This is actually a second hand report from Stowe today – E didn’t have any parent-teacher conferences scheduled and decided to take the boys out alone for some Telemark skiing in the warm spring weather. Temperatures have been incredibly warm as of late, with Burlington reaching a record 76 F on Sunday, which is 35 degrees above the average high temperature for March 18th. However, that impressive record temperature was only the beginning; it was quickly bested on Monday, by a high temperature of 79 F, and then again on Tuesday with 80 F, and finally on Wednesday and Thursday, to the tune of 81 F, which is roughly 40 degrees above average. The record temperatures finally waned today, but it was still quite warm, and the damage to the snowpack has been done. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake dropped 30 inches during the period, and in the lower elevations, slopes were melting out everywhere. To couple such an historic period of warmth with a winter season that has already been quite warm and low on snowfall, really begins to put this season in rare company. Were it not for the big storm that hit the area at the end of last month, I shudder to think where we’d be in terms of snowpack. But, the good news is that local skiing continues to roll along, and since the resorts have been able to make it through this almost perfect storm of insults to the snowpack, it means that they should be able to handle just about anything that the weather can dish out.
“it was quickly bested on Monday,
by a high temperature of 79 F, and
then again on Tuesday with 80 F,
and finally on Wednesday and
Thursday, to the tune of 81 F, which
is roughly 40 degrees above average.”
E said that the Spruce Camp Base Lodge was utterly deserted today, and showed me her picture of just how empty is was in the locker area on the bottom floor. Not surprisingly, they ran into friends in the form of Mrs. Cabot, Eliza, Ben, and Izzy at the base of the Spruce Peak chairs. E and the boys did a couple of runs off the Alpine Double, and Ben hung with them as he continued to learn how to snowboard. Some areas, such as the alpine slide tunnel, were closed due to melting, and connecting over from the top of the Alpine Double to the Sunny Spruce side involved a lot of traversing across grass. They did have Slalom Hill open with good snow, and race preparations could be seen taking place. Most of the time was spent on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak, which offer great terrain for the boys to practice on their Telemark skis. With the low elevation and south exposure in that area though, it was quite warm, plenty of melting had occurred, and there were certainly muddy patches that required navigation to avoid. It sounds like everyone took the day casually though, and they had a pretty good time.
Apparently a big attraction today was having snowball fights, which occurred over near the employee parking lot below Slalom Hill. E said the fights went on and on and on because everyone was having so much fun. Later in the day, E watched Ben while Mrs. Cabot took the girls for dance rehearsal/practice, and eventually everyone reconvened in the Great Room Grill to finish off the day. With the massive heat wave done, it doesn’t look like temperatures are going into the deep freeze, but they should at least return to something near normal and offer some chances for snow. There’s still time to rebuild some snowpack in the higher elevations, so it would be great if we could call on some storms to do that as we head into April.
It’s been too warm for any additional snow recently, even in the mountains, but according to my records this is the first weekend/holiday period without powder since way back in the middle of December. That’s actually pretty surprising in this season of warm temperatures and low snowfall, but despite the bouts of inhospitable ski weather, the Northern Greens have managed to continuously catch timely snow to revitalize the snow surfaces and provide powder skiing. Yesterday the boys had a good session of Telemark training at Bolton Valley, but today they were back on the alpines for our weekly ski program session at Stowe.
“according to my records
this is the first weekend/
holiday period without
powder since way back
in the middle of December.”
The resort didn’t seem to be too busy when we arrived today, as I managed a midday parking spot right in the first row near the Stowe Mountain Lodge. The boys and I met up with Connor and did an early run on Easy Street; its fairly mellow slope was still somewhat challenging for Connor as he’s just switched over to snowboarding this season. Snow on those low elevations, south-facing slopes near the Spruce Peak Base Area was quite soft and slushy, but at least it wasn’t overly sticky since it had long ago taken on that corn snow consistency. When our coaching group for the day finally assembled, it was just Luke, Ty, and Dylan for students, with Luke’s Dad joining us as well since he was out on the mountain today. As the spring temperatures continued to surge into the afternoon, with 50s and 60s F on the mountain and even some 70s F at the base area elevations, the layers of ski clothing seemed to be flying off faster than people could do laps. We certainly weren’t immune to the warm temperatures, so as we headed toward the Over Easy we stopped in Spruce Camp and dropped some layers. The process took a few minutes because we also had to switch our ski passes out of our parkas as we converted over to vests.
“the layers of ski
clothing seemed to be
flying off faster than
people could do laps.”
We kicked off our Mansfield turns with a trip down Cliff Trail, which we were happy to find full of bumps on its upper half. The skiing seems much better there with some contour, and naturally the bumps were loads of fun with the spring snow. We continued down onto Nosedive, and proceeded on our way to the Fourrunner Quad area – we’ve spent a huge amount of time on the Mansfield Gondola this season, so this was a chance to mix things up and get some time in the Front Four area. The quad actually wasn’t running because work was being done on it, but the Lookout Double was running as the alternative. We were happy that it was such a nice day though, because just as we were approaching to top of the lift, there was a five minute lift stoppage. Dylan was with me, and Ty was actually with a stranger, but he said he managed a fun discussion. Not surprisingly, the discussion included skiing.
“I straddled up to the
precipitous edge, stuck
my skis out into the air,
and enjoyed the view
beneath my feet.”
With the Front Four on our Minds, we headed right over to National, and the presence of soft spring snow meant that it was definitely time to hit the formidable headwall. The National Headwall is so steep that it often just turns into an icy mess that’s not worth skiing if the weather isn’t good, but that was not the case today. I was indeed excited to be atop National on a day like today. I straddled up to the precipitous edge, stuck my skis out into the air, and enjoyed the view beneath my feet. The pitch of the National Headwall doesn’t look like it’s quite 40 degrees, but with the way the catwalk above it is groomed, I’d say from experience that the first pitch is pretty darned close to hitting that mark. After eschewing the headwall under nasty conditions earlier in the season, I assured the boys that they could handle the slope easily with the good snow, and indeed they did. It was just pure fun letting the soft, steep turns just fall away with gravity on the upper headwall. As we approached the junction with Liftline, we got an acrobatic demonstration of sorts – were able to watch a couple of lift mechanics transfer from a chair onto one of the lift towers. It was very cool looking down at them as they were perched precariously on the chair, accented by the image behind them, which was a view of the valley far below.
