The snow that’s fallen is by no means just fluff – it’s really hefty stuff with a lot of water in it. Thus there hasn’t been a lot of settling, and the snow has really put down quite a base. Indeed, the ski resorts know what a substantial contribution this snow can represent to the start of their base building – Killington opened up for lift-served skiing starting on Tuesday, and even Stowe has started making snow, which they would never do in October if they didn’t think they’d be able to hold onto a good amount of it heading into November.
“…I was really psyched with how the turns felt – they were actually some of the easiest first turns of the season that I can recall in a long time, so I guess my legs are ready.”
I wasn’t able to get out for the last big storm on Sunday, but I had a bit of time this morning and had a chance to head up to Bolton Valley to check out what had transpired in the higher elevations and catch a few turns. The bulk of the snow fell last night while it was dark, so I really only knew what was going on at our place down at 500’ in the Winooski Valley. It was snowing for much of the evening, although it only accumulated to 0.2” due to the marginal temperatures in the 34 to 35 F range. When I checked on the weather this morning, it appeared as though the snow level had crept upward a bit because our precipitation at the house was a mix of mostly rain with just a bit of snow. That had me a little concerned about just how high the snow level had climbed, but so much liquid had fallen by that point (0.79” in our gauge) that there had to be a lot of snow up high.
I assembled my ski gear for a tour, paying special attention to not miss any of those items that one can often forget on that first outing of the season, and headed up to Bolton. On the way up the Bolton Valley Access Road I saw the first signs of what I think was vestigial snow from last night’s lower snow levels at around 1,000’. Snow quickly began to appear more frequently above that point, and it was around 1,400’ when the precipitation changed over to all snow. Up in the Village lots at 2,000’ it was dumping big, fat flakes up to 2” in diameter. It was hard to get a handle on how much snow fell from this most recent event since it was on top of previous rounds of snow, but depending on when the last plowing happened, I was finding 4” new in the 2,000’ elevation lot. The mountain was reporting 6-8”, which didn’t surprise me at all for the higher elevations.
“It was a great ascent, temperatures were right around the freezing mark, there was no wind, and those huge flakes just kept pouring down.”
I headed up the usual Lower Turnpike ascent route, and was happy to find that there was a skin track in place from a couple of earlier skiers. It was a great ascent, temperatures were right around the freezing mark, there was no wind, and those huge flakes just kept pouring down. I only had enough time to make it up to the intersection with the Wilderness Lift Line at ~2,500’, but I’d pressed a quick pace and got a decent workout nonetheless. When I began my descent I was really psyched with how the turns felt – they were actually some of the easiest first turns of the season that I can recall in a long time, so I guess my legs are ready. And, as I noted earlier, this snow is most certainly not fluff – it’s dense with lots of liquid in it. There was no concern about hitting the ground on turns, and there’s actually hardly any brush even showing on the trails. The skiing was great; they certainly weren’t the highest “quality” October turns I’ve had with respect to snow consistency, but the snow certainly wasn’t sopping wet. I was happy to be on my115 mm fats to keep myself from getting bogged down in that dense stuff though. I’d recommend going fairly fat for anyone that is heading up for some turns in this snow. The snow though dense, actually delivered some nice powder turns.
During my tour I checked total snow depth frequently, and I’d say it was something in the range of 8-12” at 2,000’, and a solid 15” at 2,500’. I’m not sure how much more it increased above that point, but 15” at 2,500’ is obviously great for October. All I can say is “wow” with regard to the coverage on those trails though. It’s been an impressive series of storms up high, and I can’t wait until we can get into some more winter storm cycles, which at this point appears like it will be a week or two away in November. Whatever the case, it would be nice to get at least a bit of a break from storms to take care of the lawn and everything else around the house that needs to be prepped for winter.
