Since it’s the end of August, it probably shouldn’t be that surprising that autumn-like weather is touching the Northeastern U.S., with freezing and sub-freezing temperatures hitting some of the usual cold spots. These days often sneak up on us though amidst the typically pleasant weather at the end of summer. I saw a comment in the Signs of the Season thread at AlpineZone that Mt. Washington in New Hampshire was below freezing last night, and indeed the Mt. Washington website confirms this. After a quick look through the August data in their archive, it appears that it was the first time this month, so perhaps it is a sign of the season. It’s the end of August, and Saturday is September though, so presumably it must be about time for sub-freezing temperatures on the rockpile. Down at more modest elevations, Saranac Lake also touched 32 F last night. As part of the discussion in the Northern New England Summer thread at American Weather, Powderfreak posted a plot with first dates of freezing for some of the cold spots in the forecast area for the National Weather Service Office in Burlington, Vermont.
As we head into the last few weeks of summer, some people’s thoughts turn to early snowfall in the mountains, and this topic recently popped up with respect to Mt. Mansfield in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather. Since I have all the raw snowpack data from the Mt. Mansfield co-op station downloaded from when I created the Mt. Mansfield 24” snowpack plot, I scanned through the September numbers back to 1954 to see what they revealed. Because the collection of actual snowfall at that station can be a bit dicey, I first checked the snowpack data that I had, and found three occurrences of September snowpack at the stake:
Date Snow at the stake (in.)
However, assuming they have historically been using the same practice of reporting the depth of the snowpack at the end of the day (~5:00 P.M. or so) as they do now, it was likely that there was overnight September snowfall that simply didn’t make it through the entirety of many warm, September days to be reported from the stake. Therefore, I also checked the snowfall data, and found that indeed there are a fair amount of reports of September snowfall:
Date Snowfall (in.)
There are a few years with no data, but accumulating September snow does happen on Mt. Mansfield, at a rate of roughly a couple times each decade. I’m not quite sure what was going on with the 2009 number, since one doesn’t generally report snowfall to the hundredths of an inch; perhaps they are reporting a trace on that one. Not surprisingly, September snowfall is more frequent on Mt. Washington with a couple thousand feet of extra vertical – the September monthly average there is 2.2” inches, and the monthly maximum is almost 8 inches, so accumulating September snow is probably fairly common.
I also scanned the Mt. Mansfield data for August, and there was even one report of accumulation there:
Date Snowfall (in.)
Since there was also mention of October, I took a look at those data as well. Because accumulating October snowfall is already fairly common even down here in the mountain valleys of the Northern Greens (out of the six season’s worth of snowfall data I have collected here, four Octobers have seen accumulating snowfall, and the average is right around an inch) I figured that getting October accumulation on Mt. Mansfield must be almost a lock. Indeed that’s the case; after checking the snowpack data from 1954 – 2012, there are only a handful of seasons without reported snowpack, and one of those seasons did at least show some snowfall:
Seasons without reported October snowpack on Mt. Mansfield
1963-1964 – 0.1” snowfall
With everyone having their own unique perspective on skiing, some of which you can discover at supreme ski morzine skiing school. They tend to love skiing since they teach people how to do it! But combined with the multitude of weather-related factors involved in winter recreation in general, there’s usually ample room for debate about where a ski season sits relative to average. However, when it comes to the 2011-2012 ski season in Northern Vermont (and perhaps to an even greater extent in other parts of the Northeastern U.S.) most any metric would set it firmly in the lower half of seasons. Some key contributing factors to the outcome of the season were temperatures, which were above average for every month from October through May (specific monthly temperature departures are available in the monthly detail section), overall precipitation, which was well below average during that period, and as expected with that combination, snowfall that was well below average. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and indeed that was the case in Northern Vermont this past season. If numbers aren’t everything, perhaps timing is everything, and the snow machine of the Northern Greens exhibited some impeccable timing for some of the busiest ski periods when it came down to it. There was also a consistency and intensity in backside snows that seemed to heal just about every mixed precipitation event. So while I don’t think that the winter of 2011-2012 can be considered anything but below average around here, the bigger story might just be how “surprisingly good” it was. That story unfolds in the details below.
Snowfall: A very reliable and trustworthy indicator of just how poor the winter’s snowfall was for the general Northern Vermont area, is the data from the area’s first-order weather station at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington. Out of 127 years worth of data going back to the winter of 1884-1885, the 37.7″ of total snowfall in Burlington during 2011-2012 was the third lowest in their records (only 1912-1913 with 31.3″ and 1904-1905 with 32.0″ were lower). Interestingly this third lowest recorded snowfall obtained in 2011-2012 came right on the heels of Burlington’s third highest recorded snowfall of 128.4″ in 2010-2011. Relative to average snowfall, which for the 1884-2011 period of record in Burlington is 73.3″, 2011-2012 came in at just 51.4%. Burlington is the local first-order weather station for the area, but despite its proximity to the spine of the Northern Greens, the Champlain Valley’s snowfall doesn’t necessarily correlate with what goes on in the mountains. Looking next at Winooski Valley snowfall data obtained from our house, which sits right along the spine and is a decent representation of what happens in the mountain valleys of the Greens, we find that snowfall was well below average during all the key winter months, and our season total was 115.3″. Not surprisingly, this is the lowest snowfall total obtained in the six years that we have collected rigorous data at our location, and it’s almost two standard deviations below the mean (172.1 ± 31.5″) obtained from 2006-2011. However, at 67.0% of the average snowfall, it’s not quite as low as what Burlington experienced. Like the local mountains themselves, some spots in the mountain valleys have what Powderfreak refers to as a snowfall “insurance policy”, which comes in the form of upslope snow. Burlington and the Champlain Valley can get in on a bit of mesoscale weather action in the form of lake-effect snow from Lake Champlain, but it’s not a major contributor to snowfall due to the size and orientation of the lake. To the east of the Champlain Valley however, the upslope snow, sometimes referred to as Champlain Powder™, is what sets the snowfall in the Greens apart from areas that rely solely on synoptic precipitation. Interestingly, as we head up in elevation above our house in the valley, we find Bolton Valley reporting a very similar deviation from average snowfall compared to Burlington this season. Bolton recorded 159″ of snow this past season, which based on Bolton’s reported seasonal snowfall mean of 312″, comes in at just 51.0% of average. That amount of snow is extremely low for this area, and is more akin to what one might find in a typical season at Lake Louise Ski Area in Alberta vs. the spine of Vermont’s Northern Greens. The updated table with Bolton Valley’s snowfall from the past several seasons is added below, which illustrates the strong snowfall deviation from average seen in 2011-2012:
Although still well below average all around, there certainly was a trend toward slightly better snowfall as one continued to head north in the state, with the northward trend of 63.4% at Stowe, 66.6% at Smuggler’s Notch, and 71.5% at Jay Peak relative to average. A contributor to the low snowfall at the resorts was the fact that there was really only one big, multi-foot storm cycle during the heart of the season. That storm came at the end of February and dropped 40″ at Jay Peak, just on the heels of a couple smaller systems for a total in excess of 50″ of snow in just a few days. The resulting skiing was fantastic due the density gradient that was set up by the way it fell – 1 to 2 feet of dense snow came first, and it was topped off with another couple feet of champagne that finished at around 2% H2O. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake jumped from 49″ to 81″ during that period, and the icing on the cake was that the storm cleared right out to produce bluebird skies on Feb 26th. Unfortunately, one great storm doesn’t make a season. Based on estimations from my weather data, on average we should only expect one or two of those 40″+ storms per season, but they would typically be backed up by several 20″+ storms, and the deficiency of those is part of what left the overall snowfall lacking.
