E and the boys are off from school this week, so I joined them for a day up on the mountain yesterday. Heading up to ski was pretty much a no brainer – it looked to be almost a carbon copy of Saturday, with another foot or so of upslope Champlain Powder™ overnight to finish off another three-foot storm cycle, and the clouds pulling away to leave blue skies and perfect temperatures. Bolton Valley had just finished off a run featuring six feet of snow in six days, which doesn’t happen all that often… anywhere.
We hit up many of our usual haunts in the Timberline area, but also got in a few runs in the Adam’s Solitude/Wild Woods out of bounds areas, which we’d yet to visit this season. I don’t visit those areas all that often, but I was absolutely floored by how protected the accumulated snow was over there. Amazingly delicate accumulations of Northern Vermont’s famed upslope snow had settled on everything, apparently defying gravity by even accumulating laterally and growing off the sides of trees. All it seemed to take was the slightest imperfection on a surface to catch a few crystals, and then they would apparently grab hands and just go nuts. I’m not sure if the area is always protected like that, but I’ll sure be on the lookout with future storms. My final overnight accumulation of snow down at the house for that event had come in at 2.4% H2O, which is not all that uncommon for upslope snow in our sheltered valley location, but there really were areas up near the top of Adam’s Solitude where the snow was like air. I’d be skiing along through the usual bottomless powder and I’d hit pockets where it would feel like the bottom had literally dropped out because the snow became so airy. It almost felt like I was hitting small tree wells, but it was just the settling pattern of the powder. Anyway, it was quite an experience. I’ve skied a lot of cold smoke snow between Vermont and our years out in Montana, and yesterday snow now sets the standard. I can remember a day at Smugg’s several years back that featured snow as airy as yesterday’s, but it was only about 6 to 12 inches deep and not bottomless, so the experience wasn’t quite the same.
I wanted to bring E and the boys over to explore some areas on the main mountain, but the day at Timberline was so packed full of runs that we just never had the chance to get over there. We did manage to meet up with Stephen and his kids for a final run down Adam’s Solitude. It was a first time out there for them, so it was quite an introduction to that terrain. I worked a bit with Ty and E on getting their body positioning more compact when they are in the air. They’ve still got some work to do, but it was one of those days where you didn’t mind having to try, try again on those kinds of tasks. The rest of the images from yesterday can be found below in the gallery, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.
The numbers are in, and they indicate that Bolton Valley picked up a solid three feet of snow from our latest storm cycle, with the final 12 inches of upslope fluff coming in overnight to set the table for a fantastic Saturday. The day started off a little cloudy and breezy, but by midday we were left with warm sunshine to make for one of the best ski days of the season. We arrived up at the Timberline Quad for the 8:30 A.M. opening, and in classic Bolton Valley style the powder day lineup was comprised of a whopping three chairs worth of people. The first hour or two of the morning were pretty quiet in the Timberline area, at least in terms of numbers of visitors, although generally not in the voices of those of us that were there. By 10:00 or 11:00 A.M. more visitors started to arrive.
“The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09.”
While the trails only contained about a foot of powder in areas that had seen skier traffic over the past couple of days, many off piste locations that hadn’t seen visitors on Thursday or Friday held the entirety of the storm in and undisturbed stack. Before heading up to the mountain this morning we joked about losing Dylan in the deep snow, but fortunately that didn’t happen. The good thing about the snow was that it was quite dry (my analysis on the overnight accumulation at the house was 3.7% H2O); even the boys could get down in it and really have a fun time experiencing the depth. We met up with Dave and his friend Jo at 10:00 A.M., and my colleague Stephen and his son Johannes early in the afternoon, and all eight of us managed to do a couple of great runs on Twice as Nice together.
For Ty it was a day of notable improvements in his skiing. With the fantastic depths of powder in the off piste, he was able to start charging steep slopes more aggressively than I’ve seen up to this point. E and I had indicated to both boys that they would want to ski steeper terrain than usual today because the deep powder would be slowing them down. They weren’t very receptive to this idea at first. However, by the end of the day Ty had really changed his tune and was actually seeking out some of the steepest lines so he could tackle them. Dylan had quickly picked up on the idea as well.
