Stowe, VT 30NOV2012

An image of skiers making their way up the Liftline trail at Stowe Mountain Resort to catch some early morning powder turns
Today’s dawn patrol on Liftline

A cold front came through the area last night, and while it was expected to drop a few inches of snow, the Northern Greens did their usual thing and ultimately managed to pull a foot of beautiful fluff out of the event.  Even though I didn’t quite know what the totals were going to be last night, Winter Weather Advisories had to be posted by the National Weather Service Office in Burlington, we’d picked up over 4 inches of snow down at the house by~9:30 P.M., and it was obvious that the local mountains were getting something worthy of dawn patrol.

I awoke this morning to our coldest temperatures of the season – we bottomed out at 7.2 F and there was no doubt that the snow was going to be light and dry.  Since the snow had shut off by roughly midnight, there had been plenty of time to clean up the roads, and the trip over to Stowe was quick.  There were a good 20+ vehicles present as I parked in the Mansfield lot, and although it was still fairly dark, I could see a few skiers making their way up the slope leading to the trails.  They seemed to be heading off in the direction of Nosedive, so I opted to head that way and hopefully make use of an established skin track.

“I’ve often wondered if it
was worth going the slightly
narrower route on skins to
reduce weight and enhance
glide. After today’s experience,
I can tell you to forget about it
for typical alpine ascents.”

The track headed up Lower National through a few lower elevation snow guns, and the areas of firm, manmade snow quickly made me aware that my ascension setup wasn’t going to be perfect.  I was using my AMPerages (139-115-123) to see how they fared in the powder, but since I don’t have skins for them yet, I was using my RT-86 skins (127-86-113).  That width differential left a good deal of base exposed, and on occasion I had to use a heaping helping of arm strength with my poles to avoid slipping.  Although I’ve always cut my skins to the full width of my skis, I’ve often wondered if it was worth going the slightly narrower route on skins to reduce weight and enhance glide.  After today’s experience, I can tell you to forget about it for typical alpine ascents.  Unless you’re going to be touring on very low angle terrain, it’s just not worth it based on what I experienced today – any benefit from the weight/glide could easily be lost by the constant slipping.  Thank goodness the skin track didn’t have any post holes in it this morning or it would have been a huge pain to hold traction.  Up through Lower National I was getting by reasonably well with the occasional small slip of my skins, but the challenge wasn’t quite over.  After reaching the top of Lower National, the skin track shot up Midway, which has quite a steep pitch, and maintaining skin traction became a lot harder.  The pitch eased a bit as the track made its way onto Nosedive, but by the time I’d reached the Liftline/National junction, time was getting short and I was more than happy avoid any more slipping.  It was time for a descent.

I’d been checking on snow depth during my ascent, but due to all the snow this week, there was a lot of unconsolidated stuff under the current storm’s bounty and it was difficult to assess just what came down overnight.  I’d been getting measurements of roughly a foot or more since I’d started at the base area (~1,500’), but when I stuck my measurement pole into the snow at that ~2,800’ mark, I got an overall depth of 18 inches.  Combined with what I was seeing around me from other skiers (check out the pictures from adk and from Powderfreak at the American Weather Forum), who were having little if any issues touching down on obstacles below the snow, the potential turns were looking really good.  National is quite steep and while it wouldn’t typically be my first choice for early season skiing, Mother Nature has really been dishing out the snow on Stowe this week.  It looked ready and I was about to test it out.

“These new fat, rockered skis
are absolutely the real deal.
I continued to bound my way
down the steep slope, just
amazed at how easy the
turns were.”

I switched to descent mode and decided to see what the AMPerages could do.  I dropped in for the first few turns, tentatively, still wondering in the back of my mind if I was going to hit something below, but it was immediately obvious that there was plenty of snow.  The powder was light and dry, and I quickly found myself just giddy with how well the AMPerages performed.  This was my first time on such fat, rockered skis, and although I figured that there might be some modest, incremental increase in ease of powder skiing over my regular Telemark setup, it was far more than that.  These new fat, rockered skis are absolutely the real deal.  I continued to bound my way down the steep slope, just amazed at how easy the turns were.  At the bottom of National I decided to avoid heading back down toward the snow guns where I’d ascended, and instead took Houghton’s over toward the Lookout Double.  It was very quiet over there, since it was well away from any snow guns, and I finished off my run turning my way through fluffy silence.  It’s not even December 1st and there’s not just passable, but really good natural snow skiing from top to bottom on Mt. Mansfield, so indeed that’s a great end to November on the slopes.

An image of the Lookout Double Chairlift with fresh powder below it at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A peaceful Lookout this morning

Sure today featured the best snow I’ve encountered this season, but I can already tell that the powder skiing is going to be just that much more fun this season with the new boards in the quiver.  I’ve now tested the AMPerages in some legitimate Champlain Powder™ – they handled the fluff with aplomb and they are clearly NVT worthy in that regard.  Presumably the whole season won’t be just a fluff fest, so I’m also eager to see how they handle thicker snow and crud, but we’ll have time for that.

Stowe, VT 04NOV2012

An image showing ski tracks on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after an early November snowfall
Catching a few early season turns on Sunrise today

It’s been snowing in the Green Mountains since Friday, and accumulating down to the 1,500’ to 2,000’ level.  We’ve even had some flakes reach down to the mountain valleys, and although the lower elevations have generally seen rain and we haven’t had any accumulation at the house, we’ve picked up 0.39” of liquid over the past couple of days.  Even as early as yesterday, snow depths had reached the point where it looked like it was worth making a few turns, so I headed to Stowe today to check it out for myself.

I left the house near midday under cloudy skies and a temperature of 39 F, but a few minutes into the drive, the temperature dropped to 37 F in the Waterbury Center area, and snow began to fall.  It snowed lightly all the way to the mountain, and accumulations began to appear just as I hit the resort base at ~1,500’ in elevation.  The temperature had really dropped as I ascended the last stretch to the resort, and as I parked in the Midway lot, the temperature was right around the freezing mark.

Accumulations in the Midway area were generally a trace to an inch, so I stowed my skis on my pack and headed over toward Nosedive to use that standard route of ascent.  As I approached the 2,000’ mark, the snow depth became a bit more consistent, generally in the 1”-2” range, and I switched to skins.  I was probably a touch early on putting on my skins since I encountered a few more spots of mud, but that’s what rock skins are for, and it made for a lot less slipping than hiking in my boots.  The precipitation that had been snow at the start of my ascent turned into more of a freezing mist as I headed into the clouds around 3,000’.  Up around 3,600’ at the Stone Hut it was windy, well below freezing, and quite chaotic with Stowe’s snow gun firing off what seemed like a 21 gun salute.  I sheltered behind the hut to keep out of the wind and the roar of the snow guns as I switched to descent mode and had a much needed snack.  The wind made for plenty of drifting during my ascent, but I’d sum up the snow depths with respect to elevation as follows:

1,600’: T-1”
2,000’: 1”-2”
2,500’: 2”-4”
3,000’: 4”-6”
3,600’: 6”+

I’d only encountered a couple of groups descending on Nosedive while on my ascent, but there were plenty of tracks from previous visitors and the snow was quite packed out, so I decided to descend some other terrain off to the south.  The combination of wind, freezing mist, low visibility, and manmade snow made for a really challenging descent, especially on my skinny Telemark skis, so I generally just took it easy and stuck to mellow terrain.  In general I didn’t find much in the way of decent turns until I got down onto Sunrise below the snowmaking, and pretty quickly after that the snow depth was getting a bit meager.  I did manage some nice turns here and there, but eventually it was more gorilla-style survival turns until I finally decided to call it at the elevation of Crossover.  I strapped the skis back on my pack and had a nice stroll back to the car.  I’d say at this point the skiing isn’t worth putting in a ton of effort, but it’s definitely fun to get out for a few turns if you’re close by.  We’ll have to see if anything comes from the Nor’easter that’s expected this week though, because the current snow could serve as a decent base for another round of accumulations.

2011-2012 Ski Season Summary

With everyone having their own unique perspective on skiing, combined with the multitude of weather-related factors involved in winter recreation in general, there’s usually ample room for debate about where a ski season sits relative to average.  However, when it comes to the 2011-2012 ski season in Northern Vermont (and perhaps to an even greater extent in other parts of the Northeastern U.S.) most any metric would set it firmly in the lower half of seasons.  Some key contributing factors to the outcome of the season were temperatures, which were above average for every month from October through May (specific monthly temperature departures are available in the monthly detail section), overall precipitation, which was well below average during that period, and as expected with that combination, snowfall that was well below average.  However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and indeed that was the case in Northern Vermont this past season.  If numbers aren’t everything, perhaps timing is everything, and the snow machine of the Northern Greens exhibited some impeccable timing for some of the busiest ski periods when it came down to it.  There was also a consistency and intensity in backside snows that seemed to heal just about every mixed precipitation event.  So while I don’t think that the winter of 2011-2012 can be considered anything but below average around here, the bigger story might just be how “surprisingly good” it was.  That story unfolds in the details below.

Snowfall:  A very reliable and trustworthy indicator of just how poor the winter’s snowfall was for the general Northern Vermont area, is the data from the area’s first-order weather station at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington.  Out of 127 years worth of data going back to the winter of 1884-1885, the 37.7” of total snowfall in Burlington during 2011-2012 was the third lowest in their records (only 1912-1913 with 31.3” and 1904-1905 with 32.0” were lower).  Interestingly this third lowest recorded snowfall obtained in 2011-2012 came right on the heels of Burlington’s third highest recorded snowfall of 128.4” in 2010-2011.  Relative to average snowfall, which for the 1884-2011 period of record in Burlington is 73.3”, 2011-2012 came in at just 51.4%.  Burlington is the local first-order weather station for the area, but despite its proximity to the spine of the Northern Greens, the Champlain Valley’s snowfall doesn’t necessarily correlate with what goes on in the mountains.  Looking next at Winooski Valley snowfall data obtained from our house, which sits right along the spine and is a decent representation of what happens in the mountain valleys of the Greens, we find that snowfall was well below average during all the key winter months, and our season total was 115.3”.  Not surprisingly, this is the lowest snowfall total obtained in the six years that we have collected rigorous data at our location, and it’s almost two standard deviations below the mean (172.1 ± 31.5”) obtained from 2006-2011.  However, at 67.0% of the average snowfall, it’s not quite as low as what Burlington experienced.  Like the local mountains themselves, some spots in the mountain valleys have what Powderfreak refers to as a snowfall “insurance policy”, which comes in the form of upslope snowBurlington and the Champlain Valley can get in on a bit of mesoscale weather action in the form of lake-effect snow from Lake Champlain, but it’s not a major contributor to snowfall due to the size and orientation of the lake.  To the east of the Champlain Valley however, the upslope snow, sometimes referred to as Champlain Powder™, is what sets the snowfall in the Greens apart from areas that rely solely on synoptic precipitation.  Interestingly, as we head up in elevation above our house in the valley, we find Bolton Valley reporting a very similar deviation from average snowfall compared to Burlington this season.  Bolton recorded 159” of snow this past season, which based on Bolton’s reported seasonal snowfall mean of 312”, comes in at just 51.0% of average.  That amount of snow is extremely low for this area, and is more akin to what one might find in a typical season at Lake Louise Ski Area in Alberta vs. the spine of Vermont’s Northern Greens.  The updated table with Bolton Valley’s snowfall from the past several seasons is added below, which illustrates the strong snowfall deviation from average seen in 2011-2012:

A table displaying the season snowfall totals at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont from the 2006-2007 season through the 2011-2012 season, as well as the average reported by the resort and the average during that period
Snowfall at Bolton Valley Resort during the 2011-2012 ski season (shown in blue) was extremely low, just half the average amount.

Although still well below average all around, there certainly was a trend toward slightly better snowfall as one continued to head north in the state, with the northward trend of 63.4% at Stowe, 66.6% at Smuggler’s Notch, and 71.5% at Jay Peak relative to average.  A contributor to the low snowfall at the resorts was the fact that there was really only one big, multi-foot storm cycle during the heart of the season.  That storm came at the end of February and dropped 40” at Jay Peak, just on the heels of a couple smaller systems for a total in excess of 50” of snow in just a few daysThe resulting skiing was fantastic due the density gradient that was set up by the way it fell – 1 to 2 feet of dense snow came first, and it was topped off with another couple feet of champagne that finished at around 2% H2O.  The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake jumped from 49” to 81” during that period, and the icing on the cake was that the storm cleared right out to produce bluebird skies on Feb 26th.  Unfortunately, one great storm doesn’t make a season.  Based on estimations from my weather data, on average we should only expect one or two of those 40”+ storms per season, but they would typically be backed up by several 20”+ storms, and the deficiency of those is part of what left the overall snowfall lacking.