We spent the rest of the afternoon on the Mountain Triple, making sure to catch a trip on Hayride, but also putting in a good dose of terrain park action at the request of the boys. We even managed a terrain park trifecta at one point, coupling the small park on Lord to the larger parks on Tyro and North Slope in one long run. The only downside we found to our “freestyle” terrain selection was that the resort didn’t build their huge half pipe this season, so we didn’t get to mix that in. With the adhesive properties of the soft corn snow, we were able to really load up the tops of our skis with heaping helpings of it before getting on the lift. Ty, Dylan and I we were able to stockpile it that allowed us to throw a lot of snowballs during our ascents, as we worked on hitting the chairs that were descending on the other side of the lift. Hitting the skeleton-like chairlift frame, which is of course a moving target, while in a seated position on another moving object, is a fun challenge. Although Ty had the pole position on that one, putting him closest to the target, he throws lefty, so that raised the bar for him. We skied almost until the lifts closed, winding up at Spruce around 3:45 P.M. where we called it a day. It was good ol’ Subway at the Alpine Mart today on the way home as the warmer season of après ski kicks into gear, and that closed the books on another fine day of Vermont spring skiing.
Spring is definitely making inroads now that we’re into March, but last Saturday, winter was still in charge as we had a great powder day at Bolton with midwinter snow. Today however, there was no denying spring its due, with a forecast for morning inversion fog in the valleys burning off to sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s up in the mountains. This looks to be the first weekend since back in early/mid December without local powder available, and it was a good opportunity to get the boys out on the Telemark skis for some practice on groomed terrain. E has wanted the get the boys out on their Teles for a while, and since they were excited about it today, we were hoping to seize that opportunity.
Around 10:00 A.M. I checked on the Bolton Valley Web Cam to get a sense for how much the snow had softened, and I could still see a sheen out there on the slopes of the Butterscotch Terrain Park, so I knew it wasn’t quite time to head up just yet. Stephen also called us on his cell phone to let us know about the conditions – he was on the mountain and agreed that the slopes weren’t quite softened to that point of perfection. I’d actually just seen Stephen on the web cam, and was able to look at him in the image while we talked on the phone. We were certainly enjoying the convenience afforded by the new technology that the resort has added to the base area. Stephen let us know that the resort was pretty busy, and with the parking lots getting full, he was unsure whether or not we’d have to park down in the Timberline lot.
As we approached midday, the fog in the valley had burned off, the weather was looking pleasant, and it was time to head up to the mountain. We were still torn on which ski gear to bring for the boys – I wanted to give them the chance to tackle the steep, and presumably soft, bumps on Spillway with their alpine skis, but we definitely wanted to capitalize on that eagerness to work on the Telemark turns. In the end, we brought both sets of equipment, and we figured we’d play it by ear once we’d seen how things looked on the mountain. We ended up with a good spot in the parking lot; we’d basically gone late enough in the day that some people were leaving and spots were opening up.
Since the boys were keen on getting in some Telemark skiing, we ultimately jumped on that opportunity and decided to have them go with their Telemark gear instead of alpine. We made several runs off the Mid Mountain Lift to get the ball rolling, and we had a good time coaching the boys with their turns. We worked on aspects such as fore-aft weighting and leg positioning, and tried to keep them from sitting back too far. Ty was really starting to self diagnose some of the issues himself, which was very helpful in making improvements. We stuck to mostly Bear Run for the consistent moderate pitch for learning, but also did a couple of Beech Seal runs to increase the challenge, and a Sherman’s Pass run from the top for variety.
I shot various video clips throughout the runs we took, getting a chance to try out E’s new Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS camera. Her old Canon PowerShot SD700 IS from several years ago finally had to be retired from regular service since there was a crack in the LCD screen that made it unviewable, but it had served us quite well and we went back for a new one in the same series. In the five years since we got her last camera there have naturally been some huge improvements in the technology. This new Canon has a touch screen, a 12.1 megapixel sensor, which is twice what her old one had, a 12X optical zoom versus only 4X before, and most importantly for today’s ski outing, her new camera shoots full HD 1080p video.
We took a mid afternoon food break when the boys needed it, and started out on the main deck beside the James Moore Tavern, where table service was an option. We quickly decided to move on though because it was so sunny and hot, and instead headed down to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to sit outside on the covered deck. We got some snacks and drinks and started out sitting on some milk crates from the huge stack that they had at the east end of the deck, but the picnic table quickly cleared and we commandeered that. We weren’t even sure if the boys were going to want to go back out on the slopes, since working on Telemark turns in substantially more tiring that just ripping laps on the alpine skis, but we had time to rest and discuss the session we’d just had. Ty said that his toes were definitely getting worked, and that’s something that I’ve experienced when first getting up on those toes for extended periods of Tele turns.
The boys were actually able to rest up enough that they wanted to go back out and make some additional runs. E and I were certainly excited about that, so we quickly got ourselves back out to main base area. While on the Mid Mountain Chair, I invented a way to use all the soft corn snow that was accumulating on the tops of our skis. I made snowballs from it and attempted to throw them hit the chair in front of us, which contained combinations of E, Ty, and Dylan depending on who sat with whom. All the chairs are moving at the same pace of course, so one doesn’t lose target distance in that regard, but it’s much harder to get a snowball to reach the chair in front of you than you might initially think. It’s a challenge to throw from a seated position, and, the chair in front of you is often elevated relative to the one that you are on. After many trials, I was finally able to hit a chair containing Ty and Dylan when E was away using the restroom. I eventually discovered that the spacing of the chairs on the Mid Mountain Chair is far from consistent – I was able to hit the back of chair 25 from chair 24 because they are quite close, but many other chairs were farther apart.
We had a greater focus on Beech Seal in that second session, and I was able to work on my own Telemark turns in the leftover ruts from the race course. That was quite challenging because the ruts were almost like the corners of a bobsled track by that point, and you were really locked into taking that fixed, fairly aggressive line. It was indeed a pretty challenging line, but by my last run I was really starting to get it. You had to hang on, carve hard, and have confidence that you were going to hold through the entirety of the sharp arc. I was amazed that the boys were trying it with Telemark turns as well, but they clearly wanted to see what it was like, and could manage in the flatter sections of the course where the turns weren’t as aggressive.
