Stowe, VT 25MAY2014

An image of Jay skiing the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont over Memorial Day Weekend
Out for some Memorial Day Weekend turns on Mt. Mansfield

This Memorial Day Weekend certainly hasn’t been like last year, with its two feet of new snow, but even from Waterbury one can see that Mt. Mansfield still has some of this season’s snow left on it, and with today’s great weather, it was hard to pass up the chance for some skiing. We’d actually been keeping our eyes on the weather over at Mt. Washington for a potential trip to ski the summit snowfields this weekend, but the forecast for nice weather didn’t end up being quite solid enough for us to make the commitment. Of course, being around at home meant that the opportunity was there for some local turns. I thought last week’s ski trip with E and the boys might be our last turns on Mansfield for the season, but that wasn’t the case… at least for me. Even last week, the skiing payoff relative to the hike was getting pretty marginal for the rest of the family, so although I did a perfunctory check to see if any of them wanted to go, I would have been surprised if any of them said yes. This time of year, it’s typically a good idea to go into a ski tour with the intention of enjoying the hike itself, because it’s often a big part of the outing relative to the skiing. If either of the boys had wanted to go on today’s tour, they would have had their work cut out for them, because I knew that it would require at least 1,000’ vertical of hiking before hitting decent snow. They barely have the patience for earning turns when the skiing is top to bottom, so all that hiking before getting to the snow wouldn’t be well received.

“You can get a nice 300’ or
so of vertical out of it, and
if you wanted something
to lap with the best turns,
that would be the place.”

After some midday yard work with the boys, I finally headed off to Stowe in the mid afternoon. The valley temperatures were generally in the mid 70s F, and the skies were mostly clear aside from a few clouds here and there, and a surprising number of leftover contrails. From Waterbury Center I could already see patches of snow left on Mt. Mansfield near the Cliff House, so I knew that the Nosedive area would have snow. I parked in the Midway Lot at 1,600’ where I saw a few other cars, but very little activity aside from the occasional group of hikers. Temperatures were still warm, so my setup for the ascent was a short sleeve polypro T-shirt, shorts, and socks/Tele boots, and I packed my ski pants, a long sleeve polypro shirt, and my gloves in my pack for later use. I’ve been very impressed with just how flexible my Garmont Garas have been these past few warm, spring-style outings. Throw them in walk mode and add temperatures like today, and it’s like walking in a pair of stiff hiking boots. They’ve got Vibram soles, so the grip is nice on most surfaces. They certainly don’t match up to the a pair of good hiking boots when trying to hop from boulder to boulder working one’s way across alpine areas of Mt. Washington, but for traipsing around on the generally grassy or slightly rocky slopes below tree line, you can hardly tell that they’re there. For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times. Of course I probably make up for some of the weight savings carrying camera gear, but the light weight of Telemark skis and bindings also cuts down on the pounds.

An image of thunderclouds off to the east in New Hampshire as viewed from near the Octagon summit building at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the mountain views of storm clouds off to the east
An image of a trout lily wildflower in spring on the Nosedive ski trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Signs of spring during the hike

As far as the snow goes, there were a couple of piles here and there even down near the base, but nothing of real consequence. I didn’t start to see more consistent patches on Nosedive until I got up around the 2,100’ mark at the junction with National. What I did get to see in the lower elevations was the appearance of wildflowers, including what looked like some trout lilies on their way toward opening up. Even though we had some rain yesterday, Nosedive was really pretty dry aside from areas in close proximity to snow patches or the occasional water bar with meltwater, so that made the hiking especially easy. The mid afternoon sun was still quite strong during my ascent, so I hiked in the shade when possible. As for the insects, all I saw was the occasional mosquito, so that made for a pleasurable ascent on that front. The presence of patchy snow off to climber’s left was all that I saw until I got up near 2,600’, and just below the intersection of Cliff Trail I saw the first area of coverage across the whole width of the trail. That was only an isolated section, and it was back to grass for a while above there, but once I got up to ~2,900’ I got into the nearly continuous snow, and there was even some snow remaining in the trees on both sides of the trail. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just up above that location at ~3,700’ was down to only two inches as of today’s report, although it was certainly deeper in those areas of trees I saw. I continued my ascent all the way up to roughly 3,600’ because the snow just kept going. There were a couple more breaks, but they were small enough that it kept me interested in reaching the top pile near the junction with the Toll Road (which is definitely open – I saw a car on its way down while I was up there).