Tree Skiing:  In the past I’ve used empirical data from trip reports to establish a mean date for the start of tree skiing in Northern/North-Central Vermont, and as I outlined in last year’s ski season summary, that analysis revealed a date of December 10th ± 13 days, with an average depth at the stake of 28.1 ± 6.5 inches.  However, after a comment from Powderfreak back on December 12th, in which he indicated that he’d observed tree skiing on appropriate terrain at Stowe to start roughly when the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake hit 24 inches, I decided to run an analysis using snowpack data from the stake.  Instead of just the 15 to 20 seasons worth of ski trip reports that are available since the arrival of the internet era, there are almost 60 seasons worth of data available from the Mt. Mansfield StakeAnalysis of the stake data using the first date of attaining 24” of snow depth or higher as the start of tree skiing, actually produced a very similar result (December 12th ± 19 days, with an average depth at the stake of 25.8 ± 2.7 inches) to what was obtained from the empirical data.  With the date being so close to what I determined from the empirical data, I’m pretty confident that the date of attaining 24” in the stake data will serve just as well in determining the average start of tree skiing, and the relative start date for individual seasons.  With the median and mode for that analysis coming in quite close to the mean, the distribution seems normal, so the standard deviation in the data should have some predictive value.  This “24-inch rule” isn’t meant to replace the traditional “40-inch rule”, but it’s there to compliment it as a more practical measure of when people actually start venturing into the trees in this area (the fact that it is corroborated by many years of empirical data can testify to that).  The point at which the stake hits 24 inches is a decent mark for when appropriately maintained trees are going to start offering up good turns for those with the right skills and knowledge, whereas once the stake hits 40 inches, skiers can pretty much venture into most off-piste areas with a good degree of confidence.  Between those two points is going to be a continuum of increasing access to off piste terrain.  Moving from the 24” depth to the 40” depth will typically take place during the month of December, with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaching the 40” mark at the beginning of January on average.

So where did the 2011-2012 season stack up in terms of the start of tree skiing in Northern Vermont?  Not surprisingly, when assessed by the new method of reaching 24” at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, it’s down near the bottom of the pack.  Below, I’ve added a scatter plot that I generated using the Mt. Mansfield snowpack data; the X-axis is a timeline spanning from October to January, and the blue stars represent the dates when 24 inches of snow depth was attained at the stake for the various years from 1954-2012.  The red data point is for the 2011-2012 season (date of attaining 24” = January 3rd, 2012), so the season is indeed more than one standard deviation on the late side (the large vertical line in the plot is the mean, and the small vertical lines are ± 1 standard deviation), although it actually isn’t as late a start as some seasons:

A scatter plot showing the date of attaining a 24-inch snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake in Vermont for the years 1954-2012
A scatter plot showing the date of attaining a 24-inch snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. Each star represents a year from 1954-2012, and this year’s date of attaining a 24-inch snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake (January 3rd; indicated by the red star) is on the later side.

For those that want the actual raw data from the above plot to see where specific seasons stacked up in terms of reaching that 24-inch mark at the stake, the numbers are available in my initial post with the plot in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather.

How did the 24-inch snowpack depth analysis compare to what we actually found on the ground this season?  Since skiing natural snow terrain on piste began first, I’ll mention that momentarily before discussing the trees.  I saw the first signs of people skiing natural snow trails this season on December 27th at Bolton, and coverage certainly looked sufficient on at least moderate terrain.  The tracks I saw at that point already looked old, and I suspect that on piste natural snow coverage was actually sufficient the day before (December 26th), thanks to the Christmas Day stormBolton picked up close to a foot of snow from that storm, and at the end of the day on the 26th, the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 14”.  The first day that we actually ventured into the trees at Bolton Valley was December 29th, and as I stated in my report from that day, we only ventured in for one run because the base was just a little too thin to really ski with confidence in there and enjoy it.  And, when the snowpack was measured at the Mt. Mansfield Stake later that afternoon, the depth was 21 inches, just a bit shy of that 24-inch mark.  By the next day, we were skiing natural snow trails with more than enough coverage, but it wasn’t until January 7th at Bolton that I commented about some of the trees finally being ready after the boys and I skied Wilderness Woods.  The measurement from the stake came in at 24 inches that afternoon, and we were clearly reaching another threshold of sorts, so attaining that 24-inch depth at the stake was indeed a decent measure for the start of tree skiing this season in our experience.  Powderfreak and I have discussed how that 24-inch number is going to be quite rough, since a 24-inch depth attained mostly with fluff will represent something substantially different that a 24-inch depth attained with cement, but it looks like it’s going to be a reasonable approximation of when people start to take their initial forays into the trees and find the conditions good enough to stay there.

Looking at tree/off piste skiing for the season as a whole, there’s no question that it was curtailed relative to normal.  The very late date of reaching 24 inches at the stake in the beginning of January (January 3rd) is 1.13 standard deviations beyond the mean according to the Mt. Mansfield snowpack analysis, putting it close to the bottom 10% of seasons.  When this is coupled with the large amount of melting in Mid March due to record heat, which closed a lot of terrain, it equates to a tree skiing season that is roughly 2 ½ months long, compared to the more typical length of 4 to 5 months.  The off piste season was certainly condensed, and while coverage was there to enable plenty of access in January (Stowe reached 100% open status by January 14th), tree skiing really seemed to take forever to hit its stride; to wit, the snowpack at the stake didn’t hit the 40-inch mark until the end of January.

Snow Quality:  In last season’s summary, I checked my trip reports and found those days in which we were skiing powder, typically suggesting a fairly high level of snow quality, and those days in which powder skiing wasn’t available, often indicating some sort of thaw (or in one case this season, insufficient base depths).  For the list of outings below, I’ve again placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, to reveal the temporal pattern associated with that categorization.  Outings with an X may still be providing decent skiing such as wet snow, corn, etc. (or else we’d probably be doing something other than skiing) but aside from the spring period, there’s going to be a price to pay in terms of snow quality after these episodes when temperatures eventually cool back down.  Chronologically, the first X appears for the outing on December 10th at Bolton Valley.  The lack of powder skiing on that date wasn’t actually due to temperature fluctuations, but instead due to the fact that there just wasn’t enough natural snow; substantial snowfall was very slow in coming in early December.  The natural snow depth up above 2,000’ in the Bolton Valley Village was still only 2-3” at that point, so short of junkboarding, skiing was really restricted to just the limited terrain that had manmade snow.  The next X appears on our Bolton Valley outing on December 31st, and it represented a notable bump in the winter weather.  The holiday week wasn’t too cold, but it was certainly snowy like one would expect at Christmas time in Vermont, with three decent snowstorms totaling more than two feet of snow at the northern resorts (refer to the December entry in the detailed monthly section for more information).  So there was indeed some great powder skiing during that stretch.  The main factor that kept the overall quality of the skiing from being really outstanding was the lack of base.  The natural snow terrain that was open was excellent, but there still hadn’t been enough snow to open the steepest terrain without snowmaking.  The X in this case comes in at the tail end of the holiday period where there was a thaw.  I described the skiing on New Year’s Eve as reminding me of the Pacific Northwest, with low hanging clouds on the mountains, and dense snow underfoot.  I’m not sure how long the resulted firm snow conditions lasted, because three small to moderate storms came through the area that week, with the first one dropping a half foot of snow in the mountains.  By the following Saturday there was powder skiing again for the weekend.  From that point on there were no interruptions in powder skiing though to mid March – at least from our perspective; we don’t ski every day of course, but we did ski every weekend through that period.  However, Powderfreak does ski just about every day of the season at Stowe, and he noted that there were only a few select days without powder.  I’ll speak more about that at the end of this section.  By far the section of the outings list that stands out the most is the second half of March – the dramatic change in conditions is quite obvious, with seven outings in a row marked with an X.  Record warm weather came in with a vengeance in mid March, and it was all spring skiing until the weather cooled back down to normal levels and produced snowstorms for the final two thirds of April.  We finally finished off our season with a couple of corn snow days in May, a point in the season where that type of snow is the norm.

The 2010-2011 ski season was the first one to which I applied this type of powder skiing analysis, and relative to what I thought it would look like, I was certainly surprised by the consistent availability of powder conditions once I saw the data lined up.  But as surprised as I was with that result, the 2011-2012 analysis is even more astounding.  Somehow there was good to great skiing every weekend/holiday period throughout most of the core ski season, despite the overwhelmingly warm temperatures and low snowfall.  As I mentioned above in the snowfall section, Bolton Valley reported just 159” of snow for their entire season.  That’s ridiculously low – it’s half their usual snowfall, and we typically average more snow than that at our house, almost 3,000’ below the upper elevations of the resort where the snowfall measurements are taken.  That amount of snow might suffice for some decent skiing in an environment like the high elevations of the Rockies with very consistent winter temperatures, but this season in Vermont was anything but that.  There were temperature issues throughout the season, and January was a perfect example – at the end of the month, local meteorologist Roger Hill pointed out that we’d had seven January thaws.  I had many ski weather-related conversations with Powderfreak in the 2011-2012 ski thread at American Weather’s New England Subforum about the surprisingly high quality of the skiing, and there was certainly consistency in conditions, but we also determined that it was an issue of timing.  Snowfall was low, and spells of warm temperatures abundant, but storms were just timed well to ensure that most snow quality issues were remedied by the weekend.  Although the season was warm on average, we didn’t have many big rain events, and any that we did have seemed to be quickly covered by backside snow.  There was indeed something special about the timing though, because somehow we had weekend after weekend of nice skiing with powder on Bolton’s 159” of snow.  The detailed reports below and the monthly ski summaries that follow, provide the specifics of how it all went down, and the frequency and distribution of P in the outings list really speaks to that theme of “surprisingly good”:

Pico, VT, Sunday 30OCT2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 23NOV2011
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 10DEC2011
Stowe, VT, Saturday 17DEC2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 23DEC2011 (A.M. Session)
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 23DEC2011 (P.M. Session)
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 24DEC2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Tuesday 27DEC2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 28DEC2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 29DEC2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Friday 30DEC2011
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 31DEC2011
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 07JAN2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 08JAN2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 12JAN2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 14JAN2012
Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT, Sunday 15JAN2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 16JAN2012
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Saturday 21JAN2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 22JAN2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 29JAN2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 04FEB2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 05FEB2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 11FEB2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 18FEB2012
Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT, Sunday 19FEB2012
Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry & Bolton Mtn, VT, Monday 20FEB2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Thursday 23FEB2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 25FEB2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 26FEB2012
Stowe, VT, Friday 02MAR2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 03MAR2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 04MAR2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Wednesday 07MAR2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 10MAR2012
Stowe, VT, Sunday 11MAR2012
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 17MAR2012
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 18MAR2012
X  Stowe, VT, Friday 23MAR2012
X  Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 24MAR2012
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 25MAR2012
X  Stowe, VT, Saturday 31MAR2012
X  Stowe, VT, Sunday 01APR2012
Stowe, VT, Tuesday 10APR2012
Jay Peak, VT, Thursday 12APR2012
Bolton Valley, VT, Saturday 14APR2012
Stowe, VT, Friday 27APR2012
Stowe, VT, Saturday 28APR2012
X  Jay Peak, VT, Saturday 12MAY2012
X  Mount Washington, NH, Sunday 27MAY2012

Monthly Summaries for the 2011-2012 Ski Season:

An image of Erica skiing powder on the Birch Glades Trail at Pico Vermont - October 30, 2011
E enjoys some of the October powder at Pico after back to back storms set up some great ski conditions.

