The forecast for this morning was sunny, and mountain highs were predicted to be in the 40s and 50s F, so the whole family headed off to Stowe for a few runs before lunch. Lift operations at thre resort are down to just the Fourrunner Quad and the Mountain Triple Chair, but with roughly 90 inches of snow still at the stake, base depths are in good shape and almost all the terrain on Mansfield is available.
We’ve certainly had some good cycling of the snow over the past few days with night freezes and daytime thaws, so the surfaces were generally corn, but there were still some sticky surfaces out there in some spots. We got some steep turns on Nosedive, hit the bumps of Centerline, and even jumped into some of the terrain parks. We got to watch one crew of what must have been a couple dozen guys running the parks together and performing lots of tricks.
As usual for this time of year, folks were out in force with their spring tail-gaiting setups in the Mansfield Parking Lot, and the smells of various food being barbequed was definitely enticing when we headed back to the car. For our lunch we headed to Doc Ponds on the way home to use a gift certificate we had, and the food was great. Most of their offerings are done with some sort of unique flair. I really enjoyed my falafel, which was incredibly filling and I’d recommend it if you’re a falafel fan.
A number of students were unable to attend ski program today, so there were some small groups, and any of them that were interested in a trip down the Bruce joined up with us. From the top of the Fourrunner Quad, those that wanted to ascend joined me for a trip up Old Nosedive, which I find is a nice way to get in a bit of hiking and extra turns before diving into the Bruce. The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour. It was quite wintry up top, but even in the lowest elevations the snow was dense enough to hold up well for fresh turns, just like Dylan and I had experienced yesterday at Bolton Valley. There was still ample untracked powder available off the sides of the Bruce, and as usual once we were down into the open hardwood areas there were lots of great lines to explore in the trees.
“The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour.”
This morning, Dylan said that we should go with Telemark skis for today’s session if our focus was going to be the Bruce Trail, and while I’d planned to go alpine, I agreed and ended up going Tele. It was totally the right choice, especially since the coverage and snow conditions were so optimal. I was happy because I felt really dialed in and my transitions felt incredibly quick, and Dylan was also really psyched because he skied so well today. He says that he always wants to run the Bruce on Telemark gear now. Of course he got to experience it on a great day. I’d put today in the top 25% of conditions for the Bruce – there was so much soft snow and powder around, and even those most difficult to cover, south-facing shots were virtually blemish free.
We capped off the run with a trip to the Notchbrook General Store for snacks, and a ride on the Mountain Road Shuttle back to the Spruce Peak Village. Greg said that the last time he skied the Bruce Trail was about 35 years ago, so it was really neat that he got the chance to do it again after such a long hiatus. We had time for a few more runs on Spruce once we got back, and found that the quality of the snow was still really nice. This was just the way a March ski day should be!
Each year in December we head to Stowe for the training day that gets us ready for our school’s ski program. E is the director for the BJAMS program and typically takes care of the logistics on one of the weekend days, while a co-director would manage the other. In the past, when the boys were younger and couldn’t stay home alone, we’d either set up to have someone watch them, or split the two training days between us and each go alone. On those occasions, even though selecting the days was done well in advance, I always seemed to luck out and get the great conditions – comfortable temperatures, fresh powder, soft surfaces, etc., while E on the other hand would get refrozen crud, frigid temperatures, or whatever else you can think of that would make the ski experience less than stellar.
This year though, we were going to the training day together, and it looked like E was going to go for a ride on the luck train with me. Winter Storm Decima was marching across the country, and the timing looked just about perfect for a great powder day on Saturday. In fact, the National Weather Service Office in Burlington even felt strongly enough about it to incorporate a statement in their forecast discussion on Thursday:
“Should be a glorious powder day with mean snow ratios around 18-20:1 and temps gradually warming into the lower 20s valleys and upper teens mountains by early afternoon.”
By this morning, Winter Storm Decima had already begun to deliver snow as we headed off to the resort. The snowfall rates weren’t outrageous, but it was a good steady snow and you could see that little bit of extra spring in everyone’s step knowing that training day was going to feature fresh snow. As we gathered outside the Midway Lodge for the morning’s announcements, you could just see the snow piling up on the anxious skiers ready to get underway.
“There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day.”
We had Steve for our group leader, similar to some previous seasons, and he regaled us with his usual assortment of giving lessons to celebrities and assorted well-heeled folks. We did a quick first run off the Meadows Quad, and that was our first chance to experience the snow. Oh was it glorious! There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day. Stowe’s already hit 110 inches on the season, and we’re only about three weeks or so into it.
We had several runs on Spruce Peak before we broke for some lunch, then got a couple more runs in over on Mansfield. Even after a day of weekend ski traffic, conditions were still amazing in the afternoon even on the most heavily-used areas. The snow is deep-down good. The only downside today was the chill in the morning at elevation with the wind, but it was still a small price to pay for such consistently awesome conditions.
Between almost daily soccer coaching, practices, and games now stacked on top of the usual routine, the spring schedule for E and the boys has been pretty crazy, but fortunately I was able to get them to sneak in a trip to the slopes today. I saw great pictures of the coverage on Nosedive from Powderfreak’s report on Wednesday, so we knew it was a good bet for spring turns and headed off to Stowe in the mid-morning. We’d been hoping Joe would be able to join us, but he ultimately decided it was just going to be a little too much to manage the hike and still have enough left in the tank for dancing tonight at the BJAMS Bash.
We parked in the Midway Lot and had to walk about 50-100 yards over to the start of the snow on Lower Nosedive. You could definitely see the effects of the past couple days’ summer-like temperatures, because bare areas were making substantial intrusions into parts of the trail. The snow coverage is still fairly continuous though, with just one actual break of about 20 feet about halfway up. We topped out a bit shy of the 3,000’ mark, which was about as far as E and the boys wanted to push themselves with more soccer games tomorrow. In terms of the skiing, the snow quality was fine, with nothing overly mushy despite the temperatures. We’d all brought ski pants, but E and the boys were pretty gutsy and skied just in their shorts. I’ve been there before, and especially since I was Telemark skiing I decided to stick with full ski pants and knee pads. E was skiing Tele as well, but she didn’t care – she and the boys all felt that the cooling of the snow and breeze was worth it, and fortunately there were no notable falls to contend with.