The appearance of snow in the higher elevations here in the Northeastern U.S. is definitely becoming more frequent as we approach November, and we’ve had two more rounds of Vermont snow in the past week. The first took place on the 26th as a low pressure system made its way across the area, with fairly high snow levels around 3,000′. Then the peaks were whitened again as of this morning with more snow. This latest event was also fairly warm, with snow levels up above 3,000′, but cold air is expected to come in as we enter November, dropping snow levels all the way to the lower mountain valleys. None of these systems have delivered snow amounts worthy of much more than junkboarding, but it’s been nice to have white in the peaks along with October’s foliage. It won’t be long before the snowfall amounts should increase and start to stick around for the winter.
“We just documented our first frozen precipitation and accumulation of the season down here at 500’ in the valley. It started pouring out a few minutes ago as one of those bursts of precipitation came through in the northwest flow – you can see those yellow 28 db returns that disappear as the pulse of moisture barrels into the mountains:
Hearing the racket of the heavy precipitation outside, I decided to check out on the back deck because I know how these things sometimes go – indeed there was frozen precipitation among the rain, in the form of sleet and other dense granules that can typically make it down through the warmer layers of the atmosphere. I don’t even have my snowboard set up yet, but our picnic table out back sufficed to catch the accumulation. Seasonally, the timing of this event was right on track, with the mean for the first trace of snow here at Oct 20th from nine seasons of data. The event has actually brought the median value for that first trace of frozen down from Oct 21st to be right in line with that mean date of the 20th, and the S.D. dropped from seven days to six, so it’s helped to tighten up the data spread. The accumulation might have actually reached the 0.1” threshold for an official accumulation, but I was definitely caught off guard and by the time I grabbed my ruler and made measurements, all the accumulation was below that 0.1” mark so it will have to go down as a trace.”
Dylan and E didn’t get to head out to the slopes yesterday, but after what Ty and I experienced, it seemed like it was worth heading back to Stowe for more. We were hoping that the quality of the snow would hold up, but rising temperatures were a concern – by late morning at our house, lengthy periods of sunshine had already pushed the temperature into the upper 40s F. If Stowe was encountering similar conditions, the freezing line, and the availability of reasonably dry snow, was going to rise way up in elevation.
“…E was really putting out some great turns on herTeles. I was wishing I could make Telemark turns like hers today!”
Fortunately, Old Man Winter was still playing around just to the north. The sun that we were encountering in Waterbury quickly faded behind clouds and increasing precipitation as we headed north through Waterbury Center, and by the time we were passing through Moscow, the temperature had dropped to 40 F and we were under moderate rainfall. Warmer temperatures overnight had definitely melted out some of the lower elevation snows; whereas yesterday we found the first signs of snow around 900’, today they were up around 1,300’ near the Toll House slopes. Snow had melted back a bit at the Midway Lot as well, and we had to walk a couple hundred feet up toward Perry Merrill before we could put on our skins. Temperatures were still quite cool there at 1,600’, in fact, at 37 F it was a degree cooler than what Ty and I had encountered when we’d arrived yesterday. The precipitation had also changed over to light snow.
In order to let both boys go with their alpine skis as Ty had done yesterday, we gave them the Alpine Trekkers, and E and I used Telemark skis. We followed the same ascent route along Perry Merrill and Gondolier that Ty and I took yesterday. Once we got up around 2,500’, there was an excellent skin track along the climbers left of Gondolier, and it helped us make some good time. Dylan seemed to enjoy his ascent, getting his first chance to try out the Trekkers, and his first chance to try out his new Measurement Ski Pole. He was keeping up a great pace, and even as I was following along behind Ty at what seemed like a decent ascent speed, I was often surprised to look back and see Dylan right there nipping at my heels.