October:  Snowfall in the month of October is generally scant down at the elevation of our house (495’), and because we’re on the fringe of the cold season at that point, it’s not a great indicator of snowfall in the local mountains.  The six year average I have in the valley is 0.9” of snow for October, so by that measure, the 1.2” of snow that we received in October 2011 was very typical.  However, for the New England region as a whole, October 2011 would wind up being anything but typical.  Back to back snowstorms hit New England at the end of the month, with the first one on October 27th dropping over a foot of snow at Killington to kick things off with gusto.  That type of storm is pretty standard for the mountains of Vermont in October, but just a couple days later on the 29th, it was followed up by a second, larger storma record-breaking monster of an October snowstorm for Southern New EnglandOver 30 inches of snow fell in some locations, and those weren’t necessarily high elevation locales.  Massive power outages ensued because leaves were still on the trees in those areas, and people were without power for up to two weeks.  Ironically, despite the back-to-back snowstorms in New England, including an historic, 100-year event, Northern Vermont ended up with little if any snow from either of them.  The lack of snowfall is seen easily in my 2011-2012 Waterbury/Mt. Mansfield snowpack plot – the only snow depth recorded on Mt. Mansfield for the entire month was 0.5” on October 30th, and that is essentially invisible with the scale used.  I don’t know what Mt. Mansfield averages for snow in October, but I’m sure what they got was well below average.  As for the skiing though, what we couldn’t get in the Northern Greens was easily obtained about an hour south in the Central Greens.  With the mountains of Central Vermont getting hit by both storms, we headed down to Pico with the boys for an outstanding day of turns in the powder.  The back-to-back storms had essentially set up snow on snow, or powder atop a base.  That’s a bit of a treat compared to the way October skiing on natural snow often plays out, so it was enjoyed by many.  It almost seemed like half the ski population of Stowe had temporarily migrated south to access the great turns at Pico.  So while in general, October was pleasant, mild, and nearly snowless in Northern Vermont (Burlington came in 2.0 degrees F above normal at the National Weather Service Office) some great skiing snuck in there a bit to the south.

An image of old ski tracks on the Sherman's Pass ski trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after a November snowstorm
Some November turns on Sherman’s thanks to our recent snowstorm

November:  I’ll put November 2011 into perspective by looking at November 2010, in which the ski conditions were apparently poor enough that we didn’t ski once.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen this season – even if just by a day.  The near lack of snow in November 2010 could be considered demonstrative of typical November snowfall in the valley though, because up to that point it had truly been feast or famine since we moved to our current Waterbury location in 2006.  However, this past November finally bucked that trend by coming in with 11.4” of snow (128% of average) which is as close to “normal” snowfall as I’ve ever seen for the month based on my data.  We had a couple of minor accumulating snowstorms early in the month, and then another mid month, but it was a storm near the end of the month that really produced 95% of our November valley snowfall.  That storm dropped almost a foot of snow at the house, and got me to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns.  In terms of skiing, options for catching the new snow atop a manmade base were rather limited because most of the local resorts were of course using their manmade snow to serve customers, but I headed up to Bolton Valley to see if the natural snow alone was enough for some turns.  Since they don’t open until December, Bolton hadn’t yet made any snow by that point, but it turned out that the storm had dropped over a foot of snow up there, and it was dense enough that one didn’t need much of it to keep them off of whatever lay beneath.  I enjoyed some decent turns, even if that outing wound up being the only one for the month.  This past November was a decent step up from the previous couple of seasons with little to no snow, but we’ve still yet to have a very snowy November since the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons; both those seasons delivered roughly 20” of snow in the valley, and plenty more in the mountains.  The general seasonal trend of warm weather continued right through the month as well; although much colder than October on an absolute basis, November was even warmer relative to its long range average, coming in 5.1 degrees above normal at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington.

An image of intricate, feathery patterns of frost on one of the windows of the main base lodge at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Holiday week frost delicately adorns one of the windows in the Bolton Valley base lodge.

December:  The first two thirds of December simply felt like a continuation of November; the pre-holiday period was hampered by above average temperatures, but the more notable issue was the absence of significant storms.  The Northern Greens were holding their own thanks to numerous small snowfalls, and these events were definitely enough to get us into some powder skiing, but they weren’t enough to really build a deep base of natural snow.  The last third of the month was really the highlight in terms of snowfall.  As the all-important holiday week approached, Central Vermont northward finally got into some moderate storms.  The localized nature of these storms was good for highway travelers from down south, and one could hardly ask for better timing of fresh snow for the holiday week.  Storm 1 hit on Friday the 23rd, dropping roughly half a foot from Killington northward, storm 2 was on the 25th, centered on Stowe where they received over a foot, and storm 3 began on the 27th, with totals again topping out around a foot.  The skiing was quite good, indeed excellent by the end of the week as the snow from the storms continued to pile up, but the lack of snowfall earlier in the month meant that the natural base depths weren’t there like they would normally be.  Fortunately, some natural snow terrain was open, but certainly not the steepest stuff, and the natural snowpack was still just a bit too lean to spend much time in the trees.  In any event, we skied eight times during that holiday stretch, a sign that there was definitely some good skiing.  With all the new snow, our local area certainly had it a lot better than many places in the country did during the holiday week, so in that regard we were lucky.  I’m sure business was still down at the Vermont ski areas in general, but people may have been hearing about the holiday snow that Northern Vermont was getting, because Powderfreak posted on Christmas Eve how lodging space was still very tight in Stowe.  Despite the snow in the northern half of Vermont though, the general talk around the region was how poor and snowless it was in general, so I’m sure many places lost some potential visitors due to that.  Even with those moderate storms at the end of the month, when all was said and done, we still ended up quite low on snowfall down at the house; the 24.7” we received was just 59% of our average for the past six seasons.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  With the slow start to snowfall, we didn’t even ski during the first weekend of the month, but we did get out for the other four.  The second weekend was the one where there was no powder simply because there wasn’t enough snow.  Temperatures were certainly above average as a whole (NWS in Burlington was +4.8 F on the month), but December mean temperatures start getting cold enough that even above average departures can still be sub-freezing and produce snow in the mountains .  The third weekend of the month had some decent conditions at Stowe, and then the final two weekends sort of lose their definition with the big holiday week, and that period gets lumped together.  Conditions for the holiday week were mostly wintry; strictly speaking though, the last weekend of the month did see a thaw, but in the context of the whole holiday week it was rather insignificant.

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

January:  We had 13 accumulating snowstorms at the house in January, which is quite decent and actually a bit above average in number, but as mentioned in the Snow Quality section of this season summary, we also had seven January thaws.  These thaws didn’t mean torrential rains, but what we saw were many storms with mixed precipitation in the middle, cutting down on snow totals.  The Northern Greens continuously made fantastic recoveries in snow conditions due to grabbing that upslope snow on the backside, so snow surfaces were quite nice in general, but in those first couple of weeks after the holiday storms, we got back into what Powderfreak calls “nickel and dime” snows.  They kept surfaces fresh, but base depths built very slowly.  Finally on the 12th, we got a more significant storm, which dropped two feet at Jay Peak, and roughly a foot and a half down through SugarbushThat storm was an undeniably propitious event, and Stowe’s terrain was 100% open by January 14th.  Again we saw Mother Nature pulling off some of her nice timing with that storm cycle, since it was just in time for the MLK weekend.  I remember skiing great packed powder snow on Waterfall at Stowe on the 16th, and commenting to Powderfreak how astonished I was – it seems like that trail is hardly ever open even in a good season, and there we were skiing it with such premium snow in a very low snow season.  We were fortunate to get that storm though, because after that it was back to nickel and dime storms with some of those similar mixed precipitation sandwich events with backside snows for the remainder of the month.  Overall snowfall at the house was 32.6”, not quite as low as December, but still just 83% of average, so we weren’t making any gains on the low season snowfall.  At +5.8 F, the deviation from normal temperatures at the Burlington NWS for January was even a degree higher than it had been for December.  Like December though, normal January temperatures are cold enough that substantial snow can fall with positive departures like that.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  With eight days under our belts from the holiday week, and nothing returning the conditions to midwinter after our Pacific Northwest-style outing on December 31st, we didn’t ski on January 1st, but we did ski on all four of the full weekends during the month.  As seen in the outings list above, powder was present throughout our trips to the mountain, which was pretty amazing considering all those thaws/mixed precipitation storms.

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.

February:  There’s no question that February will go down as having the best skiing of the season in Northern Vermont, but the month certainly didn’t start out in a spectacular way.  An initial half foot storm at the beginning of the month did a fantastic job of resurfacing the slopes after one of those January “sandwich” storms with mixed precipitation in the middle, and Mt. Mansfield continued to impress.  Although still well below average in terms of both snowfall and snowpack, Northern Vermont was clearly doing extremely well in comparison to even Central Vermont by that point.  After that initial modest snowfall event, our wishes for a weather pattern change that would get us away from all those mixed events were indeed answered, but perhaps not exactly in the manner we would have liked.  Instead of switching over to more typical snowstorms, the precipitation basically shut off.  Down at the house, we’d had just over half a foot of snow through the first three weeks of the month.  For a month in which we average over 40” of snow in the valley with a very low standard deviation of about 8 inches, we were staring at the potential for an amazingly low monthly snowfall total.  Happily, the last week of the month ensured that February 2012 didn’t live on in infamy.  We quickly picked up a couple of appetizer storms on the 21st and the 22nd, which didn’t produce much snow at the house, but delivered close to a foot in the mountains.  It was on the 24th though that the big kahuna came through; that storm dropped up to 40” in the northern mountains, with a total of over 50” at Jay Peak for the three storms combined.  It wasn’t just a fluff storm either; snow from that storm definitely fell “right side up”, and ski conditions were off the charts.  So much snow fell so quickly though that the avalanche conditions got a bit tenuous in the backcountry.  I saw mention that Jay Peak broke their 24-hour snowfall record during the storm, but since I see that listed as 42”, I don’t think that was actually topped with this storm.  In any event, the natural snow depths made huge gains, and as mentioned above; that storm even brought the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake to an above average level.  With a final storm total of 22.7” at the house, it was our largest valley snowfall of the season.  That one storm pretty much made the month in terms of our valley snowfall, but we still ended up with just 30.7”, which is 73% of average.  The general presence of heat didn’t let up either, and the departure from normal at the NWS in Burlington again went up an entire degree from the previous month to reach +6.8 F.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  The great timing of storms continued, and even the reduced snowfall in the first ¾ of the month was enough to keep powder around; conditions certainly remained good as we moved through that first part of February.  The big storm was wall to wall snow and timing hardly mattered, but it was a weekend event anyway, with storm day skiing on Saturday, and fresh powder and blue skies on Sunday.  That weekend took the cake of course, but all four weekends of the month offered some great skiing.

An image of Dylan skiing an expanse of powder on the Spell Binder Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan roaming the expanse of Spell Binder

March:  The first half of March felt like a continuation of that decent stretch at the end of February, even if we didn’t get any additional three to four foot storm cycles.  Just a few days after the big February storm ended, another decent cycle came through heading into the 1st of the month, with close to a foot of additional snow at the northern resorts, and a foot and a half at the southern resorts.  Amidst other freshening events, a storm on the 4th dropped about a half foot of snow, and then over a foot fell from a storm on the 9th that targeted the north-central resorts. The boost from the big February storm was felt in base depths and surface conditions, and you could feel that the season had really turned into what one would expect for March.  Even as unseasonable warmth started to intrude and occasionally turn the powder wet through the first half of the month, there was usually enough time to get in turns for a good part of each day while the powder was still dry, and then more snow would come along to freshen things back up.  The weather through that period was certainly on the warm side, but it was during the second half of the month when all hell broke loose with regard to temperatures.  That expression is somewhat apt, because for March, it felt like that when five consecutive days of record temperatures with departures of +40 F hit the state from the 18th-22nd.  Combined with the more moderate warmth during the rest of the month, the result was an incredible +12.2 F departure from the average March temperature at the NWS in Burlington.  With almost no new snow in the valley during that warm second half of the month, March snowfall was a paltry 14.2” at the house, just 60% of average.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  The list of ski outings from above shows the trend here quite well, the first two weekends offered powder conditions, and from then on it was spring skiing.  However, powder had been available for every weekend or holiday period since the middle of December by the point at which the snow conditions flipped, and that’s a commendable three-month stretch for such a season.  Beyond the middle of the month, X was the only way to describe the powder conditions until we finally got to April.  There was decent corn snow and great weather during that second half of March, but it was so warm that trail counts dropped rapidly at many resorts; even the huge snowpack gains made by the northern resorts at the end of February were lost as the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake fell well below where it had been before the big climb.  Despite the good spring skiing, it seemed like many resorts closed down simply because people had given up on winter by that point.  The slow start and rapid end to winter seemed to take the wind out of everyone’s sails and, it had them looking to quickly put the season in the rearview mirror.

An image of two skiers ascending through deep snow via a skin track on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A pair of skiers ascending Nosedive this morning amidst the continued snowfall.

