Our latest system, Winter Storm Quinlan, was just getting going today, but once it got rolling, it was quite a ride, and I’d say that term applies to both the skiing and the driving. Snowfall rates down here at the house were running at around an inch an hour during earlier day, and the higher elevations were obviously doing at least that well. With that in mind, I decided to hit the mountain in the afternoon, by which point there should have been a good chance at a solid resurfacing of the slopes. I had no idea how long the lifts were going to hold out in terms of the wind, so I packed midfats and fat skis, with skins for both. It’s always a good insurance policy to have the skins on hand for these types of storm days.
E opted out of heading up with me, since she suspected the driving on the access road was going to be outrageously hairy, and that the storm conditions on the hill were going to brutal. She was, of course, correct on both accounts. On the drive up the Bolton Valley access road, I saw two cars that had ditched on their descents. That wasn’t bad compared to some storms, but it was certainly a sign. Both vehicles had gone off at those steep bottom pitches of the access road as it makes its final dive into the Winooski Valley, which is a common area for cars to bail. For one of the vehicles, a tow truck was just getting set up to pull it out, and it looked like the operator was going to need to take up the entire roadway to do it. Thankfully, he waved me by just as he was about to rig up. In the midst of the heavy snowfall, the scene felt like something out of “Highway Through Hell”. Thankfully, it wasn’t a big rig off the road, but the weather fit the bill. I could see that there were multiple plows working the road to try to keep up with the snowfall, because it was constantly pouring down and making the driving rough.
Up above 2,000’ at the resort, Quinlan was going full tilt in terms of both snowfall rates and wind. Obviously the skiers and riders were dressed for it and took it in stride, but you could see that Village elevations had already taken quite a pounding during the day. By that point, the storm had put down 8-10” of new snow in the Village, and the parking lots hadn’t been plowed since the morning. Moving through the lots was tough with all that snow, and cars without 4WD/AWD and clearance, were definitely struggling to get around. I got a spot right in the top lot from someone who had recently left, but I spent a good amount of time packing and checking my spot to ensure that I was going to be able to get out later.
I hopped on the Snowflake Lift and took a run on Sprig O’ Pine to find that indeed there had been quite a resurfacing of the slopes. That 8-10” of snow certainly wasn’t fluff, and it had started out quite dense, allowing it to bond to the subsurface. The Vista Quad and Wilderness Chair were already down on wind hold, and just as I skied up to the entrance of the Mid Mountain Chair, it went down on wind hold as well. When Mid Mountain goes down, you know the wind is serious.
I could have done some additional laps on Snowflake or headed down to the Timberline Quad, but I really didn’t have a sense for how long they might be able to keep running with the winds. So, I grabbed my skins from the car and headed to the Wilderness Uphill Route. The Lower Turnpike area was sheltered from the winds as usual, but above 3,000’ on the ridgeline, the winds were just brutal. The winds had to be 40 to 50 MPH sustained, and when I hit the final traverse of Peggy Dow’s to the Wilderness Summit, I almost couldn’t skin across because there were already waist-high drifts blocking the route. I had to break trail along the eastern edge of the traverse and cut between the drifts and the trees. Conditions at the Wilderness Summit were a maelstrom, and even in the most sheltered spot I could find, it was still so windy that packing up my skins was a struggle. I laughed to even think of the upper lifts running under those conditions.
I’d say the snowfall accumulations at that point were rough 8-10” at ~2,000’ and 10-12” at 3,000’, and the skiing, as one would expect, was excellent. As noted, there had been dense snow at the start of the storm, and everything of moderate pitch, or even higher angle pitch if the subsurface was smooth, had been resurfaced. I’d seen a couple small groups of folks descending while I was heading up, but after that, I saw nobody. I essentially had the entire main mountain area to myself at that point, and it was just point, go, and ski lots of fresh powder.
With the solitude I’d experienced out on my tour, the intensity of the ongoing storm, and the fact that it was already after 4:00 P.M., I expected to return to a deserted base area. But that wasn’t the case; the Snowflake Lift and Mighty Mite were still running, and some folks were even skiing. After being up in the 40-50 MPH winds, the 20-30 MPH winds around the base area did feel a bit tamer. I couldn’t believe that the new Miso Kome Japanese food stand outside the base lodge was operating, but I’d yet to have a chance to try it, so despite the stormy conditions, I took it as a sign. If they were willing to stay open during a storm like this, then hey, I’ll take the opportunity to try out their food. While attempting to read their menu, which was on a sign pitched several feet away from the stand, it was snowing so hard that I had to keep wiping off the new snow just to get through the various items. It had to be snowing at around 2”/hour at that point. Inside the lodge, everything appeared to be quite normal, and I was even able to grab a couple of pizzas from Fireside Flatbread to bring home to the family. So I guess storm or no storm, the services roll on at the resort.
The final part of Saturday’s outing was the descent down the access road. I’ve obviously been down that road in many, many storms, but the timing of this one with the heavy snowfall rates made it one of the more challenging descents I can recall. We were crawling down the road. Cars were moving at a snail’s pace because the intense snowfall made it hard for the plows to keep up, and the road surface was so slick that you’d almost be slipping off the edge at a full stop. On more than one occasion, I opted to ride the crown of the road because just the natural drainage slope in your lane wanted to guide you off. About halfway down, we caught a nice boost from a plow that was on the way up and set up some added traction to the center of the road. I used that slice of extra traction as much as possible for the remainder of the descent.
It was great to get home with the food and talk about the whole experience at dinner, and all told, that was certainly one of the more eventful ski outings of the season.