“The turns were definitely the best I’ve had this season.”
While I didn’t have time to head out for any turns yesterday, I was able to find a little time for a ski tour at Bolton Valley this morning. Overnight low temperatures were down in the teens F, pretty chilly by November standards, but the air was calm so it was quite comfortable, especially while skinning. I headed up the Lower Turnpike ascent route, which had a well-established skin track. There had been a decent amount of traffic on Turnpike itself, so when I got up to the final corner of Peggy Dow’s, I headed toward the Wilderness Lift Line where skier traffic had been rather light.
As usual, I made an effort to monitor snow depths throughout the ascent, and what I found should represent the state of the snow with yesterday’s additional snowfall, plus settling through this morning. It was a bit tough to discriminate between the newest snow and what was below, so the numbers I’m reporting below represent what I found for total snowpack depth starting at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road.
Although it was hard to get an idea of where the base snow stopped and where the surface snow began, I do have some info. Down at 1,500’ it seemed like there was maybe an inch or so of base, so most of that was new. Up at 2,100’ there were a couple of inches down, and probably around four inches at 2,500’. I’d guess six inches of base at the 3,000’ level. The wind in the higher elevations made for a larger range of depths, but I didn’t find a huge increase relative to 2,500’. Now that the resort has reported in with 10 inches, that seems like it makes reasonable sense. There may have been a bit of settling, but I’d say snowfall of 10-12” was probably what they picked up.
With respect to the descent, the skiing was great! The turns were definitely the best I’ve had this season. The upper mountain had that substantial base with close to a foot of powder on it, and while overall depths were a bit less on the lower mountain, it was fine on the lower angle terrain there. The snow was definitely on the dry side, so the fat skis were certainly in order for maximizing floatation, minimizing contact with the base, and planing on the lower-angle terrain.
After Winter Storm Goliath last week, we moved into a pattern of snow showers with minor accumulations here and there ahead of a cold front that passed through the area yesterday. The approach of the cold front intensified the snowfall, resulting in snow totals of up to a foot in the Northern Greens. Unlike the dense snow from Winter Storm Goliath, these latest rounds of snow have been light and dry, with densities of 3-6% H2O based on my analyses. With this fluff on top of the dense snow, it was actually a setup for some great powder skiing. The temperature drop with the arctic cold front was notable, with highs expected to be only in the single digits F today, but I still wanted to get out for some turns and exercise, so I decided to go for a ski tour up at Bolton Valley this morning.
Despite temperatures running in the low single digits as expected, I was happy to find that there wasn’t much wind as I ascended the Bolton Valley Access Road. I swung into the Timberline parking lot at 1,500’ on my way up the road, and measured 4-5” of powder over the old base. Although likely serviceable for some turns on appropriate terrain, I know that the base snow is a bit thinner down at that elevation, so I continued on up to the Village at 2,100’ to start my tour. It was right around 0 F up at the Village, and there was the occasional bit of breeze blowing things around, but it was nothing like that wind from last Tuesday during Winter Storm Goliath. I ascended via the designated Wilderness route, and for the first time this season it felt like it was worth a trip all the way to the Wilderness Summit. Indeed that was the case, as the new snow kept getting deeper and deeper, eventually reaching a point where even black diamond terrain was quite skiable. The person before me who had set the skin track up to the summit had descended via Bolton Outlaw, and the turns looked quite nice.
Here’s the summary of the snow depths atop the old base up to the Wilderness Summit at various elevations, with the 500’ value being from our house:
I can’t say that all the snow up on the mountain was necessarily from the past 24 hours, but it’s very easy to distinguish the new powder from the dense base snow that we picked up from Winter Storm Goliath.
