After our big autumn storm that brought substantial wind and power outages to Vermont (including our house), cold air came into the area today and brought one last snowfall for the month on Halloween. Powderfreak is out of town, but his colleagues at Stowe kept him apprised of what was going on at the mountain with pictures of the fresh snow.
As is typical for this type of weather setup with a flow from the Great Lakes, the areas around the mountains often get the most vigorous precipitation, which can lower snow levels down to the valleys. I wasn’t home during the day to see if anything frozen fell at our house, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we got something.
It’s interesting to note that if we hadn’t picked up any frozen today that would have been the first time in the 12 years we’ve been at this location that we didn’t get any frozen precipitation in October. So that streak continues for now, but it’s still 12 days later than the mean, and of course it’s the latest “first frozen precipitation” we’ve seen here. I guess with as warm as this October was, it’s nice to even get anything frozen, and at least the snowfall season is officially underway here.
Now it’s on to November, with more substantial chances for snow growing by the day.
We’ve had plenty of pleasantly benign weather days this month, but yesterday was one of those raw October days that really speak to the seasonal progression. Temperatures in the valleys even stayed well down in the 40s F, and a storm passing through the area brought bouts of heavy rain that made walking around outside a rather rough experience. I wasn’t sure if this storm was actually cold enough to bring in some snow to the area, but sure enough, Powderfreak was already posting snowy images from Mansfield this morning and letting us know that the snow level was down to 3,000 feet. Once the clouds began to break away from the mountains in the afternoon I was able to snap an image from my office of the new white near the peak of Mansfield behind some of the colorful foliage still hanging on in the Champlain Valley. We’ve got a potent storm coming into the area Sunday that is expected to bring a lot of wind and rain, and next week there’s the chance for a bit more snow in the area as we get some cooler temperature and a flow that could bring moisture over from the Great Lakes.
It hasn’t been an especially cool fall thus far in Vermont, and in fact we had some rather warm days with temperatures up to 90 degrees F for the Champlain Valley last month. It’s hard to think of potential snow with temperatures like that! Due to the heat, we actually delayed our September apple picking trip to Boyer’s Orchard with the Bennetts and the Burseys for one week to wait for a more autumnal feel. The temperatures and generally fair weather have certainly made for some fantastic outdoor activities, but the warmth may have altered the timeline for the development of the fall foliage color. In any event, by the beginning of last week I could already see that we were past peak color in the Winooski Valley. Bare trees were numerous throughout the hillsides, leaving at least small gaps in the colorful views.
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.