Tag Archives: Powder Skiing

Stowe, VT 02MAR2012

An image shot from above of Ty slashing a ski turn in the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Looking down on Ty in the Chin Clip Streambed today as he slashes a turn in the snow

Since midweek, a moderate winter storm has been affecting the state of VermontSnow began to fall Wednesday evening and accumulated slowly through to this morning, at which point we’d received 4.8 inches of snow at the house.  The ski resorts in the northern half of the state picked up a general 9 to 10 inches from the storm, with the Southern Vermont Resorts faring a bit better and topping out with accumulations around a foot and a half.

I went in to work to take care of some things in the morning, then met up with E and the boys back at the house and we headed off to Stowe.  Although only a Friday, the resort was certainly hopping with visitors today; the main Spruce Peak lots were pretty full, so we ended up parking a bit farther down at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.  By happenstance, we parked right next to Marlene, who like me had done some work in the morning and was coming to the resort for some afternoon turns with the family.  Jeff and the kids had been out on the slopes early, and we were all hoping to get together for some fun runs in the new snow.  Although it’s a bit farther away from the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, parking out where we did is a nice option, since the route to the lodge is fairly flat and takes you on easy, paved walkways past the Performing Arts Center itself and the various wings of the Stowe Mountain Lodge.

After getting everyone into their ski gear and gathering outside the lodge, we split up into two parties.  Marlene, Liana, and Isabella stuck around on Spruce Peak, and the rest of us headed over to Mt. Mansfield.  After Sunday’s successful visit to the Chin Clip Streambed, we were eager to get back in there again.  Being a veteran of many snowboard-bumming seasons at Stowe, Jeff is quite familiar with the streambed, but Kenny had never skied it before, and he was going to be the big question mark.  Kenny only started skiing last season, and advanced intermediate runs (or as E describes them, “intermediate runs with an edge”) are really the terrain in his wheelhouse.  Skiing powder isn’t an issue for him; he just skis it like he skis groomed snow, so he’s probably going to be another one of those kids like Ty and Dylan that never spends a lot of time “learning” to ski powder, they just ski it.  So with his ability to handle unconsolidated snow, and his impressive natural athletic ability, we figured he’d be able to rise to today’s challenge.  The streambed is easily handled by an intermediate in some areas, which are wide and of modest pitch, but the 5 to 10 foot waterfalls and steep, narrow sections really elevate it to the level of an expert run.  It was also going to be E’s first time ever in the streambed, and since she was on her Telemark gear, it wasn’t a given that she’d just be able to stroll her way down through the terrain.  We were about to find out how both Kenny and E handled the challenge.

An image shot from above of Kenny skiing the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Kenny takes on the Chin Clip Streambed

One thing that everyone had going for them was the quality of the snow; it’s been fantastic since last weekend’s big storm, and we generally found the trails loaded with plenty of soft, medium weight snow that had been packed from skier traffic.  Upper Gondolier had some scoured areas, but those faded once we got down out of the exposed upper section, and then it was quickly into the bumps of Switchback and Chin Clip.  E worked on her Telemark turns in the steep bumps, and semi-jokingly lamented that fact that her legs were already cooked by the time we’d reached the entrance to the streambed.  We all gave Kenny some encouragement that he’d be able to handle it, and then dove in.  After the steep entrance, we were into some of the intermediate-style terrain, but it wasn’t too long before we began to run into frozen waterfalls and steep, half pipe-style environments.  Ty and Dylan were having a blast as usual on the steep walls of the streambed, finding powder pockets and jumps that provided lots of fun.  There was so much snow that I was even able to slip down through the big roped off cliff area, which was steep, but well covered and quite skiable.  Kenny took his time throughout the whole descent, and really did a nice job negotiating some of the waterfall drops.  The Chin Clip Streambed is relentless though, and since Kenny had to work so hard, we could see him tiring on the bottom half of the run.  E had to work hard on her Telemark skis as well, but years and years of experience on skis allowed her to descend efficiently and conserve energy when needed.  She did a great job of coaching Kenny down through the last steep drop where the terrain fans out away from the streambed into steep trees.  Kenny was just about tapped out at that point, but he made it – his first run down the famous Chin Clip Streambed.

An image of Dylan, Ty, and Jeff standing in the Chin Clip Streambed during a run at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Boys 'n the Streambed - Dylan, Ty, and Jeff

We stayed at the gondola for a couple more runs, hitting Perry Merrill and working in a run down through the Tombo Waterfall.  Ty, Dylan, and I joined Jeff for the waterfall run, while the others looped around on Upper Perry Merrill to watch.  Coverage was great, and it’s getting to the point where enough snow has sloughed down the chute that the waterfall is getting smaller.  Ty sliced and diced the whole chute and waterfall jump with ease; Dylan struggled a bit and opted to take the cut around the skier’s left of the waterfall, but he had some nice turns in there.  Ty’s got a couple years of skiing experience on Dylan of course, but when Dylan is on, he’s pretty fearless, so it’s going to be fun to work on that line with him in the future.

An image of Jeff jumping off the Tombo Waterfall on his snowboard at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Jeff launching the Tombo Waterfall today at Stowe

For the last part of the day, we were back over at Spruce, where we met up with the girls for some big runs as a group.  We took the traditional Sunny Spruce to Side Street route to get us over to the Sensation Quad, and it was fun having everyone together.  From the summit, most of us took Whirlaway, although Liana took it a bit easier and E brought her down Sterling.  That was probably a good idea, because everyone was pretty cooked by that point.  Even though we’d only been out for the afternoon, long Telemark runs with Stowe’s high speed lifts definitely work me, and E said that she was feeling it.  She headed in with most of the kids, but it was too hard to pull away from all the great snow, so I ended up staying out with Jeff and Liana for another run down Main Street.  My legs were quite cooked after that one, but it was very satisfying.

A winter image of the snow-covered exterior of Piecasso restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Apres ski today was at Piecasso

Not surprisingly, everyone was famished from a fun day of battling Stowe’s terrain, so we all headed to Piecasso for dinner.  Things can get pretty crazy having all five kids together, but they were pretty well behaved and did a decent job of replenishing their fuel reserves with pizza, salad, and even some calamari.  It does look like we’re going to need plenty of energy in our legs though, since there’s more snow on the way and we’ve still got the rest of the weekend to ski.  The next storm is already on our doorstep (flakes were flying here as of ~10:15 P.M. or so), and Winter Weather Advisories are up for most of the state.  Snow possibilities will be around through the rest of the weekend, so we’ll be on the lookout for more fresh turns.

