For several days the weather modeling has suggested an early winter storm would be affecting the area after Thanksgiving, and indeed it really began to ramp up the snowfall yesterday. The ski area webcams were suggesting some nice accumulations at elevation, so I headed up to Bolton this morning for a bit of ski touring.
In terms of snow accumulations, what I found is definitely more than what they’ve got in their snow report (5-8”), but they did indicate they had trouble with blowing at their stake. It’s possible my measurements were getting down into existing snowpack, but it seems like that should have been consolidated from recent temperatures. The backside upslope snow was also coming down while I was out there today, so that likely added a bit to the totals:
Like what we picked up down at the house, the snow I found at the mountain was generally dense, and it put down a substantial addition to the base on the slopes. We picked up over an inch of liquid at our site in the valley from this storm, and I’d say the slopes of Bolton easily picked that up as well. It feels like there’s at least an inch of L.E. at the base elevations, and probably something like two inches of L.E. up high. Some of the higher elevation snowpack could have come from previous events, but in any case, that’s a substantial amount of L.E. in place.
There were a couple inches of drier upslope snow to finish off this storm cycle, but the bulk of it was that denser snow, and that’s definitely what set the tenor of the skiing. There were no concerns about hitting anything under the snow on trails without any overt obstacles like large rocks, and any terrain that was smooth up to the level of single black diamond pitch was fine to ski unless it was wind scoured. In fact, the snow was too dense for skiing any low angle terrain, so you really had to be on moderate to steep terrain or you would be bogged down and just have to straight-line to maintain speed. Skiing on terrain with the right pitch was quite good though, and you could carve right into the powder and just let the skis surf.
In terms of the ski conditions it was certainly a fairly typical early season affair, and I’d say waiting for that second storm to put down the extra snow was the way to go. I opted to tour up at the main base, and there were clearly at least a couple more inches of settled depth up there (~2,000’) vs. what I found at the Timberline Base (~1,500’).
I could tell from the get go as I was ascending the Lower turnpike skin track and watching other skiers descend there, that the density of the snow was going to call for more moderate angle terrain vs. low angle terrain. The snow was fairly medium weight powder, which was of course good with respect to providing some base for skiing. There was obviously no existing snowpack below these storms, so if these recent snow had been 2-4% H2O champagne, there would have been a lot of dicey contact with the ground. But, this medium weight snow was dense enough that there was just too much resistance for low angle terrain – skiers and riders had to straight line their way down and/or use old tracks to keep moving on those angles.
Here’s the settled snow depth profile I observed during my tour:
Terrain in the medium to low-angle range was required for solid turns, and that meant that it was a balancing act between choosing terrain that had enough pitch for turns, but not too much pitch that you were going to be outskiing the available snow depth. There was also the factor of finding relatively protected terrain – that first storm especially, had some ridiculous winds, and scouring of the exposed slopes was rampant.
So, good knowledge of the local terrain was important, but once you found the appropriate setup there were some nice midwinter powder turns to be had. There was as always that exercise of not going too steep, aggressive, or rocky to outperform the available snow, so of course having knowledge of those grassier options was important in providing the best ski experience.
It was a solid first day out at the mountain, and it looks like we’ve got some warmth coming in the next week or so before we have any additional chances for snow.
Temperatures continued to run below average today, but were expected to top out around 20 F in the midafternoon, so Dylan and I headed back up to the mountain to check out the new snow and get in a ski tour. Not surprisingly, we found snow that was much improved over last week. At base elevations around 2,000’ we were finding 5 to 7 inches of powder atop the base, and up around 2,700’-2,800 where we topped out, depths were right around a foot.
Dylan is in the process of getting new equipment and gear since he’s outgrown so much of his stuff, so he was using E’s powder Telemark skis and Ty’s outwear. It all seemed to work really well for him though, and he was ripping up the powder when we found it. I’d say that was actually the main issue on the day; since the big storm was back on Monday and Tuesday, people have skiing that snow all week and large areas of untracked snow were at a premium on the lower slopes of Wilderness. We definitely got in some nice turns, but we had to really stick to the edges and seek out those spots that people has missed.
We’ve got yet another winter storm coming into the area tomorrow into Tuesday. This one’s expected to be a bit messy on the front end with some freezing rain, but it’s supposed to change over to snow as the system pulls off to the east. Whatever the case, it should all represent more material for building the base. It looks like there’s another storm expected toward the end of the week as well, so we’ll be watching to see how that will set things up atop the current base of snow.