Although snow had definitely melted back somewhat in the lowest elevations, once we got up to around 2,000’, the snow depths actually seemed like they’d gained about an inch over what we’d found yesterday. We decided to stop our ascent at ~3,200’ on Perry Merrill based on what we saw for conditions above that and Dylan’s energy level, but we were well up into the dry snow by that point. Here are the typical snow depths that we found in the ascent, this time with three of us teaming up to contribute to the numbers:
As we took a break high on the mountain and got ready for the descent, we experienced notably different weather conditions than what Ty and I had dealt with yesterday. Gone was the pounding snowfall, we just had some clouds, and there were plenty of pockets of sunshine around. It was still below freezing up at that level however, so everyone made sure to quickly put on their extra layers before they chilled down after the hike. E got a call from Claire, who’d suspected that it was our car she’d seen at the base, and a conditions report was passed along.
Once again, Perry Merrill looked good for the descent, so we took the route that Ty and I had used yesterday, especially since we had some good knowledge of the conditions. Ty really liked the conditions high up on the hill, while I think things were a step down from yesterday. The snow sort of transitioned from somewhat wind-affect, upside-down powder, to thicker, spring-like snow. I think that one less day of settling/weather affects, and the fresh snow that was falling, really helped to enhance things yesterday. We definitely got some good turns though, and there were plenty of fresh lines left to ski. I definitely had a more challenging descent that yesterday, switching from fat alpine skis to skinny Telemark skis, but E was really putting out some great turns on her Teles. I was wishing I could make Telemark turns like hers today! In later discussion, she was thinking that it might be all the extra support she’s getting from her new boots, and if that’s the case, they are definitely doing their job.
We decided to stop our ski descent at the 2,000’ mark, because the snow was just getting a little too thin for E and the boys to be continuing on their non-rock skis. It was a quick walk down back to the car into what was becoming a beautiful afternoon, and it was nothing like the maelstrom of wet snow that Ty and I had to deal with yesterday. Everyone felt like they’d gotten in a good workout, so a trip to The Whip was in order to finish off the evening. This October weekend has really marked a great start to the ski season, and we’re hoping there are more like it to come.
Well, we definitely got to witness Mt. Mansfield flexing the snowfall muscles today – despite the fact that we know this mountain’s ability to reel in snow, it just never gets old. Stowe delivers. I’d certainly been contemplating some turns, but after catching Powderfreak’s comment this morning about how it was dumping at the ski area, and then checking the web cams myself to see snow falling hard and fast at the base, that sealed the deal. Ty has been chomping at the bit for some skiing, so he joined me and we headed out in the early afternoon. Temperatures were in the low 40s F in the valleys, and the precipitation was generally light rain. The Worcester Range was visible to the east, white with new snow, but off to the west, a white haze hung over the spine of the Greens and we could see that it was definitely still snowing up there. The precipitation remained rain as we headed up the Mountain Road, but at ~900’ elevation near Northern Lights Lodge, we started to see leftover snow accumulations along the sides of the road. The snow on the ground continued to build, and by the time we pulled into Stowe’s Midway Lot at ~1,600’, we found 2-4” of snow on the ground up on the grassy slopes above. The temperature had only dropped to 38 F, but the precipitation had changed fully over to a light snow comprised of small flakes.
“…despite the fact that we know this mountain’s ability to reel in snow, it just never gets old.”
We changed things up in terms of equipment today, and instead of Tele, we went with alpine gear using Alpine Trekkers for the ascent. I haven’t had the Trekkers out in a while, but it was time to bring them back into service; I’ve finally moved my old Volkl CMH Explosiv fat skis to rock ski status, and I was eager to try them out on one of these early days. My only Tele rock skis are my old skinny Rossignol Hellgates, and with a waist of just 70 mm, they’re really not a great tool for these early season powder days. Combining Tele + skinny + variable early season powder is certainly a recipe for challenge. Another reason to go with the Trekkers today was that Ty’s boots and bindings are now large enough to easily accommodate Trekkers. He’s not at the stage yet with his Tele skiing that he’s ripping up early season, potentially inconsistent powder with aplomb, so going alpine on the tour would be much more enjoyable for him. We decided to go with his carving skis instead of his powder skis for the setup, and fortunately we were able to get a good fit out of his skins from his Telemark skis.
