The local ski resorts hadn’t picked up too much more than we had, but totals in the 6 to 10” range seemed typical, and that was certainly enough to entice me out for some early season turns. With that in mind, this morning I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to get in a ski tour and check out the new snow. With the fairly fluffy nature of the snow and based on what we’ve seen at the house over the past couple of days, I’m sure there had been some settling since it fell, but here’s the snow depth/elevation profile of what I found from the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road up to the local summit areas:
I started my ski tour around midday, when temperatures were just edging a bit above freezing at our house down in the valley, but above 1,500’, and certainly above 2,000’, temperatures never got above freezing so the snow was all winter consistency.
In terms of the skiing, it was undoubtedly early season, and rock skis would be your best bet if you’re going on anything with substantial pitch. I actually found the skiing better on the lower half of the mountain because there was a bit of a base there – I think more of the snow down in those elevations was melting on contact with the ground to create that dense layer. Up higher, the consistency of the snow was more straight fluff from top to bottom. As is often the case, most water bars had reasonable crossings at least at one point, but a few were dicey and took some extra navigation. There’s still running water in plenty of spots, and ponding in some flat areas. On my descent it was obvious that my skis got in contact with at least traces of that moisture, because about halfway down I had to pull out a credit card and spend probably 10 minutes doing a scrape down on the ski bases to really get things back in shape for gliding.
That effort was worth it though, because for the bottom half of my run I was on Lower Turnpike, and that offered what was unquestionably the best skiing of the tour. The combination of that bit of dense snow that accumulated as some base down in those elevations, plus some skier traffic packing down areas of the new snow as well, clearly created the best subsurfaces I encountered. On top of that you’ve got the fact that Lower Turnpike is essentially all grassy terrain, and it has a pitch that isn’t really overbearing for the amount of snowpack we’ve got, and it comes together for real winning combination. Even with some skier traffic, there was still plenty of powder to play around in throughout the trail, so that was a great way to finish off my run.
For anyone heading up, you may still want to hit the summit areas to check things out and get the exercise from a more substantial tour, but if you’re just looking to get out from some quality turns, Lower Turnpike is probably going to get you the most bang for your buck. It’s one of the designated ascent routes anyway, so there’s a nice skin track and it’s an efficient way to in some nice turns on the new snow.
I just got an alert on my phone this morning that we’re under a Winter Storm Watch in association with the next system. This one looks more substantial than this past one, but we’re still a day or two out so we’ll need to watch for any final refinements to the forecast.
While the upper elevation snowpack here in Northern Vermont got a bit of a boost from the snowstorm we had earlier in the week, the snow in the lower elevations is getting rather sparse. So while there’s still plenty of snow available in the local mountains overall, it’s not easy to head out on a tour that will let you ski right back to the base elevations. At the end of my tour on Tuesday though, the gentlemen I’d met out on the trail told me that there was still an impressive amount of snow available over by the Sunrise area of the resort. The terrain in that area really isn’t visible from Stowe’s webcams, or from the valley in general for that matter, but when the clouds started to rise away from the peaks this afternoon, I decided it looked nice enough for a quick ski tour and I decided to see what the area had to offer.
As soon as I walked up the access road from the Mansfield Base Lodge to the bottom of the Mountain Triple Chair, the possibilities were looking promising. A nice thick blanket of snow stretched right down to the base of the Standard trail, and coverage looked to continuous as far up the slope as I could see. There was enough open ground that I decided to simply hike vs. trying to skin, so I walked up the essentially snowless Lower Gulch as it paralleled Lower Standard. I did have to walk on snow at times as I got higher up the mountain and stuck more to Standard itself, but there were plenty of dry options as well if I’d wanted to take another route. I had only a certain amount of time, so I stopped my ascent after about 1,000’ of vertical near the top of Standard. There was plenty of snow to continue upward though for those interested in a longer descent.
“A nice thick blanket of snow stretched right down to the base of the Standard trail, and coverage looked to continuous as far up the slope as I could see.”