It was well after 5:00 P.M. before we finally called it quits, but it was hard to pull away from such a beautiful day with temperatures in the 50s F. I love how the mountain keeps things running a little later take advantage of their western exposure and the long lasting spring sunshine. The boys definitely made a lot of progress on their Telemark turns though, so the whole afternoon was worth it even beyond the chance to simply be outside on the slopes. It sounds like we could be in for quite a warm one this week, with some temperatures in the valleys getting up near the 80 F mark, so we’ll really have to hope that the slopes can handle some melting if that forecast comes to fruition.
Today we were back out at Stowe, and we were set up for a nice one with overnight lows in the 20s F to keep the powder in good shape. We arrived at the Spruce Peak Base around 12:15 P.M., and after dropping off E and the boys it took me a couple of circuits of the parking lot to get a spot – a very nice one eventually arose right near the Stowe Mountain Lodge just a couple of rows out from the Stowe Mountain Club parking area. So, I’d say that based on parking, the number of visitors to the resort today was ample, but pretty typical.
“I led the boys down
at mach speed, carving
huge arcs with radii
of probably 150 feet.”
Temperatures were expected to climb above freezing as the day wore on, so when I got my students for today, which were just Ty, Dylan, and Luke, we headed right over to the Mt. Mansfield Gondola area to take advantage of the elevation it offered. We were thinking of checking out the Kitchen Wall as long as the snow wasn’t getting thick, but Dylan requested a warm-up run first, so we had a good trip from Cliff Trail to High Road to Switchback. Indeed there were spots where the snow was already starting to get sticky, but the presence of sun was the key factor sending it there; staying in the shade made all the difference, and one could actually tune their skiing to be in their desired level of snow firmness depending on how deep they went into the shade. Having assessed the snow, we did head to the Kitchen Wall for the next run, and the shaded spots were still holding winter snow, although some thick snow did have to be negotiated. There were certainly areas of nice, untracked powder to ski in the spirit of what we found yesterday at Bolton, but for the best ride you had to be careful not to get into snow that had never been hit by the sun. We continued on through the Nosedive Glades to Nosedive, and the on to Liftline to get to the Fourrunner Quad. Conditions continued to be that mix of dry, winter-style and softer, spring-style snow, but as long as the soft stuff wasn’t too wet, it really did make for some nice skiing because you could sink and edge into it like nobody’s business. That incredible grip was building confidence that we were ultimately going to test at high speed.
We made one quick run off the Fourrunner Quad, visiting some pretty steep terrain on National and Liftline before returning to the Gondola. Everyone was game for a run down the moguls of Chin Clip, so we had a long run of bumps that got everyone a workout. Back at the top of the Gondola again, we started out on Perry Merrill, and I proposed a run down the Tombo Waterfall, but Dylan said he was too tired for that. I’m glad that he was able to tell that he was too tired for that run instead of just muddling through. The rest of that run on Perry Merrill turned out to be quite an experience though, because it was virtually devoid of any other skiers and we turned on the afterburners. I led the boys down at mach speed, carving huge arcs with radii of probably 150 feet. The speed was a little intimidating at times, but the groomed snow was so good that you knew it was going to hold, and the only limits were your legs. Back at Spruce at the end of the afternoon, the fire pit area was roiling with children and adults at the s’mores session. Perhaps the warm weather had everyone especially exuberant to be outdoors, or maybe the food supplies were more plentiful than usual, but the place was definitely hopping. I had time to capture a number of images of the scene, and with so many photo opportunities, that process was as much fun as eating.
On the way home, we stopped in at Harvest Market on the Mountain Road to grab something to eat. We’d been there once before when we were in town for an event, but we decided to check it out as a potential place to get après ski food. It’s definitely got that Vermont/local foods/gourmet slant, so prices aren’t going to be as low as what you’d typically find at a convenience store, but of course you’re getting food of a totally different caliber. They’ve got a deli counter with meats, prepared food options, etc., and what immediately grabbed our attention there was the assortment of samosas; E and I enjoyed ours immensely, and they’re about as easy to eat in the car as one could want. The boys shared a stick of local Vermont pepperoni, which they devoured in the back seat. Space inside at Harvest Market is pretty tight; they’ve packed most of the items you’d expect to find in a small market into a pretty minimal footprint, and the deli section takes up roughly half that area. I’d say the overall feel is one of combining a Vermont country store with a gourmet food shop, so naturally it fits right in at Stowe. I’m sure it would be pricey to do a substantial amount of your weekly shopping there, but of course you’re paying a premium to get items that are often locally sourced. After our experience today though, I’m sure we’ll be mixing it in as one of our options after a day on the slopes; it’s a fresh alternative to throw in with restaurants and the usual convenience stores. I hear the temperatures are warming up in the area this week, so this may be the last of the winter conditions on the slopes for a bit. We’ll see what we get when we’re at the mountain next weekend, but I’d certainly say that we were able to enjoy what Mother Nature offered today.
This morning saw milder temperatures than what we’ve had in the past few days, but it was still 28 F at the house when I made my observations at 6:00 A.M. It was a beautiful morning, and since I had to take the car to Burlington for some errands, I decided to stop off at the mountain for some turns on the way. Heading up the Bolton Valley Access Road around 8:30 A.M., the temperature actually rose somewhat as I ascended out of the valley, but that must have just been a warm layer in the middle elevations, because the temperature dropped again as I approached the Village (2,100’) where it was still below freezing.
With the Vista Quad being the first lift planned to open at 9:00 A.M., I was still somewhat ahead of that time even with my procrastination at the house, so I continued with my plan of skinning up for some earned turns before riding the lifts. With opening so close, I kept out of the way of potential skier traffic by ascending on Lower Fanny Hill, and I found 1 to 2 inches of new snow at the base elevations. I hadn’t gone too far up Fanny Hill before I realized that lift service was underway, so I removed my skins, stowed them in my pack, skied down, and caught a ride on the Vista Quad. Up above the 3,000’ level, snow accumulations were generally in the 2 to 4-inch range, but I even found some depths up to 8 inches that weren’t obvious drifts.
