Bolton Valley, VT 20APR2018

An image of Erica skiing the Alta Vista trail in fresh April powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Alta Vista trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Our latest April storm brought another heaping helping of midwinter powder to the slopes of Bolton Valley.

April temperatures have been running several degrees below average here in Northern Vermont, and for those awaiting warmth, the winter weather must feel simply interminable.  Some of us don’t have a whisper of complaint though, since we know when we’ve got a good thing going.  While average April temperatures around here can bring snow, below average temperatures typically bring more snow, drier snow, and preserve the snowpack.  With the approach of the current storm, the National Weather Service in Burlington was already talking about the potential for the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake to get back up to 100 inches, and as of this evening’s co-op report, indeed it’s there.  The snowpack is essentially wall-to-wall everywhere in the local mountains here, so topping that off with fresh powder is a recipe for some awesome skiing and riding.

“Well let’s just say, the turns were fantastic – we had medium to moderately dense midwinter powder covering everything, temperatures near 30 F, and an almost fully untracked resort to ski.”

It’s spring vacation week for E and the boys, so E was able to join me this morning for a tour in the new snow up at Bolton Valley.  We’ve had substantial accumulations of snow all the way to the valley floors with this latest storm, so I knew the potential was there for some dry, winter-style snow up at elevation.  We headed out this morning amidst light snow at the house, and arrived in the Bolton Valley Village to steady snow and temperatures in the upper 20s F.  A quick check on the new snow in the parking lot around 2,000’ revealed accumulations of 5 to 6 inches.

We started skinning right from the car up the Lower Turnpike ascent route, and found a decent skin track in place with just a couple inches of additional snow in it.  We eventually worked our way over toward Vista and the depth of the new snow continued to steadily increase with elevation.  By the time we topped out above 3,000’ on Alta Vista, my depth checks on the powder were revealing 10 to 11 inches.  We de-skinned by the trees out of the wind, and E was pretty slick with her ski-on skin removal.

An image looking up the Alta Vista trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont with a fresh coating of April powder
Looking up Alta Vista with a fresh blanket of white
An image of Erica skiing powder near the Vista Summit at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E throwing around some of today’s powder at Bolton Valley.

On the entire ascent the snow quality was looking really good, but you never quite know how things are going to ski until you drop.  Well let’s just say, the turns were fantastic – we had medium to moderately dense midwinter powder covering everything, temperatures near 30 F, and an almost fully untracked resort to ski.  Wind effects were pretty minimal on much of the mountain so it really was a dense, velvety resurfacing that skied like a dream.  It’s definitely a good time to get out there and enjoy those uncrowded slopes with all this new snow.

An image of a Sonar Blue lens for Anon M2 GoglesWith the continuing snowfall during today’s tour, I went with our Sonar Blue lenses for my Anon M2 Goggles.  They’ve got 46% visible light transmission and are recommended for graybird days and tree skiing, but they were definitely a good fit for today even with snowfall since we’re talking late-April light.

In an update from this afternoon, eyewall noted that he encountered about 7 inches of new snow at the Bolton Valley Village elevation, so it sounds like they’d picked up another inch or two with the additional snow since E and I had left.  That would put accumulations near the summits around a foot, so it’s definitely been a nice April event for the mountains around here.

An image of a tractor with snow in Richmond Vermont after an April snowstorm
Enjoying the snowy April views from the valley – cool temperatures have brought snow accumulations all the way to the valley bottoms with this latest storm.

Bolton Valley, VT 07APR2018

An image of Ty skiing in the Wilderness Woods area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty skiing the Cougar trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A bit of snow fell yesterday and overnight to freshen up the slopes at Bolton Valley.

A modest winter storm came into the area on Friday and left up to 8 inches of new snow at the Vermont ski areasBolton Valley was reporting 3 inches up top, which seemed like a fairly minimal covering over the base snow that’s seen plenty of spring cycling, but we figured it was worth heading up for a couple of runs to see how the accumulations had settled in.  Sometimes 3 inches can ski like 3 inches, or sometimes it can ski like more, depending on how it was distributed and how densely it settled.

Ty and I headed up fairly early to find bright April sun among some on and off clouds, and temperatures in the upper 20s F.  We took an initial run on the Snowflake Chair to make our way over to the Vista Quad, and while we found the groomed terrain was skiing nicely, we didn’t really find that the snow was enough to get the skiing shaped up off piste, at least down there below the 2,500’ mark.

An image from the base of the Snowflake Chair at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Base of the Snowflake Chair

We still wanted to check out how accumulations had played out at the Vista Summit up above 3,000’, and Alta Vista revealed a few good turns off the usual protected left side, but they were in the minority.  We headed over toward Wilderness and did find some nice turns in the Wilderness Woods, but as Ty nicely put it, “You just couldn’t trust it on every turn”.  Indeed you could get a few nice turns on low angle terrain, but then you’d run into a spot that had been hit by the wind and you’d be back to contacting the hard spring surface below.

“I actually had some of my best turns of the day on the left side of Cougar, where several inches of new snow had settled in.”

The opening of the Wilderness Lift had been delayed a bit due to winds, but it had recently opened as we approached the bottom, so we figured it was worth at least one trip.  It was running slow due to winds though, so we dropped off at the mid station and headed down Cougar.  I actually had some of my best turns of the day on the left side of Cougar, where several inches of new snow had settled in.  We had first tracks on the lower part of Cougar as well, and where the snow was undisturbed by the wind the turns were quite nice.  We finished off dropping in and out of the Wilderness Woods, and for some reason, (perhaps the bright sunlight, or perhaps the deep spring snowpack?) they just seemed very open and smooth everywhere.  There were very few tracks in there, so we had our pick of fresh lines.  You still couldn’t “trust” every turn, just as Ty had said earlier, but we definitely had some good smooth lines through the trees in many spots.