The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09. I’d been saving up a nice 5 to 10 foot drop with a sloped landing that Dave and I had discovered in the Villager Trees a couple weeks back, and with feet of new powder it was ready to be plundered again. Ty likes to do jumps on his skis, but this type of a drop was in a league he’d never really tackled before, so I was curious to see his reaction. When we arrived at the top of the drop, he was certainly intimidated by the height and confirmed that he didn’t want to hit it. We didn’t want to force him, but we had Mom drop it and demonstrate how easy it was with such deep powder. After seeing that, he didn’t immediately change his tune, but we could see that the wheels were turning. Later in the day we were in the Wood’s Hole Glades and Ty somehow found himself atop a rather big rock. He dropped a pretty rugged looking line, and with that his confidence was building. I asked him if he’d be interested in joining Dave and I in dropping another small cliff on the next run and he said yes. We gave him first shot at the drop in the freshest powder, while E shot pictures from below. He wasn’t willing to carry a lot speed going into it, but he dropped right off and did an awesome job. At the end of the day when we were in the lodge, he indicated that he wanted to go out for one more run. He insisted that we hit the first drop that we’d shown him earlier in the day, the one that Mom had done. He said he was now ready for it. He had no trepidation this time around, and dropped it as soon as I was in position with the camera and gave him the go ahead. When we got back to the lodge he even told E that he’d done a better job on it than she had.
Dylan also had quite a day, blasting lots of powder lines with the most consistency that I’ve seen from him all year. He plowed through every mellow or steep nook and cranny that we dragged him into, and his powder skiing is now becoming reliable enough that we don’t have to worry much about bringing him into any of the typical areas that we’d ski as a family. It appears as though a mounting topic with Dylan is the use of ski poles. Ty didn’t start using poles until his 4/5-year old season (last year), but it looks like Dylan is about ready. After I broke a wayward stick off of a tree today in the Wood’s Hole Glades, Dylan proceeded to bring it with him for the rest of the run and use as a pole. Back on the trail, E told Dylan how he should be using the stick in terms of planting, and he easily coordinated the timing of planting and turning. We may have to start phasing in poles for him the way we did with Ty. Dylan also skied what was perhaps his biggest day to date, racking up over 8,000’ of vertical. He was clearly on his last legs when we came down through the Twice as Nice Glades near the end of the day though; he just couldn’t handle the steepest pitches anymore and I had to help him down the final one.
When I finally downloaded the images from my camera this evening, I discovered that I’d taken 479 shots throughout the day, but I managed to whittle it down to 21 that made the final cut. In some cases, the culling process involved skipping over some really nice waist-deep powder shots in favor of some even better chest and neck-deep ones, but sometimes that the way it goes! Images from the day are in the gallery below, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.
By the time I’d left the house (495’) at 7:30 A.M. this morning, we’d picked up 0.6 additional inches of snow since the 6:00 A.M. snowboard clearing, bringing the event total to 4.1 inches. It had been snowing lightly at the house when I left, but when I arrived up at the Bolton Valley Village area (2,100’) it was snowing moderately and still accumulating. The mountain had reported 7 inches of new snow as of their 6:45 A.M. update, but I suspected I’d find a bit more based on the way it was coming down. The lifts weren’t going to start loading until 9:00 A.M., so I kicked off the morning off by skinning for some turns, taking the route straight up Beech Seal. I first checked the consistency of the snow near the base area; I couldn’t quite make a snowball out of it in my hand, so I guess I’d describe it as medium weight powder. Beech Seal had been groomed at some point earlier, but I found about 2 to 4 inches of additional new snow on top of the groomed base.
“…today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder.”
When I reached mid mountain (2,500’) I checked the depth of the powder in an undisturbed location and it came in right at 12 inches. That should represent the combination of powder from last week’s midweek system (~6 inches) as well as whatever had come down up to that point with this new event, so that seemed reasonable. Wind doesn’t appear to have been much a factor with this system, so getting measurements was easy. I was thinking of skinning up in the Cobrass area, but there was enough powder to keep me following one of the snowmobile tracks for my ascent. At about 9:00 A.M. I’d reached the top of Vermont 200 (~3,000’), and when I checked the depth of the new snow there I found that it was at 9 inches.
“It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.”
I enjoyed first tracks down Vermont 200, and this new round of snow had settled in nicely. The medium-density powder was just what the doctor had ordered in terms of getting the windswept steeps back into shape. I was on my Telemark skis, and found that the consistency of the snow made for really easy turns. After my initial descent I stayed around for some rides on the lift, and unquestionably the trail pick of the day for me was Spillway. Usually I avoid it like the plague between its man-made snow, exposure to the wind, and traffic, but today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder. The fact that it has seen grooming in the past made the subsurface the most consistent and provided lots of nice bottomless turns, and since there didn’t appear to be much wind with this event, there were no issues on that front. I had to hit it twice because it was so good, and I’d say it was better than even Hard Luck or Vermont 200. The Wilderness Lift opened right around 10:00 A.M., and I was fortunate to catch one of the first few chairs. The way the steeper trails had been skiing so nicely, I opted for Bolton Outlaw from the Wilderness Summit, and it was in great shape. After that descent I traversed back toward the main mountain. I followed a random set of tracks off New Sherman’s Pass and found a nice region of glades that I’d never explored before.