There were several groups of skiers around that we encountered on either the ascent or descent, and it was quite the fun atmosphere. We tested out playing Pandora on one of the cell phones on the ascent and that worked out well – Dylan made an Imagine Dragons station that had me grooving my way up the mountain at a really quick pace.
On the way out we took a peek at some of the other routes on the mountain that had substantial snow, and the best alternative to Nosedive looked like it was that North Slope area above the terrain park. Temperatures look to cool down somewhat as we head into next week, so that should slow the melting process a bit. These warm days have been great, but they’re causing the snow to disappear quickly!
The snow from long-duration Winter Storm Marcus continued overnight, and although it was just an inch or so down here at the house and a few inches up in the mountains, the snow had substantially higher density than the fluff we received yesterday. Both James and Tom heeded the call I put out earlier in the week with regard to skiing, so they would be joining us for the afternoon at Stowe. It was actually great that they were able to make it today, because Ken wasn’t going to be there and they could help with managing my ski group during the BJAMS ski program.
“…untracked lines were just ridiculously deep with two to three feet of powder just like we found yesterday at Bolton Valley.”
The guys arrive at our house well ahead of the planned 10:00 A.M. meet up, so we had some time to catch up while our family got our ski gear together. We were on the way to Stowe by about 10:30 A.M. or so, and there was steady snowfall, but it was light enough that well-traveled roads were generally showing blacktop. We had time for some lunch in the Great Room Grill with E and the boys, and Chris even showed up to hang out and have some food before he headed back down to Massachusetts.
“The snow just keeps piling on there, and the terrain has that feeling of skiing an alpine bowl in an area that keeps getting hit by repeated storm cycles.”
We went out for an early run before program time, and checked out the open terrain above Meadows. The snow just keeps piling on there, and the terrain has that feeling of skiing an alpine bowl in an area that keeps getting hit by repeated storm cycles. The powder has been somewhat cut up by skiers, so it’s nice to have a ski with some girth that can hold its own as the variations in the surface snow try to toss you around at speed. What a great warm-up run that was though; it gave us a good feeling for what we’d be able to find out there today.
“I don’t know how he was able to fit all that stuff in his ski jacket, but I made me remember how much fun it is to have Bursey on board when it comes to food.”
Luc was sick, and Elizabeth was going to be joining our group, so it looked like it would be a total of seven students that James, Tom, and I had in our charge. We took one more run on the Meadows Chair while we waited for Jack to arrive, and then crossed over to Mansfield via the Over Easy. As we stood at the Gondola summit and I asked the kids where they wanted to go, “the Middle of Nowhere” was quickly heard from multiple voices. So, off we went toward Nosedive and into the trees. Conditions were great as one would expect, and with the three of us adults we were able to pretty easily keep tabs on the group. A technique I like to use is to watch for students that break away from the pack and take alternate lines, and then follow them. Wiley often does this during his runs as he searches out good lines and good powder, and I got to follow him through a nice section of terrain. We made more good use of the three coaches when we got to Nosedive and some of the group wanted to dive back into the trees and some wanted to stay on trail. I guided the off piste group through some of the trees on the skiers left of Nosedive, while James and Tom offered to take care of the on piste group as they continued to warm up. It was back into the trees again for some of us as we approached Liftline, and boy, untracked lines were just ridiculously deep with two to three feet of powder even down in some of the lowest elevations, just like we found yesterday at Bolton Valley.
We made our way to the Fourrunner Quad and by the time we got to the top some freezing fog was wreaking havoc with everyone’s goggles. Jonah asked if we could head into the Octagon to have a snack and take care of that visibility issue, so it was break time. Tom pulled out the trail mix, banana bread, and whatever else he had on board and we had a darned good feast. I don’t know how he was able to fit all that stuff in his ski jacket, but I made me remember how much fun it is to have Bursey on board when it comes to food. Everyone’s goggles had been thoroughly thawed and wiped by the time we headed back out into the weather.
I’d seen good coverage on Upper National, so we combined that with a run down Goat. Conditions are excellent, but not perfect as you can still find icy areas on the back of some moguls due to Stowe’s fairly heavy skier traffic. All the kids handled the steep terrain on that run very well though, and after that, it was obvious that Elizabeth could handle both the trees and steep terrain that our group often visits. It was my first time skiing Goat since the microburst took down all those trees along the left, and the damage is very impressive one you’re up close and personal with it. It’s probably going to take a while for that damage to regenerate. One of the best parts of the run was getting into the beautiful bump lines of Lower National. It gave us all a chance to work on pole timing with the kids, and those bump lines are just some much fun because the lower pitch of the trail keeps them tighter, smoother, and the snow quality so much better.
We finished off our runs on the Quad with a Nosedive Bypass down through the Nosedive Glades. Once down through the Bypass Chutes, Tom decided that he was getting a bit too tired to keep up at the kids pace, and told us to head on down and he’d catch up with us later. It’s been at least a couple of years since he’s skied the sort of stuff we were hitting today, so it’s not surprising that it felt like a challenging pace. He chose the perfect spot to stop for a rest though; he was just entering the glades with a quiet snow filtering down. I suggested he hang out for a while and soak in the scene while he rested, and later he told me that’s exactly what he did. As the end of the day approached and he was getting tired, he was able to head through the terrain at his own pace with stops as required, and it sounded like a good way to finish things off. As for the rest of the crew, James and I brought them once again through the bumps on Lower National to work on that type of skiing and help with the timing of their poles. James and I got to play follow-the-leader with Dylan through the bumps, and he showed impressive control as James really dropped his speed and massaged his way through the bump lines. James and I later talked about how much fun those bumps are and how the amount of effort needed to ski them is so minimal when you do it right.
“…fortunately he was just enjoying (although perhaps “enjoying” is too positive a word) a deep state of being tired at the end of the ski day.”