An image showing a Sonar Silver lens for Anon's M2 gogglesIn line with the bright April sun, Ty and I both had a chance to try out the Sonar Silver lens for the Anon M2 Goggles.  It only lets through 6% of the visible light, so it’s even darker than the Sonar Red lens that we’d used last weekend at Magic Mountain, which lets through 14% of the visible light.  We swapped between the two actually, but you could definitely notice the difference – you could easily look toward the sun with the Sonar Silver lens and not be too strained, and I can see it’s going to be another great one for these types of bright, late season days.

“…Bolton Valley is going to open back up for a couple more bonus days of skiing.”

We finished off with a trip to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to grab some subs, and it was around lunchtime, so a crowd was building.  Although temperatures were wintry today, and there was some wind, that April sunshine easily warmed you up and you could see that folks were generally quite comfortable out there on the slopes.  It looks like temperatures will be warming up next week for some spring skiing, and Bolton Valley is going to open back up for a couple more bonus days of skiing.  From what I can see in some of the weather models, we may not be quite done with snowfall in the mountains yet either.

Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 25MAR2018

An image of Jonah skiing Mt. Mansfield below the Hourglass Chute with the Mt. Mansfield Adam's Apple in the background
An image of Robbie, Dylan, Wiley, and Ty getting set to descend the Hourglass Chute above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Robbie, Dylan, Wiley, and Ty are poised in the steep upper section of Mt. Mansfield’s Hourglass Chute as they get set to drop in on their first descents of this famed run in the alpine terrain above Stowe Mountain Resort.

Thanks to Winter Storm Skylar, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit the 100-inch mark around the middle of the month.  When the snowpack starts getting that deep up there, it’s time to really think about heading above tree line into the alpine, because everything is filled in and the skiing really gets good.  While last Sunday’s weather in the higher elevations was frigid, with wind chills well below zero F at the summits, today’s forecast with minimal winds and temperatures in the 20s F was looking perfect for some above tree line adventures on Mt. Mansfield.  With the weather looking good, my only remaining concern was how much spring cycling the alpine snow had seen in the recent stretch of sunny days we’ve had around here.  Either way though, that wasn’t going to be a deal breaker, so I had E inform any interested students and coaches from our BJAMS ski program that we’d plan to hike up above Stowe’s terrain into Mt. Mansfield’s alpine for our Sunday afternoon session.

An image of Dylan ascending the Climbing Gully in Mt. Mansfield's alpine terrain above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan heads up toward the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline and The Chin under sunny skies as he ascends the boot ladder in the Climbing Gully.

We ultimately had a crew of eight for today’s alpine adventures, with our usual suspects from my group along with Jonah and his brother and dad, who was willing to make the trip with the boys even though he’s got one injured arm in a sling!  As soon as program started in the afternoon, we headed right up to the Climbing Gully and found an excellent boot pack in place.  With some pretty decent southern exposure, the snow in the Climbing Gully had softened in the sun and sat somewhere between winter and spring consistency.  Once we hit the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline though, the consistency of snow was all winter, and that allayed at least some of my fears about the consistency of the snow above tree line.  You could feel the nice cool breeze along the ridgeline doing its job to keep the snow from baking in the late March sun, and I knew that any terrain without strong southern exposure up in the alpine was going to be in fine midwinter form.  The views were stupendous, so we took a few minutes to enjoy the scene and fuel up.  Ty had been silly and not eaten much in the morning, so he’d been bonking on the climb up the Climbing Gully.  I made him quickly have a couple packets of GU around the middle of the ascent, and then I told him to get at least one granola bar into him on the ridge to make sure he’d have enough in the tank for the rest of the tour.

An image of Josh taking a photo of Agi and Jonah on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline during an ascent to the Chin of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont
Josh snaps a photo of Agi and Jonah as today’s ski groups takes a break on our ascent to the Chin to enjoy the views from the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline.

“Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency.”

After our ridgeline break, we headed up to The Chin, and I first checked out the condition of Profanity Chute, which was my initial plan for today’s descent.  Profanity was loaded with snow, and up at those elevations, even south-facing terrain had a surface that was a chalky midwinter consistency.  I knew from Powderfreak’s pictures and comments that Winter Storm Skylar had really dropped a ton of liquid equivalent on the mountain and filled everything in, but it’s still most impressive to see it firsthand.  Even more impressive to me than how filled in Profanity was, was just how plastered all the usual windswept areas of the summit were.  The Chin is so exposed to the wind that it’s more typical to see a mix of rocks and snow vs., the area being covered wall-to-wall in white, but that’s how it’s been since Winter Storm Skylar.  People were even skinning all the way to the summit, which you’ll only see when you get a storm of plentiful, dense snow that really covers all the rocks.

“From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat.”