An image of some leftover snow on the Nosedive ski trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont over Memorial Day Weekend
The bottom section of today’s snow on Nosedive

At the top I could definitely feel the ascent, so I downed a GU and cracked open and Odwalla smoothie that I’d been saving for the top. Between the amounts of sugar in those, recovery and rejuvenation were quick. I moseyed around up there for a bit and got a few pictures, and then geared up for the descent. If you’ve ever wondered about why you’ve got full side zippers on your ski pants, well here’s one of those perfect situations that call for them. You don’t spend time taking off you ski boots to get your pants on, you open up those zippers, strap on your pants, and off you go. The first big section of snow right at the top of Nosedive was just a big mound, with pretty dirty snow, but the snow on the second corner was a bit better, and then better again on the third. The best area of snow though is that one leading down to 2,900’. It’s the longest area without a gap, and it’s got some of the smoothest snow. You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place. The consistency of the corn snow was great, although that almost seems to be a given on the remaining snow at this time of the year unless it’s just too cold to soften it at all. It was a bit dirty in spots as one might expect, and there were some sun cups and other aberrations, but especially on that lower snowfield area, the turns were quite smooth.

“For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and
hike down comfortably in
one pair of boots makes everything so much easier,
both in terms of weight and
ascent/descent transition times.”

After the bottom of that section, I strapped the skis on once more for that area below the junction with Cliff Trail, and then hiked out the rest of the run. The down hike was very quick, with the generally dry, grassy trail making for great traction, and it was only about 15 minutes or so from that last area I skied to get back to the car. I actually heard a band playing during the final few hundred feet of my descent, and after swinging through the Spruce Peak Base Area on my way home, it seemed like there was a wedding event going on. They certainly got a great day for it. The long-lasting light is great on these days as we approach the solstice – it was already after 7:00 P.M. by the time I was at the car, but there was plenty of light left. I hit the grocery store on the way home, and then we cooked outside and had dinner and some time at the fire pit. It’s really nice to have some of that local snow hanging around to get in some skiing over the holiday – and as much fun as it was to have the two feet of fresh snow last year, the weather in the valleys wasn’t great for outdoor activities, so this type of Memorial Day Weekend is also pretty sweet.

An image of Erica, Dylan, and Ty by the fire pit in Waterbury Vermont
Today’s weather made for a great evening outside.

Stowe, VT 26MAY2013

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Perry Merrill trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a spring storm on Memorial Day Weekend
Visiting Mt. Mansfield for some glorious Memorial Day Weekend powder today

For the past several days, the meteorologists and weather enthusiasts in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather have been talking about a late-season snowstorm with the potential to unload on the northern parts of New York and New England.  Around mid month, a thread discussing the Memorial Day Weekend weather was started, and even at that point there was a suggestion that the weather could be cool.  However, by Thursday, just a couple of days before the weekend, it was obvious that a late-season snowstorm was developing, and the discussion began to focus on just how much snow the Northern Greens were going to get.  I hadn’t been following the weather too closely, but when I stopped in to check the board and found out about the impending snowstorm in the local mountains, my interest was definitely piqued.  We spent last weekend skiing in spring snow on Mt. Washington, and it began to look like this weekend would bring winter skiing on Mt. Mansfield.

“…you didn’t have to
 worry about hitting
anything underneath
and you could just let
it rip.”

Saturday arrived with a nor’easter developing just like the weather models had suggested.  For folks that had outdoor, warm-weather plans for the big holiday weekend, you almost couldn’t find a nastier combination of weather.  Temperatures were in the 40s F, and there was plenty of wind and rain.  We wondered if we were going to have to turn the heat back on in the house.  Reports began to come in about the snow in the mountains, and by mid afternoon, Whiteface was already reporting that they had received 18” of new snow.  As the afternoon wore on, even valley temperatures fell down well into the 30s F in many places in New England, and fairly low elevation spots began to report snow mixing in with the rain.  Although we weren’t getting any snow down to the low elevations in our area, we lost power from about 8:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. for some reason, so we headed off to bed early and decided to see how things were going in the morning.

An image of ski trails and a status sign for Route 108 through Smuggler's Notch in Vermont indicating that the notch road was closed due to snow over Memorial Day Weekend
Snow closed down the road through Smuggler’s Notch today.