Wanting to go for something with a bit more pitch lower down, I passed by Bolton Outlaw and headed to Upper Fanny Hill so that I could also ski its lower portion. Upper Fanny Hill has a healthy black diamond pitch, and in terms of coverage it’s easily good to go now with the dense base covering up everything but the obvious major obstacles. I did find a good representative spot from which I could assess total snowpack depth at around 2,700’, and found it to be 14-15”. There’s a lot of single-black terrain at appropriate elevations that I suspect is good to go for at least the touring crowd, although I’d say one more good shot of liquid equivalent (an inch or so) would be needed to get things going for lift-serviced levels of traffic. I’m sure the mountain could open some natural terrain consisting of mellow pitches at this point if they chose to.
“Upper Fanny Hill has a healthy black diamond pitch, and in terms of coverage it’s easily good to go now with the dense base covering up everything but the obvious major obstacles”
In any event, the powder turns were excellent this morning, with my only complaint being that it was “slow snow” due to the very cold temperatures. Even with 115 mm fat skis keeping me afloat, I had to go steeper than the pitch of typical green terrain for a good ride – in that respect, Fanny Hill was a better choice than Lower Turnpike as I suspected. We’ve got a couple of potential storms coming up this weekend that may deliver something more like Winter Storm Goliath in terms of liquid equivalent. They probably won’t deliver the type of Champlain Powder™ we had with this event, but if they play out well they could set up the base to open a good amount of natural snow terrain.
Best… Bolton… backcountry… tour… ever. That’s really the only way to start this trip report, because even after years of exploring the backcountry around Bolton Valley, that’s what today’s tour was for me. I can’t say that this tour was tops in every category; the powder was fantastic, but there have been numerous days that top it, and E and the boys weren’t with me, so it was a solo outing. What made the tour so great though was the combination of great powder on all aspects, the good distances covered to provide a nice workout, but most importantly, the breadth of the backcountry network used and the substantial number and variety of glades visited. The tour spanned all the way from the alpine trails of Wilderness to the Cotton Brook area, and featured nine different glades. What also made the tour so outstanding was that I could use my knowledge of the area to connect all those glades very efficiently; in terms of powder turns that meant getting the most bang for my buck.
“…we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week.”
It’s a holiday weekend, which typically means lots of visitors to the ski resorts, and the forecast today called for fairly chilly temperatures in the single digits for the mountains. That’s a combination that just calls out for some backcountry touring, and that’s the plan that gradually evolved this past week as I watched the forecast. Although we haven’t had any huge storms in the past week or two, the snow out there in the Northern Greens is simply fantastic – we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week. And, the January weather just keeps all that powder pristine.
Ty was out at a dance until late last night, and friends came back to our house and stayed overnight to play with him and Dylan. I wasn’t about to pull them away from that this morning, and in fact, I wasn’t really planning to ask anyone if they wanted to ski with only single digits in the mountain forecast. I knew it was going to be one of those days where it could be uncomfortably cold if you didn’t keep moving, so going out by myself meant that I could keep the tour at whatever pace I chose. Knowing that I was going out solo also let me devise a more ambitious tour than if I was heading out with the whole family. After considered the many options, I decided that a lift-assisted tour out toward the Cotton Brook area would be a good option. There are glades farther to the north there that I’ve yet to explore, and at a decent pace, it looked like I’d be able to put together a solid tour out to that area and back in the three to four hour window of time I had.
The Wilderness Chair was scheduled to start running at 10:00 A.M., so I headed up to the mountain a bit after that and found that parking had reached the third tier of the main Village lot. That’s actually less than I’d expect for a Saturday on a holiday weekend, but I think the cold weather kept some folks away. I was able to wrap around and get a spot in the first tier, and then headed right over to the base of the Wilderness Chair to start my tour with a lift assist. Temperatures were certainly on the chilly side, probably somewhere in the single digits, but there was no wind, and that made quite a difference in terms of sitting out there lift. The lift ride gave me a chance to check out the on piste conditions, since I haven’t been to the resort since our trip back on the 4th of the month, and what I saw today looked really good. I didn’t hear any hard sounds as some snowboarders passed below me, and off in the Wilderness Woods to my left, I watched a boy glide through the powder in silence. I’d say ¾ of the terrain in Wilderness Woods was still untracked, so there was a lot of good skiing to be done there. I was even tempted to take a run, but keeping on track for my tour was a necessity.