While the group congregated at the summit, I also took a look down at Hourglass Chute, and I was very impressed with what I saw.  The snow quality and coverage looked excellent.  Hourglass is narrower and steeper than Profanity, and I’ve never brought to boys down it, but it was starting to look like today might be the day.  It was hard to pass up the great aesthetic look of Profanity with the current snowpack, but the boys have now skied it a number of times, and after surveying everyone to see who was interested, the boys were definitely game to give Hourglass a shot.  Looking down on Hourglass from above, it’s a pretty intimidating view with plenty of exposure.  From what I can find in the SkiVT-L archives, where Stephanie McConaughy reported measuring the slope of Hourglass, the pitch tops out around 50 degrees at the throat.  That’s a pretty impressive pitch wherever you are, and with the apparent exposure of the chute from above, I was sort of dumbfounded that none of the boys even gave it a second thought.  Jonah, Wiley, Robbie, Ty, and Dylan were all simply ready to jump right in, and they seemed confused as to why I was even making a big point to thoroughly confirm that everyone was on board.  I was worried that it might just be ignorance on their part, but they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink, so it is what it is I guess.

An image looking down Hourglass Chute at the top of Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A look down Hourglass Chute from above as Robbie just finishes passing through the throat onto the apron below

I dropped down above the throat of the chute (Hourglass is so named because of the relatively open upper headwall and apron areas, with a tight, rock-lined middle section) and set up for some photography of the boys.  I had the wide-angle Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM on my camera body at that point, and the spot I was in was a bit too steep to comfortably change it out, so I ended up sticking with it.  Even at 22 mm it was too wide to really get nice shots of the boys going through the throat of the chute, but I did give a nice side-angle shot of everyone above the chute as they waited, and you can get a good idea of the pitch of the slope.  Everyone ultimately did fine skiing the chute, although Dylan did take a tumble at the end of the throat as he was doing a jump turn, and I heard that Jonah also had a tumble down there.  Fortunately, even with that steep pitch, it’s still not “No Fall Zone” terrain with the decent snow conditions we had.  I saw Dylan slide headfirst for a time after his fall, and Ty was below ready to help him arrest, but he’d stopped before that point.  Anyway, everyone seemed to have a great time skiing Hourglass, and all the snow was a fantastic midwinter consistency.  Even after skiing it, none of them seemed to feel that it was a very big deal, so I guess I was much more impressed with how they did than any of them.

“…they stood there right atop the chute with a clear view of everything and didn’t even blink…”

We caught some steeps along the apron, managing our descent as much as possible to make for an easy cruise over toward and around the Adam’s Apple to catch the Hell Brook Trail.  The Hell Brook Trail was in its usual state for this time of year, with terrain exposed to the south/sun getting crunchier and crunchier as one descended in altitude, but the sheltered snow on the skier’s right of the gully was continually fantastic.  The whole area is really loaded with snow now, and in conversations with Ty and Dylan during the descent, we all really loved those steep, open faces on the south side of the gully that held the protected winter snow.  Although he’d skied Hourglass beautifully, Ty was feeling off his game and heavy on his feet in the tighter sections of the Hell Brook gully (probably because of not initially fueling up properly), so he was really enjoying those more open areas that didn’t have any moguls.

An image of Robbie on a snow-covered Route 108 near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont as he returns to the ski area after descending the Hell Brook Trail from the Chin of Mt. Mansfield
You’re not going to break any speed limits returning to the resort from the bottom of the Hell Brook Trail on a snowboard, but we saw plenty of people like Robbie making it work.

The ski out was relatively quick because the snow wasn’t sticky at all, although I hadn’t noticed that Wiley and Robbie had chosen a route without a good bridge across the final stream, so they had to take some time working their way through the lower woods to find a good crossing.  Robbie was of course a trooper doing the whole thing on his snowboard, both above and below the Hell Brook Trail there are plenty of spots that are no big deal on skis, but can be a headache on a board.  Down there on Route 108 it totally felt like spring, with lots of sunshine, and winter recreationalists out enjoying any manner of snow and ice travel.  I’d had a lot of fun on today’s outing because I guess it’s been about 20 years since I last skied Hourglass Chute.  Hopefully it won’t be so long before I get to do that again!

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont and the Mt. Mansfield Chin featuring Hourglass Chute and the Hell Brook Trail
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for today’s ski tour at Stowe Mountain Resort and the Mt. Mansfield Chin featuring Hourglass Chute and the Hell Brook Trail

Both Dylan and I got to try out our new Anon M2 Goggles, the same model of goggles that Ty got at Christmas with the magnetic interchangeable lenses.  Dylan and I were both in need of new goggle for various reasons, and it seemed like a no brainer to get the same model that Ty has to be able to quickly share all the lenses between us.  We even got a few extra lenses for various conditions – we’ll just have to be good about not fighting over them! 

an image of Ty, Jay, and Dylan wearing Anon M2 goggles with various lenses with the trails of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont in the background
Dad and Dylan joining Ty as they try out their new Anon M2 goggles today!

By the time we got back to Spruce Camp, the program session was just about over.  I do like that a typical hike to The Chin with a Hell Brook run is just about perfect for one of our afternoon program sessions, since everyone is pretty cooked by the end anyway between the hike in and the traverse out.  Ty was famished, so we headed up to the Great Room Grill for some food with Mom, and Ty got one of their huge burgers.  He devoured it, not surprisingly, and E and had time to remind him not to try pulling ski outings like that on a nearly empty stomach.  There’s nothing quite like a hearty meal after being famished from a good winter tour, but you have to know your metabolism and where the empty line is on your tank or you can easily get into trouble before you get to that next feast.