On the lower mountain it’s really the Standard trail that has the nearly continuous snow cover. The resort clearly made a lot of snow there this season, no doubt due to supporting the terrain park that occupies the trail. The snow cover isn’t quite 100% continuous throughout the entire length of the trail, but the only gaps are a couple of rather small ones that can be safely traversed without taking off your skis as long as you’re comfortable stepping across the ground slowly. There are a couple more spots that will likely open up soon, so watch for that if you go over the course of the next week. I do enjoy how every spring is a bit different with the trails that offer the best skiing, so being over on that side of the resort was a nice change of pace from the usual Nosedive options. The snow on Nosedive is still holding out well of course, but it doesn’t offer the same level of coverage right to the base that you can get on Standard right now, so the terrain off the Mountain Triple Chair could be a good option for touring if you’d like to check it out. It worked quite well for me, so hats off to the gentlemen I met on Tuesday who gave me the advice about the solid coverage on that side of the resort.
Today seemed to be the better option for some sunny afternoon weather this weekend, so the family headed up to Bolton Valley for a bit of spring skiing. Timberline, with its western-facing slopes and lower elevation, is starting to melt out in areas, but coverage on the main mountain is looking quite good. Temperatures were into the 60s F, even up at the 2,000’ level, so there were no concerns about whether or not the snow would soften enough for good turns.
“We descended Spillway on the upper mountain, and it had some beautifully smooth corn snow that everyone seemed to enjoy. E commented that the snow was some of the best she can recall in quite a while with regard to spring touring.”
There were several cars in the upper lot near the main base lodge, and it was obvious that most of them belonged to people who were out ski touring because you could seem them coming and going with their gear as they enjoyed the beautiful sunny afternoon. Our goal for today’s tour was to head up to the Vista Summit, and the boys rocketed right off ahead of us as we ascended Beech Seal. They didn’t pull any punches, and went right up in the Hard Luck area to get to the summit as fast as they could. That’s a pretty steep approach, but they told me they did put in some switchbacks. E and I headed over a couple of trails and took Schuss to Alta Vista, which makes for a more reasonable grade overall. At the summit we all paid a visit to the Vista Peak Fire Tower, and while it was still relatively warm, the wind was certainly blowing strong.
We descended Spillway on the upper mountain, and it had some beautifully smooth corn snow that everyone seemed to enjoy. E commented that the snow was some of the best she can recall in quite a while with regard to spring touring. Temperatures today were just right for the state of the snowpack to soften up an inch or two of the corn snow without getting too far into the base. The fact that there hasn’t been much skier traffic on the mountain also helped to make for such smooth surfaces.
It looks like the mountains could have a bit of fresh snow coming on Monday night into Tuesday, but longer term we’ll hopefully have several more weeks of spring skiing to enjoy.
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, the hotel had recently hired a roofing company to ensure the meltwater wouldn’t slip into the rooms. This was a great step by the hotel. We were in a similar position recently while visiting the US, Texas. The rainfall was like none other we had ever seen before, there must have been a storm on the way. It looks like the roof repair company did the work just in time as by 1 pm, the clouds spoke! I wonder which austin roofing company completed the work! Back to the present and not the past! 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.
All of Vermont has seen a number of modest snowfalls this past week, and with the squally nature of some of them, snow totals were quite variable at the ski resorts up and down the spine of the Greens. As is often the case though, the Jay Peak area did quite well in the snowfall department, with a seven day snow total of over two feet. After seeing a couple of photos showing the delectable powder at Jay Peak on Thursday, and knowing that even more was on the way for Friday, a visit the Jay Peak area backcountry was sounding very appealing. I mentioned the idea to borderwx on the American Weather Forum, since he lives right in the area and is a regular at the resort and local backcountry, and he got back to me with a number of options. Previously we’ve skied Gilpin Mountain using a car shuttle off Route 242, and I was initially thinking of a variation on that theme, but borderwx also mentioned some options for tours in Big Jay Basin. There were variations starting from Jay Pass, as well as the parking areas down on Route 242 where Big Jay Basin drains out. After weighing the options, and consulting the nice Google Earth map of the Big Jay area put together by Guru Gered in his Big Jay Powder Day trip report at the Nor’easter Backcountry Blog, E and I decided that an out-and-back tour from the lower parking area at the outlet of the basin was the most practical with the boys. We really didn’t want to drive two cars to set up a shuttle, temperatures were expected to only be in the 10 to 15 F range, and this was our first tour in the area. A simple out-and-back meant that we could stop and descend at any time should the need arise.