From the Wilderness Summit I skied down the top of Peggy Dow’s to the junction with the backcountry network at Heavenly Highway. I let my momentum carry a bit of the way into the forest, and then stopped to put on my skins. At that point I definitely felt the cold – it had the bite of below zero cold up there around 3,000′, and having just sat on the lift for a while meant that I wasn’t producing much heat. As I got my skins on another skier appeared, coming from Heavenly Highway. We exchanged greetings and I saw that he was heading for a descent on the alpine terrain. I got my skins on quickly, and headed northward on the trail. My goal was to head down Devil’s Drop and get on the Catamount Trail, and I made good time through those high elevations. I checked the depth of the surface powder as I moved across the ridge line on Heavenly Highway, and generally I found about 13 inches. I saw a couple other skiers along the way toward Devil’s Drop, but as usual it was pretty quiet. For Devil’s Drop, I debated taking off my skins and really having some fun on the descent, but opted to just keep them on. I did switch my binding to ski mode so that I could make some Telemark and alpine turns as needed. I actually had first tracks Devil’s Drop, and if I’d been with others it probably would have been worth pulling off the skins and skiing it hard with some pictures.
As I neared the bottom of Devil’s Drop I saw a group of eight skiers below heading northward on the Catamount Trail. That’s one of the larger groups I’ve seen out there, and then seemed pretty organized; as I caught up to them they all pulled over to the right in near unison and let me pass. Within another few minutes I’d passed Birch run and reached the border of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. I continued on a bit more until I was just below “The Glades”. My goal actual goal was down below, but I had the time and energy, and there were few tracks in The Glades, so I continued up to add another couple hundred vertical to my descent. That’s when I really started to warm up, and I had to hit the side zips on my pants and open the vents in my helmet. I actually think the air temperature was starting to warm a bit as well as southerly flow was starting to kick in ahead of our next storm. The ascent overall there was really quick though, and soon I was at the top of The Glades switching over to descent mode.
I hadn’t really gotten the feel of the skiing since I’d had my skins on at Devil’s Drop, but now I had them off and could dive into those turns in the Glades. The turns were excellent; there was a good foot or more of midwinter powder that easily kept me floating on my fat skis. I continued straight on below the Catamount trail onto “Randy’s”, which began with a modest pitch, and then dropped right off into a nice steep, open drainage. The pitch was close to 30 degrees in spots, and I can imagine this is quite a spot after big dumps of snow. The powder there was the deepest I’d seen on the day, but even that wasn’t quite enough to keep from touching down to the subsurface in a few spots because it was just so steep. That’s some really sweet terrain down there though, and there was just one or two other ski tracks in there, so the untracked lines were plentiful. Below that I got into “Great White Way”, where the pitch mellowed out a bit relative to Randy’s. The route just kept going, and as far as I understand, you can essentially take it all the way down to Waterbury Reservoir if you want, but after about 700-800′ of vertical I decided to call it a descent so that I could stay on track with the rest of my tour.
I skinned up along the edge of Great White Way, using a skin track that others had put in place. It would great to have a skin track that was totally out of the way of the trail, but the pitch is reasonable enough that you can head straight up the trail. As I approached Randy’s, the pitch really steepened of course, and the skin track had to make some pretty tight switchbacks. Fortunately, a more official, off trail skin track is quickly offered that heads up toward Birch Loop; there’s even a sign to let skiers know where that ascent route is, and it’s marked by blue blazes. That ascent was excellent, with a well-established skin track, and it delivers you right back that the Catamount trail just below The Glades.
“The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course.”