Woodward Mountain Trail, VT 18MAR2018

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail in the Bolton Valley backcountry
An image of ski turns in powder snow along the Woodward Mountain Trail in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Powder turns today during explorations in the lower elevations of the Woodward Mountain Trail

Wind chills were forecast to approach -30 F today on the upper elevations of Mt. Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort, so E did a “soft cancel” of our BJAMS ski program.  The program was still on, and families could go if they wanted to, but no coaches were required to go, and students wouldn’t have to deal with those potentially frigid temperatures.

Although I was glad to not have to battle the nasty wind chills up in the higher elevations, it was still a gorgeous late-winter day out there, so I thought about heading out for a ski tour on something local, relatively low elevation, and sheltered from the wind.  Eventually, an exploration of the lower elevations of the Woodward Mountain Trail came to mind.  The base of the trail is just a couple miles from our house in Waterbury, and with the healthy snowpack that extends all the way to the bottom of the local mountain valleys, the ski conditions there should be outstanding.

The Woodward Mountain Trail is quite a route, running six miles and dropping over 2,500 vertical feet in elevation.  The traditional way to ski the trail is to spot a car at the VAST parking area (450’) at the bottom on Little River Road near the Waterbury Reservoir, then drive up to Bolton Valley Resort and use the Vista Quad to get to the top of Vista Peak (3,150’).  From there, you ski southward along the ridge between Vista Peak and Woodward Mountain, before descending eastward off the flanks of Woodward Mountain itself down to Little River Road in the Waterbury Reservoir and Little River State Park area.  I’ve skied the upper elevations of the trail before, but I’ve heard route finding for the ending (and middle for that matter) portions of the trail can get a bit tricky.  At some point it would be great to get family and friends together for a full run of the trail, so my goal with today’s outing was to orient myself to the twists and turns at the bottom of the trail to hopefully make that experience a bit more efficient.  And with the great snowpack and plenty of powder out there, I hoped to get in some good turns in the process.

“…my goal with today’s outing was to orient myself to the twists and turns at the bottom of the trail to hopefully make that experience a bit more efficient.”

I used my copy of David Goodman’s classing backcountry guidebook “Backcountry Skiing Adventures:  Vermont and New York” to get myself oriented with respect to the lower regions of the route.  His book has a nice description of where to park, as well as a topographic map with the route outlined.  The guide is excellent, with just one problem in my case – the guide is built for following the trail down, so it’s not perfect for guiding you up from the base of the trail if you want to try that approach.  In any event, with the map from the guidebook and my GPS in hand, I knew I’d be able to orient myself reasonably well to what the bottom of the trail held in store, and I’d always be able to come back again if necessary on a future trip with my own first experience in hand.

Temperatures were probably around 20 F when I parked at the VAST lot on the west side of Little River Road.  There were a few cars there, most with snowmobile trailers of course, although one car looked like it might be backcountry skiers waiting to pick someone up.  Starting from the parking lot, you’re immediately on the VAST trail, and it climbs a steep pitch before leveling out and going through some fields along the power line leading up to the dam.  It was easy to see from the map in the guidebook that this part of the trail is a bit circuitous – you’re doing a big loop that doesn’t immediately bring you toward the rest of the Woodward Mountain Trail.  This is due to the layout of the VAST trails, but with the topography of the ridges, valleys and streams down there, you’d probably just waste a ton of time trying to break trail through the snow if you wanted to follow more direct route from the parking area anyway.  It’s hard to put a price on having a packed, well-marked trail to get you through the backcountry, even if the route is a bit indirect.  The energy-saving and route-finding efficiency of having an established packed trail are simply huge.   I was a bit dismayed to find that there was one fairly substantial downhill section (which of course means uphill on the way out) on the route in.  I’m talking about a substantial enough slope that you’re likely going to have to take off your skis and walk, or put your skins on to deal with it.

After 0.9 miles on the well-packed VAST trail, I came to a T junction.  The trail I was intersecting was part of the VAST system, but it was also a road, Woodard Hill Road.  It had actually been groomed (and apparently even plowed) down in that area, so the snow cover was a bit thin in spots.  I headed upward and to the right on Woodard Hill Road, which was the obvious route to take based on the guidebook map.  I passed a couple of hunting camps on the left, and eventually at 1.75 miles into the route I came to a gate that seems to be the one indicated on David Goodman’s route.  This is where the utility of the map in his guidebook broke down a bit for the ascent.  His route appears to be shown passing through the gate, but it’s also shown staying to the south of the main drainage in that area.  If you go through that gate, you’re crossing a bridge to the northerly side of that drainage, so those two pieces of information don’t line up.  On the south side of the drainage there is a clearing that had seen some snowmobile activity, but I didn’t see any obvious ski tracks coming down from there to suggest it was near the Woodward Mountain Trail.

An image of a hunting camp along Woodard Hill Road along the route for the Woodward Mountain backcountry ski trail near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
One of the hunting camps seen during my ski tour along Woodard Hill Road

I decided to play it safe on my first look and simply follow the VAST trail through the gate to see if any obvious trails branched off from it.  The “safe” aspect of this choice was that I could continue to follow a well-packed, well-marked trail for a while, wherever it was going to take me.  At 2.65 miles and an elevation of ~1,750’, I hit the local peak of that VAST trail and hadn’t seen any obvious trails converging on it, so it was time to see what potential the clearing on the other side of the drainage held.  I de-skinned and switched to descent mode, and actually had some fun turns in the terrain off the sides of the VAST trail. 

“At the very start of my tour down around 450’, the powder was generally 8 to 12 inches deep, but up in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range where I topped out it was in excess of 20 inches deep. So there were a lot of good turns today at all elevations.”