Tree Skiing: In the past I’ve used empirical data from trip reports to establish a mean date for the start of tree skiing in Northern/North-Central Vermont, and as I outlined in last year’s ski season summary, that analysis revealed a date of December 10th ± 13 days, with an average depth at the stake of 28.1 ± 6.5 inches. However, after a comment from Powderfreak back on December 12th, in which he indicated that he’d observed tree skiing on appropriate terrain at Stowe to start roughly when the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 24 inches, I decided to run an analysis using snowpack data from the stake. Instead of just the 15 to 20 seasons worth of ski trip reports that are available since the arrival of the internet era, there are almost 60 seasons worth of data available from the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Analysis of the stake data using the first date of attaining 24″ of snow depth or higher as the start of tree skiing, actually produced a very similar result (December 12th ± 19 days, with an average depth at the stake of 25.8 ± 2.7 inches) to what was obtained from the empirical data. With the date being so close to what I determined from the empirical data, I’m pretty confident that the date of attaining 24″ in the stake data will serve just as well in determining the average start of tree skiing, and the relative start date for individual seasons. With the median and mode for that analysis coming in quite close to the mean, the distribution seems normal, so the standard deviation in the data should have some predictive value. This “24-inch rule” isn’t meant to replace the traditional “40-inch rule“, but it’s there to compliment it as a more practical measure of when people actually start venturing into the trees in this area (the fact that it is corroborated by many years of empirical data can testify to that). The point at which the stake hits 24 inches is a decent mark for when appropriately maintained trees are going to start offering up good turns for those with the right skills and knowledge, whereas once the stake hits 40 inches, skiers can pretty much venture into most off-piste areas with a good degree of confidence. Between those two points is going to be a continuum of increasing access to off piste terrain. Moving from the 24″ depth to the 40” depth will typically take place during the month of December, with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaching the 40″ mark at the beginning of January on average.
So where did the 2011-2012 season stack up in terms of the start of tree skiing in Northern Vermont? Not surprisingly, when assessed by the new method of reaching 24″ at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, it’s down near the bottom of the pack. Below, I’ve added a scatter plot that I generated using the Mt. Mansfield snowpack data; the X-axis is a timeline spanning from October to January, and the blue stars represent the dates when 24 inches of snow depth was attained at the stake for the various years from 1954-2012. The red data point is for the 2011-2012 season (date of attaining 24″ = January 3rd, 2012), so the season is indeed more than one standard deviation on the late side (the large vertical line in the plot is the mean, and the small vertical lines are ± 1 standard deviation), although it actually isn’t as late a start as some seasons:
For those that want the actual raw data from the above plot to see where specific seasons stacked up in terms of reaching that 24-inch mark at the stake, the numbers are available in my initial post with the plot in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather.
How did the 24-inch snowpack depth analysis compare to what we actually found on the ground this season? Since skiing natural snow terrain on piste began first, I’ll mention that momentarily before discussing the trees. I saw the first signs of people skiing natural snow trails this season on December 27th at Bolton, and coverage certainly looked sufficient on at least moderate terrain. The tracks I saw at that point already looked old, and I suspect that on piste natural snow coverage was actually sufficient the day before (December 26th), thanks to the Christmas Day storm. Bolton picked up close to a foot of snow from that storm, and at the end of the day on the 26th, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 14″. The first day that we actually ventured into the trees at Bolton Valley was December 29th, and as I stated in my report from that day, we only ventured in for one run because the base was just a little too thin to really ski with confidence in there and enjoy it. And, when the snowpack was measured at the Mt. Mansfield Stake later that afternoon, the depth was 21 inches, just a bit shy of that 24-inch mark. By the next day, we were skiing natural snow trails with more than enough coverage, but it wasn’t until January 7th at Bolton that I commented about some of the trees finally being ready after the boys and I skied Wilderness Woods. The measurement from the stake came in at 24 inches that afternoon, and we were clearly reaching another threshold of sorts, so attaining that 24-inch depth at the stake was indeed a decent measure for the start of tree skiing this season in our experience. Powderfreak and I have discussed how that 24-inch number is going to be quite rough, since a 24-inch depth attained mostly with fluff will represent something substantially different that a 24-inch depth attained with cement, but it looks like it’s going to be a reasonable approximation of when people start to take their initial forays into the trees and find the conditions good enough to stay there.
Looking at tree/off piste skiing for the season as a whole, there’s no question that it was curtailed relative to normal. The very late date of reaching 24 inches at the stake in the beginning of January (January 3rd) is 1.13 standard deviations beyond the mean according to the Mt. Mansfield snowpack analysis, putting it close to the bottom 10% of seasons. When this is coupled with the large amount of melting in Mid March due to record heat, which closed a lot of terrain, it equates to a tree skiing season that is roughly 2 ½ months long, compared to the more typical length of 4 to 5 months. The off piste season was certainly condensed, and while coverage was there to enable plenty of access in January (Stowe reached 100% open status by January 14th), tree skiing really seemed to take forever to hit its stride; to wit, the snowpack at the stake didn’t hit the 40-inch mark until the end of January.
Snow Quality: In last season’s summary, I checked my trip reports and found those days in which we were skiing powder, typically suggesting a fairly high level of snow quality, and those days in which powder skiing wasn’t available, often indicating some sort of thaw (or in one case this season, insufficient base depths). For the list of outings below, I’ve again placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, to reveal the temporal pattern associated with that categorization. Outings with an X may still be providing decent skiing such as wet snow, corn, etc. (or else we’d probably be doing something other than skiing) but aside from the spring period, there’s going to be a price to pay in terms of snow quality after these episodes when temperatures eventually cool back down. Chronologically, the first X appears for the outing on December 10th at Bolton Valley. The lack of powder skiing on that date wasn’t actually due to temperature fluctuations, but instead due to the fact that there just wasn’t enough natural snow; substantial snowfall was very slow in coming in early December. The natural snow depth up above 2,000′ in the Bolton Valley Village was still only 2-3″ at that point, so short of junkboarding, skiing was really restricted to just the limited terrain that had manmade snow. The next X appears on our Bolton Valley outing on December 31st, and it represented a notable bump in the winter weather. The holiday week wasn’t too cold, but it was certainly snowy like one would expect at Christmas time in Vermont, with three decent snowstorms totaling more than two feet of snow at the northern resorts (refer to the December entry in the detailed monthly section for more information). So there was indeed some great powder skiing during that stretch. The main factor that kept the overall quality of the skiing from being really outstanding was the lack of base. The natural snow terrain that was open was excellent, but there still hadn’t been enough snow to open the steepest terrain without snowmaking. The X in this case comes in at the tail end of the holiday period where there was a thaw. I described the skiing on New Year’s Eve as reminding me of the Pacific Northwest, with low hanging clouds on the mountains, and dense snow underfoot. I’m not sure how long the resulted firm snow conditions lasted, because three small to moderate storms came through the area that week, with the first one dropping a half foot of snow in the mountains. By the following Saturday there was powder skiing again for the weekend. From that point on there were no interruptions in powder skiing though to mid March – at least from our perspective; we don’t ski every day of course, but we did ski every weekend through that period. However, Powderfreak does ski just about every day of the season at Stowe, and he noted that there were only a few select days without powder. I’ll speak more about that at the end of this section. By far the section of the outings list that stands out the most is the second half of March – the dramatic change in conditions is quite obvious, with seven outings in a row marked with an X. Record warm weather came in with a vengeance in mid March, and it was all spring skiing until the weather cooled back down to normal levels and produced snowstorms for the final two thirds of April. We finally finished off our season with a couple of corn snow days in May, a point in the season where that type of snow is the norm.