I left my skins on and zoomed across the flats toward Bryant Cabin. I didn’t stop inside, but instead continued along Gardiner’s Lane and up to North Slope to set up my final descent of the day. I stopped at the top of Upper JJ’s as my starting point. Since it was my final descent, I pulled out some tomato soup from my thermos, let it cool while I removed my skins, and then chugged the soup down and got on my way. The turns were beautiful, and I continued on Gardiner’s Lane, noting that there was a nice line above A1A that I hadn’t recalled seeing. I’ll have to check that out in the future. When I got to Grizzwald’s I found it completely untracked, and bounded my way down the steep pitch with some deep, fluffy turns. I contemplated a look at Alchemist, since it faces south and might be well preserved in this cold weather, but I saw what looked like just a track or two heading toward Gotham City and my skis just ended up pulling me that way. I skied Girls, and I think those might have been my favorite turns of the day. The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course. I hit two more glades on the descent before I was down to Broadway, but I don’t really know the names of those – the snow was good to the very last drop though.
I really can’t think of a tour I’ve done in the Bolton Valley backcountry that delivered such a huge amount of perfect turns in so many different areas, so this one really does go down as my best tour in that regard. The lift assist really allowed this tour to fit into a reasonable window of time while covering some good distances. There are really limitless combinations to do out there in terms of tours, but I know I’ll visit parts of this one again because it delivered so well.
“Up top there I found 6-7″ of fluff in those areas out of the wind, and I measured 9″ on the corner of Peggy Dow’s at that entrance to the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network.”
The lifts were just opening up as I got my gear together at the house, and the snowfall outside had really picked up as I finally got on my way up to the hill; there was a steady moderate snow coming down with some decent dendrites and clumps of flakes. It was very dry, fluffy snow, but it was coming down at a pace that you’d need to use the wipers on the car to clear it off when the vehicle wasn’t in motion. The snow continued at a steady clip right along through Bolton Flats, and visibility was around ¼ mile. Snowfall intensity was similar up at 2,100′ in the Bolton Valley Village, and a quick check in the parking lot there revealed a couple inches of fluff.
“I measured 5-6″ there, and between that and extra snow that people had pushed over there from their skiing, buoyancy was good and I was getting mostly bottomless turns with just my midfats.”
I rode the Vista Quad, and aside from the new snow, you could see that Spillway on that front face was just a glaciated mess of windswept ice. I don’t believe it was open, but it didn’t look like anything people would really want to ski anyway under the conditions. Getting off at the Vista Summit (~3,150′), I went straight ahead into the open area there to get a depth measurement in the undisturbed snow, and found 4-5″. That was certainly encouraging. I descended via Alta Vista, and there was some excellent snow along the skier’s left where it usually settles in. I measured 5-6″ there, and between that and extra snow that people had pushed over there from their skiing, buoyancy was good and I was getting mostly bottomless turns with just my midfats. The snow depth gradually tapered down as you descended to the lower elevations, but I headed over toward Wilderness and finished off my run on Lower Turnpike, and even 3-4″ was enough for bottomless turns on that pitch.
The Wilderness Chair was running, so I took a run on that as well. Up top there I found 6-7″ of fluff in those areas out of the wind, and I measured 9″ on the corner of Peggy Dow’s at that entrance to the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. I worked my way into the Wilderness Woods, and the skiing was OK, but without that smoothly groomed base, the subsurface was just too uneven for the smoothest skiing or consistent floating. I quickly made my way back out onto Lower Turnpike for those smoother powder turns. With the lift open, Lower Turnpike had seen more traffic though, so getting untracked lines was becoming more difficult. And, this new snow is so light and dry that it doesn’t have a ton of staying power with respect to skier traffic – you really don’t want more than second tracks for decent powder turns because beyond that level of traffic you’ll find yourself essentially skiing on the subsurface.
The snowfall had just about shut off by the time I finished that run on Wilderness, and based on what I’d found, it seemed like a good time to call it a morning. The best of the untracked snow on groomed runs had been skied, and it wasn’t quite prime time for the off piste. As I was taking off my skis in that little snowy landing area down below the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery, an older gentleman came by, having just finished his morning of turns. He was talking about how he was done for the day, having skied the best part of it. It was obvious that we were on the same wavelength, and the fact that the snowfall had stopped really amplified the sentiment.