I made my morning CoCoRaHS observations at 6:00 A.M., and after checking back in on the weather board and looking at some of the mountain web cams, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour.  I couldn’t tell quite how low the snow line had gotten, but it was still below freezing in the higher elevations, and the precipitation had continued through the night.  There was a good chance that a nice shot of snow had accumulated on Mt. Mansfield.  I didn’t try convincing E or the boys to try to join me, since they were all still in bed, so I got into my ski clothes, let E know that I was on my way, and loaded up the car with my gear.  I don’t typically find the ski gear vying for space with the baseball stuff in the back of the car, but it definitely was today.  I headed off to the mountain around 7:30 A.M. or so, and temperatures throughout the mountain valleys in the WaterburyStowe area were in the lower 40s F on my drive.  The precipitation was generally light rain until roughly the point where the electronic sign indicates the status of Route 108 through Smuggler’s Notch, and not long after that, the rain became much heavier.  The sign, by the way, read “NOTCH ROAD CLOSED… DUE TO SNOW”.  The road through the notch tops out near 2,200’, so clearly the snow was accumulating at that elevation on paved surfaces.  The temperature remained in the lower 40s F until that final rise above The Matterhorn to Stowe Mountain Resort, where they dropped into the upper 30s F.

“You could do laps
up there from 2,500’
to 3,600’ and think
it was midwinter.”

I parked at the Midway Lodge (~1,600’), where the temperature was in the mid to upper 30s F, and the precipitation was generally snow, but certainly some rain as well, and the snow that was falling was of course incredibly wet.  It was pretty nasty at that point, with 25 MPH winds and driven wet snow/rain.  The snow wasn’t quite accumulating there, but it was close, and you could see the accumulations just a few hundred feet up the trails.  The weather was nasty enough that I left my lens hood on my camera in its protective orientation, even when it went back in my pack.  I rarely feel the need to do that, and typically flip it back around for storage, but that speaks to just how wet and windy that snow was to make me take that extra step to minimize the amount of precipitation getting on the lens filter.

An image of the 2,100' snow line on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont during the Memorial Day Weekend Storm of 2013
Snow line in sight on Nosedive at 2,100′

In the Midway parking lot there were a few dozen vehicles belonging to skiers, and most of the people were heading up Gondolier, but my initial ascent was via Nosedive; it’s often a good bet for decent snow coverage and preservation in these early and late-season storms.  Also, based on what I saw in the report from AdventureSkier.com last Sunday, it looked like there would be some decent base snow left in case the new snow depths were marginal.  The first traces of snow accumulation on the ascent were at 1,800’, by 2,100’ there was generally complete coverage of the trail, and by ~2,200’ the depth was a couple of inches and it was consistent enough that I switched from hiking to skinning.  Even with those couple inches of snow, I was beginning to experience some occasional slipping as I hiked, so it was nice to get the skis off the pack and on the snow where the skins had beautiful traction.  There was a faint skin track from an earlier ascender, but it was intermixed with some of the descent tracks of skiers and a bit hard to follow.  I met up with another guy that was making the Nosedive ascent, and we chatted a bit about skiing as we made our way up the mountain.  He was just hiking in his boots with his skis on his back, which seemed like a bit more work as the snow got deeper and deeper, but it didn’t appear to slow him down too much.  Listed below are the snow depths I found on the ascent of Nosedive with respect to elevation:

1,600’:  0”
1,800’:  Trace
2,100’:  1”
2,200’:  2”
2,500’:  4”
2,600’:  5”
3,000’:  8”
3,300’:  10” – 12”-15”

We stopped our ascent at 3,300’ because as we approached the switchbacks at the top of the trail we got some beta from a couple of skiers coming down Nosedive – they indicated that everything above that elevation in the switchbacks was scoured and really not worth it, and indeed that was obvious once we got to the landing below that final switchback at 3,300’.  I’m going to call the average snow depth there 10” to be on the conservative side, but there were plenty of areas with 12”-15” of snow; there was just variability due to the effects of wind deposition.  I stuck my measurement pole right in the snow in the center of that landing, and found 15” of snow depth.  The guy that had ascended with me headed up just a bit higher to catch some turns along a drift of snow, so I pulled out the camera and got some action shots as he made his way down.

An image of a skier  on the Nosedive trial at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont during a Memorial Day Weekend snowstorm
I didn’t get his name, but he had quite a blast ripping up the powder on Nosedive today.

