It’s been quite a while since I last used my “rock skis”. Although I’ve certainly gotten out for many early- and late-season turns over the past several seasons, I just haven’t had to worry much about conditions that were going to damage my skis. Late-season snow is dense, for the most part covering rocks where it’s present, and our early-season storms of late have generally been substantial enough that I wasn’t concerned about rocks on the terrain I was skiing. This year has been a bit different here in the Northern Greens though, and rock skis turned out to be just the right choice for today’s outing. We’ve had numerous rounds of snow in the mountains over the past couple of weeks, but none of the storms have been the type that really put down a big dump of 6 to 12 inches or more at once. New Hampshire did get a big shot of snow from the last storm that hit, but over here in the Greens we’ve just been adding an inch or two here and there. Those smaller bouts of snow have added up over the past couple of weeks though, and with the nor’easter affecting the area today, it finally seemed like it would reach that threshold of base depths to lure me out to the slopes.
“Up by the Mountain Chapel, the 3 to 4 inches of dense snow on the smooth surface of the Toll Road really produced some excellent floaty turns.”
As the nor’easter approached, snowfall at our house in Waterbury began mid-morning, and then in the midafternoon Mother Nature really turned on the spigot and we got into a period of heavy snowfall composed of big wet flakes up to 2 inches in diameter. With the heavy snow falling it seemed like as good a time as any with respect to catching any new accumulations on the slopes before any potential mixed precipitation. I was planning to take an initial look at Bolton Valley to see how the snow was up there, but the Bolton Valley Access Road still hadn’t been plowed as I started up, so I didn’t go very high before I decided it was best to turn around. There was no way I wanted to try heading all the way up to the Village above 2,000’ on an unplowed road.
In line with my plans, I next headed off to Stowe for some skiing, and I was fairly confident that the driving would be fine with the route at mostly low elevation. Indeed the driving was fine, and unlike Waterbury, the town of Stowe really hadn’t picked up any snow, so that made the drive very easy. Rain through the valley switched to mixed precipitation as I approached the base elevations of the resort at 1,500’, and I found a solid covering of 1 to 2 inches of snow on the ground at the Mansfield Base Lodge where I parked. I’d brought two pairs of skis and skins, and after surveilling the area I decided that the rock skis were the way to go for a more enjoyable descent because I wouldn’t have to work too hard trying to avoid any rocks.
I wanted some mellow, grassy slopes for my tour, so I headed up in the area of the Mountain Triple Chair toward the Stowe Mountain Chapel. The mixed precipitation that I’d found when I first arrived changed over to all snow as I began my ascent, and I really needed the hood of my coat at times due to the intensity of the precipitation. I quickly found 3 to 4 inches of snow on the grassy slopes, which is about where the depth stayed up to the Mountain Chapel at ~2,300’. Although I could have used my skins, I never really needed them because once I got up to the Crossover road I was able to simply walk in my Tele boots easily.
I really thought that the grassy slopes would offer the best skiing, but it turned out that the service roads were the best. Up by the Mountain Chapel, the 3 to 4 inches of dense snow on the smooth surface of the Toll Road really produced some excellent floaty turns. The Crossover Road isn’t nearly as smooth, and the snow depths did drop a bit on the descent, so nothing compared to the turns up on the Toll Road. On the grassy slopes, the depth of the cut grass relative to the few inches of snow, combined with my fairly skinny rock Tele skis, made turns much more challenging. I was low enough down in the grass that there was substantial resistance to making any short-radius turns.
The snowfall had let up for the most part by the time I’d descended back to the base, but the weather show wasn’t quite over. I got to see some plowing of the parking lot, and the slushy snow was so wet that it was almost as if the plow was simply plowing water! This was the 4th storm with accumulating snow at our house this October, and based on my count, it was the 6th storm with snow for the mountains, so we’ve really had quite a run. It might not be the last of our October snow though; we may get a couple of chances through midweek before we get into a slightly warmer pattern heading into November.
