Stowe, VT 14MAY2019

An image showing the snow line on Mt. Mansfield at the start of a ski tour in mid-May at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
An image of some ski trails signs in the Nosedive area with fresh snow during a May ski tour at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today was quite the snowy day in the local mountains as I got out for a ski tour in the fresh May powder on Mt. Mansfield.

It turns out that we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.  It probably feels like May snowstorms are rarer than that, maybe because, well… it’s May.  By this point in the season it typically hasn’t snowed in a few weeks, we’ve had some warm weather, Memorial Day is approaching, and people are well along into thinking about spring and summer.  But I felt as though I’d been out on fresh snow several times in May since we’ve been back in Vermont over the past decade or so, and being curious about the actual numbers during the lead up to our current storm, I checked my ski report archives to see.  Indeed, with today’s storm that makes at least five significant May snowstorms in the past decade.  Here in the Northern Greens we also don’t catch the brunt of every May snowstorm that hits the Northeast, especially with the Presidentials in the mix, so I suspect that for the region as a whole the frequency of May snowstorms averages out to somewhere around a storm each season.

“…we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.”

Whatever the actual frequency is for these May snowstorms, we’ve got one going on now.  We’ve been monitoring the potential of this current storm for several days in the New England forum at American Weather, and the mountain snowfall was well under way last night.  That meant that this morning was time to get a sense for what happened where and decide on a good location for some turns.  After checking out the accumulations on the various mountain webcams this morning, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour.  I hadn’t seen any obvious differences in accumulations at the various resorts from the webcams, so I opted for Stowe because they seemed to have the most substantial existing snowpack right down to the base elevations.

An image showing a dusting of May snow at an elevation of 1,300 feet near the base of the Toll House chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
As I approached the mountain today, the first signs of fresh snow were at around 1,300′ just above the base of the Toll House Lift.

As expected, it was a cool, borderline wintry morning as I made my way to the mountain.  Temperatures were in the upper-30s F in the mountain valleys, and mid-30s F at the resort base.  I’d seen on Stowe’s web cams that the North Slope area had its typical late season residual snowpack, so I chose that for my ascent route.  By the time I got out on my tour, the snow level was certainly rising relative to its lowest point overnight or this morning when there were more optimal temperatures and snowfall rates.  New snow accumulations varied considerably depending on the underlying surface, with the best accumulations and retention found atop the existing snowpack.

“The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.”

Continuing up from the North Slope area, I headed through the Fourrunner Quad Summit and up the Toll Road past the Mt. Mansfield Stake to the Mansfield Summit Station at around 3,850’.  Precipitation was snow at all elevations on my ascent, and it was fairly light for the most part until I got to the Summit Station along the Mansfield ridgeline.  While I was hanging out there refueling and changing over for the descent, the intensity of the snowfall ramped up somewhat, with lots of tiny flakes at first.  Eventually though, the snowfall picked up to a pounding of much larger flakes.  There was definitely a lot of liquid coming out of the sky at that point, and my Gore-Tex® was getting a workout.

An image showing the Mt. Mansfield snow stake area during a May snowstorm near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Stopping for a look at the healthy snowpack still present at the Mt. Mansfield stake as I pass by during today’s ski tour

Observing the new snow accumulations along my ascent, the big jump in depths really seemed to happen between 2,000’ and 3,000’.  Above 3,000’ I didn’t really see too much with respect to additional accumulation, so presumably temperatures were sufficient down to 3,000’ to maximize the snow from the available moisture right from the get go yesterday.

Here’s the elevation profile for the accumulations I found this morning:

500’:  0”
1,000’:  0”
1,300’:  T
1,500’: ½”
2,000’:  1”
2,300’:  3-4”
2,500’:  5”
2,700’:  6”
3,000’:  7-8”
3,500’:  8”
3,850’:  8”

An image showing the Summit Station/Visitor Center atop Mt. Mansfield in Vermont during a May snowstorm
Snowfall picked up when I was on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline by the Visitor Center today, with huge flakes and reduced visibility for a time.

The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.  Of course, the density also meant that the snow was Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete and you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns.  I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a lot of work.  It is mid-May though, so even dense powder turns this time of year are always a treat, and getting the workout is a big part of the experience anyway.

“…you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns. I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a LOT of work.”

In some cases it wasn’t just the descent that added an extra challenge due to the dense snow.  I followed a pair of skin tracks on my ascent and noticed that in some spots the new snow had stuck to their skins.  I wasn’t having that issue with my skins, but I eventually caught up to the gentlemen who were making the skin tracks, and they said for them it was an issue when they traveled over areas without an existing snowpack.  I was able to pay them back for their helpful skin track by setting the track for the second half of the ascent, and while I didn’t see them on the descent, I saw them back at my car and at Edelweiss Deli where I grabbed a sub for lunch (great minds think alike) and it sounds like they had a great tour.