“The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range.”
Temperatures were right around 20 F in the Waterbury area as we left at noontime today, but the thermometer gradually dropped with our travel northward until it was 12 F at the Big Jay Basin parking area at ~1,500′. There were about a half dozen cars parked there, and we saw one guy just prepping his gear and starting on a tour. We could see he was using the prominent skin track right across the road, so as soon as we’d geared up, we followed suit. An initial depth check right there at the base of the skin track revealed 7 to 8 inches of powder, so even down at that elevation, the Jay Peak area had clearly picked up a decent amount of new snow this week. The powder was cold, fluffy, midwinter stuff… just like you’d expect out of January.
The skin track was indeed well established, and easy to follow as it worked its way up at a gentle pace on what appeared to be a logging road. We traveled along the road through areas of dense and sparse vegetation, as well as some acreage cleared by logging. The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range. I’m not actually sure how deep the base snow was, but aside from a few windswept areas it was quite plentiful; we never really had to deal with underlying obstacles due to thin snow. Along with the skin track, we could see that people also used this route for descent out of the bowl, and that was clearly evident when we had to make way for a couple of groups skiing down. They appeared to be having a really good time as judged by their greetings and attitudes.
“It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay.”
After about a half mile, the skin track left the logging road and headed off generally to the right into the trees. From here the pitch increased a bit, and the skin track wound through the slightly tighter confines of the forest. Around 2,150′ we came to an obvious open spot that seemed to be the base for a broad collection of skiable lines. The skin track continued off to the left, and there were no longer ski tracks around it – it seemed like this was the point where people were converging to the track from the various ski routes above during their descents. It also seemed to be a popular spot to use for people skiing laps above the final runout back to the road. The skin track steepened here, and there were a few spots where it was a little steeper than it probably should have been, but we managed our way through them. Since I knew the boys wouldn’t want to do a huge tour, I’d set an elevation mark of ~2,500′ as a good stopping point from which to descend. That would make for a respectable descent in the range of 1,000′ of vertical. At an elevation of ~2,450′, we came across a very nice flat area along the western edge of a bowl somewhere below Big Jay on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin. The spot had a nice view down into the various areas of open ski terrain within the bowl itself. It was slightly shy of the 2,500′ mark, but a quick look around revealed that it was the obvious choice for a comfortable respite and preparation for descent in the immediate area. It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay. For perspective, our route can be seen on the Google Earth map available at the end of this report.
“All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns.”
We had some hot soup and cocoa that we’d brought along, removed our skins, and generally geared up for the descent, but we didn’t linger long because it was definitely chilly. While we were there though, we saw a few skiers descend through the more open terrain in the middle of the bowl, and the skiing looked nice. As soon as we were ready, we dropped into the bowl. The snow quality was excellent, there was about a foot of powder over a generally smooth base. There were a few windswept spots with hard snow here and there, which was sort of strange because the area was generally sheltered. I’d say that the tree spacing and amount of smaller saplings was a bit too constraining though. It looked better a bit up from where we were, so I think that we’ll explore up there the next time we head into the bowl. A couple more feet of base would really help in those lower reaches of the bowl that we skied, since it would bury some of the smaller saplings and open up more lines. With that said, there were some nice lines in there and we managed some good turns. All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns. We made our way generally back in the direction of the logging road, and once we got there we skied a combination of on and off-road lines, depending on the pitch and spacing of the trees. The trees were actually pretty tight down along the logging road, and although the pitch was fairly shallow, it’s about as much as you’d want. There were some areas where the pitch was shallow enough that skiing on the partially packed logging road was the only option, but there were still shots of powder along the edges of the road to catch.
“We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass.”
As we were packing up our gear back at the car, a group of four skiers emerged from the forest about 100 yards up the road from where we were. One of them grabbed my attention and asked if he could get a lift up to the top of the pass where his vehicle was parked. He’d started a tour from there, and had intended to finish there as he’d done in the past, but somehow he got into a different drainage or something. He’d actually run into the other skiers along the way, who were presumably in a similar predicament, and they teamed up to make sure they all got out OK. We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass. He let the other guys know that he’d be back soon to pick them up. The delivery to his car went fine, and he was happy to have avoided a 1.5-mile hike up the road. There was a good amount of traffic on the road though, so I’m sure he could have found a ride pretty quickly if we hadn’t been there. I’m just glad we had space in the car for one more!
