering.
The elevation at which natural snow begins to appear has risen quite high, and we didn’t see any until around 2,000’. Even above that though, it remained very patchy all the way up to the Vista Summit above 3,000’. With such intense heat over the past week, it was a different melting pattern than what I’m used to seeing on the mountain. Options for skiing were the Spillway and Sherman’s Pass routes up top, which combined into Beech Seal on the lower mountain. Sherman’s was the plan for the boys on their Teles, and the snow turned out to have an excellent consistency. Thanks to grooming and/or skier traffic, it had softened to great corn snow. The snow actually turned out to be even better than what we had last Saturday, which was a little on the soft side and pushed the boys around in spots during their turns. In areas without the skier traffic or grooming though, today’s snow was a bit firm, so there’s clearly plenty of thermal mass left in the snowpack to keep it cool. We had wondered what it was going to be like in terms of crowding today with just a couple of routes open, but there were so few people skiing that it wasn’t an issue – E and I estimate that we saw about 30 to 40 people out there on the slopes, and that includes quite a few ski patrollers.
Since E skied with the boys at Stowe yesterday, she got to watch the progression in their Telemark turns, but this morning was the first time I’d seen them in action since last weekend. I quickly got to witness the improvement that the additional session and back-to-back days had made. Both boys were holding stronger Telemark turns on steeper pitches. Dylan still has an obvious “vanilla” side (and I guess therefore a “chocolate” side), but Ty seemed to be pretty consistent to the right and left. We therefore had him working on transitions between turns, because we could see that that was an area of weakness. Right now he’s completing many good turns, but not flowing into the next one, and E and I can both recall from our learning that dialing in that transition represents a big leap in one’s ability to link smooth, quick Telemark turns on various pitches. In any event, both boys really put out a lot of great turns, and since Bear Run was closed, they were nailing them on the steeper top section of Beech Seal. Both boys were holding long Telemark stances even in the flats to work on their balance, and Dylan commented on how it was really working his legs. Telemark skiing will do that… apparently even to a six year old.
The snow was definitely good enough for some additional runs, especially with the way the snow surfaces and terrain were working out well for the boys, but we finished up early because we had to be home by noon. We were meeting my mom to head off to my cousins sugarhouse in Barton for his annual get together. It’s interesting that Bolton was only planning to stay open until 2:00 P.M. though, and they are making this their last day. With the cooler forecast and potential for more snow in the coming weeks, there’s no question that they could stay open if they wanted to, but I’m sure it’s a financial decision with so few people skiing. The warmth of the past week no doubt shifted many people’s thoughts away from skiing, and folks aren’t going to be too interested in paying for a lot of days on limited terrain. Bolton’s normal closing is next weekend anyway, and with the extra weekend that they stayed open last season due to the prodigious spring snowpack, closing a week early this season basically averages things out. It is great that there is still plenty of base down for earned turns in the coming week if we get more powder, or even if the weather warms up for more corn snow.
This is actually a second hand report from Stowe today – E didn’t have any parent-teacher conferences scheduled and decided to take the boys out alone for some Telemark skiing in the warm spring weather. Temperatures have been incredibly warm as of late, with Burlington reaching a record 76 F on Sunday, which is 35 degrees above the average high temperature for March 18th. However, that impressive record temperature was only the beginning; it was quickly bested on Monday, by a high temperature of 79 F, and then again on Tuesday with 80 F, and finally on Wednesday and Thursday, to the tune of 81 F, which is roughly 40 degrees above average. The record temperatures finally waned today, but it was still quite warm, and the damage to the snowpack has been done. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake dropped 30 inches during the period, and in the lower elevations, slopes were melting out everywhere. To couple such an historic period of warmth with a winter season that has already been quite warm and low on snowfall, really begins to put this season in rare company. Were it not for the big storm that hit the area at the end of last month, I shudder to think where we’d be in terms of snowpack. But, the good news is that local skiing continues to roll along, and since the resorts have been able to make it through this almost perfect storm of insults to the snowpack, it means that they should be able to handle just about anything that the weather can dish out.