The 2010-2011 ski season was the first one to which I applied this type of powder skiing analysis, and relative to what I thought it would look like, I was certainly surprised by the consistent availability of powder conditions once I saw the data lined up. But as surprised as I was with that result, the 2011-2012 analysis is even more astounding. Somehow there was good to great skiing every weekend/holiday period throughout most of the core ski season, despite the overwhelmingly warm temperatures and low snowfall. As I mentioned above in the snowfall section, Bolton Valley reported just 159″ of snow for their entire season. That’s ridiculously low – it’s half their usual snowfall, and we typically average more snow than that at our house, almost 3,000′ below the upper elevations of the resort where the snowfall measurements are taken. That amount of snow might suffice for some decent skiing in an environment like the high elevations of the Rockies with very consistent winter temperatures, but this season in Vermont was anything but that. There were temperature issues throughout the season, and January was a perfect example – at the end of the month, local meteorologist Roger Hill pointed out that we’d had seven January thaws. I had many ski weather-related conversations with Powderfreak in the 2011-2012 ski thread at American Weather’s New England Subforum about the surprisingly high quality of the skiing, and there was certainly consistency in conditions, but we also determined that it was an issue of timing. Snowfall was low, and spells of warm temperatures abundant, but storms were just timed well to ensure that most snow quality issues were remedied by the weekend. Although the season was warm on average, we didn’t have many big rain events, and any that we did have seemed to be quickly covered by backside snow. There was indeed something special about the timing though, because somehow we had weekend after weekend of nice skiing with powder on Bolton’s 159″ of snow. The detailed reports below and the monthly ski summaries that follow, provide the specifics of how it all went down, and the frequency and distribution of P in the outings list really speaks to that theme of “surprisingly good”:
P Pico, VT, Sunday 30OCT2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 23NOV2011
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 10DEC2011
P Stowe, VT, Saturday 17DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 23DEC2011 (A.M. Session)
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 23DEC2011 (P.M. Session)
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 24DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Tuesday 27DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 28DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 29DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 30DEC2011
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 31DEC2011
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 07JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 08JAN2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 12JAN2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 14JAN2012
P Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT, Sunday 15JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 16JAN2012
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 21JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 22JAN2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 29JAN2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 04FEB2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 05FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 11FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 18FEB2012
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Sunday 19FEB2012
P Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry & Bolton Mtn, VT, Monday 20FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 23FEB2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 25FEB2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 26FEB2012
P Stowe, VT, Friday 02MAR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 03MAR2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 04MAR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 07MAR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 10MAR2012
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 11MAR2012
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 17MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 18MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Friday 23MAR2012
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 24MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 25MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Saturday 31MAR2012
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 01APR2012
P Stowe, VT, Tuesday 10APR2012
P Jay Peak, VT, Thursday 12APR2012
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 14APR2012
P Stowe, VT, Friday 27APR2012
P Stowe, VT, Saturday 28APR2012
X Jay Peak, VT, Saturday 12MAY2012
X Mount Washington, NH, Sunday 27MAY2012
Monthly Summaries for the 2011-2012 Ski Season:
October: Snowfall in the month of October is generally scant down at the elevation of our house (495′), and because we’re on the fringe of the cold season at that point, it’s not a great indicator of snowfall in the local mountains. The six year average I have in the valley is 0.9″ of snow for October, so by that measure, the 1.2″ of snow that we received in October 2011 was very typical. However, for the New England region as a whole, October 2011 would wind up being anything but typical. Back to back snowstorms hit New England at the end of the month, with the first one on October 27th dropping over a foot of snow at Killington to kick things off with gusto. That type of storm is pretty standard for the mountains of Vermont in October, but just a couple days later on the 29th, it was followed up by a second, larger storm – a record-breaking monster of an October snowstorm for Southern New England. Over 30 inches of snow fell in some locations, and those weren’t necessarily high elevation locales. Massive power outages ensued because leaves were still on the trees in those areas, and people were without power for up to two weeks. Ironically, despite the back-to-back snowstorms in New England, including an historic, 100-year event, Northern Vermont ended up with little if any snow from either of them. The lack of snowfall is seen easily in my 2011-2012 Waterbury/Mt. Mansfield snowpack plot – the only snow depth recorded on Mt. Mansfield for the entire month was 0.5″ on October 30th, and that is essentially invisible with the scale used. I don’t know what Mt. Mansfield averages for snow in October, but I’m sure what they got was well below average. As for the skiing though, what we couldn’t get in the Northern Greens was easily obtained about an hour south in the Central Greens. With the mountains of Central Vermont getting hit by both storms, we headed down to Pico with the boys for an outstanding day of turns in the powder. The back-to-back storms had essentially set up snow on snow, or powder atop a base. That’s a bit of a treat compared to the way October skiing on natural snow often plays out, so it was enjoyed by many. It almost seemed like half the ski population of Stowe had temporarily migrated south to access the great turns at Pico. So while in general, October was pleasant, mild, and nearly snowless in Northern Vermont (Burlington came in 2.0 degrees F above normal at the National Weather Service Office) some great skiing snuck in there a bit to the south.
November: I’ll put November 2011 into perspective by looking at November 2010, in which the ski conditions were apparently poor enough that we didn’t ski once. Fortunately, that didn’t happen this season – even if just by a day. The near lack of snow in November 2010 could be considered demonstrative of typical November snowfall in the valley though, because up to that point it had truly been feast or famine since we moved to our current Waterbury location in 2006. However, this past November finally bucked that trend by coming in with 11.4″ of snow (128% of average) which is as close to “normal” snowfall as I’ve ever seen for the month based on my data. We had a couple of minor accumulating snowstorms early in the month, and then another mid month, but it was a storm near the end of the month that really produced 95% of our November valley snowfall. That storm dropped almost a foot of snow at the house, and got me to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns. In terms of skiing, options for catching the new snow atop a manmade base were rather limited because most of the local resorts were of course using their manmade snow to serve customers, but I headed up to Bolton Valley to see if the natural snow alone was enough for some turns. Since they don’t open until December, Bolton hadn’t yet made any snow by that point, but it turned out that the storm had dropped over a foot of snow up there, and it was dense enough that one didn’t need much of it to keep them off of whatever lay beneath. I enjoyed some decent turns, even if that outing wound up being the only one for the month. This past November was a decent step up from the previous couple of seasons with little to no snow, but we’ve still yet to have a very snowy November since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons; both those seasons delivered roughly 20″ of snow in the valley, and plenty more in the mountains. The general seasonal trend of warm weather continued right through the month as well; although much colder than October on an absolute basis, November was even warmer relative to its long range average, coming in 5.1 degrees above normal at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington.
December: The first two thirds of December simply felt like a continuation of November; the pre-holiday period was hampered by above average temperatures, but the more notable issue was the absence of significant storms. The Northern Greens were holding their own thanks to numerous small snowfalls, and these events were definitely enough to get us into some powder skiing, but they weren’t enough to really build a deep base of natural snow. The last third of the month was really the highlight in terms of snowfall. As the all-important holiday week approached, Central Vermont northward finally got into some moderate storms. The localized nature of these storms was good for highway travelers from down south, and one could hardly ask for better timing of fresh snow for the holiday week. Storm 1 hit on Friday the 23rd, dropping roughly half a foot from Killington northward, storm 2 was on the 25th, centered on Stowe where they received over a foot, and storm 3 began on the 27th, with totals again topping out around a foot. The skiing was quite good, indeed excellent by the end of the week as the snow from the storms continued to pile up, but the lack of snowfall earlier in the month meant that the natural base depths weren’t there like they would normally be. Fortunately, some natural snow terrain was open, but certainly not the steepest stuff, and the natural snowpack was still just a bit too lean to spend much time in the trees. In any event, we skied eight times during that holiday stretch, a sign that there was definitely some good skiing. With all the new snow, our local area certainly had it a lot better than many places in the country did during the holiday week, so in that regard we were lucky. I’m sure business was still down at the Vermont ski areas in general, but people may have been hearing about the holiday snow that Northern Vermont was getting, because Powderfreak posted on Christmas Eve how lodging space was still very tight in Stowe. Despite the snow in the northern half of Vermont though, the general talk around the region was how poor and snowless it was in general, so I’m sure many places lost some potential visitors due to that. Even with those moderate storms at the end of the month, when all was said and done, we still ended up quite low on snowfall down at the house; the 24.7″ we received was just 59% of our average for the past six seasons. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: With the slow start to snowfall, we didn’t even ski during the first weekend of the month, but we did get out for the other four. The second weekend was the one where there was no powder simply because there wasn’t enough snow. Temperatures were certainly above average as a whole (NWS in Burlington was +4.8 F on the month), but December mean temperatures start getting cold enough that even above average departures can still be sub-freezing and produce snow in the mountains . The third weekend of the month had some decent conditions at Stowe, and then the final two weekends sort of lose their definition with the big holiday week, and that period gets lumped together. Conditions for the holiday week were mostly wintry; strictly speaking though, the last weekend of the month did see a thaw, but in the context of the whole holiday week it was rather insignificant.
