I was hoping to head out for a ski tour when the weather cleared up yesterday afternoon, but it happened just a bit too late to fit any skiing in among the rest of the things I had to do in the evening. Today however, we got a more substantial break in the weather around late morning, so I decided to take advantage of that window and head off to Stowe.
The forecast called for scattered rain showers today, but we know how Mother Nature works when it comes to Mt. Mansfield, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to find her scattering a lot more of the showers in that direction. Indeed as I drove the final 10 minutes to the mountain, the rain steadily picked up from sprinkles to a steady light to moderate rain by the time I was at the Mansfield Base preparing my gear.
I ascended via the North Slope route, figuring there’s less time left to explore that area vs. the long-lasting Nosedive option. I found the snow sun cupped in a lot of spots, but coverage was almost completely continuous until I got up into the areas where Toll Road crossed my route. Unfortunately, they’re plowed the road for vehicles, so that put some substantial gaps in the coverage. I had hoped to descend via something similar to my descent route, but eventually resolved to head to Nosedive because the plowing had just cut things up too much.
“The overall ascent was quite enjoyable with the variety of weather dancing around Mansfield and the surrounding peaks; there was blue sky, an occasional sprinkle or rain shower, breezes, low clouds skimming the summits, and everything in between.”
The overall ascent was quite enjoyable with the variety of weather dancing around Mansfield and the surrounding peaks; there was blue sky, an occasional sprinkle or rain shower, breezes, low clouds skimming the summits, and everything in between. It was one of those days where you really wanted to have your gear for the various conditions, and I made use of just about everything I’d brought. One minute the hood of my shell was up, the next I needed a light hat, then suddenly it was time for my sunglasses.
The snow was decent, although I actually would have like it a bit softer. It only gets so soft without consistent the warmth of the sun though. I did notice it softened up a bit more on the lower half of the mountain, simply due to the slightly warmer temperatures. Nosedive does provide some of the best snow on the mountain in terms of skiing though – there have been enough people skiing it that it has a level of “human grooming” to keep the sun cups at bay.
I had a really busy Friday, but the views of the mountains caked with snow suggested that accumulations were really holding well in those elevations that had received snow, and my plan was to head out for some turns at some point today. Ty and E had left the house early today for some volunteer work at a school function, but Dylan and I were able to head up to Bolton Valley by late morning. The lower valleys are bare in terms of snow, and it felt quite warm, so it was really hard to imagine that there was going to be decent snow for skiing just a few minutes away. We saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road in the 1,300’-1,400’ elevation range by the big S-curve below Timberline, and the accumulations really shot up quickly above that elevation. By the time we got above 2,000’ to the Village, it was an entirely different world. Within the span of 1,000’ in elevation we’d gone right from November into December. There was a good 2-3” of dense snow on the ground, and temperatures were holding in the 34-35 F range. The snow was wet so that it packed very well, and as I got the ski gear together Dylan had rolled a massive snowball within moments. After a good session of building and destroying some snowballs, we headed over to the base of Wilderness to start our ascent.
We were able to strap on our skins right away, as there was plenty of coverage, and checking the depth of snow on the climber’s right on Lower Turnpike at ~2,200’, I was already measuring 3-4” of snow. We continued on up the available skin track, and I was surprised to see only about 3 or 4 tracks on the trail from skiers descending. I would have thought there’d be more pent-up demand for turns since it hasn’t snowed in a couple of weeks, but I think a few of the other trails had served as descent routes as well. We continued up to around the 2,600’-2,700’ elevation range, where we stopped at the base of the steep headwall of Cougar. The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry. Dylan tried to build snowballs as he’d done at the base and had no success; the snow was just too dry and it all crumbled away like sand through an hourglass. I was hoping that the loss to snowball building was going to be our gain with regard to fluffy turns.
“The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry.”
I started off the descent and struggled with turns on my long, skinny, Tele rock skis, and of course Dylan made fun of me as he floated along on his more modern gear. I’d brought along my rock skis because I really hadn’t known how much coverage we’d have, but with the generally grassy slopes of Lower Turnpike and decent snow depths, a pair of fat skis would leave you with minimal concerns about damaging any bases. I got my Telemark turns flowing as we descended farther, and Dylan and I exchanged some smack talk about who was actually the better Telemark skier. Dylan said that “only in my dreams” was I actually better than him, but I countered by asking if he’d like to switch skis and see how things went. I think I’d get the much better end of that deal, even if his skis would be on the short side for me. By the time we’d descended to the 2,400’-2,500’ range the snow was starting to get a bit wet, so we’d presumably hit the freezing line. The turns actually remained fairly decent all the way down to within about 100’ of the base though, and we were still able to even make Telemark turns for most of it. There were a few water bars negotiate, but we had a lot of fun working with the different techniques for those – simply zooming across the gap allowed it, or taking the more conservative approach of stepping over if it didn’t. You could certainly lap the top half of the mountain if you wanted to stay in totally dry snow, and we actually saw one guy doing just that up near Peggy Dow’s.
We skied down to the landing at the northeast corner of the village hotel complex, and pulled out the cameras take a few more pictures. Dylan had actually asked to bring along one of the DSLRs to use today, so I gave him the Canon EOS 30D with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM on it, and I used the 7D Mark II with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. He was shooting in auto mode getting used to monitoring the focus lock indicator as today’s training, but we talked shutter speeds as we worked on imaging either droplets or streaks from the meltwater coming off the roof of the hotel complex. We stopped in to grab some lunch at the Deli & Grocery before heading home, and then it was back down to the valley and a return to more of a November environment. These mild temperatures are pretty nice though, and getting to ski in some dry powder snow out there on such a gorgeous day was somewhat of an unexpected treat. It looks like the temperatures stayed pretty cool at elevation, so I suspect the powder will still be up there tomorrow.