Tag Archives: Ranch Valley

Ranch Valley & Stowe Cross Country Center, VT 07JAN2017

An image of a sign for the Burt Trail on the trail network at Stowe Cross Country Center in Vermont
Out on the Burt Trail today for some backcountry skiing

It’s been a relatively slow week for snowfall in the Northern Greens, but Stowe did manage to pick up roughly a foot of snow between Wednesday and Thursday.  Since the Mt. Mansfield area seemed to be a sweet spot with respect to snowfall, I decided to head out for a backcountry tour in the Ranch Valley, which sits just to the south of the resort’s alpine trail network and is the location for Stowe’s Cross Country Center.  I’ve been through the area numerous times when coming down the Bruce Trail, and I’ve sampled some of the natural glades that populate the middle elevations in that area.  I could see that there was much more skiable terrain to explore though, so I decided to check out what the areas around the Burt Trail had to offer.

Temperatures were in the low to mid 20s F in the local mountain valleys as I headed up to the Stowe Cross Country Center to start my tour.  It turns out that Mrs. Blanck was behind the counter when I was buying my trail pass, so we were able to catch up a bit and she gave me an overview of some nice glades that she’d heard of as we reviewed the backcountry portion of the trail map.

My ascent route consisted of starting on the Timberlane Trail and using Cross Cut 2 to get to the Burt Trail.  The recent snows were certainly elevation dependent, so there was only about an inch of fresh snow atop the snowpack down near the base of the Cross Country Center at ~1,000’.  It did increase as I ascended, reaching a couple of inches by the time I hit the Burt Trail, and nearly 4 inches at the top of my ascent at the junction with the Underhill Trail.  Here’s the general depths of surface powder I found on my tour with respect to elevation:

1,000’:  1”
1,500’: 2-3”
2,000’: 3”
2,500’: ~4”

An image of a hut along the Burt Trail at Stowe Cross Country Center at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Passing a hut along the Burt Trail

The backcountry portion of the Burt Trail starts right around 1,500’ elevation, and getting to that point represents a pretty hefty approach of over two miles, so that’s about the minimum distance one will have to go on this route to get into terrain for potential descents.  The Burt Trail really starts to steepen above 2,000’, which one hits at close to three miles in.  At that point it’s comprised of switchbacks to accommodate the steeper terrain.  That area is still mostly hardwoods, with scattered evergreens, so tree density isn’t too bad and one can easily cut the switchbacks and ski through the forest.  That terrain is pretty steep though, so one would want a decent amount of powder for it to be optimal.  Based on darkness and trying to ensure that I made it back to the Cross Country Center by 5:00 P.M. since a sign that the parking lot gate would close at that point, I only ascended to the junction with the Underhill Trail, but I could see that there was plenty of similar terrain right up above me.

As for the skiing and conditions, one would definitely want more powder above the base than what I found today, but I was still able to get in some decent turns.  I had my midfat Tele skis, which were certainly not all that light in the overall spectrum of Nordic equipment, but I was thankful to have something that could handle the descent well.  I cut the Burt Trail switchbacks and skied the fairly open forest in some spots, but I could actually stay on the trail itself for the most part where it mattered.  Only one person had gone up ahead of me above 2,000’ on the trail and they must have descended another way, because there was no descent track.  So the Burt Trail itself was relatively untracked and I got some of my best turns of the afternoon simply by staying on it.  The terrain in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range offers some options off the trail depending on the pitch of the terrain, but I just ran my descent out the trail itself based on the snow conditions and my time.  The whole runout back to the Cross Country Center is actually pretty fun, and you can really cruise along at times, but you will have to do some skating and deal with a couple of small uphill sections.  It’s quite similar to running out the Bruce Trail though, and indeed the route is identical in some spots, so if you’ve done that you’ll have a good sense for what this is like.

An image showing GPS data on Google Earth from a backcountry ski tour in the Ranch Valley of Vermont near Stowe Mountain Resort
Today’s backcountry ski route in the Ranch Valley

It looks like we’ll be in a fairly active weather pattern in the foreseeable future with some clipper-type events and larger synoptic systems with potential mixed precipitation, so we’ll see how these play out in terms of bolstering the snowpack.