There’s apparently a Nor’easter brewing for this weekend, although there’s not a ton of cold air around for the system to use, so the current forecast suggest snow will only be up near the summit elevations and fairly limited in amount.
“The data suggest that our first snow of the 2018-2019 winter season from this past Saturday (October 13th) is a few days on the late side of the mean for first accumulating snow (October 10th), but overall quite typical.”
There are a couple of seasons that I couldn’t include in the statistical analysis because of gaps in the data collection early in the co-op site’s history, but there were still 62 seasons in the data set that provided useful information. The data suggest that our first snow of the 2018-2019 winter season from this past Saturday (October 13th) is a few days on the late side of the mean for first accumulating snow (October 10th), but overall quite typical. The full results from the statistical analysis are below, so have a look and think snow!
“…it looks like we’ll have more opportunities for snow this week with accumulations potentially even down to the mountain valleys.”
Here at our house, I did a morning check to find that the cloud ceiling was still only about 2,000 feet and there were no obvious signs of snow below that level. I gave the clouds some time to think about clearing a bit, and then headed out in the neighborhood during the mid-afternoon period to see what snow might be visible. Indeed the cloud ceiling had risen by about another 2,000’ and I was able to catch Camel’s Hump as the clouds had just about broken away. The snow line at that point looked to be around 3,000’.
My time was limited for yesterday’s ski tour on Mt. Mansfield, so I only got to try out a portion of the skiing that Stowe’sLiftline trail had to offer. Based on the intel I’d received from Jumpin’ Jimmy though, it sounded like some of the best skiing was in that big upper section of snow on the trail, suggesting that another visit was in order. I had some time today ahead of the rain that was expected to move in during the afternoon, so off to the mountain I went.
Yesterday gave me a great sense for the available snow at the resort, so I parked right near the mountain operations building below Sepp’s Run, knowing that I’d be finishing my tour there. I ascended Liftline yesterday through a combination of skinning and hiking, but the skinning was pretty challenging on some of the steeper, narrower pitches, so I wanted to try a different ascent route today. I took a gradual ascent toward the North Slope route via Lower Starr and Crossover, enjoying nice dry grass and easy walking. Using various combinations of trails in the North Slope area, I was able to put on my skins around 2,800’, and had to take them off a couple more times before reaching the top of the Fourrunner Quad.
“All told you’re probably looking at around 85% snow for a trip down from the top of the Fourrunner Quad, so it’s certainly still worth it if you’re looking for some good spring turns.”
For the descent, the main breaks in the snowpack are right at the Liftline headwall, and then about halfway down the trail before you get to the terrain I skied yesterday. Indeed the turns on the upper parts of Liftline were great – there’s a lot of snow up there on skier’s left, and plenty of terrain variety. All told you’re probably looking at around 85% snow for a trip down from the top of the Fourrunner Quad, so it’s certainly still worth it if you’re looking for some good spring turns.
It’s always fun each spring to see just how the snowpack finally melts out on Mt. Mansfield. There are certainly those reliable, well-protected spots like Nosedive that hold snow well into the spring, but between the variability in natural snow deposition and snowmaking, you never quite know what areas are going to offer the best turns for your effort as we get farther into the spring. I headed out for turns this afternoon expecting to make a traditional Nosedive run, but upon appraising the availability of continuous lines and low-elevation snow, it was actually Liftline that seemed to be the best bet.
“I only had time to head to the top of that large section of snow (~2,300’), but it offered up some nice steep turns and the corn snow was in excellent shape.”
I once again parked in the new lot by the Midway Lodge just as I’d done for my outing last week, and headed up the Crossover trail until I encountered Sepp’s Run with substantial snow right down to the bottom at ~1,700’. I knew there was a break in the snow up toward Liftline, so I hiked until I hit the more substantial snow on there and then switched to skinning. I only had time to head to the top of that large section of snow (~2,300’), but it offered up some nice steep turns and the corn snow was in excellent shape. That section is one of the steepest of Liftline, so the skinning was a challenge without the ability to really spread out the switchbacks on the ascent, but it was doable with good support from my poles and ensuring that my skins were secure with each step.