On our drive to the area earlier in the day, we’d taken the Montgomery Center route, since it was closer to where we were touring, but on the way home we continued east down the pass and stopped in at Jay Peak Resort for a bite to eat. We went to Howie’s at the Stateside Base, which we’d last visited about a year ago during our Christmas trip to Jay Peak with my family. We had some appetizers (including poutine of course) and got to watch the start of the Patriots playoff game against the Ravens. There were a number of people at the bar, but we had the table area to ourselves as the resort wound down from the day and darkness descended. This evening when I was at a work function in Burlington, a colleague mentioned that he’d heard the trails at Bolton Valley were really icy, and I said that we’d suspect that might be the case and headed up to the Jay Peak backcountry for a tour. After hearing his comment, I’d say we made the right choice today and got some good powder skiing out of it.
Looking at the Google Earth map of our GPS track, it’s really easy to see that we were quite far on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin, so we’ll certainly want to explore a bit farther to the east in the big bowl next time we visit the area. A start from Jay Pass would certainly get us in there, I just think spotting a car appropriately for the exit might be difficult. Aside from the large parking area that we used on the south side of Route 242, we didn’t see any other obvious spots between it and the pass. Another option would be to simply tour out and back to the pass, but of course that means finishing with an ascent.
We had family staying over with us this weekend, so we hadn’t really planned on doing any skiing, but they’d actually departed by late morning today. E and Dylan happened to be out until later in the afternoon due to a birthday party, so Ty and I found ourselves unexpectedly home alone. I finished up some cleaning from the weekend, but we really had no obligations until a Christmas party in the evening, so as you can probably imagine based on this report, we found our way up to the slopes. Bolton Valley has actually expanded their terrain substantially in the past couple of days by opening up the Wilderness Chair, but the mountain had still seen a weekend’s worth of traffic by this afternoon. With that in mind, and recalling the good snow that I’d found during my ski tour on Friday, I figured that a little more touring would be a quiet way to spend a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon. With the knowledge gained from my previous outing, I also realized that I could further optimize the tour I’d done to get Ty the best powder with the least effort.
“The roughly eight inches of dense powder that I’d encountered on Friday was still sitting there…”
Timberline was very quiet as we arrived in the early afternoon – aside from a couple of workers dealing with some equipment in the lower parking area, there was only one vehicle parked in front of the base lodge. We’ve had slate gray skies in the area today but no snow falling, and with temperatures in the 20s F and winter solstice light, it’s one of those days where it’s easy to stay indoors if there isn’t something to lure you out. Fortunately, that powder is still out there, and we were thankful for that as we began our tour and got the blood pumping. We followed the skin track up Twice as Nice and got to watch a group of four skiers and snowboards descending the last pitches of the trail. They were encountering some crust and it was making the turns difficult. Ty was cringing a bit at the conditions he saw, and most notably heard, but I told him they were descending in totally the wrong location. They at least seemed to be having fun, enjoying the descent as a group, but they clearly hadn’t poked around on the terrain enough to find where the good snow was located. Even if they’d skied over on our side of the trail they’d be finding much better snow; you just needed to avoid the most exposed areas to stay away from the crust.
We stopped our ascent at the Timberline Mid Station instead of heading up to Brandywine as I’d done on Friday. I hadn’t encountered much in the way of good snow in the extra terrain above that point, and I knew that Wood’s Hole would offer some great snow due to the way it’s so sheltered. We took a short break as we switched over for the descent, and once we got going we indeed found that Wood’s Hole had nice snow. The passage through Wood’s Hole was a bit more challenging than it should have been though, as there are a few trees down across the trail. Presumably they fell due to some of that heavy snow from Winter Storm Damon.
We continued across to Lost Boyz, finding it in essentially the same condition as it was when I’d skied it on Friday. There were a couple of tracks on their in addition to mine, but it really didn’t look like there had been much for skier traffic in there. We were fine with that of course, and found plenty of untracked lines to ski. The roughly eight inches of dense powder that I’d encountered on Friday was still sitting there – that rather dense snow really holds its own in terms of staying consistent, which is generally the case when the snow doesn’t have much settling to do. Ty was even feeling comfortable enough to send himself off some of the ledges in there, and at one point he pulled quite the acrobatic move as he skied with one leg behind himself after his ski tip got caught in the snow.