An image of Vanilla Bean GU Energy Gel

Before beginning my descent, I downed a packet of GU Energy Gel to see if it would provide that extra boost of energy to my legs to permit proficient and aggressive Telemark turns.  I’ve noticed that after fairly long and/or quick ascents, my legs are often still recovering, and not to the stage where they can handle a lot of rigorous Telemark skiing right away.  Alpine turns are typically no problem, since they’re easier and more stable to begin with, and after decades of alpine skiing, my muscles have the memory to really let them do it efficiently.  But those Telemark turns take a lot more work, and it seemed like a little extra boost of quick energy would get me where I needed to be.  So, I took a cue from the boys, who like to have a GU when they’re starting to fade while we’re biking or skiing – the Vanilla Bean flavor is a favorite among all of us.  I usually don’t find that I need to worry about having enough energy on outings with the boys along; the pace is so slow that E and I usually don’t get drained.  The boys certainly push themselves though, often needing some sort of recharge due to their smaller energy reserves, and when that’s the case, it’s GU to the rescue.  On bigger, faster paced outings by myself though, I also feel the drain, and today I wanted to give a recuperative GU shot a try.  I had the GU just a few minutes before my descent, and it absolutely worked.  It helped give my legs that quick energy that they craved, and they had no trouble making Telemark turns.  It was great having maximum powder to drive the legs, and while there’s no way to know exactly how my legs would have performed without the shot of GU, it was certainly my hero for today.  I can still remember when I first learned about those energy gels back in the early 2,000s when Scott and Troy and their Dirtworld.com mountain biking team would use them.  They’d strap them to their handlebars and down one on each lap to keep their energy up.  With the way it performed today, I think a shot of GU before each earned descent is going to become part of the routine.

“There were plenty of
untracked lines to ski,
and it was dense, wall-
to-wall snow…”

As for the snow conditions, indeed there was some leftover base snow on Nosedive, and that offered up great turns, but the new snow itself was extremely dense (probably 12-14% H2O or so) and as long as there was enough of it, there was no need for previous base because it kept you off of anything below.  I caught some beautiful bottomless powder on the skier’s left below the switchbacks, and then a lot more on the skier’s right along the edge of the trail.  The Telemark turns were definitely flowing, and despite the fact that it was dense snow that could easily have been challenging to ski, it wasn’t.  I immediately thought back to that storm last year on April 10thMt. Mansfield picked up more than two feet of dense snow that covered everything, but it was quite a challenge to ski on the Teles.  Sometimes you would punch through the snow too far, perhaps with one ski, making lateral balance tough, and fore-aft balance was also extremely challenging.  It’s possible that there was snow of varying densities in that storm, with some less dense snow underneath the topmost layer.  That’s “upside down” snow, which is typically more challenging to ski.  It was after that storm that I really decided that I wanted some fat, rockered Telemark skis for powder, and eventually got the Black Diamond AMPerages.  I can only wonder how they would have performed in that storm – they would have been nice today, but being unsure of the snow depths I went with my older Atomic RT-86 midfats, and there were no issues.  Really, the most challenging aspect of today’s skiing was negotiating areas of thinner snow as you dropped in elevation.  I was actually quite impressed with the quality of some of the powder skiing on Nosedive today, but little did I know it wasn’t even going to hold a candle to what was in store over at the Gondola.

An image showing a ski measurement pole indicating 22" of snow at the Cliff House at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont on Memorial Day Weekend
22″ of new snow up at the Cliff House today

I had no time limits, and plenty of energy left in the tank with the shortened ascent, so I skied down to the junction of Nosedive and Cliff Trail, and continued my tour by skinning up Cliff Trail.  Within a few moments of starting my ascent, it was obvious that snow depths were substantially greater on Cliff Trail than they were on Nosedive at equivalent elevations.  I wasn’t sure if it was because I was heading toward the Gondola, or because Cliff Trail offers better protection from the wind, but coverage was deep, wall-to-wall.  Unlike what I’d seen on most of Nosedive, there were no signs of whatever lay beneath the snow.  It wasn’t an illusion either; the depth at 3,000’ on Cliff Trail was 11”, vs. the 8” on Nosedive.  The snow just continued to increase as I ascended toward the Gondola, there was 12”+ by the junction with Perry Merrill at 3,400’, and 12” – 15” easily up at the Cliff House.  That’s on the conservative side for what you could find up there, and in general the snow depth was somewhat deceptive because you didn’t sink much into the dense snow.  But right in the middle of Perry Merrill just beyond the Cliff House I measured 22” of new snow in flat terrain with no drifting.  The usual measurement off the top of the picnic tables was deceptive as well – there was about a half foot of snow on the tables, but you could tell that the snow was much deeper because the table’s seats were just about buried.  I measured in the open space between the tables and got a depth of 18”, so presumably the tops of the tables didn’t accumulate the snow well due to wind, melting, or some other effect.  Here’s the summary of the depths I found on the Gondola side ascending via Cliff Trail:

3,000’:  11”
3,400’:  12”-15”
3,600’:  12”-15” – 18”-22”

“…at times it was dense
enough that you’d be
smearing turns right
on the surface.”