Stowe, VT 26FEB2012

An image of Erica skiing deep powder on Spruce Line at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
E finding deep powder today on Spruce Line at Stowe

Our biggest storm cycle of the season to date finished up last night, with snow totals in the Northern Greens of 40” at Jay Peak, 36” at Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch, and 24” at Bolton Valley.  With additional snowfall from the two preceding storms of close to a foot, that put Jay Peak at over 50” of snow for the past few days, with the other mountains falling in line accordingly.  Large storms are often great at enhancing the ski conditions, but this storm was especially beneficial with the low snowfall and snowpack we’ve been dealing with so far this season; we hadn’t had a single one of these multi-foot storm cycles, and there’s no better way to catch up on the low season snowfall than getting those big mountain storms.  Even down at the house, we picked up close to two feet of snow from the storm; it was by far our largest snowfall of the season in the valley, and it pushed the total season snowfall to just shy of the 100” mark.

An image of our mailbox in Waterbury, Vermont in the morning with a fresh stack of snow from overnight snowfall
Snow stacking up in the valley from this storm

Yesterday we headed up to Bolton Valley during the meat of the storm, with snow falling at rates of 1-3”/hr.  We didn’t do a tremendous amount of skiing since all the major lifts were on wind hold, but we did get in some fun powder turns off the Mid Mountain Lift, and got to be out in the storm while it buried the resort.  The snowfall had continued until around midnight, but clearing skies quickly followed.  The sunshine this morning spoke of the crisp, clear weather that was forecast for today, and with three feet of new snow at Stowe, we headed off to the mountain fairly early to get the most of what were likely to be fantastic ski conditions.  It was one of those days where choice of ski was easy… everybody went fat.  E and I even got off our Telemark skis and took the opportunity to pull out our alpine CMH fatties for the day.

An image of Mt. Mansfield and some of Stowe Mountain Resort's snowy ski trails as we approach on the Mountain Road
The glorious view as we approached Mt. Mansfield this morning
An image of Dylan skiing some deep powder in the sunshine above the Meadows Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan, going waist deep above Meadows this morning

We arrived at Spruce Peak around 9:00 A.M., and could see that people were already laying down some tracks in the powder fields above Meadows.  The snow looked absolutely glorious in the sun, and the temperatures were in the teens, so there certainly wasn’t going to be any melting.  Since the open slopes above Meadows are some of our favorite runs, E and the boys and I hopped on the Sunny Spruce Quad and headed right that way.  I skied down first to set up for some pictures, and found roughly two feet of dry, bottomless powder over a base of even more soft snow – it was just what one would expect to find after multiple feet of snowfall in the past few days.  I’m sure the snow settled a little overnight, but my density analyses from yesterday at the house revealed six hour accumulations of 7.1 inches of 3.8% H2O snow during the day, followed up by 8.4 inches of 2.1% H2O snow during the evening.  Simply put, that’s some serious world class powder for skiing, and coupled with the amounts that fell in the higher elevations, that’s some snow quality that is certainly well up there even in the realm of our local Champlain Powder™ standards.  Once I pulled out the camera, E and the boys followed my lead with some awesome turns; there were some previous tracks on the slope, but it was pretty hard to make a bad choice of line.

An image of Jay skiing deep powder in the Ridge Run trees on Spruce Peak at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Catching deep turns in the Ridge Run trees

For our next round of turns we decided to check out the top of Spruce Peak, so we made our way over to the Sensation Quad.  We headed down in the Main Street area, and eventually started exploring novel regions of trees since it was the kind of day where you could hit terrain of almost any pitch or tree density.  We descended into some steep trees that led down to one of the on-mountain maintenance buildings along Main Street, with little idea of what it would be like, and not surprisingly there were some great lines down through the center of the steep streambed that drained the area.  Seeing the snow on Spruce Line as we rode the lift had us venture there on the next run, and the traffic had been so minimal in many areas that we got some really long shots of untracked snow.  The entirety of the line was open for skiing, and indeed there are some very steep shots in there that we’d never skied before.  They really kept us on our toes, and I was sent for quite a ride when I unknowingly came into one of the steep sections at high speed.  We shared the run with a small group of Telemark skiers, who were having a hoot watching Ty and Dylan play around in the deep snow.  Next time up it was Upper Smuggler’s, catching the steep terrain on its bottom section, where we connected to Ridge Run and some of the precipitous lines in the nearby trees that Mike Cannon had shown us in the past.  People had certainly skied those main shots by then, but just a little venturing afield revealed the acres of untracked snow that lay in the trees.  And boy that powder was deep – it was a very good idea to try catching the traverses set up by others, because wading through the snow on your own took a good deal more time and effort.

An image of Dylan cruising through the powder below the Sensation Quad Chairlift at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan cruising though the fresh fluff below the Sensation Quad

We’d burned through the morning at that point, and it was time to get fueled up for the boy’s afternoon school program session.  We ate at the Great Room Grill, and were joined by some of the other BJAMS families.  I got myself an order of the fish tacos, which were again quite good, and I noticed that Molly had some sushi.  It turns out that they have sushi available at the Great Room Grill in a refrigerated case, so I am definitely going to have to check that out as an option when we’re there.  It would be amazing if they started offering it freshly prepared at one of the stations (I bet it would be a hit if it the quality was decent) but I can’t wait to try what they’ve got anyway.

During lunch, E had swapped her alpine gear for her snowboard gear, as she’d be instructing snowboarding for the rest of the day, but Ty and Dylan and I kept our fat skis on and got ready for the afternoon with a warm up run on West Smuggler’s and West Slope.  Back up at the base we met up with Claire, Luke, and Jack to fill out our group, and we took everyone back to Sensation so could hit the great powder on Spruce Line.  There were a few more tracks since the morning, but it really hadn’t seen that much additional traffic.  We tackled Upper Smuggler’s on the next run, enjoying the way that the bountiful fresh snow had resurfaced even the steepest terrain.  Even with the three feet of snow it was still possible to occasionally encounter the subsurface though, showing just how much snow it takes to cover some of the high angle terrain.  We cut across to Ridge Run, where some of the boys dropped into the steep slopes of the Ridge Run trees.  I dove into the trees as well, and ski cutting across steep pitches easily set off big sloughs of the deep snow – I wasn’t surprised to hear that avalanche warnings had been put out for the Mt. Mansfield/Smuggler’s Notch area.

We finished off the afternoon over on Mansfield, where I introduced everyone to the Chin Clip Streambed.  In terms of their abilities, everyone in the group is more than ready for what it has to offer, but I’ve been waiting for the base depths to build to the point where they could enjoy it thoroughly without concern about rocks and the frozen waterfalls.  With this big storm and the couple smaller ones that came before it bumping the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake from roughly four feet midweek to almost seven feet now, it was time.  I guided everyone to the entrance, and we dove in.  Even for Claire it was a fairly novel experience, as she recalled skiing it once, but it must have been a decade ago.  The boys ripped it up, launching jumps off the terrain features and half pipe-like walls of the drainage.  Even Luke, who’s probably the most novice in terms of off piste skiing, was looking really good and handling the steep drops smoothly.  Claire was definitely challenged by some of the waterfalls and steep, tight areas, but she had a blast.  I can’t recall the last time I’d been in that streambed, but the skiing was as amazing as always.  There are definitely some advantages to coaching the young advanced group in terms of terrain selection.  Most folks are aware of Stowe’s long, continuous vertical drop, and it was obvious today when at one point in the streambed run Ty asked, “Does this thing ever end?”  All the boys seemed to be of similar mind, and there was no question that they were getting their fill of turns and challenge; indeed it does seem like that streambed simply goes on forever – in a good way.