As usual, the Trekkers were great on the ascent. Although going with alpine skis and Trekkers is notably heavier than Tele, it’s typically not a big deal unless you’ve got huge tours to do. My biggest issue was with my skins – I’m not sure if the old skins for my CMH Explosivs have lost their water repellency, but whatever the case, today’s conditions had them catching and carrying a bunch of snow at times. I’d have Ty clean the underside of the skins off for me when we stopped, but we could never quite keep them from re-accumulating a coating of snow. Fortunately, Ty’s skins had no issues in that regard. The snow on the ground was quite wet at the base, but it dried out substantially as our elevation increased. We ascended via a bit of Perry Merrill, and then Gondolier to the Cliff House, and we observed the following snow depths with respect to elevation:
Aside from Ty’s first chance to try out Alpine Trekkers another new addition on this outing was his own Measurement Ski Pole. I put together measurement poles for both Ty and Dylan this fall, and it was great having Ty reporting depths along the ascent – with two observers we were able to collectively decide on the best approximations of depths to create the list shown above. It also kept Ty very interested in going higher, even if just to see how much deeper the snow was going to get. Although Dylan didn’t go out to the slopes today because he was off with E doing some shopping, based on Ty’s experience I think he’s going to have a lot of fun with the measurements on our next outing.
It was around 4:30 P.M. when we hit the top of the Gondola at ~3,600’, and the snow was coming down with some good intensity. It wasn’t quite inch an hour snowfall since the flakes were still fairly small, but it felt like it was somewhere between ½ and 1 inch/hr and it was quite impressive. We took shelter under the Cliff House to gear up for the descent because of the intensity of the snowfall, but there was almost no wind, so it was nice to hang out and watch the flakes pour down. With the late hour, thick clouds, and hefty snowfall, it had that dusky feel of December in the north. Ty and I discussed how it just as easily could have been December with all the snow. Another great milestone for Ty was the fact that this was his first full ascent to the Gondola, and it was nice to see that he still had plenty left in the tank at the top. We put a call in to Mom to let here know that we’d be descending soon, but also to let her know about Ty’s accomplishment.
We fueled up with some food and drink, but didn’t loiter too long because we knew the light was going, and we had to get in some shopping for dinner on the way home. Soon, we headed off down Perry Merrill, and one of the more challenging aspects wasn’t the snow, but the intense snowfall and reduced visibility. I’d been sort of soured on my CMH Explosivs the last time I’d used them, because they felt heavy and long and I just didn’t want to push them around, but today I’d say there was a newfound love for them. For whatever reason, perhaps because we were out on open trails instead of tight places, they felt great today – fat and stable, and just what one needs for the inconsistent early-season snow. Ty had to work hard on his skinnier skis to handle the powder, but we worked on technique on the way down and he made some great turns. I told him that if he could ski the powder on these skis, he’ll be cranking away when he’s on his powder skis.
That more intense snowfall was with us on the entire descent, and the freezing line had gone down as well. Back at the car, heavy wet snow was falling, and the temperature was down to 35 F, three degrees below where it had been when we’d arrived. It was the sort of precipitation that soaked you very quickly once you were out of your Gore-Tex, and we both got pretty wet putting away the gear and switching out of clothing. The precipitation eventually changed back to rain as we dropped into the valleys on the drive home, but it was raining quite hard at times. There had already been some additional snow accumulations down to lower elevations by the time we were leaving, and the snow in some of the lower elevations actually looked better than it had on the way up due to some new covering. Overall the quality of the skiing was quite good, especially up high, and it could be even better tomorrow with more snow falling tonight.