April:  Temperatures for the month of April still came in above average (+1.2 F) at the National Weather Service in Burlington, but after the unprecedented warmth of March, that felt downright cool by comparison.  Indeed April was more typical though, and some good skiing returned, even if the slightly warm temperatures kept the snow especially elevation dependent.  With that trend, snowfall down at the house was almost insignificant, just 0.5 inches or 8% of average.  That’s the least snowy April we’ve encountered in the six years that I’ve been monitoring snowfall at our location.  Storms nailed the mountains with snow though, in the form of a minor event on the 4th of the month, then a big cutoff low dropping 2 to 2 ½ feet on the 9th.  That snow was fairly dense and represented an unmitigated resurfacing of the slopes as one headed up in elevation.  The skiing was great, at least in a Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete sort of way where it doesn’t take much to cover whatever is below, but it would have been even better if the March warmth hadn’t deteriorated the snowpack as much as it did.  With most ski areas closed after March sapped people’s interest in the season, plenty of great earned turns were made, but at the resorts that had stayed open, there was also some excellent lift-served skiing.  April finished off with one final storm at the end of the month, which was nothing like the big one earlier, but it dropped about a half foot in the upper elevations and that was enough for some final powder skiing before we moved on to May.  Temperature consistency/snow surface quality:  While certainly not up to the level of April 2007, we did get to ski powder on all of our April days except April 1st.  Most of what fell during the month for snow was rather dense, but it was still a nice reprieve to have fresh snow after the way March had gone.  We only skied three of the five weekends that month, as half of our outings ended up being midweek.

An image of Jay skiing one of the snowfields on the east side of Mt. Washington on Memorial Day weekend 2012
Heading over to another snowfield to our north for some smooth turns on the untouched snow

May:  After some tempering of the heat for April, Mother Nature was back at the stove for May, with a +5.3 F departure for the month at the NWS in Burlington.  We didn’t have any accumulating snow in the valley, although that’s typically the case down at our elevation.  There were actually no significant winter storms to speak of, but we did have one Vermont ski day on the 12th, enjoying the last of the corn snow up at Jay Peak.  We took advantage of a Mother’s Day package that offered a chance to sample a lot of the new facilities up at the resort (water park, arcade, restaurants, etc.), and indeed taking in that smorgasbord  of activities is an especially nice way to go when skiing is only going to be a minor part of a trip.  Our other day in the month was actually out of state in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend, taking our traditional camping trip Auto Road ascent with the boys to ski the snowfieldsThe snowfields were somewhat on the lean side this year, but not bad considering what the region went through meteorologically during the winter season.

At the monthly level, the 2011-2012 ski season was a simply amazing stretch of positive temperature departures followed by even more positive temperature departures, and that trend has continued right into the summer, with June and July coming in at +1.9 F and +2.4 F respectively.  August is currently coming in with a positive departure as well, and if it ends up staying that way, it will be the 17th month in a row in the positive departure streak for Burlington.  Those departures are going to flip at some point, and it’s going to feel quite chilly by comparison.  Despite that trend though, even when combined with below normal precipitation, the quality of the ski surfaces encountered this past season in Northern Vermont was quite good.  I’m not sure if I’m willing to say better than average, since I don’t think surfaces were better than average at Bolton Valley, but I am willing to say that in our visits to Stowe this season, the typical on piste surfaces we encountered were actually better than the previous season.  One thought is that the lack big storms in general also played out as a lack of notable rainstorms, which while generally infrequent in the heart of winter anyway, are likely more detrimental to the snow surfaces than more modest events with simply some mixed precipitation in the middle.  The Northern Greens certainly showed throughout this past season that they have the ability to cover the back side of mixed precipitation events with additional snow quite effectively when there’s at least some moisture in the atmosphere to be wrung out.  The fact that business was down somewhat at the resorts, may also have contributed to less skier traffic and slightly elevated on piste snow quality.  Whatever the case, for a ski season that felt like an abysmal “perfect storm” of sorts with regard to temperatures and precipitation, 2011-2012 in Northern Vermont can certainly be described as “surprisingly good”.

Stowe, VT 28APR2012

An image of E skiing some powder off the edge of North Slope at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after an April snowstorm
E in some of the powder on North Slope today

The skiing yesterday was so good, that it was definitely worth going back for some more today.  Snow continued to fall last night, and even down at the house it was still snowing under partly cloudy skies during the first part of the morning.  It was only accumulating minimally in our yard, but the radar showed the moisture continuing to crash into the Northern Greens, so the mountains were getting at least of bit of additional accumulation.  Down at the house, the mix of clouds, sun, and snowfall eventually gave way to full sunshine.  Ideally, it would have been nice to head out really early to catch the powder before it was potentially affected by the late April sun, but the boys were enjoying a leisurely start to a day off from school, and we didn’t head to Stowe until late morning.

With the clear skies, it was a chance to finally see how the snowfall had played out in the mountains on our drive to the resort.  The first thing I could see was that accumulations of white were just painting the tops of the ~2,000’ peaks across the Winooski Valley from our house.  Our next view was of the Worcester Range, which was white for about the top 1,000’.  The real dramatic views came when we finally saw Mt. Mansfield though, where the alpine regions were just blazing white above the touches of green foliage in the valley.  Everyone in the car was stunned by how white the mountain looked, and E pulled over so I could get a few pictures from a good viewpoint.

An image of a very white Mt. Mansfield taken from Waterbury Center, Vermont after a late April snowstorm
Our first views of Mt. Mansfield revealed some stunning bright snow above the developing foliage in the valley.

Unlike yesterday, we found the gate to the Mansfield parking lot fully locked, so we parked right near it along with the cars of a few other people who were doing the same thing.  We geared up, and walked over to the area above the Mansfield Base Lodge.  The morning sun was already warming the snow in the lowest elevations, and I could see that there was less snow down near the lodge than when I’d been there yesterday.  The temperature was still 34 F at the base though, so the freezing line wasn’t going to be too far above us.

An image of E and Ty skinning up the North Slope trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont to get some turns after a recent April snowstorm
E and Ty skinning up North Slope today for some April powder

We put on our skins right on the flats above the lodge.  We were able to piece together a skin route up to Crossover fairly easily, but some gaps in the snow cover were starting to form.  The strong April sun was also starting to make the snow sticky, but there was a nice stiff, cold breeze that seemed to be fighting against that.  E and the boys weren’t too psyched by the look of the snow coverage, but I assured them it was going to get much better above 2,000’, and indeed it did.  Not only did the coverage get better, but the snow was much drier above the 1,800’ Crossover level, and it looked like turns were going to be quite good.  We encountered a few groups making ascents and descents, and a lot of dogs, but they were all quite well behaved.  Actually, one of the coolest dog encounters of the day, or perhaps lack of encounter, was with what we’re guessing was a Samoyed.  He appeared way above us, and came bounding down toward us with fur so incredibly thick that the look was that of an abominable snowman.  We’d seen a few people around, but there was no obvious owner in sight, and when the dog came by he didn’t hassle us at all, he just passed along with a friendly look and went on his merry way.  He definitely had the bearing of a dog that was built for snow and was having fun in his environment.  We were able to continue our ascent up to around the 2,800’ elevation just above the top of the Mountain Triple before the boys really decided that they’d had enough.  E was also unsure about the quality of the snow, and didn’t want to continue on a long ascent just to get more snow of marginal quality.  Based on my impressions of the snow, which had continued to dry out more and more as we ascended, along with the body language of the skier’s we’d seen descending, I felt that the conditions were going to be great.  But, you never really know how it’s going to ski until you try it, so I offered to skin up a little farther and ski down to check the snow before we made our final decision about the descent.  Dylan was full of energy and made the ascent with me.  After removing our skins, Dylan made the first descent, and once I saw him rip off a beautiful Telemark turn, I knew we were going to be in great shape.  Indeed the snow was fairly nice packed powder up at that elevation; the cool temperatures and breeze were doing their job well.

An image of Dylan pausing for a break in the snow during our descent at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The birthday boy with his new shiny goggles takes a break in the snow during our descent.

We still descended at that point, and went by the same route we climbed, knowing that the coverage was decent and there would be a lot of good turns.  The boys had several days of fairly intense Telemark training toward the end of the lift-served ski season at Stowe, but it’s been a few weeks since they did all that work, and E was wondering if they would retain all the progress they’d made.  It was also the first time since those sessions that they’d been in powder, chowder, or any type of winter snow.  We were happy to see that those first turns that Dylan made weren’t a fluke, and the boys really made a lot of excellent Telemark turns, even some in steep terrain in the chopped up powder.  Various groups of skiers and riders had used the North Slope route by this afternoon, so most of the terrain was tracked up, but we still found some nice areas of untracked snow, and those were some of the best turns of the day.  The last pitch of North Slope had a few tricky spots because it’s steep and has some areas of rock instead of grass, and then below Crossover in the terrain park area it was a game of connecting the dots among sticky snow, but it was a pretty minor part of the run compared to the bulk that had good snow.  The fun part about that last section was the team route finding, and playing in the pockets of powder that had settled in among the vestiges of the some of the terrain park features.

An image of Ty Telemark skiing in some tracked snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after an April snowstorm
Like Dylan, Ty showed some great recall on all the Telemark practice he put in this spring

Overall I think E was pleasantly surprised by just how good the snow turned out to be; it certainly wasn’t up to the quality of yesterday by time we got out, but there was definitely some midwinter snow above that 1,800-2,000’ level.  I was intrigued by the interesting interplay between the strong sun and the cold and wind; I’m still amazed at how well the snow avoided getting sticky in the higher elevations.  It was definitely a really good outing for Dylan.  First off, it was his birthday, but he also go to use his new Anon goggles for the first time and he was very excited about that.  On top of that though, he really had good energy on the ascent and made some really nice Telemark turns on parts of the descent.  I’d say he kicked off his seventh birthday with some style.

Stowe, VT 27APR2012

An image of ski tracks in late April powder on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Catching some turns today in the virgin powder on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort

For this latest spring storm, the temperature dropped below freezing on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline in the wee hours this morning, and presumably any precipitation changed to snow around that point as well.  I found close to a half inch of liquid in my rain gauge at my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS report, and even if part of that was snow up in the higher elevations, it was going to mean some decent accumulation.  There were definitely some winter-like temperatures moving into the higher elevations though, and that even translated down into the valleys to keep the lower elevations in the 30s F all day.  It was pouring rain at the house when I left around 7:00 A.M., and snow was even reaching down into the lowest valleys at times.

I checked on the Bolton Valley Web Cam a couple of times during the day today, and knowing that it was snowing the whole time in the mountains, I headed off to Stowe in the afternoon to do a tour and ski some of the new powder.  Temperatures remained in that upper 30s F through the Winooski Valley and into Waterbury Center; and although it wasn’t accumulating, it snowed continuously in the mountain valleys.  It was right around 1,000’ near the Matterhorn that I first started seeing accumulations of snow on the ground, and by the time I’d reached the base of Mt. Mansfield at around 1,500’, the temperature was near freezing and the snow was accumulating easily.  I found an inch or two of new snow outside the Mansfield Base Lodge, and even down at that elevation it was quite dry.

I put on my gear and skinned up in the North Slope area, knowing that it had a decent base of snow thanks to Powderfreak’s snow reports from the past few days.  Light snowfall continued during my ascent, but the wind wasn’t bad, and temperatures just a few degrees below freezing were pleasant.  I followed the vestiges of a skin track that while presumably fairly recent, wasn’t very deep, and indeed the new snow and at least some wind erased it in many spots.  There was visible grass poking through the snow in the lowest elevations below Crossover, and even a bit above that level, but at around 2,000’ atop the bottom steep pitch of North Slope, the coverage got more consistent and things really started to look appealing.  The snow depth didn’t really increase all that rapidly with elevation; there were probably 3 to 4 inches in the middle elevations, and some areas were scoured a bit, but some areas were also a bit deeper.

I continued my skin on up on Lord and Lower Ridgeview, and the snow had reached a depth of about 5 inches at 3,500’ where I stopped my ascent just a bit below the top of the Fourrunner Quad on Lord Loop.  It was a little tough to get an accurate measurement of the snow depth due to drifting, but I’ll go with 5 inches as my best guess for up near the top of the quad.  I did find areas where accumulations were as deep as 7 inches, but those seemed to be spots where snow had collected efficiently with help from the wind.  As of 5:20 P.M., the depth of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake had gone up by 4 inches, so that certainly seems to be in the range of what I found up in the higher elevations.  I saw a couple of small groups of skiers and riders during my ascent, but there really weren’t too many people out on that North Slope route.

