Around midday, E headed off with Ty to Kenny’s house – Kenny was having a sleepover for his birthday, and Ty was part of it. Dylan and I hung around the house since I wasn’t planning to bring him out in the subzero temperatures, and it was well into the afternoon before E got back and I could get on my way up to the mountain. The temperature in the Bolton Valley Village was on the verge of getting into positive numbers though, so that was looking very good – temperatures around the 0 F mark are really quite nice for ascending in winter.
“…I found 15 inches of
powder on Spell Binder,
and the turns were blissfully
bottomless and smooth.”
Indeed the car thermometer gave a reading of exactly 0 F at the elevation of the Timberline Base (~1,500’) when I arrived. I didn’t have time to dawdle, since it was already after 4:00 P.M. and the sky was darkening by the time I started my ascent, but it looked like I’d have a good opportunity to see the winter sunset from the westward facing slopes of the Timberline area. I saw a couple of ski tracks at the very bottom of Doug’s Woods, and the coverage certainly looked passable. That’s a good sign to see the west-facing slopes skiable down to such a low elevation. When I probed the snow depths down near the lodge, I found a general 9 to 12 inches of powder above the base snow. The resort has been grooming the Timberline trails in preparation for their eventual opening, and that meant that there was a nice skin track available on Showtime. I didn’t get any pictures to do it justice, but it beautifully negotiated the Showtime Headwall and made my ascent very efficient. I kept checking behind me every few minutes to monitor the sun during the ascent, and I was able to catch it just before it went down to produce a nice shot of the sunset.
Available daylight pretty much negated continuing past the elevation of the Timberline Mid Station, so I stopped my ascent there and poked around to see which route had the best powder for the descent. There were a good number of tracks on Twice as Nice, so I settled on Spell Binder. It was hard to go wrong though with all the new snow – I found 15 inches of powder on Spell Binder,and the turns were blissfully bottomless and smooth. The powder we skied yesterday has presumably settled some, but it actually seemed to ski even better today, so perhaps it dried out with the cold temperatures. Those temperatures don’t seem to be going anywhere either, when I got back down to the car it was 1 F, and we’re looking at lows in the -10 to -20 F range down at the house tonight. Tomorrow’s looking good though, after the cold start, the temperature should be up around 20 F on the slopes at Stowe.
We knew that today was going to be a big day up at the mountain. Kenny and his family just returned home yesterday from holidays in New York City, and the plan was to get together with us for some skiing at Bolton. A couple close friends of their family were coming to ski as well, and with Stephen and his crew up for the morning, that made a total of 15 people with whom we were likely to ski. With varying abilities and instructional goals, everyone wasn’t necessarily going to be skiing together all at once, but with eight kids, the outing was likely to be quite a mettlesome affair.
The day started off with good timing; we arrived right around the same time as Kenny and his family, so assembling in the lodge and getting day tickets for those that needed them was an easy process. The pre-arranged plan was for E and Uncle Forrest to provide a bit of instruction to Marlene and Ashley in the Mighty Mite area so that they could get their feet wet on their first outing of the season. Meanwhile, Jeff and I took all the kids up the Mid Mountain Lift so that Kenny, Liana, and Isabella could do a few laps and get their turns flowing. After just a couple of runs their turns and control were really coming along, although we did have to keep Kenny from playing too hard with Ty and Dylan in the jumps and other terrain along the edge of the trail until he was ready. Helena quickly joined up with us, and after watching the other kids working on their turns, I was especially impressed at how confident and fluid she looked in her turning. Soon, our ranks swelled a bit more as Stephen, Johannes and Thomas joined us for a bit. Temperatures were in the mid 30s F, so the snow softened nicely and was perfect for digging in an edge. I was once again impressed at just how good Bear Run is for folks that are working on their turns; there are a couple of slightly steeper spots, but none that are overwhelming, and the trail really meanders down the mountain at a fairly consistent and friendly pitch.
We hadn’t done too many runs before Isabella (the youngest of course) insisted that she needed more challenge. The routine of Bear Run was already making her impatient and she wanted to hit something else. It felt like everyone was ready, so we stepped it up next with the recently-opened Beech Seal. Everyone did fine, although there was no question that the increased pitch put a little more pressure on the less advanced children – Isabella definitely got lazy toward the bottom and stopped making here turns. Jeff and I both got on her case for that. In any event, the snow was just as soft as we’d encountered on Bear Run, and it was really nice to hit that steeper pitch and really sink the edges into the snow.