I had another GU and got ready for my descent.  Even that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill had great coverage comprised of that dense snow.  Typically you’d sink in a few to several inches, but at times it was dense enough that you’d be smearing turns right on the surface.  It took a moment to adapt when that was happening, but somehow the variability in the turns didn’t seem to disrupt the flow of the skiing – it was just really fun.  I almost headed back down Cliff Trail since the coverage was so complete, but there were already a couple of tracks on it, and it’s fairly narrow, so I opted to check out Perry Merrill instead.  I was hoping it would live up to the coverage I’d seen on Cliff Trail, and indeed it was just as good, if not even a bit better.  There were plenty of untracked lines to ski, and it was dense, wall-to-wall snow, all the way down to 2,500’.  You could do laps up there from 2,500’ to 3,600’ and think it was midwinter.  The snow certainly wasn’t fluffy Vermont Champlain Powder™, it was dense Sierra Cement, but it wasn’t wet or sticky.  It made for plenty of base and just skied really well – it was right near the top on quality that I’ve experienced relative to many similar early and late-season dense-snow events.  Sinking into the snow only a few inches or so was inconsequential compared to the fact that you didn’t have to worry about hitting anything underneath and you could just let it rip.

An image looking down at the base area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont from a snowy Perry Merrill trail down toward a snowless base area during a Memorial Day Weekend snowstorm
The view from white to wet

I stopped my descent at around 2,300’, as the snow was down to about 4” and it was getting notably wetter.  You could probably go down to around 2,100’ easily if you had your rock skis.  I hiked down the last 700’ back to the Midway Lodge, and the last vestiges of snow disappeared right around 1,800’ just like I’d seen over on Nosedive.  The precipitation was snow down to just a couple hundred feet above the base, and back down at the lodge it was mostly rain with some snow mixed in at times.  There were some really good bursts of snow on my descent, even in the lower elevations.  The temperature had increased a few degrees to ~40 F at the base, but it was midday at that point, so that was still quite impressive.

Overall, I was really excited about how my equipment and supplies performed on this tour.  My Gore-Tex did its job in keeping me dry, despite the driving rain and snow.  My skins held like glue even in the wet snow, and hiking both up and down in my Telemark boots was a joy.  I remembered to put them in walk mode for the walking sections (and put them back in ski mode for the descents) and it was almost like being in my hiking boots.  And then there was the GU.  It really quickened my recovery for the descents, and I’m going to be keeping that on the tour menu going forward.  The boys won’t be able to borrow GU from me as easily though when they need it.  While the GU certainly did its thing, I’m sure my stop off at Dunkin Donuts to fuel up before the tour also helped.  I was feeling so great when I got home at midday, that I was ready to go for another round of skiing if E and the boys wanted to.  It was still nasty and rainy outside, and not really conducive to doing too much else, but we had some fantastic winter powder skiing sitting up there in the high country.  I couldn’t convince them to go though, so they unfortunately missed out this time.  We did get some quality time indoors though, which I’m guessing a lot of families were doing this weekend.  Ty, Dylan and I had a great round of “The Settlers of Catan” while E did a bit of shopping.  It was quite a storm though, with Whiteface and other areas of the high peaks really cleaning up and putting out some amazing pictures.

An image of snow-capped Mt. Mansfield in Vermont from the west after a Memorial Day snowstorm
…and this is what you get for Memorial Day

Monday update:  The clouds cleared out today to produce crystal blue skies, and naturally that revealed some amazing vistas of the spring foliage and snow-capped peaks everywhere.  Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump were topped with white, shimmering in the strong sun of late May, and the high peaks of the Adirondacks were brilliant.  We traveled around from Waterbury to Vergennes to Cambridge doing various activities, so we took in numerous vantages of the Greens and Adirondacks.  It turned out to be a spectacular Northern New England Day for the holiday, almost as if Mother Nature was trying to strike as sharp a contrast as possible against the recently departed storm.

Mount Washington, NH 27MAY2012

An image of Dylan skiing the snow on the Mount Washington snowfields on Memorial Day Weekend 2012
Dylan getting his taste of Mount Washington’s Corn snow this Memorial Day Weekend

It’s becoming an almost annual tradition that once the Mount Washington Auto Road opens for its summer season, we head over with the boys for some skiing on the summit snowfields.  It’s not quite an annual tradition though, since there are years where an appropriate window of pleasant weather never presents itself to us before much of the snow melts out.  But then there are those years like 2010; the snow was so plentiful on our trip that we could easily travel among different snowfields.  The variability in weather and snowpack keeps these trips really interesting though; with the way that the weather patterns create different assortments of snow deposition each season, it never seems to be the same experience twice.