I stopped off at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to grab a sandwich, and chatted with Ian behind the counter after he inquired about my camera. He was curious if I worried about falling and damaging it while skiing. I let him know that I do actually fall frequently enough when I’ve got the camera with me, but fortunately it was built like a tank and made for exactly what I was doing with it.
It looks like we’ve got a more significant storm coming this weekend; there’s some mixed precipitation expected, but a good shot of liquid equivalent as well, so it could help with some resurfacing of the slopes.
Since we had some warm weather at the beginning of the week that brought all elevations above freezing, and a return to more wintry temperatures by midweek, I wasn’t even sure that we were going to ski today. The snow surfaces were simply going to be hard, the only way around that would be fresh snow, and there were no notable storms in the forecast. Because the weather pattern has been relatively prosaic over the past month or so, there hasn’t really been much of need for refresher storms, but they were definitely needed this week. The only winter weather events in the forecast were a couple of small, upper level low pressure systems that were expected to pass through the area. Each one looked like it would be a 1-3” type of event, which would hardly be enough to get past “dust on crust” conditions. The Green Mountains came through though, working their magic to pull out up to 10” of snow from the first event, and another 6” from the second in the north central areas. Even areas father north that didn’t jackpot with those two storms were well on their way to some nice conditions.
“I did numerous depth checks on the powder up there in the 3,000’ range, and was getting readings from 6 to 9 inches in areas that didn’t have drifting.”
With the storms delivering, it was time to make a plan for some Saturday turns at Bolton Valley. I expected that the 7” they’re reported in the past couple of days was a bit conservative, but with the new snow being split between Thursday and Friday, the best turns were going to be found on terrain that hadn’t been touched at all. I decided that some moderate angle terrain on the backcountry network would be the way to go, and it seemed that one of the glades we’ve been skiing the past couple of weeks would fit the bill nicely. With some sidecountry laps off the Wilderness Lift, we could get good access there. That plan actually went by the wayside when I saw that the Wilderness Lift wasn’t running, but of course that opened up a whole new realm of untracked terrain in the Wilderness area itself, and we could certainly make use of that.
“The three of us packed our bags with skins and snacks, and headed up to the mountain in the late morning.”
E was dead set that she wanted to do a bunch of cleaning in the house today, so I couldn’t convince her to head out for turns, but she did insist that I get the boys out of the way. No problem. The three of us packed our bags with skins and snacks, and headed up to the mountain in the late morning. Temperatures had been hanging in the low 20s F all morning in the valleys, and even colder in the higher elevations, so we knew that powder would be staying light and dry. The on and off sun that we’d had in the lower elevations much of the morning was quickly replaced by light snowfall as we hit the 1,000’ elevation mark on the Bolton Valley Access Road – the mountains just didn’t seem to want to let go of that moisture. The resort looked like it was doing a brisk business, with the fourth tier of parking in the Village lots just about full. I chatted with the parking attendants about potential spots higher up from people that had already left, and ended up getting a good parking location right along the south edge of the lot.
There was lots of activity at the main base area as we boarded the Vista Quad, because the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge was taking place. It would have been fun to hang out and join some of the festivities, but there was powder to be skied. Our first test of the day’s conditions was Alta Vista, and indeed one could see that surfaces were much firmer than last weekend. The grooming had definitely tilled the new snow into the base, but traffic had also made its mark on the terrain. I’d hit some areas of excellent packed powder where my skis could bite soft and deep, but plenty of others where it was quite firm, and at 115 underfoot, the fat skis certainly weren’t the tool for the job there. The skier’s left offered up its usual supply of powder, but it wasn’t quite the effortless, soft flow that it sometimes is; the powder hadn’t quite hit that threshold depth to really let you crank hard in there while totally avoiding the old base snow.