Wintry conditions in May are typically quite ephemeral, so I guess we’ll be back to spring skiing soon, but these late season powder days are always a treat.  There’s a certain mystique with these late season elevation snow event because it feels like you were in another world when you get back to the strong sun, spring warmth, and rapidly emerging greenery in the valleys.

Stowe, VT 08JAN2012

An image of ski tracks in the powder on one of the exit trails from Upper Smuggler's at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Natural snow terrain featured some excellent skiing today at Stowe Mountian Resort.

We kicked off our BJAMS ski program at Stowe today, and it really snuck up on me – it felt like we’d just finished this year’s December training day.  We had to arrive early so that E could hand out everyone’s season’s passes, and once we were ready, I took Ty and Dylan out for some pre-session runs.  It was the boys’ first chance to try out Stowe’s RFID lift pass system, and they were pretty psyched about how it worked as we hopped on the Sunny Spruce Quad.  We saw a touch of snow yesterday at Bolton, but since the three small storms last week that dropped about a half a foot of snow, there hasn’t been anything huge.  Powderfreak reported that the mountain did get another 2.7 inches overnight, and coupled with all the other recent light snows and wintery temperatures, the fresh tracks that Powderfreak snowed from the morning looked mighty fine.  I was really worried when I heard PF mention some light rain in the lower elevations on Saturday, but it must have been pretty inconsequential because nobody is mentioning any ill effects.

We set out toward Lower Smuggler’s, hoping to find some “satisfying” turns like we found  yesterday at Bolton.  Lower Smuggler’s didn’t turn out to be that impressive; there was a lot of manmade snow on it that was rather firm, and not a lot of extra untracked snow off to the sides.  With all the racing going below on Slalom Hill, we took the alpine slide tunnel and headed toward the meadows area to see how the natural snow in the upper meadows was skiing.  We cut around the very top of the area in case it was crusty of coverage was poor, but once we cut back in we found that it didn’t matter – the snow was quite decent.  Even though that area is south facing and very low elevation, there were a couple of inches of substantial powder over the base snow.  The base was a little variable due to what seemed like wind and some previous melting, but the quality of the turns was impressive.  At one point I believe I commented, “That wasn’t half bad… that wasn’t even a third bad!”  There are still a few blades of tall grass sticking out here and there, but that’s really decent coverage for such a location with snowfall being substantially below average.

An image of Ty skiing above the Meadows area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty catches some powder turns in the open area above Meadows at Stowe.

We had time for another run, so we took the Sunny Spruce again, and this time headed in the direction of Side Street.  The skier’s left had some very nice snow, and when we passed the last exit from Lower Smuggler’s we saw that it looked great – it had several inches of powder on it, with just a few tracks.  We added that to our hit list in case we got the chance to venture there later in the day.  At that point it was obvious that there is some really good snow out there, and not just in the high elevations; when I probed snow depths in those middle elevations of Spruce Peak, I generally found 8 to 12 inches of loose powder before I hit a base layer.  That’s great skiing for any time during the season.  At the top of the Easy Street Double we cut over to the area above Meadows once again.  The boys set down some more tracks in that powder, and were looking really good as they handled the variable snow that lay underneath.

When we got back it was time to start coaching.  My partner for today was Mike, but as he was still working on getting his son Micah set up, I took all the kids out alone for an initial run.  I had a good crew, with Luke, Jack, Alexia, Madeline, Ty, and Dylan.  After what we’d seen on that last run, I knew the exact route to take; we headed toward Side Street, and traversed to catch that powder on the Lower Smuggler’s Exit.  That snow was as good as it had looked.  I then brought everyone into the powder above Meadows so that they could work on handling that uneven base, and they all did a pretty nice job.

We met up with Mike and headed over to the Gondola, finding that it was feeling especially wintery when we got up to the Gondola summit around 3,600’ or so.  There was a bit of snow falling, some wind, and tons of snow on the ground; it was definitely a midwinter scene.  Mike suggested that we hit the switchbacks along Gondolier, and as we headed down that way, I cut uphill from Upper Perry Merril to check out some of the snow on Upper Switchback – there was over a foot of powder up there over plenty of base, and if I hadn’t been coaching I suspect some off piste exploration would have yielded some really nice turns.  The main issue keeping all off piste terrain from being accessible is just that snowpack is still somewhat low, so getting into the trees (especially steep stuff) isn’t quite there for all locations yet.  With that said, Mike noted that yesterday he was out exploring the Goatdive woods and environs (on his super fatties and being very cautious) and had a good time.  I’m not recommending this of course, since he’s very familiar with all those lines from hiking them in the off season, but things are certainly getting close for that type of terrain.  The 26 inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake isn’t just 26 inches of fluff, there’s plenty of substance in there, and as Powderfreak and I talked about over in the American Weather Forum, that’s the snowpack depth where appropriate moderate-angle tree skiing gets going around here.  We certainly weren’t planning to explore much off piste with the kids today anyway, but it was nice to find that there are some fantastic powder turns out there already.  As we continued down below the upper mountain, we found that the lower sections of Switchback were OK, but for whatever reason they seem to be really icy in spots as I’ve often seen.  One would think they’d get less traffic than Gondolier or Perry Merril, but something turns the snow bad in there – perhaps it’s the narrowness of the trail constraining traffic in a small area.