Stowe, VT 31MAR2013

An image of Jay skiing on the Bruce trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Out enjoying the great snow on the Bruce again today

With the Easter holiday, we didn’t have BJAMS ski program today, but we decided to head to Stowe anyway for a bit of lift-served skiing and another run down the Bruce Trail.  E wasn’t able to join us for the Bruce run with the kids last week because she was coaching her younger, intermediate-level students, but she had no such obligations today.  Coverage on the Bruce was excellent last week, and this week has seen fairly typical spring weather for the Northern Greens, with some snowfall and some warmer days, so it didn’t look like there would be any major changes in that department.  Not surprisingly, the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is still sitting right around that 80-inch mark, so there were clearly no issues with loss of snow in the higher elevations.  However, the lower mountain valleys certainly lost snow this week, brining into question the lower elevation snowpack.  And, the Bruce Trail has a good deal of southern exposure, so that means that those areas are going to lose snow more quickly than other aspects at similar elevations.  In fact, I was more concerned about snow coverage on those higher-elevation, south-facing pitches in the 2,000 to 3,600’ elevation range than even the lowest elevations down near 1,000’; the snow in lowest elevations of the route is well protected by the forest and well packed, so I suspect it persists quite well in the spring.

“…I’d say the Bruce
will probably still
be good to go next
weekend as well…”

Today we planned to flip our Bruce Trail tour setup from what we’ve done in the past; we’d park the car down at The Matterhorn, ride the Mountain Road Shuttle up to Mt. Mansfield, ski the mountain for a while, and then finish off with a run down the Bruce and a meal at The Matterhorn.  We timed things pretty well with knowledge of the Mountain Road Shuttle schedule, and arrived at The Matterhorn in the early afternoon with time to get into our gear and head across the street to the shuttle stop.  The plan was for everyone to Telemark since the boys could get in some lift-served practice runs and it’s generally a good fit for a trip down the Bruce, although Ty opted for alpine gear at the last minute because that’s what he felt like skiing.

“On piste coverage
at Stowe remains
excellent, with
100% of trails
open today…”

We started off the afternoon as planned with some lift-served runs, and found some marginally sticky conditions in places.  None of the surfaces were too bad in that regard, but there was definitely some snow that has not transitioned all the way to corn with the rounds of snowfall earlier this week.  Temperatures were a bit warmer than yesterday, sitting in the upper 40s F down in the lower elevations, and somewhere in the 30s F at the summit elevations.  On piste coverage at Stowe remains excellent, with 100% of trails open today – it’s much more typical this season, and nothing like last season when that huge March heat wave really sapped the snowpack.  Dylan worked on his Telemark turns and was making strides on his bad side turn, and Ty on his alpines was throwing himself off all the airs he encountered.

An image of Erica Telemark skiing on the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
E working those Telemark turns on the Bruce today

Around mid afternoon we decided to head down the Bruce for our final run, and the snow was nice and soft right from the top.  The only notable coverage issues were in the usual spots – those steeper pitches with southern exposure.  Those areas had opened up a bit since last week, but the differences in the skiing are fairly marginal; you’ve just got to navigate those areas cautiously.  As expected, the lowest elevations in the Nordic areas in the 1,500’ – 1,000’ range had perfect coverage.  The only potential break in the snow cover down there is the last hundred yards or so where you use the road the leads to the Bruce House.  The road has been plowed, but you can ski on the snow banks along the edge of the road and they’ll take you right out to Route 108 as usual.  The whole trip down the Bruce was extremely quiet today – we didn’t see a single soul on the Bruce itself, and we only saw one family touring on the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center.  Perhaps the holiday kept the numbers of visitors down relative to a typical Sunday, but the resort looked pretty busy overall.  I didn’t track today’s travels by GPS, but for a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the general route of the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.

An image of Jay, Ty, and Dylan giving each other a "high five" near the Matterhorn in Stowe, Vermont after finishing off a run of the Bruce backcountry ski trail
Dad, Ty, and Dylan celebrate finishing off another fun trip down the Bruce.