We returned back to the Spruce Peak Base to ensure we got everyone in on time, and most of the students did a couple more runs on Sunny Spruce before they called it a day. The last couple of runs featured some speed runs by the boys of course, but they love that stuff. Back in the base lodge, E told me that she had seen Tom crashed out in one of the chairs, and before she knew it was him she thought, “Boy, that guy looks tired!” It sounded like it was pretty funny when she found out it was actually Tom. She feared he’d gotten hurt, but fortunately he was just enjoying (although perhaps “enjoying” is too positive a word) a deep state of being tired at the end of the ski day. He might feel that tomorrow though, but hopefully we can get him to come out again for another coaching session.
Today marked the start of the season’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe, so the whole family was excited to once again hit the slopes with friends, classmates, and faculty. I was also quite interested in finding out what the ski conditions were like on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield. We’d headed out into the Jay Peak backcountry yesterday after hearing about the good snow that the area had seen this past week, and the conditions we found certainly didn’t disappoint; there was roughly a foot of midwinter powder out there. I knew Mansfield had picked up some good snow in the past couple days based on Powderfreak’s pictures on American Weather, but was it on par with what we’d found farther north, and how would it hold up to all the weekend visitors to the resort? I hedged my bets after seeing the pictures, and decided to bring my Rossignol Sin 7 skis for the day – I had a hunch that we’d be able to spend a good amount of time off piste and I suspected I’d want my wider, rockered boards instead of my on piste carvers.
“While riding the lift I caught sight of a couple of kids skiing in the trees above meadows, and as I watched the powder spraying off their skis, I knew it was going to be game on in the off piste.”
On our way up Route 100, we could see that the Greens were lost in snowfall off to the west, and fluffy flakes soon began to fill the air down in the valley. The snow globe flakes stayed with us all the way to the resort and put quite a spirit in the air as we kicked off the ski program season. With all the construction going on for the new facilities in the Spruce Peak Village, parking is at a real premium, but our ski program participants are being allowed to use the parking area at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. It’s a bit of a walk for the kids, but everyone was really appreciative of the resort allowing that use; I think the logistics of transferring over from the Mansfield side are even more challenging with all the little ones.
Our usual ski group would be growing today with the addition of Wiley and Jonah – everyone felt that they were more than ready to join us in our usual off piste escapades, and both boys were excited to get at it. Although our group had now increased to a total of eight students, Ken was joining us as well, so we had a pair of adults to keep tabs on everyone. Having a lower ratio of students to coaches is nice, but it’s especially helpful with the amount of off piste skiing our group does. It’s much easier to get separated among the trees than out on the trail, so it’s important to have as many eyes on the group as possible. We’ve found that if we have one or two of the older or more experienced students leading, that can free up one coach to be the tail guide and a second coach can then keep their eyes on things from the middle of the pack and follow individuals that might take different routes. Ken and I have done it with similar groups before, so we were ready for the increased numbers today.
“…when the powder is looking good down at the bottom of Spruce Peak, you know it’s going to be good on Mt. Mansfield.”
We kicked things off with a ride on the new Meadows Quad Chair, which has replaced the Alpine and Easy Street Chairs. This new chair is a fixed grip quad, but it has one of those moving carpets underneath for efficient loading – the chairs are spaced quite close together on the new chair, and presumably the moving carpet lets them load a higher volume of skiers overall. While riding the lift I caught sight of a couple of kids skiing in the trees above the meadows area, and as I watched the powder spraying off their skis, I knew it was going to be game on in the off piste. The boys inquired about jumping into the trees, and I told them that we’d do a warm up run on the trails first, but we’d be getting into the trees right after that; when the powder is looking good down at the bottom of Spruce Peak, you know it’s going to be good on Mt. Mansfield.
Our group made its way over to the Gondola on Mansfield and as we traversed across the initial flats of Perry Merrill, I headed off to the skier’s right to check on the depth of the powder. A quick check revealed almost a foot and a half of champagne fluff, further confirming that we were going to be able to find plenty of soft snow. We worked our way down into the north side of the Nosedive Glades, and found lots of soft snow as expected. The good conditions weren’t too surprising, since Luc had told me he’d already been in there earlier today and found it quite good. Still, it’s always nice to really get you feet on it and find out for yourself. There was a solid foot of powder on untouched lines, and I’ve got to say, there was really just about the same amount of fluff as what we found in the Jay Peak backcountry. Mighty Mansfield has clearly done well in the snowfall department over the past several days. There was the usual amount of ice in the middle of snowmaking trails, but just about everywhere else it was not only the powder that was impressive, but the underlying and on piste surface as well.
We worked our way over to the Fourrunner Quad and visited the Chapel Glades and Sunrise Glades. As usual all you had to do to get some untracked lines was just venture a bit farther afield. As we finished off that run I started exploring any woods shot that I came across, and was very impressed to see Wiley and Jonah right behind me on all those adventurous forays. With attitudes like that, I think they’re going to have a lot of fun in our ski group. And, they weren’t just handling it, they looked really comfortable following my traverses and lines through the deep powder.
After a break in the Octagon, and a trip down Liftline to retrieve Kenny’s gloves that he’d dropped from the lift, we worked our way over to Nosedive Bypass and down through the glades again. Wiley really seems to have a nose for powder, and I often found him poking around the same areas as me as we sought out the best snow. I think one of the best treats today, aside from the fact that Stowe had picked up such a good amount of snow this week, is how much of it people had missed over the course of the weekend. Ken and I just kept finding good snow slightly off the beaten path, and that’s really nice for a Sunday afternoon.
This Memorial Day Weekend certainly hasn’t been like last year, with its two feet of new snow, but even from Waterbury one can see that Mt. Mansfield still has some of this season’s snow left on it, and with today’s great weather, it was hard to pass up the chance for some skiing. We’d actually been keeping our eyes on the weather over at Mt. Washington for a potential trip to ski the summit snowfields this weekend, but the forecast for nice weather didn’t end up being quite solid enough for us to make the commitment. Of course, being around at home meant that the opportunity was there for some local turns. I thought last week’s ski trip with E and the boys might be our last turns on Mansfield for the season, but that wasn’t the case… at least for me. Even last week, the skiing payoff relative to the hike was getting pretty marginal for the rest of the family, so although I did a perfunctory check to see if any of them wanted to go, I would have been surprised if any of them said yes. This time of year, it’s typically a good idea to go into a ski tour with the intention of enjoying the hike itself, because it’s often a big part of the outing relative to the skiing. If either of the boys had wanted to go on today’s tour, they would have had their work cut out for them, because I knew that it would require at least 1,000’ vertical of hiking before hitting decent snow. They barely have the patience for earning turns when the skiing is top to bottom, so all that hiking before getting to the snow wouldn’t be well received.