I was still looking to earn some turns in the fresh snow, and since the Wilderness Lift hasn’t been open since Sunday, I pulled the skins back out and made my way up to the Wilderness Summit. When I arrived at the summit (~3,150’) I noticed that the snowpack was close to level with one of the benches up there, and with typically a couple more weeks of snowpack gain to go based on the Mt. Mansfield Stake Data, that’s a good sign of how the higher elevations have caught up from the slow start in terms of snowpack. So despite the lame initial stages to snowpack building this season, the storms of the last couple of weeks have really helped it catch up to near normal in the highest elevations.
I opted for a run on Peggy Dow’s and Lower Turnpike, where I found plenty of nice powder, but it was good that I was out rather early, because the day was warming up quickly and that was already affecting the slopes. The lower elevations and areas exposed to the sun were feeling it first, and I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have left with good snow, so I quickly hopped on the Vista Quad for another trip.
Up at the Vista Summit, I ran into Quinn and some of his fellow patrollers outside the patrol house. We chatted about the conditions, and how this weekend might be the last one for Timberline – very spring-like temperatures in the 40s and 50s F are on the way, and with the base at those lower elevations not overly deep, the coverage will be challenged. Leaving the patrollers, I headed over to check out the Villager Trees and see how the powder was hanging on with the rising temperatures. I got a few good turns in there, but the window of opportunity for good powder was just about closed, and I encountered a lot of thick snow. Although the off piste conditions were deteriorating, there was also a plus side to the temperatures edging their way above freezing – the on piste conditions were actually improving with the warmth and the groomed snow was something that you could really bite into. It hadn’t progressed to corn or anything like that, but it got me excited about spring skiing; I’m still more interested in the upcoming powder possibilities on Friday/Saturday with the front coming through though. That was my final run for the day, but when I reached Burlington I found beautiful weather with temperatures in the 50s F. It’s really nice to have this warm spring weather in the valley, but hopefully it won’t come on too fast because we’d like the quality snow to stick around for a while on the slopes.
The local mountains have received multiple feet of snow over the past week or so, and the ski conditions have been mid-winter fantastic, but the continuous stretch of perfect snow looked like it might end in some areas yesterday as temperatures began to edge above freezing. I was at Bolton Valley yesterday, and we had a great morning of powder and packed powder conditions, but when the sun came out in the afternoon, temperatures shot up above freezing, and the powder began to get mushy. Temperatures dropped back down last night, which meant that any snow softening eventually stopped, but the question remained as to just how high the freezing levels had gone. There had been some concerns about rain overnight, but none of that seemed to materialize. We even had a touch of graupel/snow down at the house to sweeten up the surface of the snowpack, but what we really wanted to find out was what had gone on at Stowe, because that was our destination for today. Had it warmed up enough yesterday to affect the snow surfaces, and how much new snow had fallen on the mountain after that point? More snow was actually in the forecast for today, and that potential was encouraging, as it offered the chance to freshen up any surfaces that had deteriorated with the temperature changes. There were plenty of possible outcomes for today’s ski surfaces, but our questions wouldn’t really be answered until we actually got on the snow in the afternoon. Fortunately, the snow that was in the forecast had already materialized, and Mt. Mansfield was busy catching its share.
When we finally headed off to Stowe in the late morning, we found that snow was falling lightly in the mountain valleys to the east of the Greens. Meanwhile, off to the west, the mountains themselves were hidden behind a veil of more intense snowfall. As we approached Mt. Mansfield the snowfall grew steadier and heavier, and while it would still be considered light in intensity, it was accumulating even at the base elevations (~1,500’) when we arrived at the resort. As is often the case, the snowfall was heaviest over by The Chin, so we knew that there would be some decent accumulations up there.
It was pretty much the usual Sunday routine at the resort today, although the number of visitors was definitely on the low side. We had our standard coaching group, with me, Ty, Dylan, Luke and Jack. Claire was likely to be with us as well, but she had to make sure that all the groups were set for coaches, so the rest of us did a warm up run while she took care of coordinator duties. We made a trip up the Sunny Spruce Quad, and up top at around 2,500’ we found new snow accumulations of roughly two inches. The warming from yesterday had indeed hit Spruce Peak up to that elevation though, as there was a melt/sun crust below the new snow that made the off piste skiing not nearly as blissful as what it had been last week. With that said, it wasn’t a massive warm up, so our forays into the trees in the Side Street area revealed some decent turns, but you really had to be on your game due to the variability of the subsurface.
While not fantastic, the off piste conditions on the lower slopes of Spruce were encouraging enough to make me suspect that with both higher elevations and a much better aspect, the snow on Mt. Mansfield could be really good. So, as soon as Claire found out that all the program groups were set, we met up and were immediately on the Over Easy to the big mountain. Last Sunday we’d brought the boys to the Chin Clip Streambed for the first time, and this new playground was met with resounding enthusiasm. To continue the trend of terrain introductions, I decided that it was time to get them out to the Kitchen Wall. Today was the perfect opportunity to do it as well, since if anywhere on the mountain had preserved winter snow, the Kitchen Wall would do it. As a test of snow conditions, for our first run we cut in below the Kitchen Wall traverse – I didn’t quite want to bring them all the way out on the full traverse if we were going to be dealing with some sort of nasty crust. There was no cause for concern though, the cooling power of Mt. Mansfield had been in full effect yesterday; thus there were no signs of crust and the powder was fantastic. We skied through the catacombs of trees that brought us back to Cliff Trail, and the snow was simply amazing, mid winter powder down to the 3,000’ elevation. We caught Rim Rock over to Switchback, and while not quite as stellar as it had been above the 3,000’ mark, the snow still stayed decent all the way down to ~2,500’. Below that elevation you could manage some OK turns off piste, but the returns on your effort were minimal, so on piste was the way to go. Grooming and/or skier traffic took care of any subsurface issues, so turns were beautiful if you stayed on piste. Still, a half run with off piste options topped off with another 1,000’ of groomers made for quite a nice descent, so we immediately hit the gondola for another round.