On my descent I ran into Scott Braaten out for an afternoon tour, and then Jumpin’ Jimmy and I believe Aaron Lavallee as well, so it was quite the SkiVT-L reunion! We’re certainly past the point where you can easily skin up and get 2,000’ of continuous vertical feet of snow at Stowe, but we’re not too far off from continuous skiing from the top of the Fourrunner Quad from what I heard, so there’s definitely a lot of good skiing to be had. Jim said that the snow in the next section above where I’d stopped was really good, so if I get a chance it would be nice to get up there and make some turns before the snow melts out.
We had some great weather for skiing last weekend, but I was fighting a cold and decided to recuperate vs. pushing myself too hard with a tour. The great weather has continued this week though, with a simply amazing stretch of sunny spring days, and this morning I had a bit of time to get out for a ski tour at Stowe.
These recent days of warm weather have been eating away at the snowpack of course, and on my trip to the mountain I didn’t encounter any snow until the resort’s main base elevations around 1,500’. I parked by Midway, and similar to about a half dozen or so other cars I saw, I was able to use the nice new parking area the resort has added just below the Midway Lodge. I’d never even noticed that parking lot before because it’s usually covered with snow, but it’s got some nice clean asphalt that makes it a very nice spot for changing gear and clothing well away from any spring muck.
Nosedive still has coverage right to the bottom at the Crossover trail, so I started skinning from there at ~1,650’, and made my way up to the junction with Cliff Trail at ~2,700’. Nosedive has continuous coverage all the way up to that point, and although I didn’t continue higher on Nosedive itself, I’d be surprised if there were any breaks in the snowpack at the higher elevations. For my tour, I decided to continue on toward the Cliff House because I saw that Perry Merrill looked to have almost continuous coverage, and the skiing there will typically run out before Nosedive. I had to take off my skis and walk for a couple hundred feet because that junction area of Cliff Trail with Nosedive has melted out, but after that I was able to skin all the way up to the Cliff House. The resort’s been clearing out some of the work roads as they get ready for summer, and that really transformed the area up near the Cliff House with massive snow piles on the sides of the trail and nothing in the middle.
“The snow quality overall was excellent though, as we’ve obviously had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles by this point and the snow if very much in prime “corn” form.”
For my descent I continued on to the other side of the Cliff House and hit Upper Gondolier, then connected onto Perry Merrill lower down. Perry Merrill has just a couple of breaks in the continuity of its snow, although one is about 100 feet long and is best navigated by taking off your skis. The snow quality overall was excellent though, as we’ve obviously had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles by this point and the snow if very much in prime “corn” form.
Since school was out of session due to vacation week, E’s been thinking about some sort of getaway for the family. Quebec City and Maine came up as possible destinations, but with the Green Mountains having just reeled in some great powder due to our recent upslope event, doing something more local seemed like an obvious choice. That decision was heavily reinforced after E and I skied some great powder at Bolton Valley yesterday, and after weighing a number of options we ultimately decided to head to Stowe for some earned turns and a stay at the Stowe Mountain Lodge. They’ve got some fantastic amenities, and the rates this time of year are great because they’re in between the winter and summer seasons.
We kicked things off this morning with a start at the Midway Lot, which had dozens of vehicles in it from folks with similar ideas. It was approaching mid-morning when we arrived, so I was surprised at how many people were heading right up Gondolier in the sun. With that morning sun and warming temperatures, I was leery of how well the winter snow would hold on the Gondola side. E and the boys and I opted to head toward Nosedive, which generally has much more protected snow when sun and warmth are a concern. The Nosedive area had certainly seen some skier and rider traffic already, and there was a nice double skin track in place that made for easy conversation and passing options during the ascent. Ty was feeling really good on the climb and cruised ahead of the rest of us, eventually waiting for us up around the 3,000’ mark. We joined up and topped out at the 3,300’ plateau just below the Nosedive switchbacks.