This year’s auto road skiing season began last weekend, when the road opened with outstanding weather for getting out on the mountain.  However, with other things on our plate, we had to wait until this weekend for a shot at some turns.  After some clouds and a bit of precipitation midweek, the fantastic late spring weather returned, and we were set up for blue skies on the mountain.  I’d been following the state of the snowfields in one of the Time for Tuckerman Forum threads, and coverage looked great last weekend.  The amount of snow dropped off a lot this past week, but it still looked like we’d have more snow than we did for our trip last season, when we couldn’t make it out to ski Mount Washington until June due to obligations and weather.  It looked like both Saturday and Sunday were going to be excellent days on the mountain, and we decided that skiing Sunday would work best with our schedule.

I finished up some yard work yesterday, and then we headed off to New Hampshire in the mid to late afternoon.  Our plan was to get in a night of camping at one of the New Hampshire campgrounds, and since we’d visited the Israel River Campground last year, we decided to try out the KOA in Twin Mountain this time around.  Although it’s Memorial Day weekend, we didn’t make any reservations and just decided to play it by ear.  As it turned out, we got the last available site at the campground, so we didn’t even have to check out any other options.  Even though it was the last available campsite, we really enjoyed the spot we got, which was under a bunch of stately white pines, and pretty close to the playground, pool, bathrooms, etc.

An image of the Ammonoosuc River in New Hampshire with early evening light
Beautiful early evening light hits the Ammonoosuc River as we travel toward Twin Mountain, New Hampshire.

The boys really like the campgrounds with the added amenities, so we’ll choose those sometimes, and of course as soon as we were at our campsite they were off to the playground.  One of the neat features at the playground was this huge soccer ball that was as tall as Ty’s waist; they had all sorts of fun kicking it around and launching themselves on top of it.  At least we were able to pull them away from the playground for a bit to help get the fire started and finish setting up the tent.  Instead of pulling wood out of our she, we’d purchased an armload of firewood from the campground, and I was happy to discover that the quality was good – it really got the fire blazing.  Sometimes we’ve gotten that moist wood that just likes to sit there and smolder, and that’s annoying.  We cooked up the usual assortment of burgers, dogs, and beans for dinner, and then had time for some s’mores, where I created perhaps the best s’more ever.  Dylan pointed out that since we hadn’t actually seen all the s’mores in the world, we couldn’t possibly know that, but I’m standing by my statement.  I contend that mine could easily have been used in a magazine to create a model image of how a s’more should look.

An image of Erica, Ty, and Dylan around a campfire making s'mores at the Twin Mountain KOA campground in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend 2012
S’mores around the campfire last night in Twin Mountain, NH

As we headed into the tent for the night, I was able to get on the internet (another benefit of campgrounds with amenities) and check on the forecast.  With the nice dry weather, the Twin Mountain area where we were located was forecast to have a low temperature of 43 F – some classic Memorial Day Weekend weather for Northern New England and very similar to last year where the forecast called for the upper 30s F, although that was actually at the beginning of June.  It looked like it was going to be comfortable sleeping weather, at least if we stayed in our sleeping bags.  The high for Sunday was expected to be 74 F in the valley, which would probably translate into the 50s F up on the snowfields.

I woke up pretty early this morning, at the point where we were just starting to get some light in the sky.  It was indeed chilly and I hung out in my sleeping bag watching some squirrels that seemed to be playing around way up above us in the towering pines.  Ty was chilly when he woke up, so he huddled up in his bag as well.  Dylan even hopped into Mom’s sleeping bag with her, and pointed out that his bag has definitely been getting too small.  He also added that this wasn’t the first time he’s told us about the size, and proceeded to hop in and demonstrate how his head is certainly sticking out, while his feet are crammed right up against the end of the bag.  OK, we get it Dylan, we are definitely behind on getting you a new sleeping bag.  Both boys are really in need of new bags though, and they are ready for some mummy-style ones, so I hopped on the internet and started looking around while we generally dozed in the tent.  I found that several companies make nice bags for kids – I saw a nice review on one of the 20-degree bags from Mountain Hardwear, and that seems to be the frontrunner in the selection process so far.