This time, I brought Claire and the boys on the full Kitchen Wall traverse, and the ups and downs on the unknown route into what seemed like wilderness, brought plenty of excitement to the boys’ faces. As usual, we encountered lots of cool snow formations that had been brought about by almost a season’s worth of leeward snow accumulations from winter storms. When I felt that we’d traversed far enough, we stopped atop one of the snowfields, and let the boys play around in the snow and soak in the atmosphere. They had a great time, climbing on the rocks, poking their noses into caves, playing in the steep and deep faces of snow, and just being boys in winter. The snow quality was fantastic up there, and with layer after layer from the recent storms, it was indeed starting to get deep. Writing this report up now, as I look at the notes I made myself about the Kitchen Wall I see the words “bottomless, bottomless, bottomless”. I’d say that sums it up right there. Dropping steep turns through one of the Kitchen Wall snowfields was certainly a primo experience, but all down through the trees below, the snow was excellent. We eventually made our way along Cliff Trail, over to Nosedive, and then worked into the Goatdive woods to see just how low we could go with good snow off piste. We hung in there for a while before eventually merging back on piste at Goat, where the bumps were in mid winter form. When one starts a run at the Kitchen Wall, it can seem like the run goes on forever, and this was one of those. When we finally reached the base of the Fourrunner Quad, it felt like ages had gone by since the boys were floundering around in the deep powder way up below the Mansfield ridgeline.
Powderfreak recently posted a picture from a run on Stowe’s Lookout trail in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather, and it got me thinking about what a great trail it is, so I brought it up as a descent option and the boys were game. I’m not sure how long it’s been since we’ve taken a run down Lookout, but I’m continually impressed with just how steep and long it is. We got treated to some great snow surfaces, and the sight of big beautiful flakes falling from the sky as Mother Nature continued to beef up the cushioning of the surfaces for us. The boys still hadn’t had enough after that run though, so from back at the Gondola we skied the Tombo Waterfall down to Perry Merrill. Ty led an amazing charge down Perry Merrill, with relentless slalom turns along the skier’s right of the trail. It was all I could do to keep up with his pace, and anyone that hung with us got quite a workout. If I’d been on my Telemark skis there was no way I would have been able to keep that pace for that long, so thank heavens for alpines.
So although there was some 32+ warming below the 2,500’ level on Mt. Mansfield yesterday, the conditions really were quite impressive over much of the mountain today. Although not intense, it snowed all afternoon, and that really helped to keep improving those surfaces that needed it. There had to be a few inches of new accumulation up above 3,000’, and since it doesn’t seem like those areas ever went above freezing anyway, they’re just going to be getting better. Basically everything on the upper half of the mountain was very much like it’s been all week, deep and soft like you’d expect to find in Northern Vermont in March. Some of the heaviest snowfall we saw today was actually when we were leaving, and it was still snowing in the valleys most of the way home. The snow gradually dropped off in intensity as we headed toward Stowe Village, and was fairly minimal through Waterbury Center and Colbyville, but as we headed down the hill from Colbyville into Waterbury, it began to pick up and I suspected it was even more intense at the house. We looked down the Winooski Valley and saw that indeed there was an impressive wall of white in that direction. By this evening, we’d picked up another couple of inches of snow at the house, which should translate into at least that much in the mountains. Conditions are very good, so get out and get those turns.
Our past couple of ski sessions have been at Stowe, but today I was back at Bolton Valley to make some turns and catch up on conditions. After our midweek storm that dropped a general 9 to 10 inches of snow in the local mountains, we had another small storm that began last night that delivered less than an inch at the house, with a general 1 to 3 inches at elevation. E and the boys weren’t heading to the mountain with me today, but I knew Stephen and his kids would probably be there, so I’d be able to catch up with them. Checking the snow report, I found out that the Wilderness, Timberline, and Snowflake Lifts were all on wind hold for some reason, so I packed my skins and some water in my fanny pack in case I wanted to take advantage of that setup to earn some fresh tracks. There has been the threat of mixed precipitation with this storm, but thus far it’s been pretty minimal and not an issue for ski surfaces. The big weather question for the day involved temperatures, since even some of the mountain elevations were expected to go above freezing, and if it got warm enough it could turn the recent powder to mush.
I headed up to the mountain around 9:30 A.M., at which point the temperature was mid 30s F in the valley (300’ – 500’) and up at the Village (~2,100’) it was right around the freezing mark. It was spitting a little mixed precipitation when I arrived, but consistent with what had happened with the storm overnight, there wasn’t really much of significance that would appear to affect the snow surfaces. For the most part we were in the dry slot of the storm by this morning, so good or bad, it didn’t look like we were going to get much more precipitation.
As I arrived at the base, I saw Stephen, Helena and Thomas going up on the Vista Quad, so I called Stephen on the phone and met them at top. I convinced everyone that we should check out Hard Luck, and indeed it was well worth a visit; off to the skier’s left in the untracked areas we found about a foot of moderately dense powder, which skied so beautifully that you didn’t want it to end. Generally cloudy skies and temperatures below freezing were keeping the snow dry, and the logical choice was to enjoy it as long as possible, because we knew that quality could easily head south if the sun came out. We cut over to Show Off near the bottom of the upper mountain, and got some nice fresh tracks in the powder there, but Helena was just not in the mood for powder, and by Mid Mountain she was fuming mad and wanted to call it a day. She headed down on her own on groomed terrain, while I joined Stephen for a trip down Glades. Glades had seen plenty of skier traffic and was mostly packed down, but it was a very nice surface.
Stephen headed into the lodge to see what Helena wanted to do with the rest of her day, while I stayed out and did a couple of runs with Thomas, one of which was a combination of Alta Vista to Sherman’s to Schuss, to Bull Run, to Glades. All throughout we had great snow, but the freezing level seemed to be rising, so we didn’t know how long we’d have before stickiness set in. I checked in with Stephen, and it turned out that Helena had gotten her groove back; they had already reached the Vista Summit and were making their descent. The sun came out and began to accelerate the warming process, but the four of us got together to ski Cobrass and the snow quality was still fine on the upper mountain. I took a side diversion into the Cobrass Woods and the snow was excellent, even down to Mid Mountain and below; we skied the lift line right under the Vista Quad on the lower mountain and still had no complaints. We got together for one more run down Cobrass, and I split off right at the top to get some pictures now that the sun had emerged. I also took a solo jaunt into the Villager Trees; the snow was definitely getting sticky by that point, and it was obvious that the window had just about closed for easy off piste skiing at that elevation.