The mountain definitely had more than its usual midweek handful of people this morning. A lot of the extra folks I saw were children, and I think some of the schools in the Northeast have vacation right now because I heard what sounded like a Boston-style accent on a couple of occasions. It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.
The moderate snowfall had gradually tapered off through the morning, and when I left the mountain around 10:40 A.M. there was just light snow and the temperature at my car (~2,100’) was 34 F. The temperature stayed fairly stable through most of the descent down the Bolton Valley Access Road, but at the bottom (340’) it was up to 35 F. The precipitation was light snow as I drove westward through the Winooski Valley to the center of Richmond. The temperature there was up to 36 F however, and I was surprised to see that Richmond appeared to have picked up little if any snow from this event. When I’d reached the I-89 rest area in Williston, the temperature was up to 37 F and the precipitation was over to rain, which was coming down at moderate intensity for a while. In the South Burlington area the temperature was up to 38 F, and when I finally arrived at the UVM campus it had hit 39 F.
Today I headed out for some backcountry exploration in the Bolton area. I was sure that James would still be resting his ankle, so once again I made it a solo outing. After exploring part of the Cotton Brook drainage the previous week, I decided to switch it up and check out something on the other side of the valley. A convenient starting area for reaching the terrain on the western side of the valley is one of the VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) access points. The ample parking lot sits at an elevation of roughly 1,000 feet on the Bolton Valley Access Road. My plan was to start out on the VAST trail that heads west from the parking area, and make my way up to the ridge line that extends north from Stimson Mountain. The summit of Stimson Mountain is at 2,002 feet, and the ridge maintains roughly that elevation for several miles as it heads northward toward the Bolton Mountain area. If I was able to find a suitable route to the ridge, and the terrain was appropriate, the tour would provide about 1,000 vertical feet of skiing.
I arrived at the trailhead in late morning to sunny skies and a temperature of 19 degrees F. There was only one snowmobile trailer in the lot at that time, so the lot looked pretty deserted. I started skinning westward on the nicely maintained VAST trail, which at first had a fairly gradual slope. Then, I crossed a large bridge, and the trail steepened. After maybe 50-100 vertical feet, the trail flattened out and turned to the south. At that point I decided to break away from the VAST trail and head westward up the ridge. The going would be slower once I had to get off the trail and break my own way through the powder, but as far as I could tell without a VAST map, the VAST trail headed more southward and was not going to get me up the ridge where I wanted to be. I finally broke off the VAST trail at the intersection with an old logging road. There was a sign indicating that the logging road was not open for VAST travel.
Despite breaking my own trail, the going was pretty smooth. I’d checked the depth of the powder just after I started my hike, and found it to be 9 inches over whatever thicker layer was below it. At the bottom of the logging road, the snow was still in the 9-12-inch range, so I wasn’t bogged down by too much depth. I continued upward, following a network of logging roads and taking the route that seemed to best direct me toward my destination on the ridge. I spied plenty of great ski lines along the way, and I marked a few of the more attractive ones on my GPS. The logging road seemed to have been maintained and it made for quick travel; at least it appeared that way with the snowpack at the time. If there was a forest of saplings growing on the road, they were long buried under the snowpack. There was only one obstacle that forced me to detour from the logging roads, a huge tree that lay across the trail near the middle of the hike. It took a few extra minutes to work my way around that one. Currently, with the additional 3 to 4 feet of new snow from Wednesday’s storm, that tree is probably not even an issue.
My route took me generally westward up the ridge, with a bit of northward movement toward the end. About 2/3 of the way through the hike, I came across a large flat area, and above it was some of the steepest terrain I’d seen on the day. The terrain there actually looked a bit too steep and rocky for skiing, so the slight northward trend worked well to keep me in more skiable terrain. Near the top of the hike I attained nice views of the Timberline area across the valley. I could even hear the announcer for the ski race that was taking place over there. The race was presumably a continuation of the event that Ty and I had seen the previous day. High clouds had been building in throughout my trip, so at that point the sunshine was no longer as brilliant as it had been when I started the hike.
After several minutes of additional climbing, I finally hit the ridge. While the powder just below the ridge had built up to a depth of around 15 inches, on the ridge itself, the snow was heavily compacted and drifted. In some places, the snow had been scoured down to just a few inches in depth. Small trees all across the ridgeline had been bent over and snapped by the strong prevailing winds that raked the area. To the west below me was Bolton Notch, and I could see what looked like some skiable lines dropping eastward toward the Bolton Notch Road. I actually thought I heard the voices of a couple of people below me in the notch, but it was very faint and I couldn’t get a fix on their location. I hiked around the summit ridge for a bit while I had a snack and a drink, then removed my skins and started down.