The local ski resorts hadn’t picked up too much more than we had, but totals in the 6 to 10” range seemed typical, and that was certainly enough to entice me out for some early season turns. With that in mind, this morning I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to get in a ski tour and check out the new snow. With the fairly fluffy nature of the snow and based on what we’ve seen at the house over the past couple of days, I’m sure there had been some settling since it fell, but here’s the snow depth/elevation profile of what I found from the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road up to the local summit areas:
I started my ski tour around midday, when temperatures were just edging a bit above freezing at our house down in the valley, but above 1,500’, and certainly above 2,000’, temperatures never got above freezing so the snow was all winter consistency.
In terms of the skiing, it was undoubtedly early season, and rock skis would be your best bet if you’re going on anything with substantial pitch. I actually found the skiing better on the lower half of the mountain because there was a bit of a base there – I think more of the snow down in those elevations was melting on contact with the ground to create that dense layer. Up higher, the consistency of the snow was more straight fluff from top to bottom. As is often the case, most water bars had reasonable crossings at least at one point, but a few were dicey and took some extra navigation. There’s still running water in plenty of spots, and ponding in some flat areas. On my descent it was obvious that my skis got in contact with at least traces of that moisture, because about halfway down I had to pull out a credit card and spend probably 10 minutes doing a scrape down on the ski bases to really get things back in shape for gliding.
That effort was worth it though, because for the bottom half of my run I was on Lower Turnpike, and that offered what was unquestionably the best skiing of the tour. The combination of that bit of dense snow that accumulated as some base down in those elevations, plus some skier traffic packing down areas of the new snow as well, clearly created the best subsurfaces I encountered. On top of that you’ve got the fact that Lower Turnpike is essentially all grassy terrain, and it has a pitch that isn’t really overbearing for the amount of snowpack we’ve got, and it comes together for real winning combination. Even with some skier traffic, there was still plenty of powder to play around in throughout the trail, so that was a great way to finish off my run.
For anyone heading up, you may still want to hit the summit areas to check things out and get the exercise from a more substantial tour, but if you’re just looking to get out from some quality turns, Lower Turnpike is probably going to get you the most bang for your buck. It’s one of the designated ascent routes anyway, so there’s a nice skin track and it’s an efficient way to in some nice turns on the new snow.
I just got an alert on my phone this morning that we’re under a Winter Storm Watch in association with the next system. This one looks more substantial than this past one, but we’re still a day or two out so we’ll need to watch for any final refinements to the forecast.
One approximate measure of when the potential natural snow/off piste skiing begins each season here in Northern Vermont is the date when the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaches 24 inches. This is by no means an exact date, especially since it’s possible to get great turns on just a few inches of snow if the snow is dense and the underlying surface is grass instead of rocks. You can indeed get by with much less than 24 inches of snowpack if the snow is very dense, but not if it’s all Champlain Powder™ fluff. Based on empirical observations and reports from skiers in the area each season though, hitting the 24” mark is reasonable for most situations.
With that preface, let’s take a look at where last season sits with regard the start of the natural snow/off piste skiing around here. By most accounts, last season started off with bang. Even in the local mountain valleys, the winter snowpack started as early as November 10th. That’s very early for the valleys, and when the valleys are doing well, the mountains certainly are too.
The updated plot for the 60+ seasons in the Mt. Mansfield Stake database is below, with last season represented by the red star:
Before I add a bit of context to last season’s start, here are the stats for the data set:
Mean: Dec 12th
Median: Dec 9th
Mode: Dec 16th
S.D.: 18.8 days
Entry of this year’s data point had no effect on the mean, mode, or S.D. (within a tenth of a day), but it did drop the median by one day from Dec 10th to Dec 9th.
The plot would suggest a reasonably good start, but nothing outrageous: last year’s 24” date was Nov 27th, which is only 0.78 S.D. ahead of the mean, so well within 1 S.D. That puts it in roughly the top 22% of seasons, so about 1 in 5 seasons will have a similar or earlier 24” date.