An image of Claire atop one of the waterfalls in the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Claire atop one of the frozen waterfalls in the Chin Clip Streambed today

After the romp through the streambed, we hit the gondola again and did a run on Chin Clip proper.  The bump lines were delicious and soft, and the boys got worked hard for another descent.  With the early afternoon runs on Spruce topped off with a few thousand vertical feet of steep bumps and off piste in the afternoon, all the boys were cooked.  Ty and Dylan, with the additional morning full of powder runs, were especially spent and when we headed back to the Spruce Peak Village they called an afternoon and hit the s’mores at the fire pit.  Jack and Luke were game for one more run, so I joined them for a run on West Run/West Slope.  It was a good mellow finish to an exciting day enjoying what has clearly been the storm of the season up to this point.

Bolton Valley, VT 25FEB2012

An image of Ty skiing in heavy snowfall during a two-foot snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
It was storm skiing today at Bolton Valley

We’re currently in the midst of what could be one of our largest snowstorms of the season here in Northern Vermont, with multiple feet of snow possible for the higher elevations along the spine of the Greens.  Earlier this week, the mountains already picked up about a foot of snow from the combination of two storms, one on Tuesday/Wednesday, and another on Thursday, so a substantial dump from this storm will really have conditions going off.  The current storm actually started up in this area midday yesterday, and I saw a fresh inch of snow on the ground in Burlington when I left around 4:00 P.M.  We’d received up a couple of inches of snow at the house as of 6:00 P.M., and thanks to inch an hour snowfall, we picked up another quick couple of inches through 8:00 P.M. before the precipitation tapered off overnight.

This morning, temperatures were around the freezing mark down in the valley, and little snow was actually falling at our house, but the mountains were getting pounded with upslope flakes.  Powderfreak sent in a report to Americanwx.com this morning indicating that it was a total whiteout at Stowe Mountain Resort.  So much snow had fallen overnight that snowmobiles and even snowcats were having difficulty getting up the mountain.  The upslope power of the Northern Greens was in full effect.

Looking through the windshield at heavy snowfall we make the ascent of the Bolton Valley Access Road toward Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ascending into the higher elevations of Northern Vermont today revealed a world of heavy snowfall and challenging driving conditions.

Not surprisingly, heavy snowfall was hitting Bolton Valley as well, but high winds meant that all the chairlifts were on wind hold at the resort, and employees were stationed at the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road to save people the hassle of driving up if they didn’t know about the weather delays.  We’d all brought our Telemark skis and skins and were planning to earn turns as needed, so when we reached the bottom of the access road we let the employees know that we’d be earning turns and they waved us through.  Having old tires with minimal tread, even the Subaru struggled to get up the steep S-curve on the access road this morning, and a big part of that was because the snow was falling so quickly that the plows couldn’t really keep up.  Fortunately, we were able to get up to the Village safely.  The snow was indeed falling very heavily up above 2,000’ in the Village; I’d estimate that was coming down in the range of 1 to 3 inches per hour.

An image of cars parked in the Bolton Valley Village under heavy snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
When we finally arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village this morning, we were greeted by snowfall pounding down at rates of 1 to 3 inches per hour.

Dylan had to use the restroom right when we arrived in the Village, so E and the boys headed up to the base lodge quickly with some of the Telemark gear, while I finished suiting up and got the rest of the gear together.  Just as I was about to head up to the lodge as well, I got a call from E that the Mid Mountain Lift was running, so I grabbed the boys’ alpine gear for them to use.  It was quite a load with three pairs of skis, two pairs of poles, and a couple sets of boots, but I managed to get everything up to the lodge, and indeed the Mid Mountain Lift was humming along serving at least a little vertical to happy skiers and riders.

Dylan’s stomach was bothering him a bit, so E hung out inside with him while Ty and I headed out for a few Mid Mountain runs.  Outside the lodge at the ski racks, we met up with Jason, who had just come down from Wilderness with another one of the instructors.  He said there was indeed a lot of snow up there in the higher elevations – enough that you wanted to stick to terrain with good pitch if possible.  The wind was also strong, so that was having an effect on the distribution of the snow.  Heading to the upper mountain would have been my plan as well, but it’s still a lot of work for the boys at this stage, so sticking to lift-served terrain on the bottom half of the mountain was the way to go.  We’re already very excited about how far the boys have come in terms of ascending for skiing, but it’s going to be fun to see what things are like as their skills and stamina continue to increase.

An image taken while riding the Mid Mountain Chair at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont showing heavy snowfall obscuring the view
Riding the Mid Mountain Chair during the storm

Ty suggested Enchanted Forest for our first run off Mid Mountain, and the snow was excellent, but only the steepest spots were really good for skiing in the deep powder, so we headed back to Beech Seal to finish off the run.  Acknowledging the need for steeper pitches, I took Ty over to the Butterscotch Terrain Park via Deer Run.  We did get some nice turns in the park on the steep pitches on the back side of the features, but some of the best turns were actually on that steep pitch where Deer Run drops down to Sprig O’ Pine.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos there, but I pulled out the camera and got some nice shots of Ty skiing of the terrain park features amidst the very heavy snowfall.

The intense snowfall from the storm was lots of fun to witness, but the strong winds that came with it were much less enjoyable.  The winds were from the west/northwest, so riding the chair was no problem, but they really bit into you when you headed down the west-facing runs.  Thus it wasn’t too long before Ty and I were ready for a lunch break.  Dylan had actually fallen asleep while we’d been outside, but he woke up once we were back inside; he was feeling much better and was ready for lunch.  We headed upstairs and had lunch near the Fireside Flatbread area; crowds were pretty minimal with so many people being turned back at the base of the access road, so it was very quiet up there.

A view out the window of the base lodge at very heavy snowfall hitting Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the view of the tremendously heavy snowfall during lunch

The four of us headed back out for a few more runs after lunch, starting with a run down Glades since Ty and I hadn’t checked it out earlier.  The steeper terrain at the top was sufficient for some decent powder skiing, although that meant that it was getting plenty of traffic, so fresh tracks were a little harder to come by.  We also checked out Beech Seal, since it’s got reasonably steep terrain at the top.  It was also fine for turns, but it’s pretty exposed to the west wind and that took away from the experience.  It continued to snow, so it was hard to pull away from the slopes, but the wind was unabated and we eventually decided it was time to take off the skis and save some energy for tomorrow, which looks like it’s going to be a memorable one.  We had also promised the boys that they could do some swimming at the sports center after they skied, so they were anxious to get down to the pool.