To ensure that I’d be able to get right back to the car without having to do any hiking along the access road, I followed a downhill route in the same general area as my skin track. Sometimes I traversed out above my skin track and skied back down to it, but for much of the run I was able to stay off to the skier’s left of my skin track and follow the natural contour of the terrain. Even with the snowpack below average (as gauged by the snow depth at the stake on Mt. Mansfield being at only ~54 inches), one could pretty much ski anywhere in the area I explored. There were always some lines that seemed to be the pick of the crop, but there were few areas where the vegetation was too thick for turns. There was plenty of powder for bottomless turns throughout the descent, and the depth of the base let me tackle the lines with a fair degree of confidence. With the potential for 3 to 4 feet of snow from the storm this coming Wednesday, I suspect there will be even more wide open lines. A storm of the size expected would likely bring the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake close to 80 inches, which would actually be above average for this time of year.
For the final pitch down to the VAST trail, I actually skied the last part of the logging road I’d ascended. It was steep enough that it made for some pretty nice turns. The Avocet recorded 920 vertical feet of descent and the Suunto recorded 958 vertical feet of descent, a difference of 4.0%. The high clouds had continued to build in throughout the tour, so the temperature at the end of my run was pretty much the same as it had been when I started skinning. It was a fun and easy trip with great access.
I just found today that Lost Trail was having a Telemark demo day on Saturday, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try Tele skiing for the 1st time. E and I had to take care of some things in Missoula in the morning, but we got home as soon as we could and headed to Lost Trail. This meant that we didn’t arrive until after 2:00 P.M., but that’s the nice thing about having a season’s pass. In the past few days, Lost Trail has received about a foot of new snow, so conditions were excellent.
As it turns out, a local Missoula Telemark/outdoor store known as Pipestone was running the demos, everything was free and they had tons of equipment. They were really friendly, and asked us if we had ever Tele skied before, which we hadn’t. From there they set us up with some boots (turns out they were Scarpa T2) and skis (180 cm Atomic TM 22). They gave us a couple of pointers and we headed off to the bunny slope.
We had figured that learning Tele skiing would be like learning to snowboard, so we anticipated spending the rest of the day (about an hour or so) on the bunny slope. I had only tried Telemark style turns on my Nordic equipment, which was pretty unstable, so I figured it would take a while to find balance. Well, this wasn’t the case on this setup. The boots were really stable, and after a couple of turns it already started to get fun. When we got to the bottom of the bunny slope, we contemplated grabbing the rope tow back up to the top, but decided things were going smoothly enough to head on down to chair 2 via the long green slope known as Drifter. We were a little concerned about a short blue pitch on this trail, but soon found out the increased pitch actually helped! Conditions were nice and soft, and the skis bit right in.
After the short blue pitch, we mellowed out to green again, and kept refining our tele-turns. At first during my turns, my back ski was sort of skittish (E didn’t have this problem and I was jealous), so I figured I should put some more weight on it. Shifting the weight back just a smidge took care of that problem, and let the skis act like one big edge in a carve. It really is a lot like Alpine skiing in a slightly different stance. Over at the edge of the trail there was about a foot of nice light powder, so I figured I’d take a shot in there and see what it felt like…
Oooh man was that sweet! (drool)
My favorite part was the feeling of the powder washing up against the knee of my back leg (this is the knee that gets really low). It was just like everyone always says about skiing powder Tele style, you really get down in it. E saw me over there and jumped in herself. After that pitch, she said “Wow, that was like being one with the snow!” We were both giggling like a couple of nuts. We finished off the trail, grabbing a few more stashes of powder and worked on smoothing out the turns and the transitions in between. We got on the lift and it was non-stop chatter about what it was like to ski on Telemark skis.
Since that trail had gone so well, we decided to hit something a bit steeper and headed off in the direction of North Bowl/Speedway (mild blue in steepness). There was lots of nice cut up powder here and we started to really get the hang of turning. Things got a bit faster and we (OK maybe I) got a bit louder. We finished off the trail with a short stash of untracked in some small evergreens. The powder was light and heavenly and we wanted more!
Our time was growing short, and we had just enough time for one more run. We decided to go for the trifecta and hit a black trail. We chose Thunder, a standard black run with a few hundred verts of moguls that should be enough to give of the feeling of Telemarking in bumps. In my first few turns, I found my weight shifting back and I had to rescue myself by finishing off the turn Alpine style (this was actually more of a reflex action than a conscious decision). I was watching E, and she was doing the same thing. We redoubled our efforts to stay in the Tele stance through the whole turn, and gradually improved. By the end of the bumps we were both connecting turns well in Tele stance the whole way. It’s a little different than skiing bumps on Alpines because your footprint is larger, but I found that if I hopped from stance to stance, I could quicken up the turns.