The last snowstorm of the 2012-2013 winter season extended all the way out to Memorial Day weekend to produce some great late season skiing, but now that we’re well into summer and all the snow has melted, we can look back at how the winter went down at our location in Vermont’s Winooski Valley. The main focus in the seasonal analysis below is on snowfall, but snowpack and temperatures will be discussed as well. In this post I’ve hit on some of the highlights that came out of the data, and attached our various plots and graphs, but to get to the full data set, you can use the following link:
Thankfully, this past season’s snowfall (144.2”) marked a notable increase over the previous season (115.3”), but the total snowfall for 2012-2013 was still less than 90% of average, so that’s not likely to lift the season into the category of “great” winters. In addition, the amount of snow on the ground at the house last season didn’t help to improve the winter’s standing. Using the value of snow depth days as an integrative way of representing the season’s snowpack, one finds the 2012-2013 winter season producing a value of 729 inch-days, less than half the average value, and right down there in the basement with the well below average 2011-2012 season (688 inch-days). And, if the overall snowpack depth hadn’t already undermined any chances of redemption to an average level, the 2012-2013 snowpack secured the season’s ignominy by reaching the lowest value we’ve seen in January and February (3.0”), and coming within a hair’s breadth of melting out in the area around our measurement stake at a record early date in mid March:
Often, each month of the winter/snowfall season has its own unique flavor with respect to the weather, so one method I like to use to get a feel for the winter is to look at it on a month-by-month basis. Again, the focus below is on snowfall at our location, but snowpack is also considered, as well as mountain snowfall/snowpack and the associated effect on the local skiing. I’ll have a separate 2012-2013 ski season summary coming up, so I’ve kept the ski discussion minimal here in anticipation of a more thorough discussion in that report. The month’s total snowfall is listed at the start of each section below for reference:
Snowfall: 0.1” – October snowfall isn’t reliable enough down at our elevation to be factored much into the seasonal assessment, but this October was on the weak side, with just a tenth of an inch of snow, vs. the mean of roughly an inch. One small feather in the cap of 2012-2013 is the fact that the first accumulating snow fell on October 12th, which beats out 2010-2011’s October 15th snowfall by three days, and now represents the earliest measurable snowfall I’ve recorded here at the house since I started monitoring the weather in 2006.
Snowfall: 49.5” – December held the first lengthy, redeeming snowfall period of 2012-2013. Although the first half of the month was extremely poor on snowfall (just 2.2” of snow at the house), from the 16th of December onward, temperatures got cold and snow came in for a dramatic change; close to 50” of snow fell on us in the second half of the month, and as a whole the month actually wound up several inches above average. We received our second (15.5”) and fourth (11.7”) largest storms of the season during that stretch, right near Christmas and just a few days apart, so needless to say, the snow was there to set quite the holiday mood in the valleys and up above on the slopes.
Snowfall: 21.9” – January continued that good, snowy weather pattern in its first week, albeit to a lesser degree than December, but unfortunately that modest first week ultimately wound up representing roughly half of the month’s snowfall. The second week featured a couple of substantial thaws with no measurable snow, and in fact we received no accumulating snow at all for the period between January 7th and 16th, a very long stretch for the mountainous areas of Northern Vermont during the winter. The third week of January offered just a few small systems, and the fourth week was arctic cold with minimal snow. The final week attempted to recoup the losses with a modest half foot storm, but it was too little too late – the month ended with just 21.9” of snow, by far the lowest January in my records. The combination of very low snowfall and two January thaws was very deleterious to the valley snowpack – after coming down from the depths achieved in December, the snowpack depth at our location never even reached 10 inches again during the month, and got as low as 3.0 inches. That is ridiculously close to losing the winter snowpack in January, definitely the closest we’ve come based on my records since 2006.