An image of Ty and Dylan playing in the snow near the base lodge during a big snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The boys hit the snow for some fun while E and I pack up the ski gear

The pool at the sports center was hopping with many visitors that had decided to stay inside out of the storm, and while E and the boys swam, I took the opportunity to tour around the Village and get some photographs of the snow.  I got some great images of where the fluffy Champlain Powder™ had accumulated with fantastic loft in sheltered locations such as on the leeward side of the Courtside 2 Condos, and in other spots I got some cool shots of the dramatic drifting caused by the wind.  I found cars in the parking lots that sat through the whole storm and had virtually disappeared beneath the snow.  Even in some of those drifted areas though, the snow often managed to retain incredible loft.  One could walk through some waist or chest deep drifted areas where the snow would simply dissolve around you as you went through it.  The snow was actually letting up for a time while I toured around the Village, and there were some points where it almost appeared as though the storm was over, but it always seemed to make a resurgence.  The breaks in the blizzard-like conditions certainly helped with the photography though.

An image of deep snow accumulating on the Courtside 2 Condominiums during a big snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the snowy sights as I walk around the Bolton Valley Village in the afternoon

At the end of the afternoon, our descent of the access road was much easier than the ascent had been; the snow wasn’t falling quite as hard, so presumably the plows could keep pace.  When we’d left the house earlier in the day, it wasn’t really snowing, so we were very curious to see if anything had gone on down in the valley while we were away.  That question was answered pretty quickly when we found that the snow in the driveway was now a foot deep, and 7.1 inches of new snow had accumulated on the snowboard while we were at the mountain.  I took a core sample from atop the snowboard and the snow came in at a density of 3.8% H2O.  But the storm isn’t done delivering Champlain Powder™ just yet; through 10:30 P.M. this evening we picked up an additional 8.4 inches of 2.1% H2O powder, and it’s still going.  We’ve now received over 20 inches from this storm down here in the valley, and the mountains will likely double that amount; it looks like tomorrow at Stowe is going to be simply off the hook!

Bolton Valley, VT 23FEB2012

An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Snowflake Bentley trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching some fresh tracks down from the top of Snowflake Bentley today

After a slow stretch of winter weather for much of February, the last third of the month has been picking up in that department.  Three systems have been forecast to come through the area, each one with the potential for more snow in the mountains.  The first one came through Tuesday night into yesterday, and dropped 1.7” of snow here at the house and a few inches in the mountains.  The second system started up yesterday, and as of this morning we’d only picked up some rain here in the valley, but it was definitely a step up in accumulation for the northern mountains.

With only rain down here in the valley, it was difficult to assess what the mountains had picked up for snow around 6:00 A.M. when I was trying to make the decision about taking some runs, but fortunately Stowe was out with a nice early report indicating at least 5” up high.  With fairly high snow levels, I wasn’t surprised to see that it was a steep accumulation gradient with elevation; Stowe was only reporting 1” new at the base.  Still, the high-elevation number of 5” was enough for me to suspect that the main mountain at Bolton, which is all at 2,000’+, would be in great shape, so I prepared my gear and decided to stop in up at the mountain on the way to Burlington.

It was interesting to find that it was actually snowing way down at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’), but there was just a skiff of new white there.  In fact, the snow line for getting into to good snow was actually pretty high.  Even up at 1,000’ on the access road I’d say there wasn’t much more than a dusting of new snow, and there was probably only an inch up at the Timberline Base at 1,500’.  In the Village at 2,100’ I found 2-3” of new snow on the ground, although that was probably the accumulation from the last two days because the cars that appeared to have spent the night in the lot probably had an inch or so on them.  The temperature there at the main base was 31 F, and light snow was falling.

I was only about 30 minutes away from the opening of the Vista Quad when I started skinning up the mountain, so I stuck to the Wilderness side to stay out of the way of any potential downhill traffic.  Wilderness wasn’t scheduled to open until 10:00 A.M., so I had a good cushion of time.  The 2-3” of snow I’d seen at the base grew to 4-5” at ~2,500’ as I headed up Fanny Hill.  I made my way toward Upper Crossover, and stopped my ascent at the top of Bolton Outlaw.  Up there at around 3,000’, new snow depths were in the 5-6” range.  It was past 8:30 A.M. by that point, and I was just starting to hear the hoots and hollers of folks descending off Vista, so I didn’t linger long before I dropped in to see how the turns were going to be.

The powder was medium weight, not sticky at all, but with plenty of substance.  Still, I was touching down in spots, so it wasn’t completely bottomless with the steepness of Bolton Outlaw.  Turns were great though, and if this is just a taste of what’s to come when the third storm gets here, the next couple of days are going to be great on the slopes.  I continued on down to the Wilderness Lift Line, where turns became bottomless with the slightly lesser pitch.  Nobody had been down to Wilderness by that point, so it was first tracks all the way down until I merged into the Vista Trails.

An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Wilderness Lift Line at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching first tracks on the Wilderness Lift Line today

I decided to stick around for another couple lift-served runs, and first hit Hard Luck.  It had seen a few tracks, but the turns were excellent.  I cut through to Show Off, which was untracked at the point, and the turns were generally bottomless.  I finished off with a run below the Vista Quad above the Jungle Jib.  I opted for Vermont 200 on my next run, where I actually found the snow depths topping out around 7”.  I hit some woods, and then cut across on Deer Run to get to the top of Snowflake.  I combined the top part of Snowflake Bentley, which was about half groomed and provided some nice turns, with Lower Foxy, which allowed me to ski past the Wentworth Condos and out the access road.  The powder was excellent almost all the way back down to the main base, although I’d say the last couple hundred vertical were just a little thick – certainly enough that I noticed.  It was easy to see that the main mountain was the place to be though; dropping down to the elevations of Wilderness would likely have seen a dramatic decrease in both the quantity and quality of the powder.

A dusting of snow is seen on the mulch surround the "UVM" bushes at the University of Vermont
A touch of snow remained among the "UVM bushes" this morning.

The temperature was still at 31 F when I was leaving the mountain, and the light snow continued to fall as it has the entire time I was at the mountain.  The temperature was in the mid 30s F back down in the Winooski Valley, and on the way into Burlington, I saw that there were actually pockets of accumulation even in the lower elevations, with a decent coating in Richmond, and another good coating at the I-89 rest area in Williston.  There were even a few pockets of accumulation visible at UVM.

With the addition of this second storm, two-day snow totals are just shy of the 1 foot mark at some of the Northern resorts like Jay Peak and Smuggler’s Notch, with totals tapering to the 5 to 8-inch range in the Sugarbush through Stowe stretch of the spine.  So, we’ve already had a nice couple of appetizers leading up to the third storm, which is expected to start tomorrow.  Winter Storm Warnings are up for the mountains and mountain valleys, with 6 to 10 inches of snow expected through 7 A.M. Saturday, and then additional upslope snow on top of that.  If the third storm comes through as expected, it should be a great weekend out on the slopes.

Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry & Bolton Mountain 20FEB2012

An image of evergreens caked and buried with powder snow along the Catamount Ski Trail north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Despite this winter’s low snowfall so far, the snowpack is quite deep along the high elevations of the Catamount Ski Trail and Bolton Valley’s backcountry network.

A little fresh snow fell when we were out on our tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry yesterday, but in general we’ve been in between systems over the past couple days.  That’s presented a great opportunity to explore the backcountry with the boys though, and yesterday they completed their longest tour to date as we took them out to one of the glades along the Catamount Trail.  E and the boys had to head back to school today, but I had the holiday off and decided to do a tour similar to yesterday’s, with some additional exploration along the Catamount Trail past the glade we’d visited.

I parked down at the edge of the tennis court lots as usual, made my way up to the Wilderness Lift, and connected over to Heavenly Highway from the Wilderness Summit.  Snow conditions were very much like yesterday – I checked the depth of the powder atop the base snow along Heavenly Highway and found it to be around 9 to 10 inches.  The big change from yesterday was that there was nobody out on the backcountry network trails – Monday afternoon on a holiday weekend must have meant that most people had already headed home.

“It was so quiet that even
the nearly silent shuffling
of my skins through the snow
had me feeling like a marching
band crashing through a
sleepy town in the
middle of the night.”

Once past that first glade along the Catamount Trail, I was into what was for me, uncharted territory.  I continued along the trail, which gradually rose as it headed generally north-northwest toward Bolton Mountain.  One of the most impressive aspects of this part of the trail was seeing the impressive depths of snow that have built up, in what has really been a very low season for snowfall.  The general area below the Catamount Trail junction with Raven’s Wind, which is sheltered like parts of Heavenly Highway, revealed evergreens that were just choked, buried, and ensconced with snow.  Around every corner I was finding fantastic, gravity-defying deposits of powder.  Once past the junction with Raven’s Wind, which marks the last outpost of Bolton’s backcountry network, the Catamount Trail began to level off and skirt along the eastern edge of Bolton Mountain.  At over 3,300’ in elevation, this area marks the highest point on the entire Catamount Trail.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow above the Cotton Brook area connected to the Catamount Ski Trail and Bolton Valley's backcountry ski network in Vermont
Ski tracks leading to the Cotton Brook area provide a rough sense of the snow conditions out along the Catamount Trail today.

I contoured along the southeast face of Bolton Mountain as the trail switched to a northeasterly direction; I couldn’t see the summit of Bolton Mountain (3,680’) through all the evergreens, but the steep rise in the terrain off to my left let me know that it was looming up there about 400’ vertical feet above me.  As I continued to scan the elevated terrain to my left, I quickly noticed that the density of the evergreens had become sparser, and I began to see potential ski lines through the trees.  I eventually decided that I’d gone far enough out on the trail for the day, and chose a spot to ascend a bit and see if I could start my descent up in the trees above me.  The terrain was fairly steep, but there was that consolidated base below that top layer of powder, so I wasn’t wallowing in bottomless fluff as I broke trail.  With the evergreens all around me, the air was deathly still.  It was so quiet that even the nearly silent shuffling of my skins through the snow had me feeling like a marching band crashing through a sleepy town in the middle of the night.  I continued generally westward and upward, following what looked to be the most open lines through the trees.  The terrain began to flatten out ahead of me, and I could see on my GPS that I was approaching the Long Trail along the ridgeline; I decided that that was a good goal to mark as my turnaround point.  I know that I was very close to meeting up with the trail when I finally stopped my ascent, as I was definitely on the ridgeline and the land clearly began to drop off to the west.  I was tempted to go a little farther and make the trail connection, but it just didn’t seem worth it to lose elevation.  It was after 3:00 P.M., I was well away from the Catamount Trail, and I was alone.  It was at least generally downhill back to the Catamount Trail from my location, and there was no need to push my luck.

“Some trees even displayed that
hanging moss that I’ve often seen
in the mountains of the Pacific
Northwest and British Columbia…”

I stripped off my skins and reversed my course, traveling along generally flat, ridgeline terrain at first, and negotiation a steep south-facing gully as well.  When I’d finished crossing the flattest terrain and could see that I was about to begin the descent to the Catamount Trail, I stopped in a comfortable spot and pulled out some of my food supplies.  I ate a Clif Bar and had a couple rounds of the hot tomato soup that I’d packed in my thermos like yesterday.  That absolutely hit the spot.  I definitely needed the recharge after throwing in all that extra trail breaking on top of the ascent of the Catamount Trail.  The energy expenditure had been enough that I was getting a bit drained, and I definitely wanted something in the tank for the descent.  Once I stopped moving, the silence around me was redoubled, and it was indeed eerily quiet.  Such is the scene at times when one is alone in the deep woods of winter.

An image of a ski line through the trees above the Catamount Trail on Bolton Mountain, north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a line through the trees high on Bolton Mountain

I packed up my food and gear and began the real descent through the evergreens.  There were indeed some reasonably open spaces and nice turns, but it was steep enough that it really would have been better with deeper powder for the available tree spacing.  The 9 to 10 inches that were there were OK, but I’d say something around 18 inches would be more appropriate.  And, although the natural lines through the trees were good, they could be dramatically enhanced just by clearing off the all the dead branches that were still on the lower parts of the evergreens.  That would be a great off-season project for someone to tackle, and the process could continue right on down below the Catamount Trailas well, because the terrain just keeps going.  In any event, even in its natural state I’m keeping that terrain in mind for a place to visit after a reasonably big dump with depths of powder that will fit the pitch and spacing of the trees.

I popped out on the Catamount Trail and had begun to head back toward the resort, when I ran into the first pair of people I’d seen all day.  It was a couple of younger guys, and they asked me if I knew the area.  I said that I knew it fairly well, but when they asked me what lay to the north of where we were, I told them that that was out of my range of knowledge – I was currently the farthest north I’d ever been on this section of trail.  In terms of descents, I said that I’d recommend descending back in the Cotton Brook area if they were unsure of where they were, because I knew that one could ascend back out of there quite easily.  It was likely that one could traverse and get out from areas to the north as well, but one never knows just what the terrain would be like until they’re actually in there.  I’m not sure what they ended up doing, but since it was well after 3:00 P.M. by that point, I hope they made an appropriate choice.