Unfortunately, Warren Miller’s new movie “Cold Fusion” wasn’t playing in Missoula this year. Although it was showing in a number of places in Montana and Idaho, all of them were at least three hours away, which meant a substantial road trip. With this in mind, we decided that it would be great to combine a trip to see the movie with some actual skiing. In order to give the snowpack a chance to build up (or even exist as the case was), we decided on the latest showing in the area, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on December 1st.
As the day approached, it looked as though there wouldn’t be any skiing on our trip, but once we hit Thanksgiving, the snow started to fall. Things still weren’t certain however, as even just two days before our designated date, none of the areas had opened for skiing. Finally however, the base depths piled up to over 40 inches, and all three areas set opening dates, Schweitzer and Lookout on Friday (Nov 30th), and Silver on Saturday (Dec 1st). Silver had already been our frontrunner due to its location, but the chance to hit it on opening day and score some untracked powder sealed the deal.
We left at 5:00 A.M. in the dark, and found good road conditions through most of Montana. Once we approached Idaho however, the weather began to deteriorate (or actually get better if you’re a skier) due to an approaching storm. We crossed over the first pass on I-90 (Lookout Pass – elevation 4,725′) and the snow was really coming down. The road was snow covered and we had to go a bit slowly. Some trucks appeared to be using chains as well. Although it was snowing at a good clip and conditions were cloudy, I was amazed at how long it was taking for the sun to come up (it was already after 7:30 A.M.). I was thinking about how this wasn’t actually all that unusual since we are at the very western edge of the Mountain time zone, when something occurred to me… Lookout Pass marks the boundary between the states of Idaho and Montana, but it also marks the boundary between the Mountain and Pacific time zones! We had forgotten to calculate this fact into our plans, which meant that our timing was now an hour off. Fortunately it meant that we were an hour early, and as you’ll see, we were going to need it.
Once we dropped down from Lookout Pass (also the location of the Lookout Pass Ski Area), the snow began to lighten up, and eventually changed over to mix/rain as we approached the town of Kellogg, Idaho (elevation 2,305′). Silver Mountain Resort is located just outside of Kellogg, and the bottom lift of Silver is literally just off the interstate. Silver Mountain has an interesting lift setup. A gondola ascends from Kellogg, and brings you up to the base of the ski area (Silver Mountain Base is 4,100′). As a bit of trivia, Silver reports that this gondola is the longest single-stage people carrier in the world at 3.1 miles.
The gondola was slated to open at 8:00 A.M., with the other lifts opening at 9:00 A.M., so with our extra hour (it was now 7:30 A.M. Pacific) we were styling for some fresh tracks. We wandered over to the gondola base terminal to get a look around and check on tickets, when we were slapped with some horrible news. Due to high winds up on the mountain (>50 mph) the mountain was not opening today! Noooo! It was almost like a nightmare. We met one of the employees as we walked back to our car, and he said that he was heading over to Lookout Pass to ski, they WOULD be open today. It seemed like a great idea, with Lookout being on 20-30 minutes away. We headed over to the Super 8 motel where we intended to spend the evening. It’s located literally right below the Silver Mountain gondola, and seems like a great place to stay if you are doing an overnighter at Silver. It was obvious that the motel catered to skiers, as they had the local snow report plastered right on the front desk. In addition to the three areas that we had considered for skiing, it also contained snow reports for two other local ski areas in Washington State, Mt. Spokane, and 49 Degrees North. All the areas had received about a foot of snow in the past 24 hours, with 10-20 inches in the past 48 hours. It wouldn’t be hard to find a place with fresh snow.
We finished checking in and considered our skiing options. I could only imagine the number of people that were going to arrive at Silver for opening day, and get turned away. It seemed like poor little Lookout Pass would get swamped. Since we had our extra hour, we decided to go the extra distance to Schweitzer. The locals said it took about an hour or so to get there. Schweitzer was also in the general direction of Coeur d’Alene, so it would work out with regards to seeing the “Cold Fusion” ski movie.
Soon we were on our way again, heading west on I-90. The next pass we had to go over was Fourth of July Pass (elevation 3,019′). Even with this small increase in elevation, the rain changed back to snow and picked up in intensity. The snow stayed with us all the way down into Coeur d’Alene (elevation 2,157′) and kept up as we headed north to Sandpoint, the major town near Schweitzer. Numerous cars were off the road due to the heavy snow, and our going was again quite slow. Even when we finally reached the access road for Schweitzer, our journey was nowhere near done.