I descended generally in the region of my ascent, since I’d seen the state of the base coverage there, although I did make a side excursion onto Sunrise because I was presented with a huge expanse of unbroken snow that looked like it had decent base.  I touched down on firm stuff a couple of times, but it was definitely worth it.  I was unsure of the coverage lower down on that route, but I was able to make my way back toward the main North Slope route by using what I think was part of Toll Road.  Anyway, the snow was nice medium-weight powder, and although this storm hasn’t delivered as much as that last one a couple weeks ago, the powder is of much higher quality.  It’s not totally bottomless powder skiing everywhere, but in many areas it is, and with the nice base snow below, it makes for some smooth and effortless turns.  In the last few hundred vertical feet of the descent below Crossover, there are certainly areas where there’s no base, but the snow is deep enough and of enough substance that the turns are smooth all the way to the top of the stairs above the Mansfield Base Lodge.  You certainly want to be careful to watch out for rocks, but one doesn’t really need rock skis unless they really want to venture well off the beaten path into areas that don’t have any sort of base.

An image of spring powder turns on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
There were a few obstacles to navigate around today, but the rewards were some really sweet powder turns on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield.

Back at the car, I spoke with another guy who had skied in the Nosedive area, and he said it was fabulous in the upper elevations, and OK toward the bottom, but I’m not sure if there is quite as much base in the lower elevations there based on what I’ve seen from afar.  Temperatures were dropping when I left the resort around 6:30 P.M. or so, and I saw accumulating snow all the way down to The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, which is around 750’.  I met E and the boys for dinner at Frida’s, and when we were done, snow was accumulating right in the center of Stowe at around 700’ as the temperatures continued to drop.  It snowed on and off all the way back to our house in Waterbury (495’), and I found a couple of tenths of an inch of accumulation on the snowboard as of 8:00 P.M.  It’s continued to snow all evening, it’s still been light, but there’s another tenth of an inch or two on the board now.  It’s going to be quite cold the next few nights, and not really that warm during the day, so the new snow should be around for some good skiing during that time.

Bolton Valley, VT 14APR2012

An image of recent ski tracks in the snow left by a recent April snowstorm on the steep Spillway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Today on Spillway – recent tracks

The huge cutoff low pressure system that brought more than two feet of snow to the mountains has been great for replenishing the slopes and supplying winter-like temperatures, and we made good use of it with ski outings on Tuesday and Thursday, but the sun was finally out consistently today and temperatures have been warming up.  Even though we’re just a few miles from Bolton Valley, it’s been really hard to get a sense for how the snowpack is doing in the mountains.  From the house, you can’t see snow in any of the 2,000’ peaks across the Winooski Valley, so that makes it especially hard to gauge.  Also, when it’s sunny with temperatures in the 60s F at the house, it can be hard to think about snow.

“The descent really wasn’t
the highlight of the trip,
since the snow was still
fairly isothermal and mushy,
but I did manage some
decent turns here and there.”

I’ve definitely been curious about the state of the snowpack though, and hadn’t visited Bolton since the recent storm, so after making use of the weather to get some yard work done during the day, I headed up in the late afternoon for a ski tour.  Some clouds actually came into the area during the afternoon that kept temperatures relatively cool, so I was thankful of that with some hiking ahead.  Honestly, most of the trip up the Bolton Valley Access Road, you wouldn’t even know there was snow anywhere.  The first snow I saw was at 1,500’ at the base of Timberline, but that was just leftover manmade snow that had been stockpiled in that area.  The first natural snow along the road was visible at around 1,800’, just patchy of course, but right around 2,000’ in the Village the coverage started to become continuous, with a depth around one inch.  Just jumping up in elevation minimally to back behind the base lodge at ~2,100’, the depth of the snow had increased to 2-4”.

A pile of balanced rocks sits at the base of the Vista Quad Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont, with snow from a recent April storm in the background
Rock balancing down near the base of the Vista Quad, with some of the recent snow in the background

Even if not super deep down near the base, it was nice to see all the slopes covered with the recent snows.  There had definitely been plenty of skier traffic since the end of the storm, and tracks were scattered all over the slopes.  I ascended on Beech Seal, using various tracks of others to ease my ascent.  The snow was certainly thick and heavy, and the depth increased very rapidly with elevation, just as I’d seen at Stowe on Tuesday.  By the time I’d reached the Mid Mountain area at 2,500’, the depth of the snow was 8 to 10”.  Above Mid Mountain, the main skin track eventually continued onto Hard Luck, and although it’s much too steep for an efficient skinning ascent, I decided to stick with it just for a change of pace from my usual ascent routes.  Indeed it was pretty rough, with post holes galore amidst a bunch of descent tracks, but it worked out OK.  Up around the 2,800’ level the snow had reached 16” in depth, and again similar to the results at Stowe, it didn’t get much deeper than that, with roughly 16-18” near the Vista Summit at 3,100’.  That 2,800’ level must have been where the storm was snow throughout, whereas below that level it had gradually changed over to snow while the temperatures cooled.

The descent really wasn’t the highlight of the trip, since the snow was still fairly isothermal and mushy, but I did manage some decent turns here and there.  The snow was tricky enough on Telemark skis that I stuck to the Sherman’s Pass and Bear Run combination.  The snow seemed to be consolidating a bit with the afternoon’s cooling temperatures, but it certainly wasn’t where we want it yet.  Sub-freezing temperatures tonight should help out with some consolidation though – there could be a nice window of skiing tomorrow when the snow surface softens up.  I’d say today’s outing was most fun from the tour aspect and the chance to assess the snow depths, but the snowpack up high is definitely looking good.  Another storm in the near future would have some base snow to set down on and produce some nice turns.

Jay Peak, VT 12APR2012

An image of Ty on The Jet carving through some of the recent snow that fell on Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty at Jay Peak cutting into some of the recent snow that fell during the big spring snowstorm in the Northern Green Mountains.

The spring snowstorm that’s been in the area this week has really delivered the goods to the higher elevations; when I headed up to Stowe on Tuesday morning, there was already a couple of feet of new, dense snow at 2,500’ and above.  The snowfall hasn’t been quite as vigorous since that initial barrage, but there’s still been on and off snow showers to varying degrees depending on elevation; Powderfreak reported that Mt. Mansfield was up to 27 inches of new snow accumulation at 3,200’ as of yesterday afternoon.  The new snow has put a huge dose of water into the mountain snowpack, with close to four inches of liquid equivalent falling on Mt. Mansfield.  Even down at the house we’ve had 1.68” of rain from the storm as of this morning.

E has been at a teacher’s conference in Boston for the past couple of days, and with the boys on spring break, I’ve been mostly out of the office to watch them.  With the recent snow we’ve had, today was an obvious day for us to get out for some skiing, but based on my experience with the snow quality on Mt. Mansfield on Tuesday, skinning for turns wasn’t going to cut it with the boys.  Depending on elevation, the dense Sierra Cement-style snow had been quite challenging to ski, and in order to get to the best snow, one really has to make the long trek above the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range.  That’s a big ascent to ask of the boys, only to deliver challenging snow conditions that would probably frustrate them anyway, so lift-served skiing with the potential for some groomed runs seemed to be the way to go.  Killington and Jay Peak were running lifts today, and since both were reporting about a foot and a half of new snow, deciding between them was a toss-up in that regard.  I decided on Jay Peak, being a touch closer and hopefully a touch colder; I was also hoping to check out all the expansion that has gone on at the resort since my last visit.

Even with all the snow that the mountains have received over the past few days, there’s literally no snow in the lower valleys, and it wasn’t until fairly high elevations along Route 118 south of Montgomery that we saw any snow along the road during our trip to Jay Peak.  What we saw were just a couple of old north-facing snowbanks along the side of the road, but snow cover did build steadily once we got up high enough up on Route 242, and it carried through right to the base of the resort.  We parked on the tram side, and the changes in the area’s development were obvious.  The last time I’d visited Jay Peak was during the Mother’s Day snowstorm in 2010, and while the Tram Haus Lodge was there and we got to eat at Alice’s Table, the new Hotel Jay and the massive Pump House Indoor Water Park were not.  I could see that the new Hotel Jay was quite a step up in size from the old one, and while I couldn’t see any sign of the water park that everyone has been talking about, I figured we’d have some time for exploring the area after we gotten in some skiing.

The weather in the late morning was a mixture of clouds and blue sky, and we were presented with some impressive views of the snowy slopes.  I’m not sure what the slopes had looked like before the storm, but they were totally covered today.  I’d told the boys about the tram, and let them know that while it was closed for the season for skiing, they’d at least get to have a look at it.  The tram was in action though, apparently running in association with some maintenance, and the boys just had to watch it dock at the Tramside Base Lodge.  We booted up inside the lodge, and there was literally nobody there but employees.  We could see that there were about a dozen ski bags hung in various spots along the walls, but it was obvious that we weren’t going to see too many others out on the slopes.  It’s easy to see how dicey the prospects for making a profit must be on these midweek days in April, but we were thankful that the mountain was open and they were definitely getting our business.  Tickets were reasonable at $45 for me and $25 apiece for the boys, and from what I’d heard, they had about two thirds of their terrain open.  The resort now employs an RFID ticket system like we’re used to using at Stowe.  In fact, when we bought our tickets, the associate recommended removing our Stowe RFID passes just in case they interfered with the signal on our Jay Peak tickets.

An image of blue skies and fresh snow viewed while riding the Flyer Express Quad at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
On and off blue skies and plenty of fresh snow were found at Jay Peak today.

We kicked things off with a ride on the Flyer Express Quad, which whisked us right up toward the peak.  We did see some skiers down below us on Exhibition, and the snow looked fantastic.  Coverage was deep and soft thanks to the storm, so the only concern was whether or not the snow was sticky; unfortunately it’s not easy to tell that from just watching a skier make turns, since you can’t see the subtle corrections being made by their muscles as they adjust their balance, but the folks we saw sure seemed to be enjoying themselves as they silently cut arcs into the groomed snow.  The air temperature was definitely cooler when we reached the summit of the Flyer, and we found that the snow itself was actually pretty cold and wintry.  It was very dense like one would expect, and in untracked areas you only sunk into the snow an inch or two, so it certainly wasn’t mush.  In fact, the mountain had a sign up about how the off piste snow was going to be difficult for the first part of the day until the temperatures warmed up a bit, since areas that had seen skier traffic were going to have relatively stiff, uneven snow surfaces.

On our first decent we set off alongside the lift on Northway, and the snow was indeed in good shape – it was somewhere between winter and spring in consistency, but stickiness wasn’t an issue.  We worked our way back toward the lift line of the quad on Upper Goat Run, which was our first taste of something steeper.  The snow was holding up well in consistency, even as we descended in elevation.  As we merged back toward the lift line, Dylan seemed hesitant for us to drop into the steepest terrain because ski patrol had placed some poles at the top of the “slow skiing area”, but it was just serving as the warning about speed control, and there were no coverage issues.  You could just sink your edges in and let the skis ride.  We’d soon reached the top pitch of Upper Exhibition, something we’d seen from the lift that was steep, groomed, and looked like it was a lot of fun for the skiers that were on it.  We opted to save it for after a little more warming up, and instead veered to the right down Upper Goat Run and over toward Lower River Quai.  Lower River Quai is actually a bit steep, and while there, we met a family that was picking their way down it.  The snow was starting to get a little tricky at that elevation, and by the time we hit the Interstate trail below, the snow had indeed taken on that stickiness that made it a challenge.  I was excited about the conditions though, our sampling of the terrain suggested that we’d only have to deal with sticky snow in the low elevation runout trails, and if that was the case then we were in for some great runs.

An image of Ty and Dylan trying out the covered magic carpet lift at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty and Dylan test out the Jay Peak’s covered Magic Carpet-style lift.

The boys had been quite intrigued by the resort’s covered magic carpet lift, and since it was running, they just had to check it out.  It feels a bit like one of those informational rides at a theme park, or maybe like the Light Tunnel in the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit Metro Airport, without the lights.  Stowe has a small cover that they place over their magic carpet at night to keep off the snow; it’s only a couple feet high and the boys got a kick out of imagining what it would be like to ride with that in place.  Having a full cover probably means less hassle dealing with snowfall during storms.  We immediately headed to the Flyer again, and took a similar descent route with the change to Upper Exhibition this time.  Exhibition delivered some nice steep turns, and was above the elevation of the sticky snow issues, but of course the flats of Harmony Lane were a slow return to the base.