An image of evergreens with snow and some hanging moss along the Catamount Trail north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Views of countless snow-covered evergreens and even hanging moss as I travel through the high elevations of the Catamount Trail

I was tempted to do a little extra exploration on my return trip, especially as I looked at the vast expanse of evergreens below me.  Some trees even displayed that hanging moss that I’ve often seen in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia; as if the deep snowpack wasn’t enough, the sight of the moss seemed to me like a real testament to just how much precipitation falls in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens.  As much as it would have been nice to poke around, ultimately I wasn’t willing to explore a descent down into the Cotton Brook area with the time of day, so I descended back toward the resort on the Catamount Trail itself.  The trail isn’t very wide, so the descent below Raven’s Wind was quite a hoot.  Let’s just say that I’m glad that I didn’t “run” into anyone ascending at that time of day.  It’s definitely an exhilarating descent back toward the main glade though if you can catch it without any uphill traffic.  I enjoyed a descent of the main glade back toward the Cotton Brook Trail junction, but despite the decent amount of powder, the combination of tracked snow, irregular surface underneath, and some previously work by the sun, made it rather challenging and nothing special in terms of flow.  It’s definitely time for another storm.

I cruised quickly back along the Catamount Trail to the Bryant Cabin area, and headed right onto Gardiner’s Lane and North Slope.  I was determined to find that glade that I’d missed with E and the boys yesterday, and after a bit of searching, I did.  I made another mental note on the entrance to set myself up for next time, and had a fun ride down through there.  When I finally got back down to the lower Nordic trails, I saw a couple of other people, but amazingly that was it for the entire tour of almost six miles.  I can’t wait for my next chance to get out in the farther reaches of the Catamount Trail and explore it further.

A Google Earth GPS map tracing of my tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic/backcountry network of ski trails and the Catamount Ski Trail in Vermont on February 20, 2012
The Google Earth GPS track for today’s tour

Bolton Valley, VT 11FEB2012

An image of Dylan skiing some powder on the Lower Tattle Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Although we haven’t had snow in about a week, there’s still untracked powder out there for turns – Dylan enjoys some today on Bolton Valley’s Lower Tattle Tale

There’s been sufficient coverage for skiing at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area since at least mid January, and I made my first turns of the season there on January 15th, but apparently the resort hasn’t been confident in the ability of the snow to hold up to much skier traffic, because it wasn’t until yesterday that they started running the Timberline Quad.  It’s incredible to think that we’ve had such a late start to Timberline lift-serviced skiing, and similar things may have happened before, but certainly not in the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana.  At this point though, it’s just really nice to have the expansion to spread everyone out and open up some of our favorite terrain, so we were excited to get in on this first weekend day of Timberline lift service.

There’s the potential for cold temperatures and even some fresh snow as we move through the weekend, but today it was sunshine with temperatures in the 20s F.  We didn’t get up to the mountain until roughly 11:00 A.M., but the number of visitors was pretty light and parking spots were open right in the circle below the Timberline Lodge.  The parking was so easy that after dropping off E and the boys and all our gear at the, I parked the car and then walked over and began chatting with them – forgetting to even put on my ski boots.  We’re definitely still getting into our Timberline rhythm for the season.

We kicked off the day with a trip down Villager to Sure Shot, and then took the link onto Lower Tattle Tale to hopefully get into some powder.  Pickings were a little slim since we haven’t had fresh snow in a week, but some lines were still available and we shot some pictures of the boys getting into the untracked snow.  The powder was getting a touch stale after a week, but we weren’t complaining.  We jumped on Spur to get into some additional untracked snow on our trip back to the base, and then headed up again for a mid station run.  We took Wood’s Hole and worked our way down to check out the Corner Pocket Glades for the first time this season.  Coverage was more than sufficient, but the tracks of previous skiers combined with a mixture of shaded and sunny areas really produced a lot of variability in the powder and even the subsurface.  The challenging conditions had us quickly getting back out on Spell Binder, where surfaces were much more consistent.

An image of Erica skiing powder on the Lower Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E cruises along in some of the powder on Lower Tattle Tale.

The boys were already urging us to get lunch, so we hit the Timberline Lodge for a break.  The boys wanted to order from the grill, so Ty got a cheeseburger and fries, and Dylan went with chicken fingers and fries; it was a good thing too, because I overcooked today’s tomato soup and it was tasting rather smoky.  On a positive note though, our replacement Stanley® “bullet” vacuum bottle recently arrived, so we had a chance to test it out and it was keeping the soup incredibly hot.  Our other Stanley bullet that we’d had for several years had ceased to insulate (it probably had lost its vacuum), and indeed Stanley stands behind their lifetime warranty.  I called Stanley up, informed them about the loss of insulation in our bottle, answered a few questions, and said a new unit was on the way.  So, if there are others out that use any sort of Stanley insulating equipment for their ski outings, (or are thinking of getting one) know that the company is quite serious about that lifetime warranty.

On our way back out to the slopes after lunch, we gave Stephen a call and planned to meet up.  While we waited for him we basically repeated our first run from the day, but mixed in some Sure Shot Trees for variety.  We eventually met up with Stephen and Thomas and did that route yet again, but Stephen got spun around and had a fall on Sure Shot, so he didn’t join us for the powder on Lower Tattle Tale.  We peeked into the KP Glades, and they looked awesome, but we didn’t get a chance to head in.

We were done after that trip and headed home, but it had definitely been a good day on the slopes of Bolton Valley despite the recent lack of snowfall.  It doesn’t look like we’ll be at Stowe tomorrow, as E and Claire are canceling BJAMS ski program due to the expected combination of temperatures and wind; temperatures aren’t going to get out of the single digits, and wind chill values are going to be in the -40 F range.  I think we’ll all be happy enjoying the day inside tomorrow.

Stowe, VT 05FEB2012

An image of Mt. Mansfield capped with clouds and the ski trails near the Gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The view of Mt. Mansfield today from the Sunny Spruce Quad

Our first winter storm of February continued the good timing for weekend skiing by starting up for us on Friday, and we’d already picked up an inch of fluffy Champlain Powder™ at the house by Friday morning when I made my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS observations.  By yesterday morning we’d passed three inches of accumulation at the house, and the local mountains had reach a half foot of new powder, so things were looking good for the slopes.  Indeed we skied some fantastic powder conditions yesterday at Bolton Valley, especially when we headed over to the Timberline area.

“I’d put the snow conditions
that we encountered somewhere
in the good to great range;
skier traffic is all that
kept it from being as
outstanding as what we skied
at Timberline yesterday.”

This afternoon it was back to Stowe for turns, and much like yesterday, the morning low temperatures were cold at around zero F.  Fortunately, the forecast called for highs in the 20s F with clear skies, so we were looking forward to getting into some of the recent fresh snow.  Today is Super Bowl Sunday as well, and that can help to keep crowds lower as many people stay off the slopes to participate in parties.

We headed to the resort around midday, and the boys and I hooked up with Luke and Jack and got in a quick Alpine Double run on the open terrain above Meadows while we waited to see if Alexia was going to join the group.  I’d put the snow conditions that we encountered somewhere in the good to great range; skier traffic is all that kept it from being as outstanding as what we skied at Timberline yesterday.  Back at the base area, we still had no word on Alexia, so we did another lap and jumped into the trees to the skier’s left of the lift line.  There were no tracks in there at all, so the powder skiing was excellent.