“You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place.”
After some midday yard work with the boys, I finally headed off to Stowe in the mid afternoon. The valley temperatures were generally in the mid 70s F, and the skies were mostly clear aside from a few clouds here and there, and a surprising number of leftover contrails. From Waterbury Center I could already see patches of snow left on Mt. Mansfield near the Cliff House, so I knew that the Nosedive area would have snow. I parked in the Midway Lot at 1,600’ where I saw a few other cars, but very little activity aside from the occasional group of hikers. Temperatures were still warm, so my setup for the ascent was a short sleeve polypro T-shirt, shorts, and socks/Tele boots, and I packed my ski pants, a long sleeve polypro shirt, and my gloves in my pack for later use. I’ve been very impressed with just how flexible my Garmont Garas have been these past few warm, spring-style outings. Throw them in walk mode and add temperatures like today, and it’s like walking in a pair of stiff hiking boots. They’ve got Vibram soles, so the grip is nice on most surfaces. They certainly don’t match up to the a pair of good hiking boots when trying to hop from boulder to boulder working one’s way across alpine areas of Mt. Washington, but for traipsing around on the generally grassy or slightly rocky slopes below tree line, you can hardly tell that they’re there. For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times. Of course I probably make up for some of the weight savings carrying camera gear, but the light weight of Telemark skis and bindings also cuts down on the pounds.
As far as the snow goes, there were a couple of piles here and there even down near the base, but nothing of real consequence. I didn’t start to see more consistent patches on Nosedive until I got up around the 2,100’ mark at the junction with National. What I did get to see in the lower elevations was the appearance of wildflowers, including what looked like some trout lilies on their way toward opening up. Even though we had some rain yesterday, Nosedive was really pretty dry aside from areas in close proximity to snow patches or the occasional water bar with meltwater, so that made the hiking especially easy. The mid afternoon sun was still quite strong during my ascent, so I hiked in the shade when possible. As for the insects, all I saw was the occasional mosquito, so that made for a pleasurable ascent on that front. The presence of patchy snow off to climber’s left was all that I saw until I got up near 2,600’, and just below the intersection of Cliff Trail I saw the first area of coverage across the whole width of the trail. That was only an isolated section, and it was back to grass for a while above there, but once I got up to ~2,900’ I got into the nearly continuous snow, and there was even some snow remaining in the trees on both sides of the trail. The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake just up above that location at ~3,700’ was down to only two inches as of today’s report, although it was certainly deeper in those areas of trees I saw. I continued my ascent all the way up to roughly 3,600’ because the snow just kept going. There were a couple more breaks, but they were small enough that it kept me interested in reaching the top pile near the junction with the Toll Road (which is definitely open – I saw a car on its way down while I was up there).
At the top I could definitely feel the ascent, so I downed a GU and cracked open and Odwalla smoothie that I’d been saving for the top. Between the amounts of sugar in those, recovery and rejuvenation were quick. I moseyed around up there for a bit and got a few pictures, and then geared up for the descent. If you’ve ever wondered about why you’ve got full side zippers on your ski pants, well here’s one of those perfect situations that call for them. You don’t spend time taking off you ski boots to get your pants on, you open up those zippers, strap on your pants, and off you go. The first big section of snow right at the top of Nosedive was just a big mound, with pretty dirty snow, but the snow on the second corner was a bit better, and then better again on the third. The best area of snow though is that one leading down to 2,900’. It’s the longest area without a gap, and it’s got some of the smoothest snow. You can get a nice 300’ or so of vertical out of it, and if you wanted something to lap with the best turns, that would be the place. The consistency of the corn snow was great, although that almost seems to be a given on the remaining snow at this time of the year unless it’s just too cold to soften it at all. It was a bit dirty in spots as one might expect, and there were some sun cups and other aberrations, but especially on that lower snowfield area, the turns were quite smooth.
“For trips like today’s, being able to hike up, skin, ski, and hike down comfortably in one pair of boots makes everything so much easier, both in terms of weight and ascent/descent transition times.”
After the bottom of that section, I strapped the skis on once more for that area below the junction with Cliff Trail, and then hiked out the rest of the run. The down hike was very quick, with the generally dry, grassy trail making for great traction, and it was only about 15 minutes or so from that last area I skied to get back to the car. I actually heard a band playing during the final few hundred feet of my descent, and after swinging through the Spruce Peak Base Area on my way home, it seemed like there was a wedding event going on. They certainly got a great day for it. The long-lasting light is great on these days as we approach the solstice – it was already after 7:00 P.M. by the time I was at the car, but there was plenty of light left. I hit the grocery store on the way home, and then we cooked outside and had dinner and some time at the fire pit. It’s really nice to have some of that local snow hanging around to get in some skiing over the holiday – and as much fun as it was to have the two feet of fresh snow last year, the weather in the valleys wasn’t great for outdoor activities, so this type of Memorial Day Weekend is also pretty sweet.
“I’d say there was generally 5-6” of snow up high, and it was enough for some great turns where it had been left alone…”
Rain changed over to snow here at the house yesterday evening, as temperatures fell toward the freezing mark, and we’d accumulated over 4 inches of new snow as of this morning. It was falling at over an inch per hour at times, and it made one wonder what was going in the mountains. It was a cold, wintry snow, coming in at 10% H2O through midnight, and falling to 6.4% H2O by this morning with temperatures around 20 F. I was surprised to see that Stowe wasn’t reporting too much more than we picked up here in their morning snow report, but since E and the boys are off from school this week, it seemed like it was worth heading up to the mountain for at least a few runs.