“it was quickly bested on Monday,
by a high temperature of 79 F, and
then again on Tuesday with 80 F,
and finally on Wednesday and
Thursday, to the tune of 81 F, which
is roughly 40 degrees above average.”
E said that the Spruce Camp Base Lodge was utterly deserted today, and showed me her picture of just how empty is was in the locker area on the bottom floor. Not surprisingly, they ran into friends in the form of Mrs. Cabot, Eliza, Ben, and Izzy at the base of the Spruce Peak chairs. E and the boys did a couple of runs off the Alpine Double, and Ben hung with them as he continued to learn how to snowboard. Some areas, such as the alpine slide tunnel, were closed due to melting, and connecting over from the top of the Alpine Double to the Sunny Spruce side involved a lot of traversing across grass. They did have Slalom Hill open with good snow, and race preparations could be seen taking place. Most of the time was spent on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak, which offer great terrain for the boys to practice on their Telemark skis. With the low elevation and south exposure in that area though, it was quite warm, plenty of melting had occurred, and there were certainly muddy patches that required navigation to avoid. It sounds like everyone took the day casually though, and they had a pretty good time.
Apparently a big attraction today was having snowball fights, which occurred over near the employee parking lot below Slalom Hill. E said the fights went on and on and on because everyone was having so much fun. Later in the day, E watched Ben while Mrs. Cabot took the girls for dance rehearsal/practice, and eventually everyone reconvened in the Great Room Grill to finish off the day. With the massive heat wave done, it doesn’t look like temperatures are going into the deep freeze, but they should at least return to something near normal and offer some chances for snow. There’s still time to rebuild some snowpack in the higher elevations, so it would be great if we could call on some storms to do that as we head into April.
It’s been too warm for any additional snow recently, even in the mountains, but according to my records this is the first weekend/holiday period without powder since way back in the middle of December. That’s actually pretty surprising in this season of warm temperatures and low snowfall, but despite the bouts of inhospitable ski weather, the Northern Greens have managed to continuously catch timely snow to revitalize the snow surfaces and provide powder skiing. Yesterday the boys had a good session of Telemark training at Bolton Valley, but today they were back on the alpines for our weekly ski program session at Stowe.
“according to my records
this is the first weekend/
holiday period without
powder since way back
in the middle of December.”
The resort didn’t seem to be too busy when we arrived today, as I managed a midday parking spot right in the first row near the Stowe Mountain Lodge. The boys and I met up with Connor and did an early run on Easy Street; its fairly mellow slope was still somewhat challenging for Connor as he’s just switched over to snowboarding this season. Snow on those low elevations, south-facing slopes near the Spruce Peak Base Area was quite soft and slushy, but at least it wasn’t overly sticky since it had long ago taken on that corn snow consistency. When our coaching group for the day finally assembled, it was just Luke, Ty, and Dylan for students, with Luke’s Dad joining us as well since he was out on the mountain today. As the spring temperatures continued to surge into the afternoon, with 50s and 60s F on the mountain and even some 70s F at the base area elevations, the layers of ski clothing seemed to be flying off faster than people could do laps. We certainly weren’t immune to the warm temperatures, so as we headed toward the Over Easy we stopped in Spruce Camp and dropped some layers. The process took a few minutes because we also had to switch our ski passes out of our parkas as we converted over to vests.
“the layers of ski
clothing seemed to be
flying off faster than
people could do laps.”
We kicked off our Mansfield turns with a trip down Cliff Trail, which we were happy to find full of bumps on its upper half. The skiing seems much better there with some contour, and naturally the bumps were loads of fun with the spring snow. We continued down onto Nosedive, and proceeded on our way to the Fourrunner Quad area – we’ve spent a huge amount of time on the Mansfield Gondola this season, so this was a chance to mix things up and get some time in the Front Four area. The quad actually wasn’t running because work was being done on it, but the Lookout Double was running as the alternative. We were happy that it was such a nice day though, because just as we were approaching to top of the lift, there was a five minute lift stoppage. Dylan was with me, and Ty was actually with a stranger, but he said he managed a fun discussion. Not surprisingly, the discussion included skiing.