We stopped below the switchbacks because the snow quality was good, and the narrow width of the trail above that elevation meant that the snow was pretty much tracked out. The consistency of the snow had definitely changed substantially over the course of the ascent. At base elevations it was already getting rather wet with the rising temperatures, and by the time we finished our ascent it was fairly dry, dense powder. There wasn’t any sharp transition zone for the snow consistency, it had just changed ever so gradually with each step we’d ascended.
“The broad upper slopes of Nosedive definitely held the best snow we found today. The powder was dense, but dry, and there were plenty of areas of untracked snow to crank out some nice turns.”
The broad upper slopes of Nosedive definitely held the best snow we found today. The powder was dense, but dry, and there were plenty of areas of untracked snow to crank out some nice turns. The whole descent was definitely fun, although the last few hundred vertical feet, where we’d actually switched over to Lower National to get to some snow that had seen less traffic, held snow that had gotten pretty wet in the warming temperatures. The best snow could be found on the shady side of the trails, and I even jumped into the trees in several spots on the lower half of the run and found some excellent turns.
When the skiing was done, we checked in at the Stowe Mountain Lodge and had some appetizers at the Hourglass Lounge. E and the boys did some swimming, and we had dinner at Solstice, which was a real treat. They were taking part in Vermont Restaurant Week, and my first course was an amazing smoky tomato soup. The boys and I headed out later in the evening for some night swimming, which was definitely a bit thrilling in the chill of a cold clear evening. Naturally we spent a good amount of time in one of the hot tubs, although the pool was also a nice temperature for cooling back down a bit after that heat.
I think everyone would be up for doing a similar trip again in the future, especially if we can order up some of these late season April snowstorms atop such a deep snowpack!
Thanks to Winter Storm Skylar, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit the 100-inch mark around the middle of the month. When the snowpack starts getting that deep up there, it’s time to really think about heading above tree line into the alpine, because everything is filled in and the skiing really gets good. While last Sunday’s weather in the higher elevations was frigid, with wind chills well below zero F at the summits, today’s forecast with minimal winds and temperatures in the 20s F was looking perfect for some above tree line adventures on Mt. Mansfield. With the weather looking good, my only remaining concern was how much spring cycling the alpine snow had seen in the recent stretch of sunny days we’ve had around here. Either way though, that wasn’t going to be a deal breaker, so I had E inform any interested students and coaches from our BJAMS ski program that we’d plan to hike up above Stowe’s terrain into Mt. Mansfield’s alpine for our Sunday afternoon session.
We ultimately had a crew of eight for today’s alpine adventures, with our usual suspects from my group along with Jonah and his brother and dad, who was willing to make the trip with the boys even though he’s got one injured arm in a sling! As soon as program started in the afternoon, we headed right up to the Climbing Gully and found an excellent boot pack in place. With some pretty decent southern exposure, the snow in the Climbing Gully had softened in the sun and sat somewhere between winter and spring consistency. Once we hit the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline though, the consistency of snow was all winter, and that allayed at least some of my fears about the consistency of the snow above tree line. You could feel the nice cool breeze along the ridgeline doing its job to keep the snow from baking in the late March sun, and I knew that any terrain without strong southern exposure up in the alpine was going to be in fine midwinter form. The views were stupendous, so we took a few minutes to enjoy the scene and fuel up. Ty had been silly and not eaten much in the morning, so he’d been bonking on the climb up the Climbing Gully. I made him quickly have a couple packets of GU around the middle of the ascent, and then I told him to get at least one granola bar into him on the ridge to make sure he’d have enough in the tank for the rest of the tour.
“Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency.”
After our ridgeline break, we headed up to The Chin, and I first checked out the condition of Profanity Chute, which was my initial plan for today’s descent. Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency. I knew from Powderfreak’s pictures and comments that Winter Storm Skylar had really dropped a ton of liquid equivalent on the mountain and filled everything in, but it’s still most impressive to see it firsthand. Even more impressive to me than how filled in Profanity was, was just how plastered all the usual windswept areas of the summit were. The Chin is so exposed to the wind that it’s more typical to see a mix of rocks and snow vs., the area being covered wall-to-wall in white, but that’s how it’s been since Winter Storm Skylar. People were even skinning all the way to the summit, which you’ll only see when you get a storm of plentiful, dense snow that really covers all the rocks.