With all the new snow, the mountain did indeed have quite a bit of its terrain open, so I definitely wanted to get the boys out for some farther-reaching explorations over toward the Stateside area.  From the top of the Flyer we followed the usual Northway Route, and on the way noticed a skier come down from one of the untracked trails above us.  He was skiing some of the dense powder up there, and although he only sunk into the snow a few inches, it looked pretty fun.  We’d been playing around in the powder off to the sides of the trails a bit, but with it still being somewhat dense and stiff, you really wanted some reasonably large untracked areas to have the best experience.  We were eventually lured off Northway to our right, into some terrain in the Catwalk area that hadn’t been groomed; the snow was decent, so we just sort of kept going.  We found ourselves above some steep tree lines there, and I was leery of the snow conditions, but Ty really wanted to jump in… so we did.  The lines were generally tracked, and we were low enough in elevation that the compaction of the snow was probably for the best, as the untracked snow was getting wet and difficult to ski.  Ty and Dylan ripped up the lines though, and we found ourselves continuing on non-groomed terrain all the way to Stateside.  There seemed to be just enough snow to cover the natural terrain down to the base with a couple of careful water bar navigations.  That last part was a lot of fun, as I knew our general location, but had no clue of exact where we were until we popped out at the base of the Jet Triple Chair.  I’ve got a reasonably good knowledge of Jay Peak, and there was definitely enough semi-obscure terrain open to keep us exploring.

An image of snow falling in a localized squall off to the east of Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
When it wasn’t falling on us, snow was crashing out of the clouds all around us while we skied today at Jay Peak.

The weather had continued to be a mix of clouds and sun through midday, and all around us we’d continually see these huge billowing cumulus clouds that made if feel like spring or summer.  At times, we’d be able to watch snow crash out of these clouds atop various surrounding peaks.  This was going on all over the place, but we had some gorgeous views of it from the summit of the Jet Triple Chair, and of course being Jay Peak, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we were going to get blasted with snow.  The Jet trail itself looked really enticing, so we hit that up, and indeed the carving was fantastic.  We watched a really accomplished Telemark skier crank some amazing turns down The Jet, and he seemed to be doing lap after lap.  He really liked the boys’ alpine skiing though, and made a comment to me about them.  If they can get their Telemark turns to be half as graceful as that guy, they’ll be well on their way to some great Telemark skiing.  They had a lot of fun with the turns on The Jet, but probably just as much fun with the snowballs they were carrying and tossing at each other.  Because the snow was so good, I wasn’t sure that we wanted to pull away after just one run on The Jet, but I knew the boys were soon going to request a mid afternoon snack, so we started to work our way back toward the tram side.  We found ourselves in the same Catwalk trees that we’d hit on the way over, so we skied those again.  After a few more pitches, the rest of the trip back was rather flat and sticky though, so I’d often help Dylan along with some pushes to keep him up at Ty’s pace.

An image of Ty pausing for a moment on The Jet trail at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty pausing after ripping some turns in the great snow we found on The Jet
An image of Ty and Dylan having a mid afternoon snack near the fire in the Tramside Base Lodge at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Mid afternoon snack time

I’d hoped to introduce the boys to some poutine in the lodge, but the cafeteria had already closed; apparently they were only keeping it open for the immediate lunchtime period on weekdays.  Fortunately we’d brought a collection of our own food, and it was enough to hold us until dinner.  It was still quite quiet in the lodge, but a few skiers were around, those that had apparently skied the morning and were calling it a day.

When we headed back out onto the slopes, we gave Dylan the choice of lift and descent route, and he decided on the Metro Quad.  Both Ty and I told him that it only serviced the bottom flat area of the mountain (which had the stickiest snow) but he was keen on giving it a try, and it would mean we’d ridden every open lift on the mountain.  The partly sunny conditions of the morning had been gradually giving way to a few more clouds, and this was actually cooling the air down enough to let the stickier snow tighten up a bit.  It was a subtle change, but definitely there, and much appreciated when we were in the lower elevations.

Clouds continued to build as we made another lap on Exhibition and enjoyed the good snow, and meanwhile, the skies began to darken around us with the promise of snowfall.  During the day we’d already encountered various snow showers on the mountain; we’d seen rounds of regular snow, graupel, and even these pyramidal-shaped (or miniature Hershey’s kisses as Dylan described them) flakes falling from the sky.  Our next ride on the Flyer was when things really started to get exciting though.  On our previous ascent we’ seen heavy precipitation in the peaks just off to our north like Jay Peak West, Middle Jay and North Jay Peak.  Those peaks had soon disappeared in a maelstrom of white, and that snow clearly seemed to be building in our direction.  A few minutes later it moved in on us, and it meant business.  The snowfall was so intense that at a couple of points we could see a wall of flakes in front of us, and we had only a few moments to batten down the hatches (i.e. hoods and parka collars) before the lift carried us right into it.  We got hit with some very heavy snowfall comprised of huge, wet snowflakes .  The gargantuan flakes were at times falling so intensely that they rapidly accumulated on our goggles to the point that we could barely see, and we had to keep wiping them off almost continuously during the height of the squall; I’d say we picked up about a half inch of snow in just 10-15 minutes in that episode.  The clouds and precipitation associated with that blast of snow even gave an additional shot of cooling to the air.  The huge flakes also put down a fresh, stippled coating of snow on everything that was very picturesque.  That whole squall cycle was a fun experience, and the same thing appeared to be going on throughout the high peaks of the Northern Greens, because Powderfreak sent in a very cool report to the American Weather Forum entitled “Photos of the passing of a convective snow squall”, in which he documented the whole progression of one of these convective snowstorms today from Stowe.  He photographed the scene on Mt. Mansfield from blue skies with white, billowy cumulous clouds, to dark clouds building in, to getting hit hard with massive snowflakes, just like us.  The report was very nicely done with the usual quality pictures that Powderfreak produces, and folks on the weather board seemed to enjoy it a lot.

An image of snowfall at the end of an April snow squall at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
A mid afternoon snow squall winds down at the top of the Flyer

The boys started picking areas of the mountain that they wanted to explore, and one area that we’d not yet visited was the slot between Exhibition and Northway.  We eventually found ourselves approaching to top of Upper Can Am, and I was definitely concerned about what we’d find down there.  I was expecting deep snow that hadn’t seen any grooming, and indeed that’s just what we found.  Dylan definitely had some trepidation about dropping in, but Ty was so eager that his enthusiasm won out.  There had been some skier traffic since the storm, so we found 16” of partially tracked, dense snow.  Ty was flying down like a madman, but Dylan was struggling, and started to get upset because he seemed to be falling every time he made a few turns.  We gave him some reassurance, and I let him know that I was battling the slope on Telemark gear, so he could definitely do it on alpine gear.  As before, the fact that there had been some skier traffic was good, because the bottomless cement was the most difficult part to ski, and the partially compacted areas were better.  Dylan eventually got himself into a better rhythm, and soon I found that both boys has already descended through the steepest terrain and were waiting for me.  As difficult as the turns were on my Teles, the challenge was worth it.  We had all this steep terrain to ourselves that had just seen a major resurfacing with 2+ inches of liquid equivalent.  Coverage wasn’t an issue, and if you got your groove going you could just let the turns fall away.  There was definitely a part of me that wanted to have my alpine fat skis to really crank things up, but it was a heck of a lot of fun convincing the Teles to do their job.

The traverse back to the tram base was still somewhat slow and sticky, so any cooling of the air hadn’t helped out down that low.  The boys amused themselves with another ride on the magic carpet, and then we thought about finishing out the day.  The snow up top was so good that we couldn’t pull away without at least one more run, even though the boys were getting anxious for some après ski food (which they knew was going to be pizza).  I convinced them that we needed to do at least one more run, and said that we’d check out something new.

Ty and Dylan point to one of the trail signs for the "Green Mountain Boys" trail at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Those Green Mountain Boys

I wasn’t sure exactly what that something new was going to be, but we got ourselves to the big intersection below Upper Goat Run and had to make a choice.  The top of Green Mountain Boys was in view, and it was only then that I realized just how good it looked.  It had been groomed, and then it had seen some traffic, but it looked smooth, soft, and fast.  I had the boys read the trail sign at the top of the stack… “Green… Mountain… Boys”, Ty said at a reading pace.  The boys were excited to try it out, and I got a picture of them pointing to the sign with their poles.  The different generations of intermediate trail signs left Dylan intrigued by the fact that Green Mountain Boys seemed to be not a blue square trail, but a purple square trail.  He started to discuss what that might mean before I eventually suggested that it was likely just a different shade of blue from a different batch of signs.  The boys didn’t want to wait around long though; they wanted to get at it, and quickly dropped in.  Within moments they both moved into big, fast, swooping arcs down the trail, because they immediately felt how perfect the surface conditions were, and they knew that their edges were going to hold whatever g-forces were thrown at them.  It was deep snow that had been freshly groomed and softened to perfection for carving, and matched with the fairly steep terrain, it was just beautiful.  Dylan was especially invigorated by how fast he could go – when he’d make his big, fast arcs, he said it was his “gliding” technique.  The end result was that they flew down the trail in a state at high speed, somewhere shy of reckless abandon, and I had my work cut out for me keeping up.  Indeed they skied it like you’d expect from a couple of Green Mountain Boys, and I suspect Ethan and Ira Allen would have agreed.

I hadn’t held out much hope for interest another run, since the boys had already had pizza on their minds before the last one, but something about the experience that Green Mountain Boys had offered them lit a fire under their ski enthusiasm.  When I said that we had time for another, and that we could do Green Mountain Boys again, they jumped at the opportunity.  If the skiing can pull Dylan back to the slopes and away from potential pizza, you know it’s got to be good.  The descent was just like the previous run, and whether it was the extra round of cooling from our earlier snow squall, or just the correct timing of the day, something had left the trail in a state that really impressed the boys.  Had the lifts still been running, I think I could have kept them going, and at that stage of the day that’s not easy to do.  To say that they finished the day on the highest of notes would still be an understatement.

An image of the sign for Mountain Dick's Pizza in the Hotel Jay at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Mountain Dick’s Pizza in the Hotel Jay

The boys’ transcendent vibe continued as we headed into the lodge and changed out of our gear.  The lodge was essentially deserted at that point, so they had the run of the place.  Once they’d taken off their ski boots, they played hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in the various nooks and crannies of the Tramside Base Lodge, while I packed up the rest of the gear.  We dropped everything off at the car and then went to check out Mountain Dick’s Pizza on the ground level of the new Hotel Jay.  It’s got one of those modern, part wood, part metallic decors, along with some funky accessories like coat racks made of wooden spoons, and it seats about 30 to 40 people.  I ordered a pie for each of us (to ensure that there would be plenty of leftovers of course, since Mom was out of town) and the boys picked out some funky looking drinks from the cooler.  The pizza is good; I wouldn’t put it up quite at the level of Jimmz Pizza in Waterbury Center, but we all liked it and everyone ate their fill.

An image of coat racks made from spoons at Mountain Dick's Pizza in the Hotel Jay at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Food-themed coat racks

While we’d waited for our pizza to come out, I searched around and discovered that Mountain Dick’s is connected right to the interior of the hotel; eventually I realized that some of the people we’d seen picking up pizza had called from their hotel rooms.  When we’d finished up our meal and boxed up our extra slices, we decided to head right through the hotel so that the boys could show me the water park.  We wound our way through some halls, headed up an elevator, and came out at an elevated area at the water park entrance, overlooking all the features.  It was even bigger than what I’d surmised based on all the pictures I’d seen, and the boys gave me a quick visual tour from the overlook, and they were quickly spotted by their schoolmate Connor, who was there with his family.  We all got to chat a bit and catch up on the day as we headed back to our cars.  While E and the boys have already been to the Pump House, it’s definitely on my list to join them next time as I’m sure we’ll have a blast.

An image of the interior of the Pump House indoor water park at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking in the expanse of the Pump House Indoor Water Park that was added to the resort this season

I’ve got to say it was really nice being back at Jay Peak, having not been to the mountain for a couple of seasons.  With so many great ski areas like Bolton Valley, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen notably closer to our location in Waterbury, we don’t frequent Jay Peak all that much right now.  Along with the slightly longer distance though, there are also some aspects of Jay Peak that knock it down on my list: the cold, the wind, some of the long flat areas on the Tram Side, and the way the glades and trees can get tracked out (and indeed even bumped up) so quickly (relative to what I’ve experienced at places like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush where lines can sit untracked for days after a storm).  Jay Peak has always touted its glades, so of course people go there for that type of skiing and those areas get a lot of traffic.  I love Jay Peak’s snowfall of course, but after scrutinizing and documenting the snowfall patterns in Northern Vermont’s mountains very carefully over the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana, I’ve noticed how marginal the difference is between the snowfall at Jay Peak and that at Mt. Mansfield.  I think the weather patterns over the past few seasons have exacerbated that, as they really haven’t favored Jay Peak as much as they have traditionally, but I’ve paid more attention to just how much snow Mt. Mansfield gets, and it’s impressive.