An image of the Adventure Triple Chair and the Inspiration Trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont on Super Bowl Sunday 2012
The Inspiration trail at Stowe’s Spruce Peak Base Area on Super Bowl Sunday

After that lap we were finally able to meet up with Alexia, who was with her brother Jordan, their parents, and Claire.  We all got together as a large group and took Sunny Spruce over to Sensation.  Like last week, we saw plenty of great snow on Spruce Line, so those of the group that were feeling up for it took a run in there, mixed in with turns on Main Street.  We also found a good access point to the final pitch of the Sensation Lift Line and caught first tracks though there.  Our next Sensation run brought us over to Upper Smuggler’s for some steep turns, and we returned to the Spruce Peak Base to work our way over to the Mansfield side of the resort.  We spent the second half of the afternoon over there on the big mountain, starting off with a run of Perry Merrill/Rim Rock/Switchback and some of the associated trees.  We followed that up with a similar start, but worked our way over to High Road and tried out some lines in the trees down to Rim Rock that we’d never seen before.  We found plenty of nice snow in there, which isn’t surprising with the combination of elevation and protection from the sun and wind that the area offers.  The trees are mostly evergreens in there, and all that really needs to be done to create some nice additional lines is to trim off a lot of dead branches on the lower limbs.  After that enjoyable variation, we worked our way back across Gondolier to hit some more of the Switchback trees, and then the boys finished off the day with a couple of their requisite runs in the little terrain park off Midway.  A number of folks were up for après ski at the resort again today, and this time people gathered in the Spruce Camp Bar area to cap off the great weekend on the slopes.

An image of ski tracks in the powder underneath the Sensation High Speed Quad Chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Fresh tracks underneath the Sensation Quad today

We’re in the heart of winter now, and although snowfall hasn’t been as prodigious as usual this season, the constant snowfall is adding up and the local backcountry is skiing well.  The skiing has definitely been good both on and off piste at the resorts over the past couple of weeks, and we’re thankful for that because it looks as though the immediate future will provide only minimal additions to what we’ve currently got down on the slopes.  The forecast suggests that a fairly quiet week of weather is coming for Northern Vermont, with just a couple of minor snow events.  There’s one round of snow expected to come through tomorrow night into Tuesday, and then another one expected for Friday.  If these storms do their usual thing with the mountains, it should work out just fine since there don’t appear to be any major warm air intrusions on the horizon.  It would be nice to have the new snow go right into enhancement instead of recovery from firm conditions due to mixed precipitation events, which seemed to be the pattern in much of January.  The scuttlebutt I hear from some of the meteorologists is that we have undergone a significant weather pattern change (I guess the lack of any mixed precipitation in the forecast this week is a testament to that), which will only offer minor events for now, but does hold the potential for some bigger systems down the road.  The base (both snow and skier) is definitely ready for some bigger dumps, and it would be nice to build it for spring.  We’ll see what Mother Nature offers in the coming month to set up the rest of the season.

Stowe, VT 29JAN2012

An image of Greg and some of the boys in our ski group on the Sensation Quad at Stowe Mountain Resort, with tracks visible in the powder on the lift line trail below
Greg and some of the boys riding Sensation today between laps in the powder below

There haven’t been any major snowfalls in the area since the storm that dropped up to two feet in the mountains around mid month, so when I assessed the monthly snowfall at the house through yesterday (27.2”), it wasn’t surprising that we were well below the January average I’ve calculated from the past five seasons worth of data (40”+).  Even without any huge storms though, the Northern Greens have been doing their thing to keep the slopes fresh as they capitalize on the moisture from more modest systems or make their own upslope snow.  Today was another perfect example, as we found ourselves amidst massive flakes when we arrived at Stowe around midday.  It was a bit of a surprise to see all the snow in the air and the cars covered in white, since all we’d seen at the house were a few flurries, but that’s Mansfield being Mansfield.

An image of arriving at the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont with snow falling and a couple of trails on Mt. Mansfield just visible in the background
Our snowy arrival in the Spruce Peak Village today

“Every week we seem to
get one of those mixed
storms to make a mess
out of the slopes, and
Mansfield pulls another
7, 8 , 9, 10 inches or
whatever out of the sky
to bring back the powder
skiing.”

The day was set up as a nice comfortable one with temperatures in the 30s F for the mountain valleys, and a high of around 25 F on Mt. Mansfield.  Naturally, the combination of nice temperatures and fresh snow had us excited to hit the slopes, so with some extra time before our coaching session began, I grabbed Ty and Dylan and we rode the Alpine Double for a run in the terrain above Meadows.  Consistent with the latest temperature fluctuations above and below freezing over the past week (which seems to be a theme this month) there was certainly a crusty layer under the powder, but the turns were very good with all the new snow, even down at the low elevations near the Spruce Peak Village (~1,500’).  In fact the snow was nice enough that when we met up with our group for the day, which consisted of Jack, Luke, and Greg Pause as a second coach, we headed right back up to do the same run.

An image of Greg and the boys stopping in the powdery woods for a photo during one of our trips on the Sensation Quad at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching Greg and the boys on one of our snowy Sensation runs

Seeing how nice the skiing was down low with the new snow, we didn’t want to wait too long to get higher up on the mountain, so we caught Sunny Spruce to make our way over to Sensation.  While on the lift, we saw a few tracks on Spruce Line, but loads of untracked snow, so we worked our way through the trees to get there.  The boys were challenged by some difficult routes through the trees, but Ty encouraged everyone, letting them know that they could really handle it, and they did.  Indeed the powder skiing was excellent up at that elevation with the additional depth of new snow afforded by 1,500’ of increased elevation.  One aspect of the run that had everyone grinning was the fact that nobody else was skiing the area, so we had it all to ourselves.  We continued on down to Whirlaway, where the snow remained quite good, and then decided that it would be a shame if all the untracked snow on Spruce Line went to waste, so we did the exact same run again.  We concluded our Spruce Peak session with one more Sensation run, hitting the steep terrain of Upper Smuggler’s down to Side Street, then back to the Spruce Peak Base Area to catch the Over Easy to Mt. Mansfield.

“It was a bit of a surprise
to see all the snow in the
air and the cars covered,
in white, since all we’d
seen at the house were a
few flurries, but that’s
Mansfield being Mansfield.”

The second half of the afternoon was spent over on Mt. Mansfield exploring areas serviced by the gondola.  Waterfall continues to have good snow, so we enjoyed its somewhat steep terrain as a good variation down to Gondolier.  We played around a lot in the Switchback trees, and a quick check on the powder there revealed 7 inches of depth for the mid to lower mountain elevations.  We did a run on Perry Merrill as well, and worked our way back to Switchback for a variation on the trees we’d skied before.  The snowfall had slackened during the middle of the afternoon, but it resumed for the end of the ski day, and gave everyone a renewed sense of excitement.  The boys finished off their last run as they do with most gondola runs, the requisite trip through the small terrain park below Midway.  We headed back to Spruce as the light began to fade and the snowfall ramped up.