January: We had 13 accumulating snowstorms at the house in January, which is quite decent and actually a bit above average in number, but as mentioned in the Snow Quality section of this season summary, we also had seven January thaws. These thaws didn’t mean torrential rains, but what we saw were many storms with mixed precipitation in the middle, cutting down on snow totals. The Northern Greens continuously made fantastic recoveries in snow conditions due to grabbing that upslope snow on the backside, so snow surfaces were quite nice in general, but in those first couple of weeks after the holiday storms, we got back into what Powderfreak calls “nickel and dime” snows. They kept surfaces fresh, but base depths built very slowly. Finally on the 12th, we got a more significant storm, which dropped two feet at Jay Peak, and roughly a foot and a half down through Sugarbush. That storm was an undeniably propitious event, and Stowe’s terrain was 100% open by January 14th. Again we saw Mother Nature pulling off some of her nice timing with that storm cycle, since it was just in time for the MLK weekend. I remember skiing great packed powder snow on Waterfall at Stowe on the 16th, and commenting to Powderfreak how astonished I was – it seems like that trail is hardly ever open even in a good season, and there we were skiing it with such premium snow in a very low snow season. We were fortunate to get that storm though, because after that it was back to nickel and dime storms with some of those similar mixed precipitation sandwich events with backside snows for the remainder of the month. Overall snowfall at the house was 32.6″, not quite as low as December, but still just 83% of average, so we weren’t making any gains on the low season snowfall. At +5.8 F, the deviation from normal temperatures at the Burlington NWS for January was even a degree higher than it had been for December. Like December though, normal January temperatures are cold enough that substantial snow can fall with positive departures like that. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: With eight days under our belts from the holiday week, and nothing returning the conditions to midwinter after our Pacific Northwest-style outing on December 31st, we didn’t ski on January 1st, but we did ski on all four of the full weekends during the month. As seen in the outings list above, powder was present throughout our trips to the mountain, which was pretty amazing considering all those thaws/mixed precipitation storms.
February: There’s no question that February will go down as having the best skiing of the season in Northern Vermont, but the month certainly didn’t start out in a spectacular way. An initial half foot storm at the beginning of the month did a fantastic job of resurfacing the slopes after one of those January “sandwich” storms with mixed precipitation in the middle, and Mt. Mansfield continued to impress. Although still well below average in terms of both snowfall and snowpack, Northern Vermont was clearly doing extremely well in comparison to even Central Vermont by that point. After that initial modest snowfall event, our wishes for a weather pattern change that would get us away from all those mixed events were indeed answered, but perhaps not exactly in the manner we would have liked. Instead of switching over to more typical snowstorms, the precipitation basically shut off. Down at the house, we’d had just over half a foot of snow through the first three weeks of the month. For a month in which we average over 40″ of snow in the valley with a very low standard deviation of about 8 inches, we were staring at the potential for an amazingly low monthly snowfall total. Happily, the last week of the month ensured that February 2012 didn’t live on in infamy. We quickly picked up a couple of appetizer storms on the 21st and the 22nd, which didn’t produce much snow at the house, but delivered close to a foot in the mountains. It was on the 24th though that the big kahuna came through; that storm dropped up to 40″ in the northern mountains, with a total of over 50″ at Jay Peak for the three storms combined. It wasn’t just a fluff storm either; snow from that storm definitely fell “right side up”, and ski conditions were off the charts. So much snow fell so quickly though that the avalanche conditions got a bit tenuous in the backcountry. I saw mention that Jay Peak broke their 24-hour snowfall record during the storm, but since I see that listed as 42″, I don’t think that was actually topped with this storm. In any event, the natural snow depths made huge gains, and as mentioned above; that storm even brought the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake to an above average level. With a final storm total of 22.7″ at the house, it was our largest valley snowfall of the season. That one storm pretty much made the month in terms of our valley snowfall, but we still ended up with just 30.7″, which is 73% of average. The general presence of heat didn’t let up either, and the departure from normal at the NWS in Burlington again went up an entire degree from the previous month to reach +6.8 F. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: The great timing of storms continued, and even the reduced snowfall in the first ¾ of the month was enough to keep powder around; conditions certainly remained good as we moved through that first part of February. The big storm was wall to wall snow and timing hardly mattered, but it was a weekend event anyway, with storm day skiing on Saturday, and fresh powder and blue skies on Sunday. That weekend took the cake of course, but all four weekends of the month offered some great skiing.
March: The first half of March felt like a continuation of that decent stretch at the end of February, even if we didn’t get any additional three to four foot storm cycles. Just a few days after the big February storm ended, another decent cycle came through heading into the 1st of the month, with close to a foot of additional snow at the northern resorts, and a foot and a half at the southern resorts. Amidst other freshening events, a storm on the 4th dropped about a half foot of snow, and then over a foot fell from a storm on the 9th that targeted the north-central resorts. The boost from the big February storm was felt in base depths and surface conditions, and you could feel that the season had really turned into what one would expect for March. Even as unseasonable warmth started to intrude and occasionally turn the powder wet through the first half of the month, there was usually enough time to get in turns for a good part of each day while the powder was still dry, and then more snow would come along to freshen things back up. The weather through that period was certainly on the warm side, but it was during the second half of the month when all hell broke loose with regard to temperatures. That expression is somewhat apt, because for March, it felt like that when five consecutive days of record temperatures with departures of +40 F hit the state from the 18th-22nd. Combined with the more moderate warmth during the rest of the month, the result was an incredible +12.2 F departure from the average March temperature at the NWS in Burlington. With almost no new snow in the valley during that warm second half of the month, March snowfall was a paltry 14.2″ at the house, just 60% of average. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: The list of ski outings from above shows the trend here quite well, the first two weekends offered powder conditions, and from then on it was spring skiing. However, powder had been available for every weekend or holiday period since the middle of December by the point at which the snow conditions flipped, and that’s a commendable three-month stretch for such a season. Beyond the middle of the month, X was the only way to describe the powder conditions until we finally got to April. There was decent corn snow and great weather during that second half of March, but it was so warm that trail counts dropped rapidly at many resorts; even the huge snowpack gains made by the northern resorts at the end of February were lost as the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake fell well below where it had been before the big climb. Despite the good spring skiing, it seemed like many resorts closed down simply because people had given up on winter by that point. The slow start and rapid end to winter seemed to take the wind out of everyone’s sails and, it had them looking to quickly put the season in the rearview mirror.
April: Temperatures for the month of April still came in above average (+1.2 F) at the National Weather Service in Burlington, but after the unprecedented warmth of March, that felt downright cool by comparison. Indeed April was more typical though, and some good skiing returned, even if the slightly warm temperatures kept the snow especially elevation dependent. With that trend, snowfall down at the house was almost insignificant, just 0.5 inches or 8% of average. That’s the least snowy April we’ve encountered in the six years that I’ve been monitoring snowfall at our location. Storms nailed the mountains with snow though, in the form of a minor event on the 4th of the month, then a big cutoff low dropping 2 to 2 ½ feet on the 9th. That snow was fairly dense and represented an unmitigated resurfacing of the slopes as one headed up in elevation. The skiing was great, at least in a Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete sort of way where it doesn’t take much to cover whatever is below, but it would have been even better if the March warmth hadn’t deteriorated the snowpack as much as it did. With most ski areas closed after March sapped people’s interest in the season, plenty of great earned turns were made, but at the resorts that had stayed open, there was also some excellent lift-served skiing. April finished off with one final storm at the end of the month, which was nothing like the big one earlier, but it dropped about a half foot in the upper elevations and that was enough for some final powder skiing before we moved on to May. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: While certainly not up to the level of April 2007, we did get to ski powder on all of our April days except April 1st. Most of what fell during the month for snow was rather dense, but it was still a nice reprieve to have fresh snow after the way March had gone. We only skied three of the five weekends that month, as half of our outings ended up being midweek.
May: After some tempering of the heat for April, Mother Nature was back at the stove for May, with a +5.3 F departure for the month at the NWS in Burlington. We didn’t have any accumulating snow in the valley, although that’s typically the case down at our elevation. There were actually no significant winter storms to speak of, but we did have one Vermont ski day on the 12th, enjoying the last of the corn snow up at Jay Peak. We took advantage of a Mother’s Day package that offered a chance to sample a lot of the new facilities up at the resort (water park, arcade, restaurants, etc.), and indeed taking in that smorgasbord of activities is an especially nice way to go when skiing is only going to be a minor part of a trip. Our other day in the month was actually out of state in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend, taking our traditional camping trip Auto Road ascent with the boys to ski the snowfields. The snowfields were somewhat on the lean side this year, but not bad considering what the region went through meteorologically during the winter season.