The above is really just nitpicking for the sake of comparison though, because Jay Peak is a fantastic resort that offers some excellent terrain and amazing powder – there are numerous resorts even out in the Western U.S. that would probably love to receive the amount of snowfall that Jay Peak gets.  And, the whole Jay Peak experience seems to be getting better with the developments going on around the resort, at least based on what we saw on this trip.  While the host of resort enhancements that have been added at Jay Peak over the past few seasons may be a turn off to some hard core skiers, they are definitely a plus in my book; not from just the family perspective, but a personal perspective as well.  The developments are things that if anything will lure us up there more.  One aspect is simply knowing that the resort will be active year-round, and that whenever we go we can anticipate that some dining options will be available.  In the days leading up to our trip, I knew about the upcoming spring snowstorm and was very close to getting a package of a room along with ski and water park tickets.  I didn’t quite find the level of discount I was looking for this time, especially since the pricing per person wasn’t as efficient without Mom along, but it was absolutely a factor luring us toward the resort.  They had a really good ski and stay package going at the Tram Haus Lodge a couple of seasons back, and I’m sure that there will be some similar April deals out there in the future, since it can be a slow time of year for skiing.  We’re certainly excited to check out all the new terrain when the resort expands into the West Bowl area with lift service; the feel of the mountain is really going to be different when that happens, and I’m eager to see what it’s like.  Perhaps it will spread out the visitors and keep the glades and trees from getting tracked out so quickly.  The sidecountry, backcountry, and in-bounds opportunities that would be provided by the new trails and lifts look really impressive.  Now that the boys are older and day-ticket style skiing is becoming more practical, Jay Peak will certainly be high on our list for visits, especially if they keep staying open longer than other resorts in the state.

Stowe, VT 10APR2012

An image of a well-established skin track and some old ski tracks on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after a two foot dump of April snow
The beautiful skin track on Nosedive today that delivered folks to the goods

A cutoff low pressure system backed into the region yesterday, and it began to dump a mixture of heavy snow in the mountains and pouring rain in the lower mountain valleys of Northern Vermont.  Meanwhile, in the Champlain Valley it was just dry and cloudy, so it made from an impressive scene; at the American Weather Forum I sent in a post with a mid afternoon picture from Burlington showing the wall of snow in front of the mountains.  Powderfreak headed up to Mt. Mansfield yesterday afternoon and sent in a nice collection of snowy pictures from his trip.  He reported that the mountain had already received a foot of snow by that point, and the radar showed that moisture continued to pour into the area.  When the precipitation data from the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in, it indicated that the mountain had already received roughly two inches of liquid equivalent by the late afternoon.  The snow and rain just kept pouring down all evening and right through to this morning, and we’d picked up over an inch of liquid at the house as of 6:00 A.M.

I had some time earlier today, so I headed off to Stowe to check out the new snow and make some turns.  The temperature was in the upper 30s F through the valleys, so the precipitation was all rain, and it was literally pouring at times.  Snow started to mix in with the rain up around 1,200’ as I ascended toward the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center, and it quickly changed over to all snow by the time I’d reached the Inn at the Mountain a few moments later.  The precipitation was wet snow as I parked at the Midway lot (~1,600’) and the accumulation was a couple of inches.  The snowflakes were small, in the 1-3 mm range, but it was coming down fairly heavily and I quickly had to put on my ski jacket to avoid getting soaked.

An image of my ski measurement pole showing a depth of roughly two feet at the 2,500' elevation on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Two feet of new snow at 2,500'

There were a few cars in the lot, and to begin my ascent I followed the collection of boot prints and skin tracks that led toward Nosedive; I definitely wanted to find an established skin track, because it sounded like the couple of inches in the parking lot was quickly going to turn into a lot more in the higher elevations.  And indeed it did – within just a couple of minutes after leaving the lot, I was walking through several inches of fresh snow, so I put on my skis and hopped in the skin track.  I was immediately thankful for the skin track, which felt like a superhighway since it was made by some pretty fat skis.  With that great skin track in place, the ascent was smooth and fast, and as I continued to check the depth of the new snow with my measurement pole, I was astonished at how quickly it increased.  By 2,000’ the depth of the snow was already 11”, and by 2,500’ it was 24 inches.  That meant that it was essentially increasing by a couple of inches every 100 vertical feet, and if that level of increase kept up, there was going to be four feet of new snow at the top.  However, the depth of the snow stopped increasing at 2,500’, and remained right around two feet from there on up.

I saw a couple of other guys on the skin track during my ascent, and talked to one of them when we both stopped near the top of Nosedive.  He said that he was one of the guys that set the skin track this morning, and I thanked him a lot for that because it was fantastic.  He said it was tough, but that the second person in line really had it easy because the dense snow compacted so well, so he and the guy he worked with switched off pretty frequently because the back person was rested so quickly.  He had just done a lap down to the 2,500’ level, and said that he felt that was a bit low to go to stay in the best snow; ending a few hundred feet higher would be better.

The wet snow that had been falling heavily throughout the ascent was giving my Gore Tex quite a workout, but there was no wind and temperatures were very comfortable in the 30s F, so various vents and flaps on my gear were open to keep cool.  As I crested the last part of Nosedive though, winter came roaring in, with the wind picking up a bit, the temperature dropping below freezing, and all the moisture that had accumulated on my gear during the ascent freezing into crustiness.  These are the days when you really appreciate those high-tech waterproof breathable fabrics though, because things were nice and dry on the inside.

An image of two skiers ascending through deep snow via a skin track on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A pair of skiers ascending Nosedive this morning amidst the continued snowfall

I stopped at the top for a few minutes, and there were several folks using the new ski patrol building at the top of the Fourrunner Quad for a quick break.  Overall the snow was still just a couple feet deep, but there were a few drifts, and at one point while I was out of my skis, I stepped down and sank up to my waist in powder.  The snow was still fairly dense even up around 3,700’, but bigger flakes were falling and it was overall a notably drier environment than the lower elevations.

An image of snow and snowfall on the Lookout Double Chair at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
It was still snowing all the way down at the base elevations when I'd finished my ski tour this morning.

For my descent, I headed down in the direction of Hayride; I was unsure how this dense snow was going to ski, but I figured Hayride was a reasonable, steep piece of terrain to keep me moving if necessary.  After my first few turns I could tell that this snow was going to be challenging on my midfat Telemark skis.  It was bottomless Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete, and it definitely required a certain level of finesse on the Teles.  I’ve been used to skiing fairly dry Vermont powder all season, so it took a couple of impressive flops before I dialed in my technique and started to cruise through the dense snow.  I was reminded of a day in December 2001 that E and I skied similar snow at Schweitzer Ski Resort in Idaho – they’d just received four feet of Cascade Concrete, and people were flopping all over the place on the trails, sometimes taking several minutes to extricate themselves each time.  We were on alpine skis at the time, so things were a bit easier, but there’s no question that bottomless dense snow can be a challenge to ski.  A group of three snowboarders passed by me on their descent, and watching them, I thought about how nice it would be to have my snowboard, but it would have been a pain on the ascent.  I was happy to find that my turns were smooth for a while, but between the 2,500’ and 3,000’ level the snow began to get wetter, and I had to work harder and harder to keep my stance dialed in.  Below the 2,500’ mark the skiing was a bit “survival style”, with the focus on just on keeping that perfect balance on each turn.  There was actually another change in the snow that made things a bit easier below that point (perhaps dense enough that one didn’t sink in much at all) but as I approached the Crossover trail, the snow began to change once more as it really got slushy and difficult to do much more than straight line it.  I rode Crossover back over to the Gondola base – it continued to snow even down that low in elevation, but I could tell that it was wetter than it had been at the base in the morning.  Back at the car I chatted with Powderfreak, who had just arrived for some turns.  I let him know about the nice skin track on Nosedive, and at one point he mentioned that there could be more snow coming into the area tonight.

I’m going to be home with the boys over the next few days, so I’ll have to decide what skiing to do with them.  If the texture of the snow doesn’t tighten up a bit, Telemark skiing will be very challenging for them, so we may have to think about getting in some lift-served turns on their alpine skis.  Jay Peak is running their lifts, and they’re reporting 15 inches in the past 48 hours.  Killington is also offering lift-served skiing, and they’re reporting 19” in the past 48 hours.  With Stowe already at 24 inches as of this morning, and precipitation continuing to fall, it will be very interesting to see where the storm totals end up over the next couple of days.  There’s been a nice recovery of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, as of this evening there’s been about 3.5 inches of liquid equivalent from this storm, and the snowpack at the stake is back up to almost 50 inches.  This storm system has really felt like a classic Pacific Northwest-style dump though, with heavy valley rains, and lower elevation wet snow gradually morphing into dry, but still dense snow at elevation.  I can certainly say that when I got back to the house this morning, my ski clothes felt like they’d taken a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and a good period of drying was definitely in order.  They’re ready to go out into the storm again though, and so am I.

Stowe, VT 11MAR2012

An image of Dylan looking up as we head out along the Kitchen Wall traverse at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan on a lower route as we head out to the Kitchen Wall traverse today at Stowe

It started snowing on Friday night thanks to our most recent upper level low pressure system; it was yet another storm that was brilliantly timed to set up the slopes for the weekend, continuing a trend that seems like it’s been in place for several weeks.  The Central Vermont Ski Areas were the focus for this latest storm, topping out with over a foot of fresh snow, but even the Northern Vermont Resorts reported accumulations passing a half foot.  We made turns at Bolton yesterday, finding a nice round of powder in which to play, even if the effects of previous warm temperatures could still be felt in spots.

Today we were back out at Stowe, and we were set up for a nice one with overnight lows in the 20s F to keep the powder in good shape.  We arrived at the Spruce Peak Base around 12:15 P.M., and after dropping off E and the boys it took me a couple of circuits of the parking lot to get a spot – a very nice one eventually arose right near the Stowe Mountain Lodge just a couple of rows out from the Stowe Mountain Club parking area.  So, I’d say that based on parking, the number of visitors to the resort today was ample, but pretty typical.

“I led the boys down
at mach speed, carving
huge arcs with radii
of probably 150 feet.”

Temperatures were expected to climb above freezing as the day wore on, so when I got my students for today, which were just Ty, Dylan, and Luke, we headed right over to the Mt. Mansfield Gondola area to take advantage of the elevation it offered.  We were thinking of checking out the Kitchen Wall as long as the snow wasn’t getting thick, but Dylan requested a warm-up run first, so we had a good trip from Cliff Trail to High Road to Switchback.  Indeed there were spots where the snow was already starting to get sticky, but the presence of sun was the key factor sending it there; staying in the shade made all the difference, and one could actually tune their skiing to be in their desired level of snow firmness depending on how deep they went into the shade.  Having assessed the snow, we did head to the Kitchen Wall for the next run, and the shaded spots were still holding winter snow, although some thick snow did have to be negotiated.  There were certainly areas of nice, untracked powder to ski in the spirit of what we found yesterday at Bolton, but for the best ride you had to be careful not to get into snow that had never been hit by the sun.  We continued on through the Nosedive Glades to Nosedive, and the on to Liftline to get to the Fourrunner Quad.  Conditions continued to be that mix of dry, winter-style and softer, spring-style snow, but as long as the soft stuff wasn’t too wet, it really did make for some nice skiing because you could sink and edge into it like nobody’s business.  That incredible grip was building confidence that we were ultimately going to test at high speed.

An image of blackened marshmallows prepared for s'mores at the fire pit in the center of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Some like ’em black – s’more prep time at Spruce Peak

We made one quick run off the Fourrunner Quad, visiting some pretty steep terrain on National and Liftline before returning to the Gondola.  Everyone was game for a run down the moguls of Chin Clip, so we had a long run of bumps that got everyone a workout.  Back at the top of the Gondola again, we started out on Perry Merrill, and I proposed a run down the Tombo Waterfall, but Dylan said he was too tired for that.  I’m glad that he was able to tell that he was too tired for that run instead of just muddling through.  The rest of that run on Perry Merrill turned out to be quite an experience though, because it was virtually devoid of any other skiers and we turned on the afterburners.  I led the boys down at mach speed, carving huge arcs with radii of probably 150 feet.  The speed was a little intimidating at times, but the groomed snow was so good that you knew it was going to hold, and the only limits were your legs.  Back at Spruce at the end of the afternoon, the fire pit area was roiling with children and adults at the s’mores session.  Perhaps the warm weather had everyone especially exuberant to be outdoors, or maybe the food supplies were more plentiful than usual, but the place was definitely hopping.  I had time to capture a number of images of the scene, and with so many photo opportunities, that process was as much fun as eating.