“I straddled up to the
precipitous edge, stuck
my skis out into the air,
and enjoyed the view
beneath my feet.”
With the Front Four on our Minds, we headed right over to National, and the presence of soft spring snow meant that it was definitely time to hit the formidable headwall. The National Headwall is so steep that it often just turns into an icy mess that’s not worth skiing if the weather isn’t good, but that was not the case today. I was indeed excited to be atop National on a day like today. I straddled up to the precipitous edge, stuck my skis out into the air, and enjoyed the view beneath my feet. The pitch of the National Headwall doesn’t look like it’s quite 40 degrees, but with the way the catwalk above it is groomed, I’d say from experience that the first pitch is pretty darned close to hitting that mark. After eschewing the headwall under nasty conditions earlier in the season, I assured the boys that they could handle the slope easily with the good snow, and indeed they did. It was just pure fun letting the soft, steep turns just fall away with gravity on the upper headwall. As we approached the junction with Liftline, we got an acrobatic demonstration of sorts – were able to watch a couple of lift mechanics transfer from a chair onto one of the lift towers. It was very cool looking down at them as they were perched precariously on the chair, accented by the image behind them, which was a view of the valley far below.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the Mountain Triple, making sure to catch a trip on Hayride, but also putting in a good dose of terrain park action at the request of the boys. We even managed a terrain park trifecta at one point, coupling the small park on Lord to the larger parks on Tyro and North Slope in one long run. The only downside we found to our “freestyle” terrain selection was that the resort didn’t build their huge half pipe this season, so we didn’t get to mix that in. With the adhesive properties of the soft corn snow, we were able to really load up the tops of our skis with heaping helpings of it before getting on the lift. Ty, Dylan and I we were able to stockpile it that allowed us to throw a lot of snowballs during our ascents, as we worked on hitting the chairs that were descending on the other side of the lift. Hitting the skeleton-like chairlift frame, which is of course a moving target, while in a seated position on another moving object, is a fun challenge. Although Ty had the pole position on that one, putting him closest to the target, he throws lefty, so that raised the bar for him. We skied almost until the lifts closed, winding up at Spruce around 3:45 P.M. where we called it a day. It was good ol’ Subway at the Alpine Mart today on the way home as the warmer season of après ski kicks into gear, and that closed the books on another fine day of Vermont spring skiing.
Spring is definitely making inroads now that we’re into March, but last Saturday, winter was still in charge as we had a great powder day at Bolton with midwinter snow. Today however, there was no denying spring its due, with a forecast for morning inversion fog in the valleys burning off to sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s up in the mountains. This looks to be the first weekend since back in early/mid December without local powder available, and it was a good opportunity to get the boys out on the Telemark skis for some practice on groomed terrain. E has wanted the get the boys out on their Teles for a while, and since they were excited about it today, we were hoping to seize that opportunity.
Around 10:00 A.M. I checked on the Bolton Valley Web Cam to get a sense for how much the snow had softened, and I could still see a sheen out there on the slopes of the Butterscotch Terrain Park, so I knew it wasn’t quite time to head up just yet. Stephen also called us on his cell phone to let us know about the conditions – he was on the mountain and agreed that the slopes weren’t quite softened to that point of perfection. I’d actually just seen Stephen on the web cam, and was able to look at him in the image while we talked on the phone. We were certainly enjoying the convenience afforded by the new technology that the resort has added to the base area. Stephen let us know that the resort was pretty busy, and with the parking lots getting full, he was unsure whether or not we’d have to park down in the Timberline lot.
As we approached midday, the fog in the valley had burned off, the weather was looking pleasant, and it was time to head up to the mountain. We were still torn on which ski gear to bring for the boys – I wanted to give them the chance to tackle the steep, and presumably soft, bumps on Spillway with their alpine skis, but we definitely wanted to capitalize on that eagerness to work on the Telemark turns. In the end, we brought both sets of equipment, and we figured we’d play it by ear once we’d seen how things looked on the mountain. We ended up with a good spot in the parking lot; we’d basically gone late enough in the day that some people were leaving and spots were opening up.