The roads weren’t too bad in terms of driving, although Route 100 seemed to get the most attention and the driving was very smooth with minimal snow. Areas like Waterbury Center and the town of Stowe seemed to have received a bit less than we did right along the spine, but by the time we got up to Stowe’s base elevations, the snow seemed to be in the 3-4” range similar to what we’d received at the house. The morning report from the mountain had indicated single digits F for temperatures on the upper mountain, with teens below. It was expected to warm up, but it definitely felt like mid winter as we arrived at the Mansfield Base Lodge, grabbed our gear, and headed inside. It was an absolute switch from the warm spring temperatures we’d experienced on Sunday, and it meant making sure that we’re returned out passes to our cold weather gear after switching some of them over to lighter clothing. Everyone also had to re-expand their chin straps for their helmets to accommodate balaclavas after they weren’t needed over the weekend. The lodge was very quiet, with just a few people around, much like you’d expect it to be on a midweek day during the middle of April.
Riding the Fourrunner Quad was cold and windy, and we were definitely happy with our decision to dress for those midwinter temperatures, even if it was expected to warm up later. With the moderate accumulations of new snow reported atop what was a refrozen base, we immediately headed over toward the Mountain Triple via some of the gentler slopes to assess the conditions. I’d say there was generally 5-6” of snow up high, and it was enough for some great turns where it had been left alone, but many of the trails had been groomed, and unfortunately this just seemed to pack the new snow down into the hard spring base. In some areas the grooming came together with the right accumulations of snow to make areas of nice carving, but the untracked snow was far superior, and that’s what we ended up seeking out. It was those trails that hadn’t been groomed that would up being the biggest hits, and Lower Tyro delivered for us as usual. E and the boys did some synchronous skiing for the camera in the powder, with nice results. Turns certainly weren’t bottomless all the time, but you could definitely get plenty of floaty turns by paying attention to where the wind had made those deeper deposits of snow.
We rode the Mountain Triple, and caught some turns on Duck Walk, since we’d seen that it hadn’t been groomed. After that, there was no doubt that we wanted to seek out terrain that hadn’t seen a groomer; the turns were just so good. With that in mind, we headed back up the Fourrunner Quad and headed for the Nosedive Glades. We didn’t think Nosedive Bypass was going to be very good with it steeper pitches, but we did catch the very bottom of Bypass and tested out the snow on some of that steeper terrain. It was fun to try to connect the areas of deepest snow, and I got into some shots of over a foot. The Nosedive Glades themselves were a lot of fun – the snow wasn’t bottomless on all turns, but there was plenty of floating. And, with so few people out on the slopes today, there were a lot of fresh lines to be had. Right in line with my ski testing from Sunday, I was wishing I had some wider alpine skis after watching the boys scoot around through the powder and get more float out of their equipment. Nosedive had been groomed, but there were areas in the middle elevations that weren’t scoured and offered up some nice packed powder carving. We finished the run on the lower part of Lookout, which had not been groomed and offered a lot of powder turns.
It was still on and off snow as we headed home in the late morning period, although areas in the lower valleys that had seen sun had already melted back with respect to the new snow. It’s been so cold today that I suspect many areas in the mountains will be holding powder tomorrow morning as well.
Based on the forecast, it looked like today was the pick of the weekend for spring skiing, offering sunshine and mountain temperatures in the 40s and 50s F depending on elevation. There was also a good freeze overnight last night, with temperatures down in the 20s F here at the house, so that bode well with respect to continued corn cycling. Our thermometer out back struggled to get out of the 30s F for the first part of the morning, but once we got past 9:00 A.M. it was moving into the 40s F, and a check on the temperatures at Stowe revealed that they were hitting similar levels. The snow had likely softened at all elevations by that point, so we headed off to the mountain.
“I’m looking for something nimble and flexible that is going to carve tight arcs, fit into tight spaces, and surf on soft snow.”
We suited up in the lodge and then I headed right up to the Stowe Toys Demo Center at the base of the Fourrunner Quad – I had a big day of checking out demo skis planned. It’s hard to find a day to spend demoing skis, since many Sundays during the season we’re out at Stowe with the BJAMS ski program, we’ve got plans with other people on the mountain, or we’re hoping to head into the alpine terrain or out into the sidecountry for powder. Our typical days with those types of focused runs aren’t conducive to swapping out skis every couple of laps on the lift. Today with E and the boys though, it going to be one of those casual spring outings with no real plans, and it looked demoing some pairs of skis would work.
I’ve actually needed to do an alpine ski demo day for quite a while, but it really hit me a couple of seasons ago on February 26th, 2012 at Stowe. It was a bluebird day after they’d just picked up three feet of snow, so I pulled out my alpine fat skis for the day – my Volkl CMH Explosivs. They’re a fully-cambered, 120/95/112 ski from the early 2000s, and like many Volkl skis, they really like to go straight and fast. These Explosivs have always felt that way to me, especially with the length – I’d gotten them in the 180 cm length, since E had gone with the 165 cm version, and it seemed like a reasonable choice for me at the time. I hadn’t minded that they weren’t overly nimble, since powder can give you a lot of leeway, but it was always frustrating to have to deal with them in tighter trees, and they were essentially making that type of terrain undesirable and far less fun than it should be. That powder day in February 2012 marked the first time I’d used the Explosivs in quite a while, and after spending so much time on shorter, much nimbler skis, their girth, length, and stiffness were oh so exceedingly apparent. While skiing Spruce Line that day, I went over a rise and dropped rather unexpectedly at high speed into the steepest pitch of the run. I wanted to check my speed, but the Explosivs just wouldn’t turn. I eventually had to bail into the snow to check my momentum, and the end result was happily unremarkable thanks to the slope being powdery and forgiving, but the skis had been feeling like heavy dogs on my feet all day, and that was definitely the last straw. I could easily see an accident arising due to the way those skis were handling. After that experience, I don’t think I’ve used them since, and my only alpine skis currently in use are my 108/70/101 Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots. They’re actually my on piste/carving skis, and they’re a joy to carve on, but that’s not really the type of skiing we spend much time doing. I’ve focused on my Telemark gear of the past few seasons, getting the cambered 127/86/113 Atomic RT-86 as my mid fat, and the more rockered 139/115/123 Black Diamond AMPerage as my powder/backcountry/fat ski. But, I’ve got nothing like either of those skis in my alpine gear, and alpine gear is what I’m typically on each Sunday when I’m coaching my BJAMS ski groups. Most of our ski days each season feature some form of powder, whether it’s on or off piste, and as I watch the boys drift and smear turns in the soft snow with their fat, rockered skis, I’m realizing that relative to the types of ski that are out there now, my Salomons are aren’t optimal for the kind of skiing we typically do.