At the monthly level, the 2011-2012 ski season was a simply amazing stretch of positive temperature departures followed by even more positive temperature departures, and that trend has continued right into the summer, with June and July coming in at +1.9 F and +2.4 F respectively. August is currently coming in with a positive departure as well, and if it ends up staying that way, it will be the 17th month in a row in the positive departure streak for Burlington. Those departures are going to flip at some point, and it’s going to feel quite chilly by comparison. Despite that trend though, even when combined with below normal precipitation, the quality of the ski surfaces encountered this past season in Northern Vermont was quite good. I’m not sure if I’m willing to say better than average, since I don’t think surfaces were better than average at Bolton Valley, but I am willing to say that in our visits to Stowe this season, the typical on piste surfaces we encountered were actually better than the previous season. One thought is that the lack big storms in general also played out as a lack of notable rainstorms, which while generally infrequent in the heart of winter anyway, are likely more detrimental to the snow surfaces than more modest events with simply some mixed precipitation in the middle. The Northern Greens certainly showed throughout this past season that they have the ability to cover the back side of mixed precipitation events with additional snow quite effectively when there’s at least some moisture in the atmosphere to be wrung out. The fact that business was down somewhat at the resorts, may also have contributed to less skier traffic and slightly elevated on piste snow quality. Whatever the case, for a ski season that felt like an abysmal “perfect storm” of sorts with regard to temperatures and precipitation, 2011-2012 in Northern Vermont can certainly be described as “surprisingly good”.
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.
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.
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 comfort in my rectangular 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the warm weather regime we’ve been in over the past few weeks, it’s actually been a month since I’ve heard of any snow in the Green Mountains – September 16th was when we had that cold shot that produced some flakes. We saw some frosty nights at the beginning of the month, but there was no precipitation with that cold air. However, new reports of snow have been coming in today. Over at the Americanwx.com New England regional forum, Powderfreak got a report of snow squalls atop Camel’s Hump, there was a report of various forms of mixed precipitation on Mt. Mansfield, and there was also a report of frozen precipitation from near the Pinkham Notch area over in New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, Mt. Washington picked up some accumulating snow, with 1.2 inches reported for the day.
In association with our coldest weather of the season thus far, the mountains of Northern New England saw some snow today. In Vermont, I heard about the frozen precipitation on Mt. Mansfield in a post from Powderfreak at Americanwx.com, and over in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire there were some visible accumulations above the 3,500’ to 4,000’ elevation level. A great video from TheAutoRoad with scenes of snow falling along the Mt. Washington Auto Road was posted, and can be viewed below. Even in the valleys the weather was quite cool today, with highs only in the 50s F, so the look and feel of fall was all around us. Enjoy the video!
Having now compiled all our ski trip and winter storm summary reports for the ’10-’11 ski season, I’ve put together this season summary as a view of how things transpired from a Northern Vermont local perspective. It’s interesting to note that for Burlington, winter ’10-‘11 was well above average for snowfall (128.4”, 175%), while out in the mountains at our house the deviation was much less (197”, 114%), and indeed in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens like Bolton it was even closer to average (330”, 106%), so ski resort snowfall around here was essentially average. I actually made a chart for a post at Americanwx.com concerning the ’07-’08 season, which used Bolton’s snowfall from the past several seasons as a general indicator of how the snowfall has been in Northern Vermont:
One can see from the chart that ’10-‘11 was basically average for snowfall, and that the amount of snow (330”) was identical to ’07-’08. I would add that the general impression was that consistency of winter temperatures was a bit better than average in ’10-‘11 due to fewer warm events, so the quality of snow surfaces was higher. I’m not sure how much better than average it was though, since it seems that during midwinter, the norm in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens is to have about one warm episode per month. Also, since we were essentially out of the main track of synoptic storms until February, there wasn’t much in the way of moderate-density snowfall to resurface the slopes. I try to address the consistency of temperatures/quality of the snow surfaces in the text below though, at least in the context of weekends; I should note that it’s possible there could have been some midweek weather issues that simply flew under the radar for me. For the quality assessment I simply focused on whether or not we were skiing powder, because unless there is some sort of notable rise in temperatures, there is always powder available.
A monthly breakdown of snowfall and my perspective on the season follows below – you can click on each month (except November) and it should bring up that month’s posts in the J&E Productions Web Log. I only have the monthly snowfall for my house and not the ski areas, but the percentages relative to average often parallel the mountains reasonably well, especially for Bolton which is right up above us:
October: Pretty typical in that we got at least some snow for skiing; we had 1.0” of snow at the house. October snowfall in the lower valleys is often minimal enough that the percentages aren’t all that relevant, but that number is 111% vs. the five year average since we’ve been at our house, so indeed that’s rather “normal”.
November: Very poor; we got just 2.4” of snow at the house (29% of average) and I don’t really remember it, nor do I have any entries for that month in my ski log, so that says plenty right there. I do have a vague recollection of storm after storm tracking to our north and west giving us mostly rain though, so that would explain the low snowfall total. The lack of snowfall wasn’t necessarily a huge concern at the time since it was “only November”, but without good November snowfall, getting to appropriate base depths and excellent skiing in December can be that much harder.
December: Quite normal, 46.0” of snow at the house (right about average at 102%). Fortunately, even with minimal November snow we were skiing natural snow terrain by December 10th up at Bolton; the holiday period featured some decent skiing, with 7 outings for me during that stretch, indicating that the snow was obviously OK. Bolton had picked up 4 feet of snow from the storm at the beginning of the month, however, a lot of that snow, as well as what fell later in the month, was upslope fluff. So, even if one assumes a fairly average amount of snowfall for the mountains like we saw in the valley, the very dry nature of the snow meant that there was less liquid than usual, resulting in base depths that really didn’t build quickly. The Boxing Day Storm was unfortunately the start of a pattern that would last the next five to six weeks, with the big synoptic storms staying well south of the region and pounding Southern New England, while northern areas remained on the fringe and essentially survived on fluff. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and out of the 12 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Friday, Dec 31st, so that suggests pretty consistent temperatures.
January: We got 55.5” of snow at the house, which is above average (137%) in what can sometimes be a dry, midwinter month. However, January was essentially a month-long continuation of the trend that started on Boxing Day, and we were living on mostly Northern Vermont Champlain Powder™ fluff. We had a couple of good upslope storms in the early to mid part of the month (January 7th and January 12th) that made for some fine skiing, but obviously since so much of it was pixie dust, the base depths just could not build the way that they would with some synoptic storms. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, and out of 11 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Saturday, Jan 1st due to the warmth at the end of December. So I think one could argue that weekend ski surface consistency through Dec/Jan was better than average with only one (instead of two) weekend-affecting warm up(s) for the two months.
February: This is when the storm track finally shifted north and we got some notable synoptic storms; the first one was right on the 1st, and then we had a second storm on the 5th. That first storm brought just over a foot of snow for us down in the valley, and was by far the largest for the month. Thus there weren’t really any mega dumps based on my records from the house, but there was plenty of the usual good skiing at Bolton and even good skiing at Stowe. Snowfall was 48.1”, which is roughly average at 108%. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Out of the 10 outings in my records, all 10 of them had powder skiing, so February was perfect in that regard. However, while skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, we had to wait until Monday of the long weekend to ski because there had been some sort of warm-up. So I’d say the month was pretty typical with at least that one warm-up.
March: We continued to stay in the storm track for most of March, with our biggest valley snowfall of the season (25.0”) coming from the March 5th storm. We did wind up with notably above average snowfall in the valley for the month (39.6”; 155%), essentially due to that one big storm and aided by the fact that what I’ve got for a March average could be a bit low due to very poor Marches in ’09 (12.6”) and ’10 (2.1”). Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and powder skiing was done on all those weekends, however, there was also notable infiltration of non-powder skiing days into the weekends. Relative to the previous three months, only 9 of our 12 outings for March featured powder skiing, so while still a pretty good ratio, it was certainly a decrease. Indeed there were multiple warm ups in the month because those three non-powder days were actually on three different weekends (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th weekends). Fortunately, those weekends were somewhat redeemed by powder on the other day. By March, especially toward the end, things may start to fall off a bit from the typical rate of one warm episode per month, but I would expect that with at least 3 individual warm ups in March, it was nothing great or even above average in terms of consistency.
April: This was again quite a poor month in terms of snowfall and powder skiing; although snowfall correlation between our location down at the house and the mountains can really start to wane as one moves through April and snowfall becomes more and more elevation dependent. Snowfall at the house was well below average for the month (4.4”; 61%). We did at least start out the month with a snowstorm on the 1st and another one on the 4th; these events produced some good weekend powder skiing at Bolton and helped the mountain snowpack to surpass 100 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. However, the snowfall really fell off after that. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, but only 3 out of 9 days had powder and only 2 of the weekends had powder skiing. People were excited because we had a relatively deep snowpack during the month and coverage stayed longer than normal, but after that first week the storm track had shifted to the north/west and it was just storm after storm that featured warmth and little to no snow, even for the mountains. I commented on that trend in a post at Americanwx.com, since there can easily be feet of snow in the higher elevations in April, and instead of just some corn days or spring crud, we could have been skiing some great powder.