Snowfall: 31.4” – February was again below average in snowfall, partly due to the continuation of the dry arctic pattern in the first week, and it wound up missing the mark for the lowest February in my data set by less than an inch. Although that persistent dry pattern didn’t make for a very snowy first half of the month, our third largest storm of the season (12.6”) hit in the second week. It was still a rather modest storm, but at least it did break that one foot mark for accumulation at the house. By the end of the third week of February, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake actually poked above average for the first time in about a month and a half – but it was only by a couple of inches, and it quickly went back below average as the snowpack sat there essentially stagnant for an entire month. On February 21st, the snowpack was at 65”, and roughly a month later on March 18th, it was still at 65”, without any major consolidation of more than a few inches. That’s stagnant. Our snowpack at the house languished similarly, never even getting above 10 inches of depth during that stretch – and that’s a time of year when it is usually building to its peak of the season. The carryover of the low snowpack from January also set the lowest mark (3.0”) for snowpack that we’ve ever seen in February.
Snowfall: 0.0” – There was no accumulating May snowfall down at the house this season, but that’s not too much of knock on the Month, because not getting snow in May is more the norm than actually getting snow. The mountains did get that beautiful Memorial Day weekend storm though, and the late season powder skiing was mighty fine. Although I can’t factor that directly into the analysis for the valley, it was quite cold in the valleys at the end of the month, and close to even snowing there.
There were a couple of other interesting notes with respect to snowfall this season:
1) Storm frequency and average storm size: Despite coming in below average for snowfall, the 2012-2013 season offered up a healthy 51 accumulating snowstorms, almost up there with the 53 storms we received in 2007-2008. Of course, to come in below average for snowfall with that many storms indicates that the average snowfall per storm was down, and indeed it was. At 2.8”/storm, 2012-2013 ranks down there with 2011-2012 (2.6”/storm), the only odd seasons out compared to the more typical seasons up near 4”/storm. For whatever reason, this season’s average came in on the low side. This is presumably due in part to many of the everyday events being on the small side, but also due to the lack of bigger storms, which is covered in point #2 below.
2) Storms with double-digit snowfall: It’s certainly an arbitrary and subtle distinction, but after looking through my data, I noticed an interesting trend with respect to each season’s largest storms for our location. In my season summaries, I always make a list of the top five storms of the season, and when the season seems to have gone well, all of those top five storms have been in the double digits for snowfall. In fact, the “best” seasons thus far have been able to surpass that five-storm threshold. For reference, here’s the top five list for this season, with the links to the detailed web pages for each storm:
Indeed, if we look at the number of storms with double-digit snowfall by the seasons, we see an obvious trend. With the number of double-digit snowfall storms listed in parentheses after the season, one notes those “good” seasons – 2007-2008 (6), 2008-2009 (7), 2010-2011 (7) seemed to find a way to exceed five double-digit storms, whereas the poorer snowfall seasons – 2006-2007 (4), 2009-2010 (2), 2011-2012 (3), 2012-2013 (4) just didn’t. Surely the law of averages comes into play here to some degree – seasons with patterns producing lots of snow likely have a greater chance of getting a big storm in here, but that’s not a given. It’s also very suspicious that those seasons that come in sort of in that middling ground like 2006-2007 and our season of interest for this summary, 2012-2013, fall just short of making the cut. I suspect this trend may be more intact in a location like ours because of the relatively high number of storms and snowfall, and upslope snow (which was on the low side this season) as an extra protection against huge snowfall variance, but this is going to be an interesting trend to follow into the future as a gauge of snowfall seasons.
In sum, while snowfall was certainly a bit below average, and snowpack was well below average, I’d still give the season a reasonable grade. If C is average, I’d go with a C- for 2012-2013, just a bit off from making the average. Were snowpack a more significant factor in my winter preferences, one could argue for going a bit lower, but at least minimal snowpack was maintained throughout the entirety of the winter to keep everything white. Overall it could have been a lot worse, and with the amount of snowfall we did get, it’s hard to drop the season into the D range, which, based solely on snowfall and snowpack at the house, is where I’d put a season like 2011-2012.