Based on my experiences with a wide range of ski widths in the past few seasons, and thinking about a typical everyday ski for the type of skiing that we actually do, something with a waist in the 95-100 mm range was my target. After seeing many of the latest gear reviews, it sounded like the Rossignol Soul 7 was really taking a lot of the top spots. It appeared to be my kind of ski with its light weight and ability to make short turns, so it definitely piqued my interest. At 136/106/126, it was a little on the wider side of what I’d been thinking, but it was close enough, and I don’t mind going a bit on the wider side for the type of skiing we typically do, especially if the ski was as versatile as everyone seems to feel it is. With that said, I also planned to check out the Rossignol Sin 7, since it was the next width down in the series at 128/98/118. Between those two, and a comparison to similar models from other manufacturers, I figured I’d have a good idea of what I liked.
There’s a thing about demo gear though – the demo shops tend to sell it off. And this late in the season, that was a huge issue. It turned out that the demo shop had already sold all their Soul 7s, so those were entirely gone, and the only Sin 7 they had on hand was in a 180 cm length. I had really wanted the 172 cm or 164 cm (I’ve got little interest in long skis at this point for the type of skiing we typically do), but if the 180 cm was the only option, it would at least let me get a feel for them. According to everything I’ve read, the Sin 7 does run short with all that rocker, so I was intrigued to see how they performed at 180 cm. I also inquired about the next wider ski above the Soul 7 in Rossignol’s Freeride 7 series, the Rossignol Super 7. At 140/116/130, the profile is something more similar to my Black Diamond AMPerages that I have mounted Tele. Since I’ve already got my Salomons for carving, I’m leaning a bit on the wider side for the all around soft day ski that I’m seeking, and while the Super 7 is almost certainly wider than I want, I still wanted to try them out. I wanted to have a feel for all their skis in that 95-115 mm range of width. I was surprised to find out that they shop didn’t even carry them, and the guy that was helping me out in the demo shop said it’s too wide a ski if you ski on the “East Coast”. I’m not sure if he’s just supposed to say that, whether he actually believes it, or if there’s some other reason he’s supposed to go with that philosophy, but it was probably the first sign that we weren’t going to be quite on the same page with respect to our viewpoints on skiing. I’d expect someone from Stowe of all places to know that selecting ski width doesn’t work by drawing some arbitrary line down the middle of the country. Some of the ski magazines try to preach that sort of approach, and maybe it’s practical for a typical low snowfall resort run on manmade snow in the eastern U.S., but we’re talking about Northern Vermont, where snowfall is as much or more than many resorts in the Rockies. In any event, I was happy that they at least had a pair of the Sin 7s to try, so I got those set and headed for a run with E and the boys.
From the top of the Fourrunner Quad, we headed out along Ridge View, and holy cow could those Sin 7s carve! I’m not talking about carving well for a wider ski; I’m talking about carving as well as my Salomon carving skis. I was flabbergasted. Although awesome in powder, I’m fairly unimpressed with the way my 115 mm wide AMPerages carve when they’re out on hard snow. They’re really what I’m used to for skis above the width of my RT-86s in that 80-90 mm range, so that’s what I had to go with in terms of fatter skis’ ability to get out of the powder and onto firmer surfaces. Frankly, as much as I like my AMPerages for powder, even shallower accumulations of powder where their girth keeps you nicely off the subsurface, I can’t even believe that the concept of using them as an all around ski is even brought up – unless your home mountain is Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, or something equivalent, it just doesn’t seem practical based on the harder snow performance I’ve experienced. Granted, the Sin 7 is almost 20 mm narrower at the waist, but it literally felt like you weren’t giving up anything with them on the carving front, at least in the relatively soft corn snow we had today. I’m still smiling right now thinking about how much fun it was carving up that snow on the Sin 7. Next up on our run was a trip down Hayride, and they handled it nicely, carving smoothly as needed in the terrain that hadn’t bumped up, or slipping and sliding through the bumps with that soft shovel. In the bumps was where I could tell that I’d be happy to lose the extra length and come down to one of the shorter sizes, but I can only imagine how quick those 164 cm and 172 cm versions must be. On the next run I wanted to try them off piste, so we went through the Bypass Chutes and down into the Nosedive Glades. Even though we were heading off piste, the snow was great, not sticky like it can sometimes be on these spring days; areas that had already received a few turns were definitely the best, but even places without traffic were often decent. It was especially fun introducing E to the Nosedive Bypass area – I’m not sure if we’ve ever brought here out there before. We had a blast exploring the different chute options and routes down in the Nosedive Glades; I knew we’d be back there multiple times during the day. Again, the Sin 7 was a joy to ride, and my only thought was about what they would be like if they were even shorter. People can say all they want about how skis “run” short because of the rocker, and indeed they do, but that rocker is still never going to make a 180 cm ski fit sideways through a gap that is only 170 cm wide.
I popped back into the shop, told the guys about my very favorable impressions of the Sin 7, and inquired about what else I could try that would be similar to those. After some hemming and hawing about not having much available in the 170 cm range because that seemed to be what everyone wanted and had purchased, I got the Dynastar Cham 97 (133/97/113) in a 172 cm length. The guy in the demo shop said that he actually liked these better than the Sin 7, so based on our initial interactions, perhaps I should have been suspicious about how they’d appeal to me. I could tell as soon as I clicked my boots into them that they were stiffer than the Sin 7. For some people that might be a plus, but it’s not something I find to be a necessity in my skis, and I’m finding now that if often detracts from their versatility for my purposes. I wasn’t immediately excited by the stiffness, but I still had to see how the Cham 97 was going to behave in action, so we headed up for another run.