“…that rather dense snow really holds its own in terms of staying consistent…”
Below Lost Boyz we stuck to the same route I’d used for my tour on Friday, since I’d found generally good snow where I’d traveled on Spur and Timberline Run. Even though it was essentially the same route, it was fun exploring it with Ty, since he’d have different takes on the terrain and it got me venturing into pockets of snow that I might not have otherwise encountered. It was a great reprise of that route that served me well on my solo outing. The forecast calls for some warming during the middle of this week, but until that happens, it looks like that powder is going to stay where it is for those that want to get some smooth turns.
I saw a couple of new offerings mentioned on the Bolton Valley website this morning as they continue to expand their terrain – the opening of the Snowflake Lift and the Hard Luck trail. Ty was away at Kenny’s, and E and Dylan had to take care of some shopping for an upcoming birthday party, but eager to check out the expanded terrain, I decided to head up to the hill in the afternoon.
We’re experiencing warmer temperatures right now ahead of the next incoming storm, so it’s been quite comfortable out there. It was around 30 F at the house when I left at noontime, and mid 20s F up on the hill. It was cloudy, but unlike the persistent snowfall of yesterday, there was only the occasional spit of snow in the higher elevations. Like yesterday, I was able to grab a parking spot in the top lot from a car that was leaving, and after getting on my gear I headed right over to catch a ride on Snowflake. While on the lift I was able to watch a snowcat working on the Butterscotch Terrain Park – all the snow piles were being flattened, and they play to open it tomorrow for skiing without features. Only Timberline Lane and Lower Villager are open on the skier’s left of Snowflake, so I opted for Sprig O’ Pine to get me down to the Vista Quad. The snow on Sprig O’ Pine was nice, not as soft as natural snow of course, but good because traffic has been minimal there. I took the alternate loop out toward Deer Run, which did have natural snow – that was really soft, and as it’s a protected area there were some beautiful accumulations of snow on the trees.
“Indeed, all of Peggy Dow’s above the first big bend had plenty of deep snow and some great powder turns were made.”
There was a lift queue of probably a couple minutes for the Vista Quad, but I jumped in the singles line and got right on. I found good snow along the skier’s left of Spillway Lane, and then dropped into Hard Luck to see how it skied. It was somewhat firm manmade snow in the top section, although skier traffic had created deposits of soft snow along the edges. As is sometimes the case with manmade snow, the loose material was a lot like sand, but at least it was soft. The bottom half of Hard Luck appeared to be mostly natural snow – it was much softer than what was above as one would expect, but some areas of poor coverage has to be roped off. Below Hard Luck there was actually some nice untracked powder remaining on the skier’s left of Sherman’s Pass – people just hadn’t been venturing that far to the left. On the lower mountain I skied Beech Seal, which had some excellent areas of soft, contoured snow along the skier’s left. I was eager to hit that again on my next run.
I checked out Alta Vista next, and the line along the skier’s left was in good shape. Had it not been for the occasional touching down onto firmer snow, it would have been great. Sherman’s Pass was in decent shape, with the occasional patch of slick snow that could be avoided, and turns were very nice once I got to that area below Hard Luck and followed the same route down Beech Seal.
I’d explored the offerings that I wanted to hit by that point, and decided that I’d tour over to Wilderness to finish off the day with some powder. I headed down Alta Vista again, really happy with the way I hit that skier’s left with some aggressive turns. My legs felt warmed up and stronger by that point. On my previous run I’d seen that all the lower routes over to Wilderness were roped off, so the Upper Crossover route was the best remaining option. I knew that anything steep was going to be too much for the current conditions, but I suspected that Peggy Dow’s would be passable, even if I found nothing good above the Old Turnpike area. I caught the bottom portion of Vista Glades, then connected onto Upper Crossover to switch over for the ascent. While putting on my skins, I had time to enjoy the snowy views, which included evergreens that were really starting to take on some healthy accumulations of powder. On the ascent toward the Wilderness Summit, I generally found snow depths of 6 to 11 inches in spots that weren’t scoured by the wind, so there were indeed some good pockets of snow up there.