May: The May skiing was good due to the healthy snowpack, and I did get out in the powder on the 6th for top to bottom skiing on Mansfield. We didn’t get any snowfall at the house during the month, but May’s average snowfall numbers down at our elevation are pretty minimal like October, and with the high sun angle and warming as we approach the solstice I suspect even more removed from correlation with what the mountains see. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: I wouldn’t say May powder is consistent enough to worry about. I only got out for two days during the month, but at least one was a powder day; the other day was a corn snow day at Bolton so that was also good even if there wasn’t fresh snow.
June: Our only day in June was outside VT on the East Snowfields on Mt. Washington, and the snowfield was probably smaller than usual for that time of year due to the below average Mt. Washington snowfall for the season. There actually had been some frozen precipitation in the northern mountains leading up to that day, but we were skiing corn snow.
So in terms of overall snowfall, the two above average months of January and March were basically counteracted by the two below average months of November and April, and with the rest of the months being about average, the snowfall for the season ends up… about average. Some plusses were better than average snowpack in April and May, but that’s somewhat counteracted by the lower than average snowpack in November, December, and January. It looks like there was an uptick in consistency in the December-January period due to just that one notable warm-up, but with February and March coming in probably about average in that category, and while November is not especially consistent in terms of temperatures, even in the higher elevations, it must have been below average to get so little snow for the month. So taking the trends of consistency as an aggregate from November through April, I wouldn’t say that there was a massive improvement in temperature consistency/snow quality for this area. Something that I have noticed around here is that having a few more storms with mixed precipitation is not necessarily a huge detractor in terms of snow quality. The ’07-’08 season was a good example of this. We were right in the storm track, so if we did receive some mixed precipitation, there was often another storm on its heels so quickly, that old snow surfaces were covered up. It felt like we were right in the storm track for most of that winter, except that we had a relatively poor April with little snowfall (we picked up just 1.6” of snow at the house, even less than this past April). It is interesting to note that winter ’07-’08 (consistently stormy from November through March) and winter ’10-’11 (biggest synoptic storms focused on just February and March) provide quite disparate examples of how to get to very similar seasonal snowfall totals (203.2” and 197.0” respectively at the house, and 330” and 330” respectively up on the mountain).
Tree skiing: While working on some web page material, I came across the post I made about the average date for the start of Northern Vermont tree skiing, so I decided to add in the ’10-’11 data and see how the season compared. In my initial analysis through the ’09-’10 season, the average start date for tree skiing was December 9th ± 13 days with an average of 28.2 ± 6.8 inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. In terms of my personal log of outings from last season, I’ve got a start date of December 18th, 2010 for tree skiing, and the addition of these data alters the averages very slightly, bringing the date one day later to December 10th ± 13 days, and the average snowpack down a tenth of an inch to 28.1 ± 6.5 inches. So in terms of the ’10-’11 season, the start to tree skiing was slightly late in that it started about a week later than the mean date I’ve calculated. With the horrible November in terms of snowfall, and much of the December snowfall being dry fluff, the late start is not too surprising. However, the date is well within one standard deviation, so in that sense the start to tree skiing was another parameter of the season that was basically “average”.
On that temperature consistency/snow quality note, I was curious about the powder skiing we did throughout the season, so I checked my reports. For the list of outings below, I placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, so it shows the pattern of when we did have powder, and when we did not. Links to the text and pictures for all the individual reports are available below if people want more details about the depth/consistency of the snow, or one can also step through the J&E Productions web log, which has an entry for each outing. It’s interesting to note that starting at the beginning of the season in October and continuing through to March 26th, there were only four days (December 31st at Bolton Valley, January 1st on the Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry Network, March 5th at Cochran’s, and March 20th at Stowe) where we weren’t skiing powder. Strangely enough, I’ve never looked at a season in that way before, but it did give me an even greater appreciation for just how much powder there is to ski around here. After March 26th, the powder skiing really trickled off this season, although there were still at least a few days in there. I’m not sure how this season compares to others since I’ve never looked at one like this before, but I suspect most other “average” seasons would look similar for the way we ski, and with our pattern of skiing there might be similar patterns even in seasons that deviate more from average snowfall.
P Stowe, VT, Saturday 16OCT10
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 05DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 10DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 11DEC10
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 12DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 18DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 19DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 23DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 24DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Monday 27DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Tuesday 28DEC10
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 30DEC10
X Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 31DEC10
X Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 01JAN11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 08JAN11
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 08JAN11
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 09JAN11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 13JAN11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 15JAN11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 16JAN11
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Monday 17JAN11
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 22JAN11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 29JAN11
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 30JAN11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 03FEB11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 05FEB11
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 06FEB11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 12FEB11
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 13FEB11
P Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Monday 21FEB11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 25FEB11
P Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT, Saturday 26FEB11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 26FEB11
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 27FEB11
X Cochran’s, VT, Saturday 05MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 06MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Monday 07MAR11
P Stowe, VT, Tuesday 08MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 12MAR11
P Stowe, VT, Sunday 13MAR11
P Monroe’s Sugarin’, Barton, VT, Saturday 19MAR11
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 20MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 23MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 25MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 26MAR11
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 27MAR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 02APR11
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 03APR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 07APR11
X Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 09APR11
X Stowe, VT, Sunday 10APR11
X Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 17APR11
X Stowe, VT, Tuesday 19APR11
X Sugarbush, VT, Friday 22APR11
P Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 23APR11
X Bolton Valley, VT, Sunday 01MAY11
P Stowe, VT, Friday 06MAY11
X Mount Washington, NH, Saturday 04JUN11
So yeah, long story short, pretty average season in my book. On that note, since we’ve been back from Montana, the only season we’ve had with substantial snowfall deviation from average for Northern Vermont was a negative one in ’09-’10 as I show in that table of Bolton Valley snowfall near the top of the post. There definitely hasn’t been anything like what many parts of the Western U.S. saw last season, but as I look at the list of outings above there’s still been plenty of great skiing.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road opened to the summit a few weeks back, but yesterday was our first shot at some clear, dry, weekend weather in the Presidential Range; the forecast had suggested that Saturday would be an excellent day for some skiing in the alpine areas of Mt. Washington, and we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. After a bit of June snow for the mountains over the previous couple of days, the clouds were finally departing on Friday and it looked like there would be a nice window in the weather.
Since I’d read an East Snowfield trip report on the Time for Tuckerman Forum last weekend, I had a decent idea of how much snow was left in that area, but I still wanted to see where it was now that an additional week had passed. On Friday I checked on the Ravines Webcam from Mt. Washington, and as the clouds cleared out in the afternoon I was finally able to see where the snow was located. The bulk of the remaining snow could be seen in Tuckerman Ravine, but there were still areas with coverage up in the snowfields. While the broad snowfield that we’d skied at the end of last season was essentially gone, vestiges of the main East Snowfield were visible. The layout and extent of the snow around the Mt. Washington summit was quite different from what it often is at this time of year, because although it had been a fairly cool spring, snowfall on the mountain was roughly 70 inches below average.
04JUN11E.jpg – Ravines Image
On Saturday morning we finished up our preparation and headed on our way to New Hampshire. As we traveled on Route 2 east of Montpelier, we could see all the washouts that had come down with the heavy rains a couple of weeks earlier; some places had picked up 4 to 6 inches of rain practically overnight. Fortunately it was the weekend, so most of the construction vehicles were parked and travel was unimpeded, but the construction sites were everywhere. As we approached the Danville area, Ty suddenly noticed a spider below his feet where we had placed our firewood. That left him somewhat freaked out and reluctant to put his feet anywhere in the area, so once we had the chance we stopped at a viewpoint to see if we could clear it away. I had to pull all the logs out of the back, but we eventually found the spider and took care of it. Ty was much happier after that. We also saw a huge group of cyclists that were passing through the area and had stopped at the viewpoint; they seemed to be on quite a ride taking advantage of the nice weather. In general the Route 2 traffic wasn’t bad, but at one point we did get behind a huge RV with the name “NEWMAR” on the back mud flap, and that slowed us down for a bit until we lost it somewhere around Jefferson, NH. We joked about getting behind “NEWMARs” for the rest of the trip. As we closed in on Mt. Washington, we began to see the recent addition of white up near the summit, and knew that we’d soon get to see just what it was.