It was fun to get E’s impressions of the trail since this was her first trip down the Bruce.  She found, and I entirely agree, that on today’s outing the combination of the relatively narrow nature of the trail, the areas where the formation of moguls tended to dictate specific locations for turns, and the concave sculpting of the snow due to skier traffic, all come together to create quite a challenging ascent on Telemark gear.  I noticed those aspects as well, and indeed in this case what is really pretty standard intermediate or advanced fare on alpine equipment, is much more technically demanding on Teles… or at least it is if you’re trying to make Telemark turns.  Trying to navigate those concave edges while snaking down a narrow line (and even feeling narrower in a Telemark stance) among moguls on terrain with decent pitch will certainly push your skills.  Fortunately one can use alpine turns as a fall back, and those are certainly a lot of fun too, but of course trying to be strict with those Tele turns keeps the bar up.  Even with the great spring snow, E favored alpine turns heavily in the steep, upper sections of the trail, but there were plenty of areas where her Telemark turns would flow.  I threw in good doses of alpine turns myself in spots, because sometimes it’s just too hard to plot a solution with Tele turns through certain areas.  But, every run gets more turns under your belt.  Dylan threw in a few Telemark turns here and there, but he already knew going in that he was going to mostly alpine and just enjoy the ride in that fashion.

TAn image of the sign on the side of the Matterhorn bar and restaurant in Stowe, Vermonthe final part of today’s outing was an early dinner at The Matterhorn.  I’ve actually never eaten at The Matterhorn, since I’ve thought of it generally as an après ski bar.  As it turns out though, they’re a restaurant as well, and to my amazement, they’re pretty well known for their sushi.  I tried for a visit to get some sushi back on Bruce Trail trip on January 21st, but the sushi bar is closed on Mondays, so I decided to wait until my next visit.  Well, today was that day, and I’ve got to say that indeed the sushi was quite good.  I went with a Salmon Maki Roll and one of their specialty rolls, the Crab Rangoon Roll, and both were great.  E and the boys didn’t get sushi, but everything we had was good.  Sitting out back by the river is also a nice perk – there was a feel of early spring watching the water roll by amidst the snow.

An image from a table along the Ranch Brook at the Matterhorn Restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Riverside at the Matterhorn this afternoon

Based on forecast for the coming week, I’d say the Bruce will probably still be good to go next weekend as well, so keep it in mind if you’re looking for something to do as we move on to April skiing in the Northern Greens.

Stowe sidecountry & Bruce Trail, VT 21JAN2013

An image of a ski track in powder along the edge of the Bruce Trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Powder along the Bruce

Some of the Northern Vermont ski areas have picked up close to (or in the case of Jay Peak, substantially more than) a foot of snow in the past seven days, and while that’s actually a fairly modest pace for snow accrual in the mountains this time of year, it’s helped to get surfaces back to packed powder since they hardened up last week.  The snow has generally been dry and fluffy, so even with all that accumulation it hasn’t been a thorough resurfacing for all slopes.  However, my explorations Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network revealed that the powder is building and there are some nice turns to be had.  Temperatures were expected to be in the single digits in the highest elevations today, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some sidecountry exploration instead of riding lifts.  And, since Claire and I have been talking about bringing our Stowe ski group for a trip on the Bruce Trail one of these days, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for some reconnaissance.  There’s no doubt that everyone in the group is ready for the skiing on the Bruce, but I still wanted to familiarize myself with the route to ensure that the trip would go smoothly with all the boys in tow.

“In general, I found 6 to 7
inches of powder down to
the 2,000’ elevation, and
at some point below there
it dropped down more
toward the 5-inch range.”

Temperatures hovered right around 10 F all the way to the base of the resort, and there was sun and no wind, so it wasn’t feeling too frigid at the point.  The resort had snow guns going on various trails, no doubt taking advantage of the temperatures to bolster base depths that were probably brought down a bit by the warmth earlier in the month.  I rode the Fourrunner Quad with a guy who had already been out for some runs, and he said the conditions were quite good.  Listening to the turns of the skiers below us, it did sound pretty quiet.  I could see the occasional icy spot, but the surface seemed to be mostly packed powder just as the snow report had indicated.  The snow over the past week has definitely been having an effect in terms of softening up surfaces.

“While I’m sure the steeper
top sections of the Bruce are
great with a good dump of
snow, the skiing today was far
superior once I got down out
of the evergreens and into the
hardwood forest.”

From the quad summit I headed over to the top of the Bruce Trail – a few tracks indicated that some skiers had already skied it today, but I dropped in via an alternate entrance to get an untracked line.  The line was pretty steep and I was definitely touching down on the subsurface, but I could tell that I’d be able to get in some good powder turns on some lower angle terrain.  The top part of the Bruce wasn’t really all that inspiring today – it’s pretty steep, a lot of pitches face southward, and it’s narrower than I’d thought it would be.  I’d say it’s only 10 to 12 feet wide on average in the upper sections, which means that in reality it’s going to be tracked out and packed down after just a few skiers hit it.  With its somewhat southern aspect making for spots of poor coverage here and there, it skied even narrower today.  The snow was generally skier packed, so my fat Telemark skis were indeed feeling slow edge to edge, and I had to throw in a good number of alpine turns to fit in some of those small spaces dictated by the trail width and coverage.