I was alone at that point, so to finish off the day I decided to skin up to the top of Wilderness to make some turns. I descended on Alta Vista from the Vista Summit, then skinned up Upper Crossover to top of Bolton Outlaw, where I had a snack and got to watch a batch of clouds move in on the mountain. The clouds were pushed along by strong winds, so it was quite an experience to see them come in while I was situated near the top of the Wilderness Lift. I descended Bolton Outlaw; it was getting a bit sticky, but nothing like I’d dealt with in the lower elevations. I continued on down to the Wilderness Lift Line, with the snow gradually getting heaver as I descended, but I had the whole area to myself and made some sweet turns. I think the lift line had been groomed at some point, because the powder was only an inch or two deep. It was quite smooth and fun though, as I tossed each turn’s worth of snow spray off to my sides, a neat pattern was left on the trail. All in all though, the quality of the turns had dropped a lot once the sun had emerged, so I was ready to call it a day once I got back to the base.
I called to check in with Stephen, and he was just coming down from a run, so we were able to meet up before I left. His knee was bothering him, so he was heading into the lodge, while Thomas and Helena kept going on their own. With the temperatures warming and the snow becoming stickier by the minute, I was definitely happy to head home to save up some energy for tomorrow’s skiing at Stowe. There’s the chance for some additional snow tomorrow, so that’s great news for the slopes. And, knowing Mt. Mansfield, it may not have warmed up there quite as much as it did at Bolton today, so the quality of the skiing could be even higher. The really impressive spring-like temperatures were in the valley today though; when I got home, it was sunny, with temperatures in the 40s F, and Kenny and the boys were having a blast with snowballs in the yard. Spring is definitely starting to make inroads in the valley.
I went in to work to take care of some things in the morning, then met up with E and the boys back at the house and we headed off to Stowe. Although only a Friday, the resort was certainly hopping with visitors today; the main Spruce Peak lots were pretty full, so we ended up parking a bit farther down at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. By happenstance, we parked right next to Marlene, who like me had done some work in the morning and was coming to the resort for some afternoon turns with the family. Jeff and the kids had been out on the slopes early, and we were all hoping to get together for some fun runs in the new snow. Although it’s a bit farther away from the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, parking out where we did is a nice option, since the route to the lodge is fairly flat and takes you on easy, paved walkways past the Performing Arts Center itself and the various wings of the Stowe Mountain Lodge.
After getting everyone into their ski gear and gathering outside the lodge, we split up into two parties. Marlene, Liana, and Isabella stuck around on Spruce Peak, and the rest of us headed over to Mt. Mansfield. After Sunday’s successful visit to the Chin Clip Streambed, we were eager to get back in there again. Being a veteran of many snowboard-bumming seasons at Stowe, Jeff is quite familiar with the streambed, but Kenny had never skied it before, and he was going to be the big question mark. Kenny only started skiing last season, and advanced intermediate runs (or as E describes them, “intermediate runs with an edge”) are really the terrain in his wheelhouse. Skiing powder isn’t an issue for him; he just skis it like he skis groomed snow, so he’s probably going to be another one of those kids like Ty and Dylan that never spends a lot of time “learning” to ski powder, they just ski it. So with his ability to handle unconsolidated snow, and his impressive natural athletic ability, we figured he’d be able to rise to today’s challenge. The streambed is easily handled by an intermediate in some areas, which are wide and of modest pitch, but the 5 to 10 foot waterfalls and steep, narrow sections really elevate it to the level of an expert run. It was also going to be E’s first time ever in the streambed, and since she was on her Telemark gear, it wasn’t a given that she’d just be able to stroll her way down through the terrain. We were about to find out how both Kenny and E handled the challenge.
One thing that everyone had going for them was the quality of the snow; it’s been fantastic since last weekend’s big storm, and we generally found the trails loaded with plenty of soft, medium weight snow that had been packed from skier traffic. Upper Gondolier had some scoured areas, but those faded once we got down out of the exposed upper section, and then it was quickly into the bumps of Switchback and Chin Clip. E worked on her Telemark turns in the steep bumps, and semi-jokingly lamented that fact that her legs were already cooked by the time we’d reached the entrance to the streambed. We all gave Kenny some encouragement that he’d be able to handle it, and then dove in. After the steep entrance, we were into some of the intermediate-style terrain, but it wasn’t too long before we began to run into frozen waterfalls and steep, half pipe-style environments. Ty and Dylan were having a blast as usual on the steep walls of the streambed, finding powder pockets and jumps that provided lots of fun. There was so much snow that I was even able to slip down through the big roped off cliff area, which was steep, but well covered and quite skiable. Kenny took his time throughout the whole descent, and really did a nice job negotiating some of the waterfall drops. The Chin Clip Streambed is relentless though, and since Kenny had to work so hard, we could see him tiring on the bottom half of the run. E had to work hard on her Telemark skis as well, but years and years of experience on skis allowed her to descend efficiently and conserve energy when needed. She did a great job of coaching Kenny down through the last steep drop where the terrain fans out away from the streambed into steep trees. Kenny was just about tapped out at that point, but he made it – his first run down the famous Chin Clip Streambed.
We stayed at the gondola for a couple more runs, hitting Perry Merrill and working in a run down through the Tombo Waterfall. Ty, Dylan, and I joined Jeff for the waterfall run, while the others looped around on Upper Perry Merrill to watch. Coverage was great, and it’s getting to the point where enough snow has sloughed down the chute that the waterfall is getting smaller. Ty sliced and diced the whole chute and waterfall jump with ease; Dylan struggled a bit and opted to take the cut around the skier’s left of the waterfall, but he had some nice turns in there. Ty’s got a couple years of skiing experience on Dylan of course, but when Dylan is on, he’s pretty fearless, so it’s going to be fun to work on that line with him in the future.