While the 24” date is a nice snapshot for the start of the natural/off piste season, there are of course a number of other factors to take into account that made last November more impressive than that number alone:
1) Near miss: If you look at the raw November stake depth data (posted below), you can see that the snow depth at the stake reached 23” on Nov 21st. That’s as close of a miss as you can get to hitting 24”, so even as of the 21st of the month, the snowpack had essentially hit that two-foot level. Getting to that level by the 21st brings a season past 1 S.D. and into that top ~15% of seasons. That’s not a huge bump in this regard, but having nearly an extra week of borderline two-foot snowpack at that part of the season could easily mean an entire additional weekend of natural snow skiing potential.
2) No going back: This is a much bigger feather in last season’s cap. Even from about mid-month, the snowpack never really took a major hit, and once it did hit that 24” mark on Nov 27th, there was really no going back. It sailed past 24” and just kept climbing as you can see in the numbers at the end of the month. I haven’t added the December numbers below, but even with the lackluster December we had, the snowpack never dropped below ~40”. That can’t be said for all of the seasons on the left side of the plot (certainly not Mr. October out there in front, which was the 2006-2007 season – he was back to 0” at the stake by mid-November).
3) Snow-depth days: I haven’t calculated this for any November with the stake data, but it will obviously be a good integrative measure of how much snow was on the ground for the start of the season. I’m sure last November would have a solid ranking if I put those data together.
So, if we look into that left side of the plot, do we have any other recent seasons in there that we can use for comparison to last season?
Actually, that lone star (Nov 25th) just to the left of the red star for last season is for 2007-2008. We know that was a solid season around here. The snowpack began building in the first week of November, and there was really no going back there either. Unlike this past season, that solid November was followed up by a stellar December (almost 70” of snow here at the house) and the Mansfield snowpack was hitting five feet by the holidays. With a solid December, last season certainly would have given 2007-2008 a run, but instead it was languishing at around 40” at the stake during the holiday period.
With regard to some of the other stars up at that end of the plot:
The two compatriots of last season on the plot, those other two stars on Nov 27th, are 1997-1998 and 1977-1978. 1997-1998 looks pretty solid with a snowpack start in the first week of November, and snowpack at about that five-foot mark by the holiday period. There’s also a nice-looking bonus stretch of snow at the end of October, with snow at the stake for almost the last third of the month, and the depth peaking at 16”. Checking my archives, I actually went for some lift-served skiing at Sugarbush on Oct 28th, so that speaks to that period snow being a bit of something special. 1977-1978 was before my time around here, but it looks a bit tamer. There was nothing in October, then snowpack began to build around mid-November and was getting around the four-foot mark by the holidays.
The two stars right at Nov 20th are interestingly, back-to-back seasons of 1967-1968 and 1968-1969. Both had a little October snow, and then a snowpack start in the first week of November. Both had pretty steady climbs right through November and December, with 1967-1968 getting to around 40” for the holiday period, and 1968-1969 hitting a very robust 6+ feet of snowpack for the holidays. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, as that was just the start of a season that would become legend.
The star at Nov 18th is 1965-1966, and the progression looks sort of like 1967-1968. That’s quite a 4-year stretch of good early seasons from ’65-’66 to ’68-’69 with those three solid starts.
The star at Nov 16th is 1980-1981. That season is interesting in that the snowpack started building on Oct 20th and sailed right into November without ever going back to zero. Snowpack was 4+ feet for the holidays, but the rest of the season looks modest (relatively speaking) with the snowpack depth never getting above 6 feet.
The star on Nov 14th is for something more recent: 2003-2004. I was out in Montana for that one, but snowpack started building in the second week of November, it was 4+ feet at the holidays, and hit the 100” mark in March.
The star on Nov 13th is for 1976-1977. That looks like an impressive start, with snowpack taking hold in the second half of October, climbing right through November, and hitting roughly the 4-foot mark for the holidays. The stake didn’t quite top out at 100” that season, but it did pretty well topping out at 94”.
The final early star I haven’t mentioned yet is the one on Nov 11th, that’s for the 1990-1991 season. It seems like the only other boom and bust start to go with Mr. October (2006-2007). There was a little inkling of snow at the end of October and start of November, but snowpack started building at the end of the first week of the month and topped out at a very impressive 45” on Nov 14th! It was a downhill slide after that though. The snowpack never went lower than 9” but there were only 12-18” on the ground for the holiday period, and on Dec 30th it dropped from 18” to 13”, so that must have been quite a dagger in the holiday week (I guess that depends on whether it was a nice spring skiing day or a nasty rainstorm). The rest of that season seemed pretty blasé because the snowpack never even hit 5 feet. I don’t recall much about that season, but I’m assuming there was nothing too remarkable.