Despite intense scouring at the top of Bolton Outlaw, the Wilderness Summit itself was sheltered from the wind and had some nice snow. Indeed, all of Peggy Dow’s above the first big bend had plenty of deep snow and some great powder turns were made. Once I neared the junction with Heavenly Highway I initially went wide right to avoid the icy, wind-scoured face, but I saw that another skier had taken the chute that bypasses it on the left. That area was protected from the wind, so I followed that skier’s tracks and found reasonable coverage. Down on Old Turnpike the first couple of steep corners were naturally icy, but there were lines to bypass the most exposed spots, and soon I was down into the protected lower areas that we skied yesterday. I actually used the same route as we did yesterday, until I decided to mix it up and check out the Wilderness Lift Line instead of Lower Turnpike. The lift line was actually fine, even if didn’t quite have the protected coverage of Lower Turnpike, and there were several tracks on it. From the base of Wilderness, I headed back to the car and had time to do a little long-range shooting with Chris’ Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM paired with his Canon Extender EF 1.4 III. That’s a full frame equivalent to 448 mm on my 30D, so there’s some great reach with that combo, and you’ve still got f/4 speed. It’s certainly not a setup that you can carry lightly though; with the lens hood on it’s 15 inches in length and the weight is around 6 pounds, so you definitely know it’s there.
Looking ahead, the next winter storm of note is a coastal system that is expected to affect the area tomorrow afternoon into Monday. The valleys will probably be a bit warm at the start, but the mountains look to do well; the point forecasts from the National Weather Service Office in Burlington currently call for 3 to 5 inches down here at the house, and 3 to 7 inches up at Bolton Valley.
The weather was quite nice on Saturday, so we had a good family backcountry outing at Bolton Valley, but the weather yesterday was simply nasty. I contemplated heading up for a quick tour, but when I saw that the Bolton Valley Village temperature was at 3 F around midday, I wasn’t all that inspired. When I checked again in the afternoon, I saw that it had actually dropped a degree to 2 F. As if the cold temperatures weren’t enough, there was a hefty wind for good measure, and it was strong enough that the Vista Quad seemed to be closed for much of the day. With that going on outside, it was extremely nice spending much of the day getting things done inside instead.
“…the powder was very much like what we found on Saturday – a general 8 to 12 inches, and there was no internal melt layer
up at that elevation.”
Today’s temperatures were definitely expected to improve though, so after I took care of some work in the morning, I planned on a short tour up at Bolton Valley in the afternoon when the day’s warmth would be at its peak. Under a cloudless sky, temperatures were up into the mid 20s F in the valleys, and close to 20 F even up at 2,000’ when I arrived in the Village in the early afternoon. There was still plenty of wind though, so Mother Nature didn’t seem to want to let that go for some reason. Fortunately, the winds weren’t strong enough to shut down the Vista Quad (yet), and that let me proceed with my planned tour.
For today, my goal was to explore the drainage that dropped off behind the Bolton Valley Wind Turbine and led down to Goose Pond. From the pond, I planned to hook up with the Woodward Mountain Trail, connect back to the Vista Summit, and make a front side run back to the Village. The wind was a little brisk as I prepared my gear at the car, so I went with my thicker fleece layer in anticipation of what might be going on up above 3,000’. The resort was definitely winding down in activity from the holiday weekend, and there were only a few people around as I boarded the Vista Quad. It was my first time on the Vista Quad this weekend, and the lift ride was certainly enlightening, albeit somewhat discouraging. The combination of holiday traffic, but probably even more so the strong westerly winds, left the snow surfaces pounded flat, flat, flat. Everything looked packed out; even the trees along the Vista Quad Lift Line seemed to have lost a good part of their fluffy disposition. The resort had that look of an “old snow” scene, with the trails stripped of loose snow, the tree branches devoid of fluff, and even slick patches visible here and there. I was thankful that I was heading to the leeward side of the mountain, but the snow seemed so beaten down it seemed hard to imagine that I’d find fluff even there. The lift slowed down and even stopped a few times on my trip up, presumably because of the wind, and I was thankful that I was only planning one ride because I wondered how long they’d be able to keep it turning.
