Each year in December we head to Stowe for the training day that gets us ready for our school’s ski program. E is the director for the BJAMS program and typically takes care of the logistics on one of the weekend days, while a co-director would manage the other. In the past, when the boys were younger and couldn’t stay home alone, we’d either set up to have someone watch them, or split the two training days between us and each go alone. On those occasions, even though selecting the days was done well in advance, I always seemed to luck out and get the great conditions – comfortable temperatures, fresh powder, soft surfaces, etc., while E on the other hand would get refrozen crud, frigid temperatures, or whatever else you can think of that would make the ski experience less than stellar.
This year though, we were going to the training day together, and it looked like E was going to go for a ride on the luck train with me. Winter Storm Decima was marching across the country, and the timing looked just about perfect for a great powder day on Saturday. In fact, the National Weather Service Office in Burlington even felt strongly enough about it to incorporate a statement in their forecast discussion on Thursday:
“Should be a glorious powder day with mean snow ratios around 18-20:1 and temps gradually warming into the lower 20s valleys and upper teens mountains by early afternoon.”
By this morning, Winter Storm Decima had already begun to deliver snow as we headed off to the resort. The snowfall rates weren’t outrageous, but it was a good steady snow and you could see that little bit of extra spring in everyone’s step knowing that training day was going to feature fresh snow. As we gathered outside the Midway Lodge for the morning’s announcements, you could just see the snow piling up on the anxious skiers ready to get underway.
“There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day.”
We had Steve for our group leader, similar to some previous seasons, and he regaled us with his usual assortment of giving lessons to celebrities and assorted well-heeled folks. We did a quick first run off the Meadows Quad, and that was our first chance to experience the snow. Oh was it glorious! There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day. Stowe’s already hit 110 inches on the season, and we’re only about three weeks or so into it.
We had several runs on Spruce Peak before we broke for some lunch, then got a couple more runs in over on Mansfield. Even after a day of weekend ski traffic, conditions were still amazing in the afternoon even on the most heavily-used areas. The snow is deep-down good. The only downside today was the chill in the morning at elevation with the wind, but it was still a small price to pay for such consistently awesome conditions.
The snow from long-duration Winter Storm Marcus continued overnight, and although it was just an inch or so down here at the house and a few inches up in the mountains, the snow had substantially higher density than the fluff we received yesterday. Both James and Tom heeded the call I put out earlier in the week with regard to skiing, so they would be joining us for the afternoon at Stowe. It was actually great that they were able to make it today, because Ken wasn’t going to be there and they could help with managing my ski group during the BJAMS ski program.
“…untracked lines were just ridiculously deep with two to three feet of powder just like we found yesterday at Bolton Valley.”
The guys arrive at our house well ahead of the planned 10:00 A.M. meet up, so we had some time to catch up while our family got our ski gear together. We were on the way to Stowe by about 10:30 A.M. or so, and there was steady snowfall, but it was light enough that well-traveled roads were generally showing blacktop. We had time for some lunch in the Great Room Grill with E and the boys, and Chris even showed up to hang out and have some food before he headed back down to Massachusetts.
“The snow just keeps piling on there, and the terrain has that feeling of skiing an alpine bowl in an area that keeps getting hit by repeated storm cycles.”
We went out for an early run before program time, and checked out the open terrain above Meadows. The snow just keeps piling on there, and the terrain has that feeling of skiing an alpine bowl in an area that keeps getting hit by repeated storm cycles. The powder has been somewhat cut up by skiers, so it’s nice to have a ski with some girth that can hold its own as the variations in the surface snow try to toss you around at speed. What a great warm-up run that was though; it gave us a good feeling for what we’d be able to find out there today.
“I don’t know how he was able to fit all that stuff in his ski jacket, but I made me remember how much fun it is to have Bursey on board when it comes to food.”
Luc was sick, and Elizabeth was going to be joining our group, so it looked like it would be a total of seven students that James, Tom, and I had in our charge. We took one more run on the Meadows Chair while we waited for Jack to arrive, and then crossed over to Mansfield via the Over Easy. As we stood at the Gondola summit and I asked the kids where they wanted to go, “the Middle of Nowhere” was quickly heard from multiple voices. So, off we went toward Nosedive and into the trees. Conditions were great as one would expect, and with the three of us adults we were able to pretty easily keep tabs on the group. A technique I like to use is to watch for students that break away from the pack and take alternate lines, and then follow them. Wiley often does this during his runs as he searches out good lines and good powder, and I got to follow him through a nice section of terrain. We made more good use of the three coaches when we got to Nosedive and some of the group wanted to dive back into the trees and some wanted to stay on trail. I guided the off piste group through some of the trees on the skiers left of Nosedive, while James and Tom offered to take care of the on piste group as they continued to warm up. It was back into the trees again for some of us as we approached Liftline, and boy, untracked lines were just ridiculously deep with two to three feet of powder even down in some of the lowest elevations, just like we found yesterday at Bolton Valley.
We made our way to the Fourrunner Quad and by the time we got to the top some freezing fog was wreaking havoc with everyone’s goggles. Jonah asked if we could head into the Octagon to have a snack and take care of that visibility issue, so it was break time. Tom pulled out the trail mix, banana bread, and whatever else he had on board and we had a darned good feast. I don’t know how he was able to fit all that stuff in his ski jacket, but I made me remember how much fun it is to have Bursey on board when it comes to food. Everyone’s goggles had been thoroughly thawed and wiped by the time we headed back out into the weather.