An image of ski tracks in powder among trees along the Bruce Trail in the sidecountry of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Catching turns down in the lower elevations among the hardwoods

While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest.  The trail is notably wider in that area, and there are a lot more glade options for venturing off the sides of the main route.  In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range.  All those depths were definitely enough for some nice powder turns on moderate angle terrain though.  With the narrow nature of the Bruce Trail in the top sections, it’s really not a trail that’s going to offer up much in terms of fresh powder, so those looking for a sidecountry experience with real untracked snow would probably be best served by using the Bruce as a jumping off point for explorations of the Ranch Valley.  The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now (right around the 40” mark), but I could see a multitude of ski options all around during my descent.  I noted a couple of potential areas for exploration up in the evergreen areas, but choices really exploded once down in the hardwoods.  It would be easy to make a day of it out there, or, ski the resort in the morning and then tour out in the Ranch Valley in the afternoon and finish off the day by skiing out to Route 108.

An image of the trail map for  the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center
Stowe XC Map – Click for full size image

At around the 1,500’ elevation, I entered the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center.  This is the part I’d been concerned about in terms of making the correct choices to get out to Route 108 and the Matterhorn.  It turns out that it’s much easier than I’d thought; you simply stay on the Bruce, and Burt Trails, following the signs that say “Ski Lift”.  Even though you may not be planning to head back to the Toll House Lift, those “Ski Lift” signs are the way to go.  Eventually you’ll get to a junction where following the “Ski Lift” route is a very obvious (and somewhat arduous looking) uphill, so you won’t want to go that way.  By that point there are signs that indicate “Route 108”, and those will get you right out to the Matterhorn area.  At every intersection you essentially go straight through, so in a worst case scenario, go with that.  The trek through Stowe’s Nordic trails, and a small portion of the trails that belong to the Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center, is slightly downhill, but there’s plenty of poling and skating to be done.  I was happy to have my Telemark gear, even if I looked funny with my skis being three times the width of the other Nordic skiers ambling around on the trails.  I generally took it slow and enjoyed the scenery, which included some marvelous views of the Ranch Brook.  The brook had that winter look with some flowing water, but also lots of ice, and snow pillows covering the rocks.

A Google Earth GPS elevation profile showing a ski tour on the Bruce trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Elevation profile of today’s tour – click for full size image

The final leg of the descent on Ranch Brook Road brings your right out on the “Ski Inn” driveway, next door to the Matterhorn, and across the street from The Notchbrook Convenience Store.  I had time before the next uphill Mountain Road Shuttle arrived, so I stopped into the Matterhorn to get some sushi… only to discover that they don’t have sushi on Mondays.  Clearly I’m going to have to hit the Bruce again with the boys on a different day so that we can finish that part of the adventure.  So instead, I popped across the street to the store and got a snack before catching the shuttle back up to my car in the Mt. Mansfield lot.  One thing I should note about the shuttle – the ski slots on the outside are still fairly old school, so if you’ve got fat and/or twin tip skis, you might have to bring them on the bus with you.  Apparently that happens a lot, because the driver immediately knew what my issue was when I inquired.  Missing out on the sushi, I did stop off at Harvest Market for a couple of samosas on the way home, and that definitely filled the void.  So, today’s outing offered up some good turns in the powder, and was certainly a successful reconnaissance.  The route down to the Matterhorn is easy, and I can tell that the biggest hurdle is going to be getting the boys through the flatter terrain at the end of the run.  If that’s the toughest part we have to deal with though, it should be a lot of fun.

An image of bread on racks with firewood and bricks in the background at Harvest Market in Stowe, Vermont
Harvest Market

Weather-wise, the day turned out much warmer than the forecast seemed to suggest – it was 20 F once I was back down in the valley, and before I’d realized that, I couldn’t figure out why it felt so comfortable.  The sunny skies from earlier in the day had clouded over ahead of another small snowfall event that’s supposed to hit us tonight into tomorrow – these are the sorts of storms we’ve got for now until something bigger comes along, but at least we’re getting something.

A Google Earth GPS track showing a ski tour on the Bruce trail near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today’s Tour viewed in Google Earth – Click for full size image