For the last part of the day, we were back over at Spruce, where we met up with the girls for some big runs as a group. We took the traditional Sunny Spruce to Side Street route to get us over to the Sensation Quad, and it was fun having everyone together. From the summit, most of us took Whirlaway, although Liana took it a bit easier and E brought her down Sterling. That was probably a good idea, because everyone was pretty cooked by that point. Even though we’d only been out for the afternoon, long Telemark runs with Stowe’s high speed lifts definitely work me, and E said that she was feeling it. She headed in with most of the kids, but it was too hard to pull away from all the great snow, so I ended up staying out with Jeff and Liana for another run down Main Street. My legs were quite cooked after that one, but it was very satisfying.
Not surprisingly, everyone was famished from a fun day of battling Stowe’s terrain, so we all headed to Piecasso for dinner. Things can get pretty crazy having all five kids together, but they were pretty well behaved and did a decent job of replenishing their fuel reserves with pizza, salad, and even some calamari. It does look like we’re going to need plenty of energy in our legs though, since there’s more snow on the way and we’ve still got the rest of the weekend to ski. The next storm is already on our doorstep (flakes were flying here as of ~10:15 P.M. or so), and Winter Weather Advisories are up for most of the state. Snow possibilities will be around through the rest of the weekend, so we’ll be on the lookout for more fresh turns.
Yesterday we headed up to Bolton Valley during the meat of the storm, with snow falling at rates of 1-3”/hr. We didn’t do a tremendous amount of skiing since all the major lifts were on wind hold, but we did get in some fun powder turns off the Mid Mountain Lift, and got to be out in the storm while it buried the resort. The snowfall had continued until around midnight, but clearing skies quickly followed. The sunshine this morning spoke of the crisp, clear weather that was forecast for today, and with three feet of new snow at Stowe, we headed off to the mountain fairly early to get the most of what were likely to be fantastic ski conditions. It was one of those days where choice of ski was easy… everybody went fat. E and I even got off our Telemark skis and took the opportunity to pull out our alpine CMH fatties for the day.
We arrived at Spruce Peak around 9:00 A.M., and could see that people were already laying down some tracks in the powder fields above Meadows. The snow looked absolutely glorious in the sun, and the temperatures were in the teens, so there certainly wasn’t going to be any melting. Since the open slopes above Meadows are some of our favorite runs, E and the boys and I hopped on the Sunny Spruce Quad and headed right that way. I skied down first to set up for some pictures, and found roughly two feet of dry, bottomless powder over a base of even more soft snow – it was just what one would expect to find after multiple feet of snowfall in the past few days. I’m sure the snow settled a little overnight, but my density analyses from yesterday at the house revealed six hour accumulations of 7.1 inches of 3.8% H2O snow during the day, followed up by 8.4 inches of 2.1% H2O snow during the evening. Simply put, that’s some serious world class powder for skiing, and coupled with the amounts that fell in the higher elevations, that’s some snow quality that is certainly well up there even in the realm of our local Champlain Powder™ standards. Once I pulled out the camera, E and the boys followed my lead with some awesome turns; there were some previous tracks on the slope, but it was pretty hard to make a bad choice of line.
For our next round of turns we decided to check out the top of Spruce Peak, so we made our way over to the Sensation Quad. We headed down in the Main Street area, and eventually started exploring novel regions of trees since it was the kind of day where you could hit terrain of almost any pitch or tree density. We descended into some steep trees that led down to one of the on-mountain maintenance buildings along Main Street, with little idea of what it would be like, and not surprisingly there were some great lines down through the center of the steep streambed that drained the area. Seeing the snow on Spruce Line as we rode the lift had us venture there on the next run, and the traffic had been so minimal in many areas that we got some really long shots of untracked snow. The entirety of the line was open for skiing, and indeed there are some very steep shots in there that we’d never skied before. They really kept us on our toes, and I was sent for quite a ride when I unknowingly came into one of the steep sections at high speed. We shared the run with a small group of Telemark skiers, who were having a hoot watching Ty and Dylan play around in the deep snow. Next time up it was Upper Smuggler’s, catching the steep terrain on its bottom section, where we connected to Ridge Run and some of the precipitous lines in the nearby trees that Mike Cannon had shown us in the past. People had certainly skied those main shots by then, but just a little venturing afield revealed the acres of untracked snow that lay in the trees. And boy that powder was deep – it was a very good idea to try catching the traverses set up by others, because wading through the snow on your own took a good deal more time and effort.
We’d burned through the morning at that point, and it was time to get fueled up for the boy’s afternoon school program session. We ate at the Great Room Grill, and were joined by some of the other BJAMS families. I got myself an order of the fish tacos, which were again quite good, and I noticed that Molly had some sushi. It turns out that they have sushi available at the Great Room Grill in a refrigerated case, so I am definitely going to have to check that out as an option when we’re there. It would be amazing if they started offering it freshly prepared at one of the stations (I bet it would be a hit if it the quality was decent) but I can’t wait to try what they’ve got anyway.
During lunch, E had swapped her alpine gear for her snowboard gear, as she’d be instructing snowboarding for the rest of the day, but Ty and Dylan and I kept our fat skis on and got ready for the afternoon with a warm up run on West Smuggler’s and West Slope. Back up at the base we met up with Claire, Luke, and Jack to fill out our group, and we took everyone back to Sensation so could hit the great powder on Spruce Line. There were a few more tracks since the morning, but it really hadn’t seen that much additional traffic. We tackled Upper Smuggler’s on the next run, enjoying the way that the bountiful fresh snow had resurfaced even the steepest terrain. Even with the three feet of snow it was still possible to occasionally encounter the subsurface though, showing just how much snow it takes to cover some of the high angle terrain. We cut across to Ridge Run, where some of the boys dropped into the steep slopes of the Ridge Run trees. I dove into the trees as well, and ski cutting across steep pitches easily set off big sloughs of the deep snow – I wasn’t surprised to hear that avalanche warnings had been put out for the Mt. Mansfield/Smuggler’s Notch area.