“From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat.”
While the group congregated at the summit, I also took a look down at Hourglass Chute, and I was very impressed with what I saw. The snow quality and coverage looked excellent. Hourglass is narrower and steeper than Profanity, and I’ve never brought to boys down it, but it was starting to look like today might be the day. It was hard to pass up the great aesthetic look of Profanity with the current snowpack, but the boys have now skied it a number of times, and after surveying everyone to see who was interested, the boys were definitely game to give Hourglass a shot. Looking down on Hourglass from above, it’s a pretty intimidating view with plenty of exposure. From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat. That’s a pretty impressive pitch wherever you are, and with the apparent exposure of the chute from above, I was sort of dumbfounded that none of the boys even gave it a second thought. Jonah, Wiley, Robbie, Ty, and Dylan were all simply ready to jump right in, and they seemed confused as to why I was even making a big point to thoroughly confirm that everyone was on board. I was worried that it might just be ignorance on their part, but they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink, so it is what it is I guess.
I dropped down above the throat of the chute (Hourglass is so named because of the relatively open upper headwall and apron areas, with a tight, rock-lined middle section) and set up for some photography of the boys. I had the wide-angle Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM on my camera body at that point, and the spot I was in was a bit too steep to comfortably change it out, so I ended up sticking with it. Even at 22 mm it was too wide to really get nice shots of the boys going through the throat of the chute, but I did give a nice side-angle shot of everyone above the chute as they waited, and you can get a good idea of the pitch of the slope. Everyone ultimately did fine skiing the chute, although Dylan did take a tumble at the end of the throat as he was doing a jump turn, and I heard that Jonah also had a tumble down there. Fortunately, even with that steep pitch, it’s still not “No Fall Zone” terrain with the decent snow conditions we had. I saw Dylan slide headfirst for a time after his fall, and Ty was below ready to help him arrest, but he’d stopped before that point. Anyway, everyone seemed to have a great time skiing Hourglass, and all the snow was a fantastic midwinter consistency. Even after skiing it, none of them seemed to feel that it was a very big deal, so I guess I was much more impressed with how they did than any of them.
“…they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink…”
We caught some steeps along the apron, managing our descent as much as possible to make for an easy cruise over toward and around the Adam’s Apple to catch the Hell Brook Trail. The Hell Brook Trail was in its usual state for this time of year, with terrain exposed to the south/sun getting crunchier and crunchier as one descended in altitude, but the sheltered snow on the skier’s right of the gully was continually fantastic. The whole area is really loaded with snow now, and in conversations with Ty and Dylan during the descent, we all really loved those steep, open faces on the south side of the gully that held the protected winter snow. Although he’d skied Hourglass beautifully, Ty was feeling off his game and heavy on his feet in the tighter sections of the Hell Brook gully (probably because of not initially fueling up properly), so he was really enjoying those more open areas that didn’t have any moguls.
The ski out was relatively quick because the snow wasn’t sticky at all, although I hadn’t noticed that Wiley and Robbie had chosen a route without a good bridge across the final stream, so they had to take some time working their way through the lower woods to find a good crossing. Robbie was of course a trooper doing the whole thing on his snowboard, both above and below the Hell Brook Trail there are plenty of spots that are no big deal on skis, but can be a headache on a board. Down there on Route 108 it totally felt like spring, with lots of sunshine, and winter recreationalists out enjoying any manner of snow and ice travel. I’d had a lot of fun on today’s outing because I guess it’s been about 20 years since I last skied Hourglass Chute. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I get to do that again!