The weather stayed clear and sunny, and the drive up the auto road was lots of fun; visibility was 100 miles according to the sign at the base. Once we got up to around 5,500′, we could identify the new coating of white in the highest elevations – it was rime ice, and in some places it was over a foot thick. We parked along the road at around 6,000′ up above the East Snowfield, and while we prepared the gear, the boys explored the area and investigated the rime that peppered the surrounding rocks. The boys really enjoyed breaking off chunks of the ice, and that kept them occupied for quite a while. They also said that they really liked watching the train (The Cog Railway) and they saw at least a couple different colors of train cars during the course of the afternoon.
04JUN11A.jpg – Rime on sign
04JUN11F.jpg – Rime on sign with boys
04JUN11G.jpg – Rime below observatory
We began our descent to the snowfield by hiking on the Nelson Crag Trail, and then gradually peeled off to the right of the trail to head down to where the snowfield would be located. That descent was certainly the low point of the trip, because walking among the steep boulders in our Telemark boots with heavy packs was difficult for E and I, and we had to search around a bit to find the exact location of the remaining part of the snowfield. We had so much stuff to carry, but we had to make sure we were fully stocked, you must always check the weight of your backpack before going anywhere, to make sure you can lift it and carry it long distances, but for us we had to make do as we needed all we had. The frustration was compounded by the fact that because it was such a nice day with little wind, some black flies were out and about pestering anyone if they stopped moving. Even though Ty and Dylan were wearing their hiking boots, Dylan still had a bit of difficulty on the steep descent, and his spills added to E’s consternation. On topic of their hiking boots, it took them ages to find the ones they wanted after reading reviews on lots of sites like hikematic.com. Anyway, back to the hiking! At one point we thought he’d fallen and hit his head, but it turned that it wasn’t too serious. Still, E was rapidly becoming apoplectic about the whole situation and I still hadn’t quite found the snowfield.
04JUN11B.jpg – Rime at Nelson Crag Trail
04JUN11R.jpg – Hiking down toward snowfield
Fortunately, we eventually found the snow we’d been seeking, and everyone was able to rest, have a snack, and enjoy the scene. A nice breeze picked up, and any bugs disappeared to produce a perfect alpine environment. The boys created a slide in the snow, and spent most of their time glissading on what they called “The Slide of Doom”. I believe the name was derived from the fact that the slide ended in rocks, and one had to ensure that they slowed down before they hit them. Ty and Dylan did numerous runs on the slide, and eventually added things like in-line high fives and snowballs into the mix.
04JUN11S.jpg – boys looking off rock
04JUN11H.jpg – Dylan sliding
04JUN11C.jpg – Ty sliding
E and I were the ones that quickly got down to doing some skiing, and although the descent was only about 100 vertical feet or so, the corn snow was great aside from a couple of icy spots. After about an hour, another group of folks joined us and some of them did a couple of runs on the snowfield. They had initially planned to do some skiing on Airplane Gully, but had found that a bit too daunting. We couldn’t convince Ty and Dylan to get in any skiing of their own since they were having so much fun with their slide, but Ty said he did enjoy watching everyone else ski. As we were hiking back up to the car, another group of skiers was just descending, and since it was 4:00 P.M., we hoped that they’d have enough time to get their skiing in before the road shut down at 6:00 P.M. Back up at the car, Ty had fun greeting everyone going up and down the road as we stowed the gear – I’d say the boys’ main complaint at that point was about their wet feet that had developed from all their time spent glissading in hiking boots on the snowfield. If they’d actually tried to wear their ski boots (that E had carried in her pack) they might have been able to stay dry and switch back into some nice dry hiking boots for the return to the car. Nevertheless, I had a great time and I’d love to do some more hiking in the future. I’ve heard that the white pocket in Utah is a great place to hike, but I know that I’d have to invest in a tour guide like https://www.dreamlandtours.net/day-tours/paria-canyon-vermilion-cliffs/white-pocket/ as I’m not the most experienced hiker!
Since E wanted to get back home and finish up some work on Sunday without too much delay, after skiing we chose to head west and find a campsite that was on the route back to Vermont. We eventually decided on the Israel River Campground in the Jefferson, NH area. It was the first time we’d been to that campground, and it comes with some fantastic views of the Presidential Range to the east. Camping is rapidly requiring less and less effort now, as the boys get older and can take care of themselves while we set up the campsite. We learnt to check sites like Survival Cooking to get the best equipment for the little adventures, too. Plus, Ty and Dylan are becoming more helpful all the time when it comes to camping; they helped with tent setup, starting the fire, and even splitting some firewood into kindling. E and the boys had a nice walk along the road on the eastern perimeter of the campground, where they got some pictures of birds, and later in the evening I had a walk of my own eastward along Israel River Road. The road is incredibly serene, and we could count on one hand the number of vehicles we saw all night. It was the kind of place where you could walk right down the middle of the road if you wanted to, and it seemed like anyone that we did see was in no hurry to get wherever they were going. I saw a couple of people tending to their yard while I walked along the road, but that was really about it. It’s actually quite an interesting out of the way area. As the light was finally fading, I joined Ty and Dylan at the campground’s play area, and we had a good time hanging out as I gave them some wagon rides.
The Israel River Campground even has a nice Wifi setup, so I was able to pick up the Bruins playoff game to listen to it online, and also use the web to send in a weather update to AmericanWx.com. Ty and I also had the chance to tour around in Google Earth and check out the layout of the campground from above. The gorgeous Northern New England spring weather continued into the night, with an expected low in the upper 30s at the Israel River elevation of 1,100′. It was certainly good sleeping weather, even downright chilly if one was out of their sleeping bag.
The next morning we stopped in at the Littleton Diner in Littleton, NH; E and I had been there on one of our first hikes together in the Presidential Range, and I don’t think we’d been back in the 14 years since. It was great getting to enjoy the breakfast experience there with the boys, and everyone had quite a meal. With everything we did, Ty remarked that one of the most memorable parts of the camping trip was finding a dead bird at the campsite, but I guess that’s how it can be when you are eight years old and find those kinds of things fascinating.
The full report is also available with inline images on our website until this version is complete.
The Mount Washington Auto Road was finally open for business by the weekend of May 22nd – 23rd, but since E was out of town, Memorial Day weekend was our first opportunity for a ski trip. As always, weather was an important determinant in whether or not we would try to take the boys up the mountain, but as the weekend grew closer, the good forecasts continued to hold. None of the days looked like a total washout, but Saturday looked like the best bet since the NWS point forecast indicated the chance for gusts as high as 100 MPH in the higher elevations of the Presidential Range on Sunday, and Monday had higher potential for precipitation. On Friday evening we put ice packs in the freezer, charged batteries, and planned to make a final check on the forecast in the morning.
Saturday morning’s forecast still looked decent; there was a chance of precipitation in the afternoon, but winds were expected to be low with comfortable temperatures. I reserved a campsite for Saturday night, and we spent most of the morning getting things together for the trip and taking care of other stuff around the house. We finally headed out in the late morning under mostly cloudy skies, but no signs of precipitation.
Once we’d reached the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, we stopped in at the Great Glen Lodge to hit the restrooms and check on the summit weather. We were excited to see that the summit weather board indicated winds of just 4 to 12 MPH and a temperature of 50 F. Even better though, was being able to look up toward the higher elevations to the west to see blue skies. Last year’s trip featured 50 MPH winds and fog, conditions that were more amenable to playing in the strong gusts on the deck of the observatory than skiing with the boys. From our views along Routes 2 and 16, the snow up high looked less plentiful than we’ve often seen at this time of year. The level of the snowpack was potentially due to at least a couple of factors. Although there were some nice snowy storms in April and May, too many of the midwinter storms skirted off to the south of Northern New England this season, and more recently we’d seen warm, or even hot, dry weather with lots of sun. One never really knows quite what the snow situation is going to be until they get up on the mountain though, and based on the Mt. Washington web cam images, we knew there was going to be plenty of terrain to ski.
The fair weather made for an enjoyable drive up the Auto Road, and the views were stupendous as usual. We stopped in just briefly at the summit, and got an overview of the various eastern snowfields on the drive back down the road. We could see that there were plenty of options, and continued our drive down to the parking area below Ball Crag where we’d based ourselves before.
Consistent with the faster depletion of the snow this season, although potentially due to seasonal variability as well, the snowfield that we’d skied with the boys in May of 2008 was absent. But, based on the boy’s enthusiasm, along with their improved endurance and ski abilities, we were looking to hit some different snowfields this season anyway. The plan was to head up the Nelson Crag Trail for a bit as we’d done on our last ski trip to the area, and then traverse generally southward below Ball Crag to search out some snowfields that would work well for everyone.