At the base of Upper Crossover, we began strapping on the skins to head upward. Josh, who had found time for a break from his day’s duties, was out taking a run and spotted us in preparation for the ascent. We chatted for a bit about the festivities going on with the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge, and he brought up the fact that part of the event was a race. I think they boys might have fun with that, so we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled if they do it again next season. We bid Josh adieu as he continued with his run, and we finished preparing for our ascent. I finished with Dylan’s skins first, and let him go to get a head start, then followed up with Ty and let him go. They’re definitely becoming faster ascenders, but I knew I’d be able to catch them pretty quickly. We found that there was a skin track in place, but it looked like only one other person had used it at that point, and that bode well for encountering lots of untracked terrain. The weather was just perfect – wintry and moderately cold, with no wind. I did numerous depth checks on the powder up there in the 3,000’ range, and was getting readings from 6 to 9 inches in areas that didn’t have drifting. That’s after some settling over the past couple of days, but the 7 inches reported for the past two events certainly seems to be in the ballpark. The crux of the ascent was actually right at the top of Bolton Outlaw. New snow hadn’t settled in well there, and previous scouring left a lot of ice. We really had to work our edges and do some side stepping and pole work to pass through that area. Dylan muscled his way through a challenging slick spot that Ty and I staunchly avoided, and it was quite impressive to see him stick it out. The boys recharged with some GU at the Wilderness Summit, and then we headed in the direction of Peggy Dow’s.
The descent featured some great snow, with generally that 6+ inches of untracked powder unless the wind had played around with it. The best part of the descent was that the boys had plenty of time to work on their Telemark turns in powder, which is something they only get to do so often because they’re typically using their alpine equipment. Today, with the quality of the snow and the very even subsurface, they were really making strides on those turns. Time and time again I’d hear them hooting about how they’d just made “their best powder Telemark turn ever”. Naturally the powder skiing wasn’t 100% bottomless everywhere, but you could definitely get a good percentage of bottomless turns on most pitches. Since we’d all pulled out the fat skis to help in that regard, we were enjoying the fact that they were clearly doing their part to keep us off the subsurface. Lower Turnpike was mostly groomed and had seen a little traffic coming over from Vista, but the edges held a lot of untracked snow, and powder turns were plentiful for essentially the entire descent. It wasn’t going to be too hard to get the boys to do another lap if it seemed like that was the way to go.
Ty was raring to go again, but Dylan was calling for lunch after that lap, and the choice was made to head up to Fireside Flatbread. The upstairs of the base lodge was full of people taking part in the various festivities of the day, so we sat at the bar and had our slices while we soaked up the scene. My pizza was a fun combination of vodka sauce, broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, and red onions, and Ty and I joked about how my slice was almost half of a large pizza. That was Ty’s estimate, and I’d say it was more like 1/3 of a pizza, but it was a monster. We enjoyed watching the pizza guys doing their quick and masterful assemblies of various pies. I overheard them talking with one of the managers about the potential Fireside Flatbread schedule midweek next week, discussing the options for what they’d do it if dumps. There’s the potential for a significant synoptic storm in the Tuesday timeframe, and that’s something we really haven’t seen much of in Northern Vermont so far this season. We’ll be watching the forecast with anticipation just like them.
After lunch we hit the lower half of Wilderness and worked our way over to Snow Hole. The boys had already asked about it on their first run, and it seemed like a great idea. The snow was quite good in there, with just a couple of other tracks. The light snowfall that had been with us during the morning had tapered off after a couple of hours, but clouds were generally around and the snow was still staying wintry all the way down to the Village. We also did a run on Snowflake to work in some of the powder on Snowflake Bentley, and it really was still sitting there along the edges even as we were moving past mid afternoon. The boys worked in some additional excellent Telemark turns on those pitches. Conditions really only get marked down today because of the subsurface that is firmer than usual due to the warmth, and some spots being closed because coverage was a bit thin, but if this next storm is substantial enough, those issues could be remedied quite well.