An image of pancake batter being dispensed for the all-you-can-eat breakfast at the Twin Mountain, New Hampshire KOA Campground
Now that’s how you make a pancake!

The campground was having an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast so we stopped in there and had our fill.  I enjoyed the batter dispenser that they had – you load it up with a bunch of pancake batter and it does a beautiful job of dispensing it evenly out of a funnel in the bottom.  It was fun chatting with the folks that helped run the campground, they’re really an enthusiastic bunch, and why not when you’re spending the summer camping.  E and I then got a chance to hang out on the front lawn in some of the wonderful Adirondack chairs that they’ve got assembled out there, and we watched the boys hit the playground with some of the other kids.  I got a chair with arms that must have been 6 to 8 inches wide, and of course flat, like the arms of a real Adirondack chair should be.  The wide arms are a hallmark of the chairs anyway, but these were fantastic for holding my last round of breakfast while I ate – if we get more Adirondack chairs, I’m going to be partial to those extra wide arms.  It would have been nice to kick back there in the chairs for a while, but there was skiing to be done, and with the forecast calling for clouds moving in later in the day, the sooner we got up the mountain the better.

The clear weather held strong as we headed up to Gorham and wrapped our way around down to the Great Glen area to the start of the Mount Washington Auto Road.  It’s always nice when you start seeing those patches of white up in the high peaks, and they were definitely sparkling in the late May sunshine.  The trip up the road went smoothly, and we threw in our copy of the audio tour CD, which is always a fun refresher of the history of Mount Washington and the auto road.  I guess that there’s actually a new version of the tour CD available, but the woman who helped us at the toll booth said to keep our old one because the narrator is better.  When we arrived at the parking area above the snowfields, we were surprised to find only two other cars there at midday on such a nice weekend day.  We weren’t surprised to see that both cars were also Subarus though – skiers know what works well for getting you to the slopes.  Whatever the snow conditions were going to be, it didn’t look like finding space on the snowfield was going to be an issue.

The boys played around and headed off for a quick hike up Ball Crag (6,106’) while E and I got the gear together.  The weather was indeed pleasant as forecast, although with a temperature in the lower 50s F and probably a 10 MPH breeze, it was nice to get our ski pants and other gear on while we worked.  After visiting various spots on the snowfields over the past few seasons, we’ve finally got a good sense for where the vestiges of the main snowfield like to sit at this time of year, so we dialed that descent in fairly easily – although you generally can’t see the snow from above once the snowfield has gotten small enough, heading in the direction of Wildcat’s ski trails will get you in decent shape.

An image of Jay advising Dylan as he skies though a narrow area with rocks on the Mount Washington east snowfields - Memorial Day Weekend 2012
A little advice from Dad as Dylan makes his way through the choke point on the upper snowfield

Unlike last year’s trip, when the remaining snow was only toward the bottom of the general East Snowfields area, there is currently substantial snow much higher up, so even in our Telemark boots it was a quick five to ten minute descent today to get down to the skiable snow.  We met a couple of guys from Time For Tuckerman Forums who are part of the Memorial Day Slackfest tradition, and had a fun time chatting with them.  One was RR, who plays a big part in the gathering and sets up the poles for the slalom that they like to have on Memorial Day.  RR and others have been keeping the auto road & snowfields conditions thread nicely updated with pictures, so many thanks go out for their work.  They filled us in on the status of the snow while another couple was just hiking back up from a run.  We were on the top of the main snowfield section, and it was broken up into three areas, with another similar snowfield down below us, and a smaller one off to the skier’s left.  Our snowfield had a choke point in the middle with some exposed rocks, so one had to be careful going through there.  It turned out to be enough of a hassle that we spent most of our time skiing the section of the snowfield below that point – the rocks just broke up the flow too much to try to get through there.  The turns were nice and smooth below that point though, and even sticking to just that one snowfield seemed to give us more vertical that we’d found on last year’s trip.

An image of Ty skiing under beautiful blue skies on the Mount Washington snowfields on Memorial Day Weekend 2012
Blue skies and corn snow for Ty

The boys were really excited to just slide on the snow in their ski pants, but we convinced them that they should do at least one run on the skis before they got to sliding, so they got their alpine boots on and were happy with that.  I skied down first with Dylan, getting some photos in the process, and when we reached the bottom I told him that I’d bring his skis back up for him so that he could go off and play.  Dylan had done a nice job with the turns – the snow quality was excellent as usual, and getting through that crux point was the only real challenge.  I hung out at the bottom of that upper snowfield and took pictures while E and Ty also did a run down to meet me.  Ty left his skis at the bottom like Dylan had done, and then they were off on their sliding adventures and created a “slide of doom” like they had last year.