Coming back down to the gate and bridge area, I headed up into the clearing and could see what had to be the outlet of the Woodward Mountain Trail.  The clearing was full of powder, and the reason I hadn’t seen any ski tracks coming out among the snowmobile tracks was simply due to the fact that the last person to use the trail had done so before our recent bout of snowfall had stopped.  Once I looked up the trail, I could see that there was an obvious ski/skin track.  I put my skins back on and started up the trail.  Fortunately, only about 6 to 7 inches of light fluffy snow had accumulated since the last person’s track, so breaking trail wasn’t really too much of a chore.  I ascended for a bit within what my schedule allowed, and then had a nice ski back down that section of the trail with some smooth powder turns.

Back at the VAST trails, I descended until I hit the VAST stop sign at the junction of the final leg back to the parking lot.  I was reading Ski Maven’s report of her trip on the Woodward Mountain Trail, and it sounds like her group went right through this junction, which left them at the base of Woodard Hill Road about a mile from the parking lot where they had spotted their car.  This meant that they had to walk that distance back on Little River Road to get to where they’d parked.  Froom that VAST trail junction though, it’s really a short downhill jaunt (just a couple tenths of a mile) to get to the base of Woodard Hill Road.  This would actually be a much better place to park a car for finishing the Woodward Mountain Trail.  Unfortunately, there’s not the expansive VAST parking area that you get following the other route, but I’ve seen cars parked down at the base of Woodard Hill Road, and I’m sure that’s why.  I can tell you, having returned the 0.9 miles to the main parking lot on my tour today via the standard route in the guidebook, with its one substantial uphill and extensive flat sections, that continuing down on Woodard Hill Road would be tremendously more fun and efficient.  It shortens the travel at the end of the route by almost a mile, and it’s all downhill.  Even if parking isn’t available at the bottom of Woodard Hill Road, and you had to park at the VAST lot, you could still have everyone in your party continue that way and have one strong member follow the regular route and pick the rest of the party up at the road.  It would honestly give people a much more enjoyable finish to their tour.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail in the Bolton Valley backcountry
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data showing today’s tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail

At the very start of my tour down around 450’, the powder was generally 8 to 12 inches deep, but up in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range where I topped out it was in excess of 20 inches deep.  So there were a lot of good turns today at all elevations.  At some point I’d like to get to the middle portions of the Woodward Mountain Trail, but I’ve now learned a lot about the layout of the upper and lower sections, and would definitely feel comfortable guiding people in those areas.  The middle portion of the route is supposed to have a lot of fun glades though, so I can’t wait to check those out.

Bolton Valley, VT 15MAR2018

An image of the Ski Barn with new snow on the Bolton Valley Access Road near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Dave skiing powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Winter Storm Skylar just continues to churn out the snow in the Northern Greens, so Dave stayed around for some additional powder fun today at Bolton Valley

Being in the midst of this impressive storm cycle here in Northern Vermont, Dave decided to stick around for a bit more skiing today.  We’d had an absolutely fantastic outing at Stowe yesterday with the family, and today the goal was to visit Bolton Valley for some runs.  Like other local resorts, Bolton has been putting up some impressive snowfall numbers in the past several days, with 42 inches in the past 48 hours, and 62 inches in the past week.  Another interesting note was that the Timberline Quad was slated to open today at 10:00 A.M. – for the first time this week.  That had us intrigued.

“Like other local resorts, Bolton has been putting up some impressive snowfall numbers in the past several days, with 42 inches in the past 48 hours, and 62 inches in the past week.”

Although it was calm down at the house with huge fluffy flakes falling from the sky, I was definitely concerned about lift operations on the mountain with the anticipated winds.  Dave had checked the snow report as we were heading out, and there was no note of any lift issues, but once we got up to the resort we found that the Vista Quad was on wind hold.  The Timberline opening looked delayed about a half hour due to the time required to remove all the new snow from the lift terminals, but we were able to keep ourselves busy with some runs off the Snowflake and Mid Mountain chairs while we waited.  The mountain had indeed picked up another good shot of snow overnight, but it was notably denser than what we were skiing yesterday at Stowe.  You were still getting down in the powder to some degree, but you were definitely skiing much more “on” it at times as well.

An image of Dave skiing in the Lost Girlz area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dave working his way through the upper section of Lost Girlz as Winter Storm Skylar has finally put enough snow in there to provide good conditions.

When it was time to head over to Timberline, we caught first tracks on Tattle Tale.  Indeed the new snow was dense, but it was a lot of fun planing our way down through the untracked expanse of white.  Dave was definitely excited to get some of that feel today at Bolton, vs. the much busier slopes of Stowe from yesterday.  We spent the rest of the morning there, hitting lots of other favorites like Spell Binder, Brandywine, Adam’s Solitude, Lost Boyz, Lost Girlz, etc.  We headed back to the main mountain a bit after noon, and I headed out, but Dave was planning on a few more runs before heading on his trip back to Boston.

An image of a house with fluffy snow accumulations along the Bolton Valley Access Road near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Down in the sheltered areas along the Bolton Valley Access Road there were some nice snowy scenes

I got home to a driveway which needed to be cleared with the snow thrower again, after just having cleared it late yesterday evening.  We’ve passed two feet of accumulation now with Winter Storm Skylar here at the house, and it just keeps snowing.  We’re looking at some potentially great conditions continuing right into the weekend with snow showers around in the mountains.