Since the boys were keen on getting in some Telemark skiing, we ultimately jumped on that opportunity and decided to have them go with their Telemark gear instead of alpine. We made several runs off the Mid Mountain Lift to get the ball rolling, and we had a good time coaching the boys with their turns. We worked on aspects such as fore-aft weighting and leg positioning, and tried to keep them from sitting back too far. Ty was really starting to self diagnose some of the issues himself, which was very helpful in making improvements. We stuck to mostly Bear Run for the consistent moderate pitch for learning, but also did a couple of Beech Seal runs to increase the challenge, and a Sherman’s Pass run from the top for variety.
I shot various video clips throughout the runs we took, getting a chance to try out E’s new Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS camera. Her old Canon PowerShot SD700 IS from several years ago finally had to be retired from regular service since there was a crack in the LCD screen that made it unviewable, but it had served us quite well and we went back for a new one in the same series. In the five years since we got her last camera there have naturally been some huge improvements in the technology. This new Canon has a touch screen, a 12.1 megapixel sensor, which is twice what her old one had, a 12X optical zoom versus only 4X before, and most importantly for today’s ski outing, her new camera shoots full HD 1080p video.
We took a mid afternoon food break when the boys needed it, and started out on the main deck beside the James Moore Tavern, where table service was an option. We quickly decided to move on though because it was so sunny and hot, and instead headed down to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to sit outside on the covered deck. We got some snacks and drinks and started out sitting on some milk crates from the huge stack that they had at the east end of the deck, but the picnic table quickly cleared and we commandeered that. We weren’t even sure if the boys were going to want to go back out on the slopes, since working on Telemark turns in substantially more tiring that just ripping laps on the alpine skis, but we had time to rest and discuss the session we’d just had. Ty said that his toes were definitely getting worked, and that’s something that I’ve experienced when first getting up on those toes for extended periods of Tele turns.
The boys were actually able to rest up enough that they wanted to go back out and make some additional runs. E and I were certainly excited about that, so we quickly got ourselves back out to main base area. While on the Mid Mountain Chair, I invented a way to use all the soft corn snow that was accumulating on the tops of our skis. I made snowballs from it and attempted to throw them hit the chair in front of us, which contained combinations of E, Ty, and Dylan depending on who sat with whom. All the chairs are moving at the same pace of course, so one doesn’t lose target distance in that regard, but it’s much harder to get a snowball to reach the chair in front of you than you might initially think. It’s a challenge to throw from a seated position, and, the chair in front of you is often elevated relative to the one that you are on. After many trials, I was finally able to hit a chair containing Ty and Dylan when E was away using the restroom. I eventually discovered that the spacing of the chairs on the Mid Mountain Chair is far from consistent – I was able to hit the back of chair 25 from chair 24 because they are quite close, but many other chairs were farther apart.
We had a greater focus on Beech Seal in that second session, and I was able to work on my own Telemark turns in the leftover ruts from the race course. That was quite challenging because the ruts were almost like the corners of a bobsled track by that point, and you were really locked into taking that fixed, fairly aggressive line. It was indeed a pretty challenging line, but by my last run I was really starting to get it. You had to hang on, carve hard, and have confidence that you were going to hold through the entirety of the sharp arc. I was amazed that the boys were trying it with Telemark turns as well, but they clearly wanted to see what it was like, and could manage in the flatter sections of the course where the turns weren’t as aggressive.
It was well after 5:00 P.M. before we finally called it quits, but it was hard to pull away from such a beautiful day with temperatures in the 50s F. I love how the mountain keeps things running a little later take advantage of their western exposure and the long lasting spring sunshine. The boys definitely made a lot of progress on their Telemark turns though, so the whole afternoon was worth it even beyond the chance to simply be outside on the slopes. It sounds like we could be in for quite a warm one this week, with some temperatures in the valleys getting up near the 80 F mark, so we’ll really have to hope that the slopes can handle some melting if that forecast comes to fruition.