The access road for Schweitzer seems like enough of a challenge on a fair weather day, rising almost 2000 feet and containing some interesting hairpin turns, but in the middle of a storm it was a big obstacle. The new snow had brought down a bunch of trees, some of which fell onto the road. Although the major ones had been removed, a lot of debris remained and slowed the going up the hill. This combined with the slippery conditions, and some cars that couldn’t quite make it, slowed the flow of traffic even more. When we finally reached the Schweitzer village (3,910′) the traffic ground to a halt as the attendants attempted to park everyone. As we wound our way up and down around the village in the middle of the snowstorm, the frustration of crawling along in traffic was fortunately augmented by the thrill of exploring a new ski area. By the time we finally parked, in some crazy little parking zone of the village, we had no idea where we were. All told, I bet we spent more than an hour from the base of the access road until we actually parked. We were clueless, but there was tons of new snow, it was still puking more, and we were going to ski some powder as we explored an entirely new resort to us. Who can complain about that?
We were lucky enough to catch a shuttle from our parking area towards the direction of the base lodge, but even the shuttle couldn’t get all the way there due to the slippery roads. We eventually got off and followed the line of people walking towards what we hoped was the base lodge, but we could hardly see a thing in the heavy snowfall. There was a line for tickets, which worried me about crowds, but as it turned out, crowds wouldn’t be an issue at all. I looked up at some of the slopes that were close enough to be seen, and saw that they were deserted. As it turned out, there was all the untracked powder you could want and more… if you could ski it.
We caught one of the main lifts from the base, and headed up. We decided to take an easy cruiser to warm up, and that worked great until we passed a sparse area of trees on our left. All I could see were acres of untracked snow, not even a hint of a track anywhere. Who could resist it? Jumping into the glade, everything suddenly became clear, the skiing was unlike anything I had experienced before. We were essentially skiing on virgin snow, most of which had fallen in the past couple of weeks, with absolutely NO base. We’re talking four feet or so of unpacked powder, and this wasn’t the champagne that you’d find in Utah or Colorado, or Vermont in midwinter, this was 10% H2O+ Pacific Northwest material. Happily, this meant that there was no concern about hitting the ground below, but boy was it hard to ski. If you didn’t keep up your speed and plane on top, you bogged down in the mire, and had to extract yourself and start again. The blue pitch that we were on was nowhere near steep enough to keep us going (and as I found out later, even a pitch of 35 degrees wasn’t enough), so it was time for a reassessment. Off to the left, the trees dropped away at a pitch that looked like 40 degrees, nice and steep. However, the slope only got steeper and simply seemed to disappear. Although I wanted to see if the slope was steep enough to keep moving, it didn’t seem too wise to dive into unknown steeps, especially with this crazy snow. Instead, we traversed our way back to the trail, a very slow process indeed. Even just traversing it was difficult to keep your balance, and you didn’t dare fall over because getting out meant a Lot of work. E fell once at the end of the traverse, just fell to the side slightly. I took her 10-15 minutes to dig herself out. We now understood why the powder was so untracked.
Making our way back to the trails, we decided to figure out this snow in a slightly more forgiving setting. The powder on the groomed runs was at least chopped up, and made things a bit easier, but not entirely. As we worked our way down a black trail with a pitch of around 25-30 degrees, I looked around and noticed that every other single person on the trail was buried in the snow searching for their skis, in the process of falling, or getting up from a fall. Any yearning I’d had for my snowboard was removed after I’d seen enough snowboarders floundering in the powder unable to extract themselves, and then struggle to even get moving again. This was obviously challenging snow. Fortunately, the option of skiing the chopped up areas, then diving into the untracked to experiment, really paid off, and we were soon figuring some things out. Planing on top worked the best, which meant that you had to maintain speed. If you tried to turn too aggressively, it meant the pressure would push you down in the mire. Keeping a uniform platform of two skis was imperative. If you weighted one ski even slightly more than the other, down it would go into the deep and you were in trouble. If you did break the plane of the surface few inches and start to dive, shifting your weight rearward seemed to be the best defense. It was like walking a tightrope of powder-skiing technique. The tolerances were so tight, that normal lapses in technique that one could get away with meant the difference between powder skiing bliss and stuck in the deep (or worse). Anyway, it’s not easy to describe the conditions in words, but they were weird enough to be worth of a couple of paragraphs of effort.