With another trip on the Gondola we decided to catch Cliff Trail so the kids could try out Stowe’s new Four Runner Quad.  Cliff Trail, which far too frequently seems to be just an icy, concave mess with the way it is groomed and managed, was far better than usual – it was left bumped up!  Neither Mike not I could remember the last time we’d seen it like that, but the conditions were so much better than what happens when they groom it.  Perhaps it keeps people from skidding their way down the trail and turning it into an icy mess?  Whatever the reason, the upper half that had been left bumped had far better conditions than I can remember from any recent outings.  Farther down, Lower Nosedive was a return to annoying manmade snow… firm and not really that impressive.

We had a couple of runs off the quad, one down through to the Tyro area, and another in the North Slope area.  There was some pretty nice snow near the top of the mountain, but neither trail was all that impressive with firm, Sunday afternoon, manmade snow conditions prevailing.  I was surprised that Tyro was so firm, as it’s a little lower angle and out of the way, but for whatever reason it was pretty uninspiring.  One trail that we didn’t ski was Liftline – but it looked pretty crazy with a lot of firm, snowmaking whales of all different configurations.  On our final trip to the top it was really starting to get cold.  We took a snack break inside the Octagon, but they were in the midst of closing so we headed out quickly and headed back to Spruce Peak.  We managed to catch the s’mores session at the fire pit in the Spruce Peak Village, and the kids were happy about that, although we didn’t take any additional runs.

A black and white image of a weather-battered tree as viewed from the Octagon building at Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort near the top of Mt. Mansfield
Looking out from the Octagon at a weather-battered evergreen high on Mt. Mansfield

Upstairs in Spruce Camp, the Great Room Grill and Spruce Camp Bar were closing early today, so E and the boys and I decided to stop in at The Whip for food on the way home.  We were still a little early for the full dinner menu, which starts at 5:30 P.M., but the kid’s menu was in effect and E and I had soup and salad like we’d been thinking about anyway.  I think E and Claire had a very good first outing for the BJAMS ski program today, and with the big season’s pass distribution week behind us now, thing will hopefully continue on a good track when we next meet in a couple of weeks. 

Overall there is already some impressive skiing and riding out there on the natural snow terrain at Stowe; I can see why people are coming from all over the place to visit, since it’s been a slow start to the season in many areas.  There’s not much to complain about, and hopefully next week’s system will be another net gain to improve the skiing even more.  Having skied at both Bolton Valley and Stowe this weekend, I can say that one good synoptic storm with an inch or so of liquid equivalent is going to produce a huge bump in open terrain – if it’s big enough both resorts could be close to 100% open.  For Bolton, it may also depend on how prepared they are to get areas like Wilderness and Timberline going, but we’ll see what Mother Nature does and I’m sure they’ll take it from there.

Sugarbush, VT 22NOV1997

Well, the first thing I’d like to say about today is that I love the new Sugarbush policy of opening trails as soon as they can (I was told that they were emphasizing opening trails this year whenever possible). Patrol opened Spillsville, along with Lower Paradise plus some others that I can’t recall. The coverage was all natural and plenty rocky, but at least they gave us the choice. The powder was pretty heavy, but floatable and it seemed to snow on and off with a few inches of accumulation. Not surprisingly, it sounds like the situation is similar at Jay Peak, with Mark Renson indicating powder up to his knees and even some open tree skiing areas in his report to SkiVT-L. There’s only 15” of snow at the Mt. Mansfield stake as of today’s report, which seems a bit on the lean side to be jumping into the woods per the 24-inch rule, but since we’re talking about Jay Peak, it’s very possible they’ve had a bit more snow than other areas. In any event, Jay Peak patroller Walter Pomroy certainly confirmed the ability to hit the woods in his SkiVT-L report; he was able to go into some areas like Timbuktu and Kitz Woods that are still officially closed, but just like our experienced at Sugarbush today, he spoke of the benefit of the somewhat dense snow, although he still recommended rock skis. Even farther to the south, people were getting off piste; in Dave Barcomb’s report from Killington today, he also indicated that they were skiing the woods, so there is definitely some good early season coverage out there. It’s great to be able to get into the trees before we even hit Thanksgiving; this is two to three weeks ahead of average based on the mean date of roughly December 12th for hitting the 24-inches of depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake that typically supports initial forays into the trees.