We finished off the afternoon over on Mansfield, where I introduced everyone to the Chin Clip Streambed. In terms of their abilities, everyone in the group is more than ready for what it has to offer, but I’ve been waiting for the base depths to build to the point where they could enjoy it thoroughly without concern about rocks and the frozen waterfalls. With this big storm and the couple smaller ones that came before it bumping the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake from roughly four feet midweek to almost seven feet now, it was time. I guided everyone to the entrance, and we dove in. Even for Claire it was a fairly novel experience, as she recalled skiing it once, but it must have been a decade ago. The boys ripped it up, launching jumps off the terrain features and half pipe-like walls of the drainage. Even Luke, who’s probably the most novice in terms of off piste skiing, was looking really good and handling the steep drops smoothly. Claire was definitely challenged by some of the waterfalls and steep, tight areas, but she had a blast. I can’t recall the last time I’d been in that streambed, but the skiing was as amazing as always. There are definitely some advantages to coaching the young advanced group in terms of terrain selection. Most folks are aware of Stowe’s long, continuous vertical drop, and it was obvious today when at one point in the streambed run Ty asked, “Does this thing ever end?” All the boys seemed to be of similar mind, and there was no question that they were getting their fill of turns and challenge; indeed it does seem like that streambed simply goes on forever – in a good way.
After the romp through the streambed, we hit the gondola again and did a run on Chin Clip proper. The bump lines were delicious and soft, and the boys got worked hard for another descent. With the early afternoon runs on Spruce topped off with a few thousand vertical feet of steep bumps and off piste in the afternoon, all the boys were cooked. Ty and Dylan, with the additional morning full of powder runs, were especially spent and when we headed back to the Spruce Peak Village they called an afternoon and hit the s’mores at the fire pit. Jack and Luke were game for one more run, so I joined them for a run on West Run/West Slope. It was a good mellow finish to an exciting day enjoying what has clearly been the storm of the season up to this point.
Not surprisingly, heavy snowfall was hitting Bolton Valley as well, but high winds meant that all the chairlifts were on wind hold at the resort, and employees were stationed at the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road to save people the hassle of driving up if they didn’t know about the weather delays. We’d all brought our Telemark skis and skins and were planning to earn turns as needed, so when we reached the bottom of the access road we let the employees know that we’d be earning turns and they waved us through. Having old tires with minimal tread, even the Subaru struggled to get up the steep S-curve on the access road this morning, and a big part of that was because the snow was falling so quickly that the plows couldn’t really keep up. Fortunately, we were able to get up to the Village safely. The snow was indeed falling very heavily up above 2,000’ in the Village; I’d estimate that was coming down in the range of 1 to 3 inches per hour.
Dylan had to use the restroom right when we arrived in the Village, so E and the boys headed up to the base lodge quickly with some of the Telemark gear, while I finished suiting up and got the rest of the gear together. Just as I was about to head up to the lodge as well, I got a call from E that the Mid Mountain Lift was running, so I grabbed the boys’ alpine gear for them to use. It was quite a load with three pairs of skis, two pairs of poles, and a couple sets of boots, but I managed to get everything up to the lodge, and indeed the Mid Mountain Lift was humming along serving at least a little vertical to happy skiers and riders.
Dylan’s stomach was bothering him a bit, so E hung out inside with him while Ty and I headed out for a few Mid Mountain runs. Outside the lodge at the ski racks, we met up with Jason, who had just come down from Wilderness with another one of the instructors. He said there was indeed a lot of snow up there in the higher elevations – enough that you wanted to stick to terrain with good pitch if possible. The wind was also strong, so that was having an effect on the distribution of the snow. Heading to the upper mountain would have been my plan as well, but it’s still a lot of work for the boys at this stage, so sticking to lift-served terrain on the bottom half of the mountain was the way to go. We’re already very excited about how far the boys have come in terms of ascending for skiing, but it’s going to be fun to see what things are like as their skills and stamina continue to increase.
Ty suggested Enchanted Forest for our first run off Mid Mountain, and the snow was excellent, but only the steepest spots were really good for skiing in the deep powder, so we headed back to Beech Seal to finish off the run. Acknowledging the need for steeper pitches, I took Ty over to the Butterscotch Terrain Park via Deer Run. We did get some nice turns in the park on the steep pitches on the back side of the features, but some of the best turns were actually on that steep pitch where Deer Run drops down to Sprig O’ Pine. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos there, but I pulled out the camera and got some nice shots of Ty skiing of the terrain park features amidst the very heavy snowfall.
The intense snowfall from the storm was lots of fun to witness, but the strong winds that came with it were much less enjoyable. The winds were from the west/northwest, so riding the chair was no problem, but they really bit into you when you headed down the west-facing runs. Thus it wasn’t too long before Ty and I were ready for a lunch break. Dylan had actually fallen asleep while we’d been outside, but he woke up once we were back inside; he was feeling much better and was ready for lunch. We headed upstairs and had lunch near the Fireside Flatbread area; crowds were pretty minimal with so many people being turned back at the base of the access road, so it was very quiet up there.
The four of us headed back out for a few more runs after lunch, starting with a run down Glades since Ty and I hadn’t checked it out earlier. The steeper terrain at the top was sufficient for some decent powder skiing, although that meant that it was getting plenty of traffic, so fresh tracks were a little harder to come by. We also checked out Beech Seal, since it’s got reasonably steep terrain at the top. It was also fine for turns, but it’s pretty exposed to the west wind and that took away from the experience. It continued to snow, so it was hard to pull away from the slopes, but the wind was unabated and we eventually decided it was time to take off the skis and save some energy for tomorrow, which looks like it’s going to be a memorable one. We had also promised the boys that they could do some swimming at the sports center after they skied, so they were anxious to get down to the pool.
The pool at the sports center was hopping with many visitors that had decided to stay inside out of the storm, and while E and the boys swam, I took the opportunity to tour around the Village and get some photographs of the snow. I got some great images of where the fluffy Champlain Powder™ had accumulated with fantastic loft in sheltered locations such as on the leeward side of the Courtside 2 Condos, and in other spots I got some cool shots of the dramatic drifting caused by the wind. I found cars in the parking lots that sat through the whole storm and had virtually disappeared beneath the snow. Even in some of those drifted areas though, the snow often managed to retain incredible loft. One could walk through some waist or chest deep drifted areas where the snow would simply dissolve around you as you went through it. The snow was actually letting up for a time while I toured around the Village, and there were some points where it almost appeared as though the storm was over, but it always seemed to make a resurgence. The breaks in the blizzard-like conditions certainly helped with the photography though.