As the day wore on, we explored more of the mountain and found some fun places to work out technique for the snow. The mountain is composed of two main areas, the front side, called Schweitzer Bowl, and the back side, called Outback Bowl. Most of the mountain was open, except for a few steep places that seemed to require avalanche control, and a couple of upper lift sections where the wind was just howling too fiercely to allow people to go up (it was easy to see at this point why Silver Mountain was closed). Thus, we unloaded at the mid station. We actually found some of our best turns on a blue trail called Midway on the front side of the mountain. The wind seemed to have hit it just right so that the snow was a little more compacted, allowing you to sink in only a foot or so and maintain speed. We found a nice area of untracked and worked it for a few laps. We explored the Outback Bowl area, and ate our lunches at a lodge there called the Outback Inn. It was a nice quiet place, but they didn’t have fries, only baked potatoes or “Spuds” as they called them. Seems like an Idaho thing.
By 2:30 P.M. (Pacific Time) it was already starting to get dark (due to a combination of the snowy sky, location in the time zone, and latitude) and we knew we didn’t have many runs left. We enjoyed a couple more on Midway and then decided that we’d better find our car that was buried somewhere in the midst of the village. We put our heads together and gave it our best shot, which turned out to be right on the mark. We skied onto the lower green trails on the front side of the mountain, then hopped onto the street and skied some more. Eventually things started to look familiar and we found the car, in much less time than we had feared.
The snow had lightened up a bit, and the drive out was much easier than the one getting in. As we dropped back down towards Sandpoint, the sky had even cleared a bit in the valley, although a huge mass of clouds still hung over the mountain. We stopped in Coeur d’Alene for a bite to eat and then headed to the Warren Miller movie at the local college (Northern Idaho College I believe). The movie was classic Warren Miller, although the second half seemed to end very quickly. A quick trip down I-90 brought us back to Kellogg where we spent the night.
The next morning was a true test of priorities, as we awoke to clear blue skies, and a gondola outside our door heading up to a newly opened ski area with gobs of bottomless fresh powder. I knew better than to put off the stuff we had to do, but if E had caved I would have done it. I could tell she was tempted as well, but we finally agreed that Silver Mountain would have to wait until another day. As we drove away, I tried not to look up at the pristine slopes (and fortunately they are hidden from view much of the time).
Today I went up to Mt. Mansfield to get some turns in the snow before it started to disappear. A nice cold snap has dropped over a foot of new snow on some of the mountains, with snowfall reaching even down to Burlington. Traveling on I-89, I first saw snow on the Robbins Mountain Power Line, up around 2,000′. It was very patchy and hardly noticeable, so I was worried about how the lower elevations would be on Mt. Mansfield. Things looked up as I entered Waterbury (~520′) and found traces of snow on the ground. At the base of Mt. Mansfield (~1,600′) there was an inch or two of snow on the grassy surfaces. I hiked up in the region of the triple, looking for slopes that had nicely mowed grass for the trip down – a map of my route is pictured along with this text. At around 2,500′, the snow was over 6 inches deep so I threw on my snowshoes to make the going easier. I stopped my hike at around 2,920′ (see map) since it was time to head to work, but the snow depth had increased to about 8-10 inches. The snow was fairly heavy (~11% H2O or so), but light enough to make powder turns. I’m sure it was even better up at 4,000′ and above. The first half of the run had the best snow, with much stickier stuff lower down, but I was still able to ski right back to the base of the triple and make a quick departure for Burlington.
With the unknown element of mixed precipitation, we decided to head for Jay Peak on Saturday. Along with Bennett, we even pulled Mr. Mango Madness out for his first day of the season. In anticipation of bad roads, we loaded ourselves into Bennett’s big rig and headed north. Burlington had accumulated about 4 inches at this point, and although it was temporarily coming down only lightly, it picked up as we headed toward Jay Peak.
We were proud of ourselves for arriving on time (not easy), and took a run on the double before the tram opened. We headed down Green Mountain Boys (I think) and found about 4-6″ blown around by the wind; best on the sides. The powder was not super light, but not bad (and it was still snowing’ like crazy). By the time we got down, the tram was ready and we hopped aboard. We headed out on Vermonter, finding about 12″ of chowder, a tough ski, especially with the humidity and our goggles going crazy from the moist tram ride. I think I heard the term “skiing by Braille”, or some such out of somebody in the group. On a personal note, of course my goggles fogged up right in the middle, but if I turned my head sideways, I could look out the edge and see, really messed with the balance, but oh what fun.
After another run on the tram, we headed over to the triple, and headed for Timbuktu (one of our favorites). We hung to the right to catch fresh snow, but found plenty of ice storm damage in that area, and with the snow that had fallen so far, only very short lines were available, and even then it wasn’t a secure feeling with the fallen trees around. As we headed back left, we found that clearing had been much better, but this area was already getting pretty tracked.