Once at the Vista Summit I headed over to the wind turbine, then passed underneath it into one of the openings in the forest. Above the noise of the wind itself, the turbine was cranking away with its own sound of spinning blades. It was really moving in winds that had to be 25 to 30 MPH, and I was happy to see it free of rime and actually doing its job. The noise of the turbine blades in the wind was substantial enough that it actually took a while to fade as I dropped into the drainage and began my descent, but after a few minutes of navigating downward the noise diminished to just the wind itself. Finding a route through the gully was actually quite easy, as there were obvious open areas that could be connected. I can’t say that I found one continuous line for skiing, but there were enough open areas to make it enjoyable. A little trimming to connect those areas would make for an even better descent. At first I was concerned about the scoured and wind-packed snow that presented itself on the initial drop from the turbine, but that dissipated and only reappeared in a few exposed spots lower down. Other than that, the powder was very much like what we found on Saturday – a general 8 to 12 inches, and there was no internal melt layer up at that elevation. The forest I encountered was a mixture of evergreens with a few hardwoods and a touch of brush here and there, and as I approached the pond down at around 2,800’ it became one of those dark spruce groves that permit little understory growth.
Down in the open area of the pond, I found myself exposed to the wind, and it was really ripping. What I observed was a rather austere, winter scene, but not quite the peaceful place it might have been without the incessant wind. I stayed just long enough for a couple of pictures before I retreated into the shelter of the spruce forest. I put on my skins for the ascent, and found an easy route through the spruce; the trees were tall and the only hindrance was the occasional presence of dead lower limbs that hadn’t yet fallen off. With the help of my GPS, I hit the Woodward Mountain Trail in about 10 minutes, and my pace accelerated at that point because I found that there was a skin track that others had used for ascent. There were a few ski tracks on the trail itself as well, but it hadn’t been used too heavily. It was easy to see that the trail was designed well though, because it was often just on the leeward side of the ridge and held a lot of powder. The trail is rather wide in spots, up to 50 feet or more, so I’m sure the turns through there are a great way to start off a tour of the entire trail down to Waterbury Reservoir.
Just before finishing my ascent and emerging back out at the Vista Summit, I hit the fire tower and headed up to take in the view. The wind was intense up top, probably 40-50 MPH, but I was able to get a few photos of the great views in every direction. I quickly got down, took my skins off my skis for the front side descent, and to my surprise (although I guess with those winds not too surprising) when I emerged at the Vista Summit I saw that the Vista Quad was entirely shut down. It was almost spooky how deserted the summit looked for that time of day, but I basically had the whole upper mountain to myself at that point. I headed over toward Cobrass for my descent, and I’m not sure how long the lift had been closed, but the trails had already received a resurfacing due to snow sifting in on the wind. The surface of Cobrass was actually quite nice; it was very easy to dig with my edges, even on my fat skis, and I enjoyed my solo descent.
I headed into the Villager Trees and up “The Crack” to the top of “The Knob” to get in some additional powder turns on my way back to the Village. Folks have been busy in that area in the off season, because I could see some new lines in there that looked like fun. I stuck to a line that I knew, and nobody had been in that area yet so the tracks were fresh. The powder was generally good, although there were some spots where the wind had gotten to it, and I could really feel the assistance I got from the rocker and width of my AMPerages in handling that crust. Down in the lower sections of the trees there had been a lot more traffic, and combined with the wind I had to do a little more work to find the best untracked snow. Those lower sections seemed to fly by though, as I found myself going fast through areas with packed snow and less powder.
I finished off my run, stopped in the main base lodge briefly, and then headed to the car. I was surprised to find that the wind had virtually disappeared down at the Village level, despite the way it was cranking along up high. The lower mountain lifts were running, but many folks seemed to be winding down their day as it was getting toward that 4:00 P.M hour. It was in the low to mid 20s F at the base – warmer than it had been when I arrived, and it felt very nice without the wind. It had definitely been cold up high though – my cheeks could still feel that bite that comes along with cold winter air. In terms of upcoming weather, we’ve still got a good chance for some upslope snow during the midweek period. That’s good, because the lift-served slopes could really use a freshening based on what I saw today.