An image of Erica skiing the snowfields on Mount Washington in New Hampshire, with a stripe of cirrus clouds among blue sky in the background
E’s back for another run.

E wasn’t very happy with the fluidity of her first run, and she made a couple more runs to get her groove going, which she definitely did.  I took plenty of shots with our usual Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens, then got her on another lap taking some wider-angle shots using our friend’s Canon EF-S 10-22 mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens that we’d borrowed.  It’s a great compliment to the 24-105, and it’s been on my wish list for quite a while.  It’s been a lot of fun catching huge sweeping images, and it really takes some time to get used to just how much is going to be contained within the image when you’re using that lens.  People and objects to the side of my view were constantly ending up in the images if I didn’t pay attention.

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on the Mount Washington snowfields on Memorial Day Weekend 2012
Carving up the corn snow today on the snowfields

After E had had her fill or turns for a bit, she got behind the camera and I did a few more runs, including a side trip over to that other small snowfield to our north.  That one had some pristine snow, and it was a neat perspective getting shots of that snowfield from the side.  In general, the consistency of the snow was excellent today everywhere we went, but the main area was more tracked up, so the smooth turns were a treat.  Skies were generally blue, turning whiter as the afternoon wore on and clouds started to build in.  Having been out on the snowfields in less than optimal conditions before, we appreciate that fact that there was sunshine, minimal wind, no bugs, and simply perfect air temperature.  It would have been awesome if the whole snowfield had held together with good coverage for today, since the runs would have been much longer, but even sticking to the upper section of snow was enough for some good turns, and with the way this season went, it’s really nice to even be skiing on Memorial Day Weekend.  We actually never even visited that other chunk of the big snowfield that was down below the one we skied, but now that I look back at the web cam images and see what others had to say, it sounds like it was pretty decent in size and was probably offering up some fun turns.  Each year though, I get a better ability to translate what we see on the web cam images of the snowfields into what is actually on the ground, so we’ll be able go in with an even better perspective on what we want to ski next time around.

An image of Jay skiing one of the snowfields on the east side of Mt. Washington on Memorial Day weekend 2012
Heading over to another snowfield to our north for some smooth turns on the untouched snow
An image of Erica, Ty, and Dylan on the observatory deck of Mount Washington State Park's Sherman Adams Visitor Center at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire
E and the boys spending some time on the summit

The other folks had left by the time we were winding down our session in the mid afternoon, so it was very quiet as I finally got a chance to have my lunch while we packed up the gear.  With some weather on the way, we got to watch some fun lenticular clouds form off to our east above Wildcat.  I bet that something similar was forming over our heads knowing the tendencies of Mount Washington and weather, but the sky never really got so cloudy that the intensity of the sun was lost.  The return trip to the car was very quick; it must have been just about five minutes since we were so close and knew exactly the direction to go.  Along with some clouds pushing in, the wind had picked up noticeably at the car, and it was probably in the 25-30 MPH range while we were packing up our equipment.  We switched out of most of our ski gear, and decided to stop in at the summit for a little while to take a look around with Ty and Dylan.  The boys got a couple of fun scientific toys in the gift shop (a gyroscope for Ty and a spinning magnet for Dylan) and they’ve been having a lot of fun with those.

An image of the sign for Alburrito's Mexican restaurant in Littleton, New Hampshire
Alburrito’s in Littleton, NH

It was sort of an interesting trip this year, since we camped before we skied.  That’s just the way things worked out with our availability and the forecast, but it gave us the chance to grab dinner somewhere on the way home.  We decided to check out Alburrito’s Mexican restaurant in Littleton.  We weren’t all that excited by the chips and salsa and the appetizer chili queso dip, but my vegetable burrito was quite good and E’s coconut shrimp was as well.  That redeemed things a bit, but we didn’t find it to be on par with Frida’s Mexican restaurant that we often visit in Stowe.  It made for a nice stopover though on what has been yet another successful trip to the Mount Washington snowfields.  These past couple of trips have certainly been on fairly small snowfields, so we’d hoping for a good combination of snowfall and spring weather that can get us up there when more snow is left next season.  We’ll see what Mother Nature has in store.  As I was writing this up, I noticed that RR has already made a post on the Time For Tuckerman Forum with some pictures from today; he even captured E and I and the boys in one of them.  That’s another great spot to get some pictures from this fine day out on the slopes.