An image of Ty eating toasted marshmallows on a stick among the crowd at the Spruce Peak Village fire pit at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty get set to devour some toasted marshmallows today among a sea of other visitors around the Spruce Peak fire pit.

On the way home, we stopped in at Harvest Market on the Mountain Road to grab something to eat.  We’d been there once before when we were in town for an event, but we decided to check it out as a potential place to get après ski food.  It’s definitely got that Vermont/local foods/gourmet slant, so prices aren’t going to be as low as what you’d typically find at a convenience store, but of course you’re getting food of a totally different caliber.  They’ve got a deli counter with meats, prepared food options, etc., and what immediately grabbed our attention there was the assortment of samosas; E and I enjoyed ours immensely, and they’re about as easy to eat in the car as one could want.  The boys shared a stick of local Vermont pepperoni, which they devoured in the back seat.  Space inside at Harvest Market is pretty tight; they’ve packed most of the items you’d expect to find in a small market into a pretty minimal footprint, and the deli section takes up roughly half that area.  I’d say the overall feel is one of combining a Vermont country store with a gourmet food shop, so naturally it fits right in at Stowe.  I’m sure it would be pricey to do a substantial amount of your weekly shopping there, but of course you’re paying a premium to get items that are often locally sourced.  After our experience today though, I’m sure we’ll be mixing it in as one of our options after a day on the slopes; it’s a fresh alternative to throw in with restaurants and the usual convenience stores.  I hear the temperatures are warming up in the area this week, so this may be the last of the winter conditions on the slopes for a bit.  We’ll see what we get when we’re at the mountain next weekend, but I’d certainly say that we were able to enjoy what Mother Nature offered today.

Bolton Valley, VT 10MAR2012

An image of Jay skiing the fresh powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Today kicked off another weekend of March powder at Bolton Valley.

Earlier this week the Northeast experienced its warmest weather of 2012 to date, with the feel of spring in the air as temperatures reached well into the 50s F in the valleys of Northern Vermont.  Seasonable temperatures resumed on Thursday night however, with a strong cold front passage that produced winds as high as 96 MPH on Mt. Mansfield and brought along a few inches of snow to the mountains.  This frontal passage was followed by a small upper level disturbance that brought more snow as it came through the area last night.  Snowfall totals weren’t expected to be more than an inch or two, but many of the Vermont resorts picked up several additional inches of snow, with some of the Central Vermont Ski Areas topping the accumulations list at around a foot; Sugarbush reported 11 inches of new snow overnight to bring their 48-hour total to 15 inches.

An image of the snowfall map from the National Weather Service in Burlington for March 10, 2012
The additional snowfall that hit the area last night brought roughly a foot of snow to the Green Mountains on the east side of Addison County - the areas receiving the most snow can be seen in the magenta coloring near the center of the map.

Unsure about how much snow was coming, we didn’t have any hard and fast ski plans for today, but when 4.4 inches of snow had fallen at the house by this morning, and Bolton had tacked on another several inches to their Thursday night totals, it called for hitting the slopes.  The Vista Quad was loading at 8:30 A.M., and the new powder got the boys motivated enough that we made it up to the Village only 5 to 10 minutes after that.  I dropped E and the boys off in the Village Circle, and easily got parking in the top tier of the Village lot – we’re into March now, so many people are thinking warm weather activities, and today wasn’t really forecast to be a significant powder day either.  With that combination I wouldn’t expect it to be a very busy day at the mountain.

An image of ski tracks in the powder below the Vista Quad Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking out some of the tracks in the new powder as we make our first trip up the Vista Quad

The base area was indeed very quiet as we loaded on the Vista Quad for our first ride – Jason and the other instructors were out for their early training/clinic runs, and let us know that conditions were great.  It was cloudy, with the cloud ceiling dipping down just low enough to skim the peaks up above 3,000’.  Temperatures were in the mid 20s F, and there was no wind.  The midweek warmth and return to cold had hardened up all the subsurfaces, and with only modest amounts of snow since then, we knew that moderate and low angle terrain was the best way to go for bottomless powder turns.  We were encouraged by what we saw beneath our feet as we cruised along on the quad though – the morning’s initial tracks had the look of a respectable powder day.  With moderate terrain and fresh tracks in mind, we set our sights on a trip over to Wilderness, since the lift hadn’t been fired up since last weekend.

Right from the Vista Summit, we had a chance to check out the float in the fresh powder as we ventured skiers left on Spillway Lane.  The snow was very nice, with no effects from any sort of wind; we actually found ourselves in some quality Champlain Powder™.  That first pitch was a perfect spot to see how all our skis performed in the snow at hand.  I found myself touching down occasionally on my RT 86s, which have only an 86 mm waist, but that shovel up near 130 mm really helps with the float.  E’s Telemark skis are pretty skinny, with 10 mm less width all around, so she may have touched down a bit more.  For the boys though, who were on their twin tip/fat skis that have the equivalent of a ~130 mm waist at adult length, floating was a piece of cake.  They boys don’t weigh very much of course, so combine that with wide skis and they’ve got it easy, but E and I are definitely keen on getting some fatter Telemark skis because we continue to see the benefits even on these small to moderate powder days.

An image of Ty and Dylan jump off a rock into the powder in the Wilderness Woods at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty & Dylan having a ball in the Wilderness Woods today

We continued on Sherman’s Pass, carving some turns in the new powder off the edges off the trail, and then turned onto Swing around the 2,800’ elevation where I used the sheltered area to check the depth of the powder.  The depth came in right around 7 inches, presumably representing the accumulation from the past couple of days.  Work Road was pleasant with the usual areas of powder, and then once over at Wilderness we headed down part of the Wilderness Lift Line and into Wilderness Woods.  Turns were very nice in there, as the pitch fit the amount of new snow nicely, and I could see that E was enjoying the Telemark turns.  We exited out onto Lower Turnpike and finished the run through the powder along the edges.

An image of Dylan skiing fresh powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan tests the waters in the Villager Trees and finds that that indeed things are quite fine.

Upon checking in at the base of the Wilderness Chair, the lift operator informed us that it would be opening at 10:00 A.M.  We made a mental note, and traversed over to the Vista Quad for another run.  I was planning on another run in that moderate pitch category, and we opted for Cobrass to get us down to Five Corners or enable us to check out some of the trees in the area if the snow was good enough.  The skiing in the Villager Trees turned out to be very nice on all but the steepest pitches, so we really enjoyed that.  By the time we’d finished there we noticed that the rope had been dropped signifying that Timberline had opened, and we had to make a decision between heading there or to Wilderness.  It didn’t take long… we were right there at the access point for Timberline and the whole area was going to be essentially untracked.  It turned out to be the perfect choice.

On our way down to the Timberline Base we ventured through Lower Tattle Tale and were the first ones at the top, so fresh tracks were had all the way down.  I’d been concerned about how deep the powder was going to be around the 2,000’ elevation range and below, but there were a good 5 inches of fluff in which to float, so there were plenty of bottomless turns.  Once we’d experienced that, we knew we’d be spending a good amount of time at Timberline.  As we were finishing off the run I cut over onto Lower Spell Binder, and was the first one on there for the day.  For fun I took a line right down the middle, and the turns were stupendous; I showed Ty the tracks when I met everyone at the bottom and he agreed that we should do more of that.  It was already starting to feel like one of those semi-private Timberline powder days.

An image of E, Ty, and Dylan on Lower Tattle Tale with tracks in the powder at Bolton Valley Ski resort in Vermont
The late morning was starting out as one of those semi-private Timberline powder sessions.

At the Timberline Mid Station we saw that the headwall of Spell Binder was closed, so we did a run in the Wood’s Hole Glades.  The glades had seen just a little traffic, and it was a delight to watch Dylan silently and fluidly navigate his way down the entry line.  Soon after, E got her timing banjaxed from the get go, and struggled her way down the same line.  We laughed about how that one misstep at the start can leave you out of synch for the whole segment.  The snow in the trees was good, but even better was the untracked expanse of Spell Binder that we eventually caught below; that was just the pitch for the snowfall we’d received, and the powder turns seemed endless.  We agreed that it had to be done again, but the boys were calling for a snack break, so we popped into the Timberline Lodge for a few minutes.  It was very quiet in there, with just a couple dozen ski bags and a few people; I’m sure most folks were out enjoying all the powder.

An image of Dylan skiing an expanse of powder on the Spell Binder Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan roaming the expanse of Spell Binder

Once back out on the slopes, my plan was to check out the Corner Pocket Glades, which I expected to have an excellent pitch for the amount of powder that was around.  Unfortunately, the surface in there was somewhat irregular for whatever reason, and it would have taken a few more inches of snow to really get the glades into prime form.  E had trouble getting into a rhythm on her Telemark skis, and had a pretty good crash near a tree.  Although the boys had no issues at all on their short, fat, alpine skis, I could feel the difficulty in the snow as well on my Teles, so once E had crashed we decided to clear out and head for open terrain.  We worked our way over to Spell Binder, and in terms of snow it was like night and day.  The skiing out there was so effortless and sweet, it was hard to imagine what had gone on in the trees to make things so difficult.  Perhaps the more even distribution of melting/freezing on the open slopes made everything that much smoother.  In any event, at least we discovered that quickly and got to enjoy a long run of turns out in the open.

The boys were getting antsy, so we headed back toward the main base area at that point, catching some turns off the sides of Villager.  E was a keen powderhound and caught some nice looking turns off to the skier’s left.  Ty and I made some extra powder turns in what has become an almost perfunctory little line from Timberline Run down to Villager – I warned Ty about the drainage swale at the exit, and he fluidly found a nice little snow bridge back to the trail.  Although the boys were anxious to get home, it was easy to entice them with a Snowflake run, so we cut down Lower Foxy and were able to glide through the powder in all the untracked areas.  Ty and Dylan even headed off into some of the trees that they like to explore along the lift line.  Lower Foxy had delivered as usual, with not a single track in its powder stashes even though it was almost noontime.

The powder was skiing so well that I decided to keep the party going and take E and the boys through the Bonus Woods.  That area has always had some decent lines, but we’ve helped to spruce them up over the past couple of seasons with patroller Quinn and the rest of the Bolton Valley Glade Enhancement team, so turns were pretty facile and E cruised through smoothly even on her Telemark skis.  That run meant more first tracks and everyone seemed to be pleased with the run as we popped out near the Vista Quad.  E and Dylan headed back on piste, while Ty and I headed toward Butterscotch – for me it was a chance to ski more powder along the edge of the park, but Ty sought out some box sliding on the features.

Snow-covered cars midday on a March powder day in the Wentworth Condominium area in the Bolton Valley Village
Powder day views

Another round of snow had started to fall as we approached midday, and as the family regrouped in the space between the bases of the Mid Mountain and Vista lifts, we had to make a decision.  The conditions were too good to easily pull ourselves away, but the boys were ready to go and were making that quite apparent.  We debated for a couple of minutes, with E and I certainly willing to stay and enjoy a few more runs, but having a birthday party to go to at my parent’s place in the evening and some associated food shopping to do was enough to tip the balance.  We skied down to the Wentworth Condos and took our time strapping together the skis as we soaked in the midday scene on this wonderful powder day.  An occasional car would come or go, many were covered with a fresh blanket of white, and a light snow was falling composed of exquisite flakes.  I even had time to take a few photographs while the boys played around on some of the snowbanks.

Finishing up with the skiing on a powder day is always a little bittersweet; it’s hard to pull away knowing that there are more great turns available out there, but there’s also that physically and mentally relaxing/exhausting feeling of completing such an enjoyable activity.  We were definitely efficient this morning, skiing miles and miles of untracked powder, hitting the right terrain, and getting over 600 photos in the process.  All of that came from what was a bit of a surprise powder morning, and even if it wasn’t the deepest powder on record, with the whole family together it will go down as one of our favorite days of the season.  It was still in the mid 20s F with the clouds hanging around on the mountain, but when we got back to the house down in the valley, a beautiful spring afternoon was underway with full sun and a temperature that had already risen to 40 F.  Indeed it was a pretty classic Vermont spring powder day.