Stowe, VT 14MAR2018

An image of Dave and Erica near the Over Easy Gondola in the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan skiing deep powder after Winter Storm Skylar at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
As Dylan demonstrates, there was a lot of white room action today at Stowe as Dave joined the family to ski the bounty of Winter Story Skylar

With so much potential snowfall on the horizon, Dave sent us a text on Sunday inquiring about the best days to come up for some skiing in Northern Vermont this week.  The forecast was still a bit up in the air at that point, but by Monday he was set to go, and just needed to decide on when to come up.  He ultimately decided to make his drive on Tuesday evening, once Winter Storm Skylar was pulling away from Southern New England.  He battled his way up from Boston, having a slow go of it during the first hour, but quickly found himself cruising along as the only one on the road.

“Depth checks around the mountain revealed roughly 20 inches of powder at a minimum, with many areas at 30+ inches.”

We didn’t know until this morning that E and the boys would have a snow day, but once we knew, the plan was secured for all of us to head to Stowe together.  That meant that we’d want to get on the road pretty early, since when it comes to Stowe and its fast lifts and ravenous powder hounds, one definitely needs to be an early bird to get the worm.  That meant we’d have to get the boys up and motivated.   Dave hasn’t been up in a while, so when he saw Ty in bed this morning, the exchange went as follows:

Dave:  “Do you remember me?”
Ty:  “Yes.”
Dave: “Good… get up.”
That’s classic Dave, and we LOLed about that exchange all day.

We were indeed able to get the boys motivated for an early start, and got to the mountain with no travel problems.  We had a quick breakfast at the Mansfield Base Lodge, and headed right up to the Fourrunner Quad.  Within a half hour of lift opening, the trails, and even the glades off the quad had been devoured.  The skiing was of course still fantastic, but if you wanted untracked lines of any length, you were already having to head for those more obscure spots.  We all had a tremendous time in the Tres Amigos Glades, highlighted by the boys dropping whatever ledges and cliffs they could find with powder below.  And indeed it was that kind of day where you could launch just about anything you wanted.  Dave really found his groove when we hit the Nosedive Glades, and had a blast.

We moved over to the Gondola so the five of us could ride the lift together as a group, and had a great couple of runs on Waterfall, Perry Merrill, and surrounding environs.  Whether we were on piste or off, the conditions were simply ridiculous.  On piste it was bottomless chowder and packed powder, and off piste it was waist deep powder.  Ty and I took the crew to an area we’ve nicknamed “Stella”, because we discovered it during our Winter Storm Stella outing and delivered such great lines of steep and deep powder.

An image of Dave skiing waist deep powder at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dave definitely catching the powder day he’s been seeking today

We had a nice lunch at the Great Room Grill, and since we were over at Spruce Peak we decided to take Dave on some runs there.  What a great decision that was!    Spruce Peak served up tons of untracked powder in all our favorite locales off Sunny Spruce and Sensation.  Let’s just say, the skiing was so good that we spent the rest of the day there.  Dylan said he really had fun skiing with today’s “crew”.

An image of the depth of the powder in the Ridge Glades area at Stowe Mountain ResortIn terms of overall snow, I believe the resort was reporting a storm total of 18 inches, but it snowed throughout the day and there was already much more powder than that available from previous storms.  Depth checks around the mountain revealed roughly 20 inches of powder at a minimum, with many areas at 30+ inches.  We’ve still got snow falling here at the house this evening, so the resorts should be reporting additional accumulations by tomorrow morning.  It’s interesting to note that we’re once again at the “S” winter storm of the alphabet with Winter Storm Skylar, just as we were last year around this time with Winter Storm Stella.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 13MAR2018

An image of Stephen dropping off Heavenly Highway into some powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Stephen skiing powder in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen enjoying some of the great snow out there in the Bolton Valley backcountry today

Today was a big ski day for Stephen.  He’s been working hard, for what seems like years, to put together an appropriate alpine touring setup for backcountry skiing at a reasonable price.  Over the past few months, the final pieces have finally been coming together.  Despite his son Johannes “stealing” critical pieces of what appeared to be his final setup, the gear swapping, shop visits, adjustments, readjustments, and everything else that tried to get in the way, was eventually settled.  All that remained was finding a day in his busy schedule to actually use his fancy gear.  Today was that day, and the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network was the place.

An image out the window of the Bryant Cabin showing icicles in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe got a fairly early start to give us plenty of time for a tour of whatever length we chose, I figured I’d give Stephen a good introduction to some of my favorite parts of the network that he’d never visited.  We’d be able to adapt the length of the tour as needed to fit energy levels and any equipment issues.  Snowfall from Winter Storm Skylar was just getting started as we began our tour from the sports center, and it intensified on our ascent of the Bryant Trail.  We saw only one other person on our ascent, and with the Bryant Cabin vacant, we were able to check out the upgrades that had been done as we took a quick break.  Clearly the cabin has seen some recent use, because the icicles draped down from the roof were some of the largest I’ve ever seen.

The next leg of our journey took us up to “The Glades” above the Catamount Trail, where we stopped our ascent around 3,100’.  Although the storm occasionally brought us some slightly larger flakes, they were for the most part small, with diameters in the 1 to 2 mm range.  This meant that the new snow was fairly dense, and it was covering everything underneath it quite well.  We continued down into the Cotton Brook Glades on Randy’s and Great White Way, and found some impressive untracked lines.  Stephen had a few good explosions in the powder, but he seemed thankful for most of them as they helped cool him down after the long ascent.  Those steep, tight sections on Randy’s were certainly the most challenging, but Stephen had some of his best turns down in the mellower pitches of Great White Way.  I find that those lower angle areas are some of my favorites as well unless you’ve just picked up two feet of fluff and really need the steeper pitch.