I had some time this morning, so I headed up to the Bolton Valley Village for a ski tour from the main base. Temperatures that were a degree or two above freezing in the valley with easy driving conditions gave way to temperatures in the upper 20s F, snowfall, and wind at 2,000’. The main skin track on Lower Turnpike was in great shape, so the going was easy on my ascent. Although there’s been more snow since my Tuesday outing with Ty, it’s settled now, so the overall feel is definitely denser. The checks I made throughout my tour revealed a settled depth of 22 inches pretty consistently, so I’d say that’s where the recent snow sits. There’s also been more wind over the past couple of days, so protected areas definitely offer the best turns. The skiing definitely has a Pacific Northwest feel – that feeling that you can basically go anywhere you want and you’re not going to hit anything below because the dense snow is going to protect you. The feel in the valleys fits right in as well, with temperatures right around freezing, and dense, dripping snow caked on all the trees – and any other objects upon which is sits.
“The checks I made throughout my tour revealed a settled depth of 22 inches pretty consistently, so I’d say that’s where the recent snow sits.”
Today our area has been under the influence of Winter Storm Bruce, a low pressure system that’s crossing through New England and bringing copious amounts of moisture with it. School was cancelled for Ty due to the storm, so I came home a bit early in the afternoon with the hopes of getting together for a ski tour up at Bolton Valley. There was some very heavy snowfall in the early afternoon period that was easily putting down an inch or two of snow an hour, so I was a bit leery about trying to negotiate the Bolton Valley Access Road under such conditions. But, the heavy snow let up a bit in the midafternoon timeframe, and we figured the plows would be able to keep up with it so we headed out.
The Bolton Valley website indicates that the Timberline area is strictly closed to traffic right now (perhaps due to chairlift work) so we headed up to the main base for our tour, and that turned out to be a great starting point. The amount of snow that the Village picked up from this storm was quite impressive – we both did numerous depth checks and found 18 to 20 inches of snow at 2,000’. The depth of the new snow was essentially the same all the way up above 3,000’, so I’d say that everything from this storm fell as snow at least down to the Village level.
There was a great skin track set on Lower Turnpike, which was a godsend with so much fresh snow. Temperatures were in the upper 20s at 2,000’, so all the snow up there was quite dry. It certainly wasn’t Champlain Powder™ fluff, but it was medium-weight powder with a right-side-up distribution and the skiing was fantastic – definitely a day for the fat boards. Ty was on E’s 115 mm Black Diamond ElementTelemark boards, and he really likes the way they handle the powder. I knew we’d need some steep pitches to handle this snow, so that’s what we sought out, and the skiing was simply fantastic. This storm brought plenty of liquid equivalent in the snow (1.5 inches of total liquid form the storm even down at our house in the valley) so it’s covered everything really well and there’s not much to worry about with such a substantial base already in place ahead of this storm.
The actual action photography was quite a challenge today because we’re talking fairly late afternoon, late November light, and snowfall, but I used my brightest lens (Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM) and we did our best with the light we had. Bolton Valley is now reporting 66 inches of snow on the season, which is a great way to get rolling in November.
With the great run of November snowfall we’ve had, Bolton Valley decided to run some of its lifts today as an early kick off to the season. In addition to running the lifts, they had a number of events taking place, such as special discounts and lunch specials for pass holders, as well as roasting marshmallows outside by an open fire.
“The powder from Thanksgiving has settled somewhat, but I still found a general 12 to 24 inches in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range.”
E and the boys and I headed up to catch a few runs, and I decided to skin up from Timberline and meet the rest of the family up at the Village. Since our last visit to the mountain on Wednesday, the Thanksgiving cold front snows had definitely freshened up the powder on the slopes. Some skiers had been out since then, but overall traffic was much lighter than what it had been at the beginning of the holiday week. The powder from Thanksgiving has settled somewhat, but I still found a general 12 to 24 inches in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range. Temperatures were right around 30 F when I arrived, and were even climbing a bit above freezing as I made my ascent to the Village.