Both Dylan and I got to try out our new Anon M2 Goggles, the same model of goggles that Ty got at Christmas with the magnetic interchangeable lenses. Dylan and I were both in need of new goggle for various reasons, and it seemed like a no brainer to get the same model that Ty has to be able to quickly share all the lenses between us. We even got a few extra lenses for various conditions – we’ll just have to be good about not fighting over them!
By the time we got back to Spruce Camp, the program session was just about over. I do like that a typical hike to The Chin with a Hell Brook run is just about perfect for one of our afternoon program sessions, since everyone is pretty cooked by the end anyway between the hike in and the traverse out. Ty was famished, so we headed up to the Great Room Grill for some food with Mom, and Ty got one of their huge burgers. He devoured it, not surprisingly, and E and had time to remind him not to try pulling ski outings like that on a nearly empty stomach. There’s nothing quite like a hearty meal after being famished from a good winter tour, but you have to know your metabolism and where the empty line is on your tank or you can easily get into trouble before you get to that next feast.
With so much potential snowfall on the horizon, Dave sent us a text on Sunday inquiring about the best days to come up for some skiing in Northern Vermont this week. The forecast was still a bit up in the air at that point, but by Monday he was set to go, and just needed to decide on when to come up. He ultimately decided to make his drive on Tuesday evening, once Winter Storm Skylar was pulling away from Southern New England. He battled his way up from Boston, having a slow go of it during the first hour, but quickly found himself cruising along as the only one on the road.
“Depth checks around the mountain revealed roughly 20 inches of powder at a minimum, with many areas at 30+ inches.”
We didn’t know until this morning that E and the boys would have a snow day, but once we knew, the plan was secured for all of us to head to Stowe together. That meant that we’d want to get on the road pretty early, since when it comes to Stowe and its fast lifts and ravenous powder hounds, one definitely needs to be an early bird to get the worm. That meant we’d have to get the boys up and motivated. Dave hasn’t been up in a while, so when he saw Ty in bed this morning, the exchange went as follows:
Dave: “Do you remember me?” Ty: “Yes.” Dave: “Good… get up.” That’s classic Dave, and we LOLed about that exchange all day.
We were indeed able to get the boys motivated for an early start, and got to the mountain with no travel problems. We had a quick breakfast at the Mansfield Base Lodge, and headed right up to the Fourrunner Quad. Within a half hour of lift opening, the trails, and even the glades off the quad had been devoured. The skiing was of course still fantastic, but if you wanted untracked lines of any length, you were already having to head for those more obscure spots. We all had a tremendous time in the Tres Amigos Glades, highlighted by the boys dropping whatever ledges and cliffs they could find with powder below. And indeed it was that kind of day where you could launch just about anything you wanted. Dave really found his groove when we hit the Nosedive Glades, and had a blast.
We moved over to the Gondola so the five of us could ride the lift together as a group, and had a great couple of runs on Waterfall, Perry Merrill, and surrounding environs. Whether we were on piste or off, the conditions were simply ridiculous. On piste it was bottomless chowder and packed powder, and off piste it was waist deep powder. Ty and I took the crew to an area we’ve nicknamed “Stella”, because we discovered it during our Winter Storm Stella outing and delivered such great lines of steep and deep powder.
We had a nice lunch at the Great Room Grill, and since we were over at Spruce Peak we decided to take Dave on some runs there. What a great decision that was! Spruce Peak served up tons of untracked powder in all our favorite locales off Sunny Spruce and Sensation. Let’s just say, the skiing was so good that we spent the rest of the day there. Dylan said he really had fun skiing with today’s “crew”.
In terms of overall snow, I believe the resort was reporting a storm total of 18 inches, but it snowed throughout the day and there was already much more powder than that available from previous storms. Depth checks around the mountain revealed roughly 20 inches of powder at a minimum, with many areas at 30+ inches. We’ve still got snow falling here at the house this evening, so the resorts should be reporting additional accumulations by tomorrow morning. It’s interesting to note that we’re once again at the “S” winter storm of the alphabet with Winter Storm Skylar, just as we were last year around this time with Winter Storm Stella.