An image of Ty jumping over a sloped box in the small terrain park near the Midway Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching that last terrain park run in the fading light
An image of a pair of skis leaning on a carved wooden bear at the entrance to Spruce Camp Base Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Spruce Camp entrance

We headed to the Great Room Grill for après ski, and the snow continued to fall; the forecast calls for up to another 6 to 8 inches tonight on top of what fell today, so I suspect that conditions are going to be even better tomorrow.  It certainly makes me want to hit the slopes instead of heading in to Burlington.  I’ve got to say, Stowe really continues to impress this season in terms of conditions.  Sometimes the heavy traffic at the mountain can really wear things down, but in this season of low snowfall, big temperature swings, and mixed precipitation, Mansfield just keeps coming through.  Every week we seem to get one of those mixed storms to make a mess out of the slopes, and Mansfield pulls another 7, 8 , 9, 10 inches or whatever out of the sky to bring back the powder skiing.  I really thought this was going to be the weekend in which the conditions wouldn’t make it back in time, with this week’s mixed precipitation storm coming so late in the week, but damn if there wasn’t some fine skiing out there today.

Stowe, VT 22JAN2012

An image of Ty entering the Green Acres area of trees at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty dives into Green Acres today as we seek out powder on Stowe’s Spruce Peak

Temperatures started out quite cold this morning, way down around -10 F at the house.  Fortunately, it was warmer in the mountains, and the forecast called for temperatures topping out around 20 F today with clear skies.  Like many areas, Stowe had seen some warmth earlier in the week, and some crust had formed on the powder.  However, with 7 inches from the Thursday/Friday storm, and then another couple of inches yesterday, there were significant amounts of snow above that layer, and any firm snow was already starting to disappear into the snowpack.  Powderfreak indicated that the groomed terrain at Stowe was fun, but we were anxious to see just how good the snow was getting off piste.

Indeed it was sunny this afternoon at Stowe, and temperatures were warming right up as expected.  I had Ty, Dylan, and Jack skiing in my coaching group, with the additional of Alexia on her snowboard.  It always constrains things a bit when we have a snowboarder in the group, not because of ability, since Alexia can rip down just about anything, but snowboarder mobility for traversing and side-stepping is so much more limiting that I really have to think through our routes well ahead of time, or forego certain areas that might be difficult to deal with on a board.  My goal was to get the kids into the upper elevation terrain of Spruce Peak to see if we could make use of the new powder the mountain had picked up over the past few days, so we jumped right on the Sunny Spruce Quad and got ourselves over to Sensation.  There was a giant slalom race taking place on Main Street, so we got to watch some of the impressive racers carrying speed through the course.  Seeing all of the maintenance workers involved in the race really gave us an appreciation for how much time and effort it takes to maintain a good race course.  We could also see that there was plenty of fresh snow available below us in the Spruce Line area, so we put that on our hit list.  From the Sensation summit we dropped right into Green Acres, finding plenty of powder for the kids, and that continued with even more untouched snow as we dropped into Spruce Line.  These days with substantial racing on Main Street are a somewhat mixed blessing – terrain is a little more limited, but with so many people focused on the race, and some staying away from the area because of terrain limitations, there is the chance for some great powder to hang around untouched.  And the powder absolutely delivered today; despite the crust somewhere below, the higher elevations had plenty of new snow to give it a good covering and make for some excellent bottomless turns.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spruce Line Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Checking out the Spruce Line area from the Sensation Quad

With the superb snow we’d found, we opted for another run on Sensation, and this time we headed over to the steep terrain of Upper Smuggler’s.  The kids were able to rip it up, and Dylan got a great compliment about his skiing from a stranger we met along the way.  Dylan really has stepped up his game this season on all sorts of terrain, and we expect that it’s only going to continue.  I worked the kids down onto the open terrain above Meadows, and they had fun letting loose with their turns.  Even down at that low elevation the snow was really good, and it seems that once again, despite these warm episodes that keep popping up this season, the Northern Greens keep reeling in enough snow to make great skiing for the weekend.  We took the Alpine Double Chair, went through the Catwalk tunnel, and skied that terrain again because it was so good.

An image of Ty skiing in the open terrain above the Meadows trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dropping through the open terrain above Meadows today

I wasn’t sure if we wanted to leave the nice conditions we’d found on Spruce Peak, but eventually we decided that we needed to explore more terrain, so we headed to Mt. Mansfield and did some runs off the Gondola.  We worked in some Perry Merrill, Gondolier, and Switchback, and conditions were good enough that I brought the kids into the far skier’s right of the Tombo Woods.  It’s a bit tight in there, but not a problem for folks with skis and snowboards their size.  That’s steep, tight terrain there, and all the kids handled it well.  We topped the afternoon off with another Gondolier/Perry Merrill/Switchback assortment, and then finally had to pull away so that kids could get some hot chocolate and s’mores.

An image of a s'more being assembled at the fire pit in the center of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Careful assembly at s’more time

I’m glad we made it for the hot chocolate/s’mores session in the Spruce Peak Village this afternoon, because along with the food, we got to browse around and view all the ice sculptures from the recent competition.  The theme was obviously circus-related, and we got to see an impressive array of work – some of the artists must be professionals.  What was also inspirational was the level of creativity that was shown; although all the sculptures were based on the circus, everything was so diverse that we never saw the same thing twice.  We’ve seen ice sculptures in the village square before, but it almost seemed like this year’s contest was the biggest yet.  We’re already looking forward to what we’ll get to see next season!

An image of an ice sculpture and onlookers  in the middle of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking in the ice sculptures today in the Spruce Peak Village

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21JAN2012

An image of Ty skiing a glade below the Heavenly Highway trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty glides through some Champlain Powder today in a glade below Heavenly Highway.

There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly.  And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further.  This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™.  With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns.  It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.

“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
water-content Champlain
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”

Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south.  The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning.  The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes.  My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers.  While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff.  Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled.  We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air.  Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are.   One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.

An image of Ty sledding in extremely dry, 2% water content powder at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
Champlain Powder comprised of just 2% water explodes around Ty this morning as he takes a run on one of the sledding hills at the house.

It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M.  We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent.  The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow.  Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots.  As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.

An image of an evergreen branch coated with super-dry, 2% water-content "Champlain Powder" along the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Branches along the Bryant trail coated with some of that 2% H2O “see-through” Champlain Powder

Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside.  They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there.  Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin.  I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse.  While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.

An image of the Bryant Cabin with smoke coming from the chimney on the Nordic/backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Smoke from the chimney foretold a warm welcome at the Bryant Cabin today

After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent.  We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane.  While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior.  The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed).  Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight.  The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.

 

An image of Ty skiing a glade near the World Cup trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing off the day in the backcountry glades with the golden light of the afternoon sun.

That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times.  Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch.  We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area.  We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side.  The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there.  We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup.  The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun.  It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.