We boarded the quad and found our best run of the day by far. North Glade must have just recently been opened because there were few tracks, and 8+ inches of powder; we left there wanting more (and trying to figure out where we were and how we got there.) We finished off the day with a couple of tram rides (amazingly, you could always get right on the tram with no line) and hit some areas that may not have been officially open, but didn’t exactly have ropes either. Oh well, there were three of us, and sometimes ignorance is bliss; in the form of untracked snow.
One of the highlight’s of the day was Mango simply exploding on a very flat section of Deer Run. It looked like a snow snake just jumped out and bit him; and the look of “what the…!” as he went down into a crumbled heap of man and equipment, was priceless. During one of our traverses that I was leading, I got ridiculed for my choice of line, something about “What rabbit made this!” as Bennett found himself stuck between a tree and a hard place.
During one of our tram rides, the ticket checker said that it was raining just about everywhere south of Jay. I was initially skeptical, then happy that we were at Jay Peak of course, then worried about what would happen at places like Sugarbush. Stay tuned for our Sunday installment in which the truth will be revealed!
Today, the Sugarbush ski patrol continued applying the same liberal policy that we experienced yesterday with regard to opening trails; if they felt there was enough natural snow to ski them, they just opened them, and today they added Birdland to the mix. We got some of the first “legal” tracks there, which were actually far from the first ones put down on the trail, but they were still quite enjoyable. We followed right behind the ski patroller opening up Birdland as he worked his way down while closing off the side trails; it was certainly fun, and all legal-like. Ski patrol also opened up the North Lynx lift line (bottom 3/4) but it will need some time to bump up for those interested in skiing the great mogul lines that can develop there. Despite today being the canned-food day promotion, crowds weren’t bad at all, since the mountain just kept opening more and more terrain basically as fast as they could get the patrollers to stamp the water bars, close off side trails, and check the padding around the poles (so it seemed). My trail pick of the day, and in fact the whole weekend, would have to be Birch Run off of North Lynx; there was natural snow plus some real nice manmade, and lots of fun terrain without big crowds. All the other members of our Sunday ski posse (Tom “Mango Madness” Bursey, Chris, and E) gave it high ratings. I’m glad North Lynx has had a bit of a revival in the past few years, because there’s some real fun terrain over there. Similar to yesterday, the powder continued to be a bit on the denser side, but that also meant that there was plenty of substance for keeping one afloat. Snowfall continued to fall like Saturday, and it essentially seemed to snow all weekend on and off with a few inches each day.
Even though Mad River Glen isn’t open yet, a lot of people are earning their turns there, and that’s certainly a sign of our current November snow situation – Mark Renson sent in his report from the mountain today as he toured around, and it didn’t sound bad at all. Other reports I’ve seen from today include Jeff Strait’s report from Stratton; I don’t have any experience with skiing Stratton, but based on his comments, apparently even that far south people are skiing the glades. I also saw a brief report from Smuggler’s Notch today by Vickie Backus; there wasn’t too much info about the off piste snow, but she did say she skied on a natural snow trail
I hope everyone can get out for some turns over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday; get those legs moving because the best pre-season workout for skiing is… skiing!
Well, the first thing I’d like to say about today is that I love the new Sugarbush policy of opening trails as soon as they can (I was told that they were emphasizing opening trails this year whenever possible). Patrol opened Spillsville, along with Lower Paradise plus some others that I can’t recall. The coverage was all natural and plenty rocky, but at least they gave us the choice. The powder was pretty heavy, but floatable and it seemed to snow on and off with a few inches of accumulation. Not surprisingly, it sounds like the situation is similar at Jay Peak, with Mark Renson indicating powder up to his knees and even some open tree skiing areas in his report to SkiVT-L. There’s only 15” of snow at the Mt. Mansfield stake as of today’s report, which seems a bit on the lean side to be jumping into the woods per the 24-inch rule, but since we’re talking about Jay Peak, it’s very possible they’ve had a bit more snow than other areas. In any event, Jay Peak patroller Walter Pomroy certainly confirmed the ability to hit the woods in his SkiVT-L report; he was able to go into some areas like Timbuktu and Kitz Woods that are still officially closed, but just like our experienced at Sugarbush today, he spoke of the benefit of the somewhat dense snow, although he still recommended rock skis. Even farther to the south, people were getting off piste; in Dave Barcomb’s report from Killington today, he also indicated that they were skiing the woods, so there is definitely some good early season coverage out there. It’s great to be able to get into the trees before we even hit Thanksgiving; this is two to three weeks ahead of average based on the mean date of roughly December 12th for hitting the 24-inches of depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake that typically supports initial forays into the trees.