Only the lower mountain lifts were in operation today, so there were lift queues of about 10 minutes, but it was such a nice day that nobody seemed to mind hanging out as they kicked off the season. E and the boys had done a couple runs before I arrived, and once we caught up, Dylan and I headed for a little tree skiing in the powder while Ty worked on some snowboarding with E. We then stopped in for the lunch special at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery, which has been remodeled a bit to provide more seating.
After lunch I headed back to my car at Timberline via the Timberline Summit, and snow in the sunny areas was getting a bit thicker, but I found some excellent dry powder by sticking to north-facing and sheltered terrain. We’ve got a Winter Weather Advisory in effect overnight into tomorrow, but that’s for mixed precipitation. This system should add a bit of liquid to the snowpack, but there’s not really any snow associated with it. There’s another storm coming in the midweek period however that appears to have much more snow potential.
The big synoptic snowstorms from last week put down a lot of base on the slopes, and this week has followed up with some modest refresher storms to keep the powder fresh. Today’s feather weather event was the passage of an arctic cold front with very impressive snow squalls that reduced visibility to near zero at times – and we were on a ski tour at Bolton Valley just as the first barrage of heavy snow hit the mountains.
Stephen and I had been talking about getting out together for a ski tour at the mountain during this holiday week, and things lined up today so that Johannes and Dylan could join us. I planned on a tour that would bring us from Timberline up to the trails of the main mountain, shooting for some of those lesser used routes to get everyone some fresh tracks. We began mid-morning with light flakes falling, and the snowfall gradually ramped up to a steady, heavy level of intensity with big flakes as we made our way toward Cobrass. While we were switching over our gear for the descent, a big squall enveloped the mountain. Snowfall rates were off the charts, with visibility down to less than 100 feet at times. It was the kind of snowfall where you put your gear down for a few moments, and small stuff could be easily lost because of how fast it became covered.
“Snowfall rates were off the charts, with visibility down to less than 100 feet at times.”
The descent portion of the tour brought us some great fresh powder on routes like Five Corners, Sure Shot, and Tattle Tale. It’s getting hard to tell exactly how much base is down now after so many recent storms, but I was generally getting depths of 15 to 20 inches, with much of that powder. Everything was also topped off with a couple more inches that fell during the tour itself due to the intense snowfall.
Tomorrow is going to be an impressively cold Thanksgiving day, with highs in the mountains around here in the single digits F, so I think it will be nice being inside enjoying some holiday food. Bolton Valley is actually planning to run the lifts on Saturday, at which point it should be much warmer.
By Friday morning, I already knew this was going to be a big weekend for skiing at Bolton Valley. The initial round of snow from Winter Storm Avery had just finished up, and Emma, one of my undergraduate students rushed in just a few minutes before the start of class. She’d been out on a ski tour at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area earlier that morning, and being the dedicated student that she is, she was back right on time for our class session. That good school-life balance if you ask me.
Naturally I had to give her some ribbing about stealing my powder, but I got a good rundown on the conditions, and there was indeed a ton of new snow even down at the Timberline elevations. Combining our third significant winter storm cycle in a week with the start of the Thanksgiving break, and what appeared to be some excellent winter-like temperatures coming on the weekend, sounded like a recipe for a lot of people getting out to enjoy the powdery terrain at Bolton Valley. Indeed, when we were on our ski tour at Timberline yesterday morning, we found that there had been substantial skier traffic on all the trails.
“My depth checks found 16-20” of snow at Bolton’s main base area, and it went up from there with elevation.”
Yesterday’s tour also revealed that the freezing line on Saturday had crept up to around 2,000’, so for today’s tour I decided to head up to the main base and start my ascent from there. The mountain picked up another 2-3” of fluff overnight, and with all the snow at elevation avoiding any warmth and remaining well preserved, the snow surfaces were simply excellent. My depth checks found 16-20” of snow at Bolton’s main base area, and it went up from there with elevation. The resort is reporting 36 inches of snow in the past week, so those depths really shouldn’t be that surprising
“The resort is reporting 36 inches of snow in the past week…”
I toured in the Cobrass/Cobrass Run/Five Corners area today, and found lots of fresh tracks still available. With all the visitors that the resort has seen this weekend, there are literally skin tracks all over the place to get you wherever you want to go – it’s almost like having a skin track highway system. I even checked out some of the tree skiing as I was coming back from the Five Corners area, and you’d almost think it was midwinter with the depths that are available in the woods.