The boys were anxious for some lunch, and wanted to eat up at the Octagon, so we stopped in there for a midday meal. I didn’t think they’d have the selection of food that we’d get down in the main lodge, but they really have some excellent options up there now. I got a nice seared tuna wrap that seemed to have some sort of tzatziki sauce, and it really hit the spot, while E got a turkey wrap with turkey, bacon, apple butter, green apples, arugula, and probably more, but that’s all that she could remember. We order the wraps at the register along with some hot dogs for the boys, and they brought them right over to us at our table once they were prepared. The Octagon was definitely hoppin’ today with the beautiful weather, but we got a nice window seat near the deck and it was a great time. It was little breezy outside at times, but a lot of people chose to sit out there as well.
It was sort of strange to have the Cham 97s out there at the ski racks during lunch without even having ridden them yet, but it was nice to be able to jump right on them as soon as we were done eating. We took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes so that I could put them through their paces. It was nice to drop some length from the Sin 7 as we worked our way through those steep, narrow chutes, so that was a plus. However, even in the shorter length and essentially the same width (dropping to 97 mm vs. the 98 mm on the Sin 7s), the Cham 97s were slower edge to edge and just not as nimble all around. Once we got out onto Nosedive and I did some carving on groomed corn snow, I could certainly see that they carved much better than my more tradition CMH Explosivs which have a similar 95 mm underfoot, but they were nowhere near being on the same snappy level as the Sin 7. One fun aspect of the Cham 97 that was noted by Dylan, was the fact that the shovels of the skis looked like chainsaws, so he was having fun trying to stay away from the fronts of my skis while we were in the tighter confines of some of the Bypass Chutes, lest he get cut in half. One run on the Cham 97s was enough though, because it was simply no contest against the Sin 7, so I popped into the demo shop for my next pair.
The third ski I tried was the K2 Annex 98 (131/98/119) in a 170 length – these were lots of fun, and seemed very close to the Sin 7 in terms of what I was looking for. I rode them for two runs, first a run that Dylan requested over toward the Mountain Triple via Ridge View and Sunrise, and then another through the Bypass Chutes. Carving was very reminiscent of the Sin 7, easy and smooth, and they were also fun in the tighter confines of the Bypass Chutes and Nosedive Glades. I still gave the personal preference edge to the Sin 7, especially considering that I’d tried it a 180 cm ski, but the K2 Annex 98 was certainly in the running.
Dylan said that he was starting to feel his legs getting tired after those runs, so he and E decided to hit the lodge, but I had time for a couple more runs, and I wanted to make the most of my ski demo day. Ty said that his legs were feeling great, so he stuck with me for more turns. When I inquired about the next ski in the demo shop that time, I let them know that it was OK to go a bit farther afield of the type of ski that I was focused on, and they decided to hook me up with a 170 cm Volkl Mantra (132/98/118). I’ve definitely heard about the Mantra, since it’s been around for years, and the demo guys were saying that this would be one that would require a bit more muscling around relative to the others I’d been skiing. Imagine that, a Volkl ski with stiffness and such – I think we’ve seen that before! I took a run over by the Mountain Triple with a more cruising theme as we’d done before, and just opened up the Mantras. Well, those things just flew! They were an impressively fast, powerful ski. That was a lot of fun, even if I pushed it a bit into the scary zone at times with the high speeds. Fortunately, the trails were getting pretty empty as we approached the end of the day, so it was easy to let it rip from edge to edge on the runs. Ty was happy that I was going Mach 5 down the trails, because he likes to do that sometimes… or more like all the time if we give him the chance. Anyway, those Mantras were a lot of fun, in a stiffer, less forgiving, take charge, longer turn sort of way. I knew going in that they were not what I was looking for in new skis, but they’ll be great if that’s the sort of skiing you like.
I’d mentioned to the demo guys that I wanted to try something with full rocker, and the ski that they had on hand that I could try was a 170 cm Volkl RTM 81 (126/81/108). For me, a fully rockered ski with no camber is about smearing turns, drifting, and all that, so it seemed weird to think of it in a Volkl. The RTM 81 also has a narrower, 81 mm waist that what I’d been skiing. That seems more like a waist for carving, so I was flummoxed as to what the ski was actually meant to do. Ty and I took them on a run through the Bypass Chutes and the Nosedive Glades to see if the full rocker would help with drifting and sliding through those tight spaces. It was fine, but it didn’t really seem as though that was what it was meant to do. I want to float on top of the snow if I’m going to be smearing turns and sliding sideways, and in a relative sense, these skis didn’t really have the width to excel at that. I did find that they were awesomely fun to carve when we got out on Nosedive. Talking with the guy in the demo shop later, I asked him what the target audience was for such a ski, and he said something to the effect of “Oh, only about 50% of the people that walk in here and ski at this mountain.” I couldn’t figure that out – people want a relatively skinny, fully rockered ski – for what? Based on my conversations throughout the day, I certainly didn’t get the impression that the shop guy and the typical clientele he spoke of are out there on rockered boards so that they can smear and drift turns in the soft snow more easily, but I guess you never know. Later, after looking online for some info on the ski, it appears as though the Volkl RTM 81 is more of a front side carver. I guess it was once again that theme of me not really being on the same wavelength as the guy in the shop. I always thought that camber was what one wanted for carving, so I’m not sure why full rocker is put into a carving ski, and a Volkl to boot. Anyway, they were fun to carve, that sort of ski would be interesting to try in firm conditions to see what they do.
“At least based on the skis I tried, it was fairly easy to come away from the day with the Sin 7 as the clear front runner for my purposes.”
At least based on the skis I tried, it was fairly easy to come away from the day with the Sin 7 as the clear front runner for my purposes. I’m looking for something nimble and flexible that is going to carve tight arcs, fit into tight spaces, and surf on soft snow. The 180 cm length I tried was fine, but I’d definitely go for the 172 cm, or even the 164 cm. Officially I’m in the 172 cm range for my weight, but I’d certainly consider going with the 164 cm, even though everyone says to go longer. I’ve yet to encounter a ski that is too short for what I want, but I can’t say the same for skis that are annoyingly long, and I’m happy to get rid of extra length. I’ve encountered none of the disadvantages that people speak of with regard to shorter skis as my skis have gotten shorter and wider. That’s the shape of the tool for the type of skiing we typically do – soft snow, with short-radius turns in smaller spaces.