Our equipment setup from our last Mount Washington ski trip had worked well, so we used a similar configuration with just a couple of changes. I carried the big SLR in my photo/ski pack, which is also set up well to carry multiple pairs of skis, so I carried mine as well as the boy’s. E and I simply hiked in our Telemark boots, but since the boys would be skiing in alpine ski boots, they wore their hiking boots to make their traveling much easier, and along with her skis, E carried their ski boots in her pack. The boys had their poles for hiking, and a new addition this time was that they carried their water, food, clothing, and helmets in/on their packs.
We hiked roughly two tenths of a mile up the Nelson Crag trail before breaking off and contouring southward. The boys were very mobile in their hiking boots and light packs, and they moved along at a great pace. Compared to our last ski outing on Mount Washington, Ty was much more comfortable traveling through the alpine setting; he was well ahead of the rest of the group and opted for a much higher traverse. I knew that we would eventually run into the main portion of the east snowfield if we didn’t run into any other snowfields first, but there turned out to be earlier options. Ty was the first to spot some of the bigger snowfields below us along the Upper portion of the Huntington Ravine Trail, and we planned to work our way toward those after seeing what we found ahead of us. After only about a tenth of a mile of traversing, we hit a small snowfield, and the group, which had become a bit scattered during the traverse, got back together to start the descent.
That first snowfield was moderately steep, perhaps in the 30 degree range or so. Since it was steep and rather short, the boys decided to wait until one of the bigger snowfields to start skiing. They opted to simply do some sliding on the snow. E and I mentioned that it was likely to be easier to ski than slide since they would have edges to control their descent, but they were having fun. E and I skied the snowfield, and then we all traversed over to a much larger snowfield off to the north. When we’d arrived at the initial snowfield, there had been a couple of people skiing laps on the edge of the larger snowfield below, but by the time we got there they were gone, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. In fact, they were the only people we’d seen on any of the snowfields in that area. We were surprised by the lack of people since it was Memorial Day weekend, but perhaps everyone had already done their skiing the previous weekend. The weather continued to feature interludes of sunny and cloudy periods, and although we’d seen what looked like thicker clouds and showers off to the Green Mountains in the west, no precipitation materialized in our area.
Ty and Dylan were the first to ski the larger snowfield, and it was fun to watch Dylan follow Ty through the terrain. The snowfield wasn’t quite as steep as the first one, and it was a fun experience for the boys to have the whole face to themselves with the ability to decide what route they wanted to take. The boys stopped about 2/3 of the way through the descent to wait for us, then E joined them, and I skied all the way to the bottom to get some pictures from below.
From the bottom of that snowfield we traversed north and slightly upward to another snowfield section that was connected to the first. At that point we were on the long collection of snowfields that sits above Huntington Ravine. The next section of snow didn’t provide quite as much vertical drop, but it didn’t seem like it had seen any skier traffic in quite a while, so it was extremely smooth. I made a boot ladder that was spaced well for the boys, and we hiked up to the top of that section. The boys had been happy with their earlier turns, and were most excited to play on the rocks and stairs of the Huntington Ravine Trail, so they switched back to their hiking boots and played around while E and I did a bit more skiing. Those turns were a lot of fun, and E got the time she’d been looking for that let her practice and dial in some smoother Telemark turns.
I hadn’t really been following the recent freeze thaw cycles up on Mt. Washington prior to our outing, but looking back at the Mount Washington summit weather archive, it says that the lows for the two nights before our trip were only down to 35 F, and the nights prior to that were even warmer. Apparently, once the corn is formed, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the temperatures go below freezing nightly or not in terms of maintaining quality conditions for spring skiing. We never encountered sticky, rotten, or mushy snow, just good corn with a peel away layer on the surface. I’m sure it would have been much less enjoyable for the boys if the snow had been difficult, but thinking back, I can’t recall any really tough snow in our Mount Washington outings at this time of year. Perhaps the snowpack is dense enough by this point in the season that freezing cycles aren’t as critical.
It was only a few minutes of hiking to get back to the car from there, and it really had been an efficient outing; for all the skiing we’d done, it had only required about ¾ of a mile worth of total travel. Although I’m sure Dylan was a bit tired, both boys were still bounding around on the final leg back to the car, so the distance had clearly been good for them. Just as we were about finished changing clothes and packing the gear back into the car, one of the Auto Road vans came by and let us know that he was the last one heading down. It was just about 6:00 P.M. by that point. We didn’t dawdle on the way down so that we wouldn’t hold up the final van, but there were plenty of people still out of their cars below us as we passed by, and even a pair of hikers just below our parking area that seemed to be making their final descent via the road.
After an enjoyable Auto Road descent with more fun views, we headed over to Shelburne, NH and checked in at White Birches Camping Park. We’d reserved a grassy site, and they’ve got some nice ones right on the edge of an evergreen forested area that contains access to the Shelburne Basin Trails. The evening’s burgers were some of the best in a while, and there were no complaints from me when Ty couldn’t quite polish his off burger or sausage.
In the morning, we had some breakfast and broke camp, then the boys went off with E for a while to go swimming and play on the campground’s equipment while I worked on repacking the gear. The weather was still nice, so we decided to take a circuitous route home and see some sights. We headed back to Gorham, then north along the Androscoggin through Berlin, past Umbagog Lake, and up to Lake Aziscohos. North of Berlin, we were certainly in the land of lakes, loons and logs; houses seemed just as likely to have a loaded logging truck in their yard as anything else. Between the abundance of big rivers, dams, and lakes, it’s quite a water paradise. We saw several groups of flat water and whitewater boats, and lots of fly fishing taking place. At Aziscohos we were getting close to the Saddleback/Sugarloaf zone, although we didn’t head quite that far into Maine.
After lunch at the picnic area on the south shore of Aziscohos, we headed west through Dixville Notch and got to take in its impressive craggy views. We also stopped in to check out The Balsams Resort Hotel and The Balsams Wilderness Ski Area, which we’d never visited before. The ski area isn’t huge, offering just over 1,000 feet of vertical, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s very much the type of ski area we enjoy. Akin to some of our favorite local ski areas like Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana and Bolton Valley in Vermont, it’s got low skier traffic, low speed lifts to keep it that way, and decent snowfall. Wilderness doesn’t quite get the 300+ inches of annual snowfall that Bolton and Lost Trail do, but knowing the snow trends for northernmost New Hampshire, I suspect they do decently on snow preservation like Saddleback and Sugarloaf. Based on an article I found by David Shedd on easternslopes.com[SJ2] , it sounds like minimal skier traffic helps out in maintaining the powder and general snow quality as well. The 1,000 feet of vertical at Wilderness is said to be nicely sustained, with no runouts, and that was definitely the impression we had when we drove to the bottom of the lifts and looked around. E and I have been thinking it would be nice to do a ski trip coupling Wilderness, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf together. Of the three areas, we’ve only been to Sugarloaf, and only in the spring. It’s usually hard to leave Northern Vermont’s snow during the middle of the ski season, but a good time to go east would be when one of those storm cycles comes through that focuses on Northern New Hampshire and Western Maine.
We got back into Vermont in the far northeast part of the Kingdom, and took the northerly route to I-91 along the Canadian border past Wallace Pond. It’s not a huge body of water, and it was fun pointing out to the boys that the houses just a couple hundred yards away on the other side of it were actually in Canada. We also passed Great Averill Pond, Norton Pond, and finally Seymour Lake, where we stopped for a few minutes. We went through Derby, but didn’t quite get up to Derby Line to show the boys how the library/opera house is split by the international border. At some point we will have to get them up there. Once on I-91, we were pretty quickly back in our own neck of the woods, and I’d say one of the more surprising things that we discovered was how close Balsams Wilderness Ski Area is to our location. Being so far north in New Hampshire, and mentioned so infrequently, it seemed to be on another planet. But, barring horrible road conditions, it should only be two to three hours from Waterbury. After our visit to the area, it has certainly moved up higher on my hit list.
Below I’ve added a web cam image of the east side of Mt. Washington from last weekend, showing the various areas of snow that were present at the time. The longest runs up near the summit still seemed to be off the main east snowfield that we didn’t visit. We haven’t had any of the hot temperatures that we had the week before our visit, and things have been much more seasonable, so there should still be some decent easy access skiing up there at this point.