The ascent up from the back side was quite a labor at times.  It’s always tough skinning out in a few spots of that Cotton Brook ascent.  It’s just steep and narrow near the bottom of Randy’s, and there’s no way around it, so you have to try your best to set in switchbacks.  We were fortunate to have use of the old skin track that’s in place, but we were slipping on the steepest pitches.  Stephen was definitely feeling it as he’d take one step forward and what felt like 10 steps back, especially as he was getting used his very first day on his skins, but we made it through that struggle and the pitch of the ascent improved dramatically.  When we cut Stephen’s skins for his skis at full width, I was telling him how I considered that approach a “no brainer” vs. going with anything narrower, and after today’s ascent up from the Cotton Brook area I know he agrees 100%.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a tour in the backcountry at Bolton  Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS tracking data for today’s tour into the Bolton Valley backcountry

We finished off the tour with a line below Heavenly Highway down to Bryant Cabin, then on to Gardiner’s Lane and JJ’s, which delivered one of the best runs I’ve had there.  We’d certainly accumulated a few fresh inches of snow from the storm by that point, which helped make the skiing extra soft.  The Telemark Practice Slope was also aided by all the new snow, and made a nice end to the tour.  Actually, the tour wasn’t quite over at that point because we added on one of the most important parts:  sandwiches at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery.  We even got to chat with Ralph Deslauriers while we were there, and naturally one of the topics of conversation was the very snowy week we’ve got to look forward to.  It sounds like Winter Storm Skylar is going to move up into Northern Maine and wrap some of that abundant Atlantic moisture into the Northern Greens, just like the way things happened last week after Winter Storm Quinn!

Stowe, VT 11MAR2018

An image of Dylan jumping into powder at Stowe Mountain Resort
An image of Wiley skiing powder in the Hazelton Zone at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Wiley rips down a line in the Hazelton Zone today at Stowe as we finally had the conditions to get our BJAMS ski group out into some exciting off piste terrain.

We’ve really been waiting all season to get some quality midwinter base depths and top notch surface snow conditions to line up for our BJAMS Sunday ski program at StoweWe had a decent stretch back in the first half of February, but it didn’t quite hit the level of quality that we got today.  Conditions are stellar because we recently picked up more than a foot of snow from Winter Storm Quinn, and then overnight the mountain upslope snow event brought close to another foot to the resort.

An image of Robbie snowboarding at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Robbie blasts through a line during our day’s adventures at Stowe

We actually had most of our regular ski group today, and with the conditions on hand I decided that we should head for some of that exciting terrain that we just haven’t been able to visit yet this season.  We kicked things off with a run on Ravine, although Bob’s foot was acting up so he had to bow out at that point.  The conditions on Ravine are great, and base depths are more than sufficient, although you can tell the base isn’t quite up at normal levels for this time of year based on the look of some of the bigger obstacles.

“Conditions are stellar because we recently picked up more than a foot of snow from Winter Storm Quinn, and then overnight the mountain upslope snow event brought close to another foot to the resort.”

An image of Dylan covered in snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontWe had a fantastic run starting on the Kitchen Wall, with some very powdery lines in the trees below, and we just kept diving into every section of woods that presented itself until we finally would up in the Hazelton Zone.  We had to be a little cautious in there with only 50 inches or so at the stake, but there’s definitely enough base.  The traverses are in place and looking good.  That run was quite a doozy, so everyone requested a break at the Midway Lodge after that for food and drink.  On our final run of the day, Wiley and Robbie switched to each other’s snowboard and skis, and we took a run through the terrain park.  Wiley had plenty of falls, but really hung in there for taking his first even snowboard run right off the Fourrunner Quad.

An image of Ty skiing powder in the Kitchen Wall area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty out in fields of powder below the Kitchen Wall

It was really great to finally be able to get out there with the boys into the some of the exciting terrain we’ve been missing all season.  It actually looks like we could have yet another winter storm affecting the area this week.  This one has the potential to bring upslope snow as well, so we’ll just have watch for where this one tracks over the next few days, but ski conditions should continue to improve going forward.

Bolton Valley, VT 10MAR2018

An image of E and Dylan in the car at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty skiing powder in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Snowfall over the past few days has built up some great powder at Bolton Valley, and today was a day for getting out and finding it!

Although Bolton Valley was only reporting an inch of new snow in this morning’s report, they’ve picked up more than a foot of snow in the past couple of days from Winter Storm Quinn.  Combined with modest midweek skier traffic, that was already a recipe for some great skiing today, but even more snow was expected to arrive as the day wore on to further freshen up the slopes.

E and Dylan had some obligations in the morning, but Ty and I were free to ski and had plans to meet up with Stephen at the resort.  We parked at Timberline, alerted Stephen with a text, and headed up the Timberline Quad for a run.  Although I couldn’t find any slopes that hadn’t been thoroughly resurfaced at the resort during yesterday’s outing, I can finally say that I found at least one today.  I figured we could try a run on Lost Girlz, which would be a really tough test of the resurfacing.  Unfortunately, the combination of dense evergreen canopy above, and very steep pitch were too much; the coverage just wasn’t enough.  So, we high tailed it over to Tattle Tale for a run.  The snow was certainly good there, but in general it had seen much more traffic than usual because the Tattle Tale headwall was open.