Prior to this outing, I’d only tried out skis on demo days, and the one thing I did learn today was that if you want to try demo skis from a shop while having a full selection of models and sizes available, you should shoot for the first half of the season. The guy at Stowe Toys said that they actually started selling off their gear in the middle of February. I’m thankful that they had at least one Sin 7 pair left on hand, because that ski really seemed to best hit the sweet spot I was looking for. Unfortunately, I still don’t know what the Soul 7 feels like, but I’m sold enough on the feel and fit of the Sin 7 that I think they would be a fantastic everyday ski for our typical soft conditions, and having another alpine pair of something wider like my AMPerages for bigger days might work. Actually, at almost 100 mm underfoot, I’m sure the Sin 7 would work fine for everything if I was going to try to go with just one pair of alpine skis. As much fun as fat skis are in powder, they’re far from mandatory.
“…the snowpack, snow surfaces, temperatures, terrain… it all came together to set up some primo spring skiing.”
The overall ski experience today was simply great – the snowpack, snow surfaces, temperatures, terrain… it all came together to set up some primo spring skiing. One complaint would be that there were lift queues for the Fourrunner Quad; it was weird to be waiting in a lift queue in mid April, but with great conditions and only a couple of lifts running, I guess that can happen. For the boys, it was a chance to ski with both E and I on Mansfield without the time constraints and other obligations that happen on many ski program days. On a number of runs, we used the great bumps on Lower National to work on those technical aspects of turns like timing, pole work, rotation, etc. that moguls really bring out. Dylan showed us some impressive runs through there as he continued to refine his upper and lower body separation, and for Ty, who has always naturally had great technique with his poles, we kept him thinking about it as we’d noticed that he tends to let it laps at times. Although they had their fat skis today for the soft snow, you could really see how the rocker in the skis let them slide right through the moguls with whatever amount of carve or slarve the immediate environment required. We all took turns following each other, and I had a great time on Dylan’s Heels watching him make those little personal choices about which line or angle was the best fit as the run progressed. One of Dylan’s favorite accomplishments of the day was actually up in the Nosedive Glades, where he laid down this beautiful drift of close to 180 degrees around one of the trees. It was one of those spontaneous situations where he came upon the right snow and terrain, and it just happened so smoothly that it was a thing of beauty. We actually kept looking for that spot on subsequent runs to recreate the drift, but never seemed to quite find it. We could sort of tell though that it was one of those situations where the spontaneity of the first encounter played into the experience, and you can never quite recreate it anyway. It was a great move though, and seeing him do it couldn’t have been more apt on a day when I was trying out all the sets of wider, rockered skis that give one the ability to put those types of moves into action more easily.
We capped off the afternoon with a trip to Sushi Yoshi, where Ty was able to get his sushi fix, or at least a partial fix, since it’s been hard to find the limit on his consumption. I did get to eat a few pieces without losing my hands to the fray on the sushi board. We’re now eyeing the potential for a winter storm around midweek, so we’ll see if we can get some powder infused into this April. E and the boys have the week off, so we may be able to take advantage of the storm with some family skiing if it comes together.
Our latest modest snowstorm delivered as expected overnight, with 5 inches reported in the upper elevations at Stowe this morning. That was enough to get us to head out for a relatively early start today, so we met Jeff at the Children’s Adventure Center to get Kenny and Liana, who planned to join us for some skiing during the morning before our afternoon BJAMS ski program. We had some breakfast at the Great Room Grill to fuel up (I got to try one of their highly talked about breakfast sandwiches), and by the time we were done eating, all the lifts on the mountain were open.
The snow from this storm was fairly standard in terms of density, but I’d heard that the driest and lightest snow would be found in the higher elevations. We therefore decided to head over to the Gondola instead of making runs on Spruce, where much of the terrain is at lower elevations. Although it was Super Bowl Sunday, there were plenty of people out on the slopes in the morning, and the queue for the Gondola was several minutes long.
“Indeed the snow had plenty of liquid in it and the mountain had seen a decent resurfacing, at least outside the high traffic areas.”
From the Gondola summit we took a run that featured plenty of time on Switchback, and there was a lot of good snow. Indeed the snow had plenty of liquid in it and the mountain had seen a decent resurfacing, at least outside the high traffic areas. The sides of the trails held great snow, and E and I worked with everyone on short radius turns that could keep them in the good snow. We followed up that first run by working our way over to the Fourrunner Quad, where we skied Hayride, got into the Chapel Woods, and got into plenty of other stuff.
What I quickly noticed in the morning was that Kenny and Liana had improved their skiing a lot since I’d last hit the slopes with them – they’re now skiing in one of Stowe’s programs on Saturdays as well as our usual Sunday program, and that’s meaning a lot of time on snow. In Kenny’s case, it meant a dramatic enough improvement that he’d be comfortable skiing with our group on Sunday afternoon. I spent much of the morning assessing what he would need to work on to really bring his skiing up to that next level, and that included slowing down and making both more and shorter-radius turns, separating his upper and lower body even more, and keeping his hands up for more centered balance. By the end of the morning I was confident that he’d be able to ski with our group, especially since I knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere too crazy because the snowpack just isn’t quite ready yet.
The morning had already been quite a workout, so we headed back to the Great Room Grill for some lunch, and then jumped into afternoon ski program to continue tracking down good snow. Luke joined out group with Ty, Dylan and Kenny, and we headed off for more fun on the Gondola, Quad, and Triple. We had a couple of good runs through part of the Nosedive Glades, which are definitely ready for prime time. Kenny definitely held up fine with today’s runs, and I think that he’s really going to have the opportunity to keep working on advanced techniques if he can keep following the other members and noting the techniques that they use to tackle steep and often tight terrain.
Next up on the weather front is the potential for another modest system in the midweek timeframe. We’ve still yet to have a really notable storm this far north this season, but these modest storms are definitely helping to build the snowpack, even if they do so at a slower pace.