I’d seen good coverage on Upper National, so we combined that with a run down Goat. Conditions are excellent, but not perfect as you can still find icy areas on the back of some moguls due to Stowe’s fairly heavy skier traffic. All the kids handled the steep terrain on that run very well though, and after that, it was obvious that Elizabeth could handle both the trees and steep terrain that our group often visits. It was my first time skiing Goat since the microburst took down all those trees along the left, and the damage is very impressive one you’re up close and personal with it. It’s probably going to take a while for that damage to regenerate. One of the best parts of the run was getting into the beautiful bump lines of Lower National. It gave us all a chance to work on pole timing with the kids, and those bump lines are just some much fun because the lower pitch of the trail keeps them tighter, smoother, and the snow quality so much better.
We finished off our runs on the Quad with a Nosedive Bypass down through the Nosedive Glades. Once down through the Bypass Chutes, Tom decided that he was getting a bit too tired to keep up at the kids pace, and told us to head on down and he’d catch up with us later. It’s been at least a couple of years since he’s skied the sort of stuff we were hitting today, so it’s not surprising that it felt like a challenging pace. He chose the perfect spot to stop for a rest though; he was just entering the glades with a quiet snow filtering down. I suggested he hang out for a while and soak in the scene while he rested, and later he told me that’s exactly what he did. As the end of the day approached and he was getting tired, he was able to head through the terrain at his own pace with stops as required, and it sounded like a good way to finish things off. As for the rest of the crew, James and I brought them once again through the bumps on Lower National to work on that type of skiing and help with the timing of their poles. James and I got to play follow-the-leader with Dylan through the bumps, and he showed impressive control as James really dropped his speed and massaged his way through the bump lines. James and I later talked about how much fun those bumps are and how the amount of effort needed to ski them is so minimal when you do it right.
“…fortunately he was just enjoying (although perhaps “enjoying” is too positive a word) a deep state of being tired at the end of the ski day.”
We returned back to the Spruce Peak Base to ensure we got everyone in on time, and most of the students did a couple more runs on Sunny Spruce before they called it a day. The last couple of runs featured some speed runs by the boys of course, but they love that stuff. Back in the base lodge, E told me that she had seen Tom crashed out in one of the chairs, and before she knew it was him she thought, “Boy, that guy looks tired!” It sounded like it was pretty funny when she found out it was actually Tom. She feared he’d gotten hurt, but fortunately he was just enjoying (although perhaps “enjoying” is too positive a word) a deep state of being tired at the end of the ski day. He might feel that tomorrow though, but hopefully we can get him to come out again for another coaching session.
One of the early signs that Stowe has received a decent shot of overnight snow, is when Powderfreak sends out a pre-sunrise update and you see some nice depth to the snowy tire tracks in the parking lot. That’s the way it went this morning, and since a few inches down low can mean even more up high. It definitely piqued my interest, and suggested that we should go for one of those morning starts ahead of our afternoon ski program. With Dylan still under the weather, and E staying home with him, it would be just Ty and I heading out today. I waited until Ty woke up, he grabbed a quick bite, and we were off.
“Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know.”
The lifts hadn’t been running too long at Spruce Peak when we arrived, and you could tell by the tracks that were appearing that there was some great fresh snow. We suited up in Spruce Camp, and then hopped on Sunny Spruce for a quick first run. When we saw that Freddie’s Chute was open, we headed right there and caught some of the fresh lines still available along the skier’s right. The snow that fell overnight was some gorgeous light and dry Champlain Powder™. There were several inches of new snow, and it skied really well, even if it didn’t have the density to keep you off the subsurface in previously tracked areas. We grabbed first tracks on some lines we knew in the Lower Smugglers Trees, and found the turns to be mostly bottomless there. We finished off with a run through the terrain above Meadows – there wasn’t quite enough powder to be bottomless down at those low elevations on south facing terrain, but the snow provided a good amount of resistance to make the turns fun.
“It was just me and Ty, and a couple hundred acres of fluff.”
It was off to Mansfield next for some Gondola runs. We started with a run in which I introduced Ty to a full trip through the Hazelton Zone. With the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake above 60” now, there are no concerns about coverage. We just let our noses guide us through the terrain, and it was powder-filled adventure through streambeds, powder fields and steep river banks. We didn’t see another soul, and we didn’t even run into any tracks until we got down toward the main line in the bottom half of the area. It was just me and Ty, and a couple hundred acres of fluff. Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know. South facing chutes were where that crust was evident though – there featured conditions with more like six inches of powder with a crusty base underneath. Once we found that out though, we stuck to the north facing terrain and other aspects where there were no problems. Ty said he loved the explorations and skiing in the area, along with the roller coaster exit traverse at the end. One comment he made was that the run seemed sort of long, which I’d argue is a nice problem to have. Our next run was through the Tombo Woods followed by some of the Switchback Trees, where the snow was great all the way to the bottom. When I did a depth check around the 2,000’-2,500’ mark on Switchback, I got a reading of 6 inches for the new snow. Ty noticed that his fat skis were serving him well, keeping him planing atop the snow and moving even when the terrain flattened out.
Ty and I headed in for lunch at the Great Room Grill, getting sandwiches from the deli area, and then met up with Luc and Jack for our afternoon session. We started them off with the run that Ty and I had skied in the morning, and Ty like the fact that he’d had both first and third tracks through the Lower Smugglers Trees for the day. Back over on Mansfield, we took a great run through the Kitchen Wall area, and worked our way all the way through the Goatdive Woods and some of the Liftline Trees. Jack hurt his leg a bit on a run through the Sunrise trees, so we made our way back to Spruce, where he took it easy for the last hour in the lodge while the rest of the group finished off with some runs on Sensation. Main Street was an interesting mix of hard manmade racing snow below the fresh stuff, but outside the racing fences was some really good powder. We’ll definitely be back to check out some of the new routes we learned there. This was definitely one of those sleeper Stowe powder days that sneak in under the radar – we were psyched to have it on a Sunday.