An image of Ty skiing in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Fun in the Villager Trees

We met up with Stephen and did a full run of Tattle Tale so that we could really take in the headwall experience.  It was a bit windblown at the very top, but coverage was quite good overall and it was definitely worth the trip. 

An image of Stephen skiing in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Stephen getting just what he was looking for today… powder for his fat skis!

The rest of the morning was dedicated to getting Stephen some deep untracked powder, and that we delivered in spades with trips to The Crack, Villager Trees, and White Rabbit.  Stephen seemed quite happy floating around on his fat alpine touring skis.  The powder was easily a foot or more in untracked areas, and it was definitely delivering great turns with that right-side-up density gradient that Winter Storm Quinn had set up.  In addition, new snowfall was ramping right up as we approached midday due to an incoming mountain upslope snow event that’s developing in the area.

An image of a water bottle and some ski gloves at the Fireside Flatbread bar at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe three of us headed to Fireside Flatbread for some lunch, and E and Dylan joined us for a bite once they arrived at the resort.  We all did a Cobrass/Five Corners run together before Stephen had to head back to pick up Johannes, and the rest of us finished off the day with some Timberline runs.  E and Dylan had skied Spell Binder earlier and it got a great recommendation.  It lived up to the expectations, especially that skier’s left that Dylan enjoyed ripping up so much.

“As mentioned earlier, the big weather news in the coming days is the mountain upslope snow event that’s poised to bring another hefty shot of snow to the area.”

As mentioned earlier, the big weather news in the coming days is the mountain upslope snow event that’s poised to bring another hefty shot of snow to the area.  There’s a vertically stacked low pressure sitting in Northern Maine, and that’s typically a great setup for snowfall in the Northern Greens when the low pressure wraps in deep moisture from the Atlantic.  You know there’s some potential for continued snowfall when the National Weather Service in Burlington speaks about difficulty in finding the off switch for the snowfall in their forecast discussion:

“Another good problem to have is trying to find the off switch to the upslope snow machine…looks like a brief break develops Sunday afternoon into Monday…before more accumulating snowfall for Tuesday into Weds.”

Bolton Valley, VT 09MAR2018

An image of two skiers walking through snowfall in the Village at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a snowboard track in powder snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont after Winter Storm Quinn
With more snow from Winter Storm Quinn falling last night, today produced some beautiful powder skiing on the slopes of Bolton Valley.

Right on the heels of last week’s Winter Storm Riley that brought 40 inches of snow to parts of the Catskills, another nor’easter named Winter Storm Quinn hit the New England area during the middle of this week.  Quinn left three feet of snow in Southern Vermont, and really hammered the Southern Vermont Ski Resorts.  Up here in the northern part of the state, the accumulations weren’t quite that huge, but as of today the northern resorts were in the 1-foot range for total snowfall.

I actually had time in my schedule for some lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley this morning, and with half foot or so of additional power on top of yesterday’s snow, it seemed like there would be plenty of quality out there on all the slopes.  Indeed this overall shot of snow from Winter Storm Quinn had the potential for a good resurfacing of the trails, since my measurements down at the house indicated that we’d picked up close to an inch of liquid equivalent in our snow, and the local resorts should have seen at least that much.

“I took every steep and potentially rocky line I could find to get a sense for how aggressive I could make my turns in the powder before hitting the old subsurface or various trail obstacles. Try as I might to make contact with surface below, I just couldn’t do it.”

After getting to watch the Snowflake lift-op John, shred some endless tight turns on his snowboard, I made my way over to Timberline just in time to catch the opening of the chair.  My first run was Intro to Brandywine, and I took every steep and potentially rocky line I could find to get a sense for how aggressive I could make my turns in the powder before hitting the old subsurface or various trail obstacles, and I just couldn’t do it.  Even though Winter Storm Quinn only brought about a foot of snow and an inch or so of liquid equivalent, it had essentially resurfaced everything.  There’s little doubt that the robust coverage was due to the start of the storm providing some nice dense snow that simply adhered to and covered whatever was underneath.  My trip down Spell Binder revealed that the headwall was in prime form.  I launched off the ledges on the skier’s left expecting to bust down into a hard contact with the subsurface, but that simply never happened.  Although I didn’t ski it, I saw that even the Tattle Tale headwall was open, and that is really hard to cover well.  Along with the high density of the snow from the initial part of the storm, I think that fact that the storm had so little wind overall allowed the snow to really cover things well without the usual scouring.

Back at the main mountain all I can say is that everything was simply great: the powder, the groomers, all of it.  My measurements around the resort revealed generally 13” of settled surface snow at the elevations of the main mountain, and 11” at Timberline elevations, but the difference wasn’t noticeable in terms of the skiing – the new snow just covered everything.  Temperatures were in the mid-20s F during my session this morning, and I don’t think they were expected to go above freezing at the resort level, so the snow should continue to stay in great shape.

An image of the Bonus Woods area with lots of fresh powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a line through the Bonus Woods today and admiring how everything was just caked with powder

We’ve actually got a winter Weather Advisory out for the Northern Greens for tomorrow into Sunday because there’s a chance for some decent upslope snowWinter Storm Quinn was the type of storm that took a track northward after it hugged the coast, and it’s now part of the general cyclonic flow over there in the Maritimes that just spins Atlantic moisture into the area.  Around here in the Northern Greens we like that setup very much and we’re looking forward to seeing what else Mother Nature might throw at us in the coming days.