We met up with the folks who had been on the Mighty Mite around that time, and learned that instruction had gone well; Marlene was working her way toward parallel turns with wedge Christies, and Ashley was working on various aspects of her wedge. The only issue is that there had been a big pause due to adjustment needs in their leased/rented boots. Even though their boots were from another shop, the folks in the Bolton Valley rental area were great with assistance with fitting, and figured out exactly the adjustment that was giving them all their discomfort with that specific boot model. Knowing how painful the situation had been, big kudos go out to the shop folks for saving the day.
With the Mighty Mite crew joining us, we did some additional trips down Bear Run that allowed Marlene to ski with the kids – she was looking really good with her parallel turns and seemed to be having a great time. Naturally with the huge group, everyone’s pace wasn’t quite the same, so Jeff and I had let Ty and Kenny run circuits at their own speed. Liana did the same thing, and although they don’t typically do a lot of time at the resort alone, they took care of themselves quite well.
Finally, we had progressed to the point that we decided to do a run off the Vista Quad – Ashley had gone in for a break, but everyone else in the group was heading up. Ty had been excited to get to the upper mountain, and had been talking it up enough to Kenny that he was getting excited as well. Since there was the potential for more challenge, I’m sure Isabella was happy as well. While we’d been below cloud level on the lower mountain, the Vista Peak area was socked in, and it was very impressive just how thick the clouds were. We started with the full Sherman’s Pass route to make it as easy as possible on everyone that was working on their turns. The kids played in all the jumps along the edges of the trail and had a blast. On-slope visibility was difficult at the top of the mountain, but those thick clouds tapered off well before we even got down to the Mid Mountain level.
With that run under everyone’s belts, it was easy to get a consensus to break for lunch; Stephen and his crew had to leave by 1:00 P.M., so they had gone in to eat earlier, but we still had quite a large group. Despite the soft snow, the cloudy weather and potential for a few showers seemed to keep many people home, so that meant neither the slopes nor lodge were crowded – that was good news for our group at prime lunch time. Personally, I thought the conditions were great; it felt like classic Pacific Northwest ski conditions in the lower elevations – a little heavy on the clouds and moisture in the air, but it was more than made up for by very comfortable temperatures and soft snow. In any event, we had any easy time getting all the tables we needed for the large group upstairs on the lodge. The kids took care of the hunger they’d accumulated with all those morning runs, and charged themselves up for the afternoon. Later, when I asked Ty about things he remembered from the day, he spoke of the awesome cheeseburger he had for lunch… so obviously it made an impression. Oh, and he also mentioned Kenny’s pizza, which seemed to disappear quickly.
We were right back on the quad in the afternoon, and although I wasn’t sure how ready everyone was for more challenging options beyond Sherman’s Pass, Jeff made the executive decision of heading down Bull Run. Technically I think it’s labeled a beginner run, but it’s got some more challenging sections, including that last dive down to Mid Mountain that would probably be rated advanced on its own. The pitch made it difficult for the girls to commit to their turns, especially since it’s a natural snow trail and coverage was a little thin to further constrain the line options. I helped by carrying Isabella through the crux, and Liana took that section by sliding on her back in the soft snow. Everyone seemed to have a really good time though, and they were laughing about it as we slid across the Mid Mountain area. The clouds had lowered pretty far by the afternoon, even below Mid Mountain, so many folks were calling it an early afternoon. While the reduced visibility can be great for working on your balance if you’ve reached a certain level of skiing, it can make it quite difficult when you’re first starting out. I heard one guy in the lodge mention that he only did a couple of runs because he just couldn’t see well enough to be confident in his skiing.
With the clouds lowering the way they were, after a couple of quad runs we decided to finish off with Mid Mountain Lift to keep us below the densest clouds. People were excited to check out Glades, and although I was a little worried about the uneven terrain or potential coverage issues for the beginners, I quickly acquiesced. Coverage wasn’t too bad, but not quite to the level it was when it opened up on December 30th, 2006. I bring up that day because the 2006-2007 season started slowly, very much like this one – it wasn’t until the end of December that natural snow terrain really started to open up. So, even with the early season coverage on Glades, Ty, Dylan and Kenny ate it up; the huge leap in skiing that Kenny had made that day was most evident as I watched him easily hang with Ty and Dylan. The boys schussed the run so fast that we had time to hit the Waffle Cabin at the base while we waited for the girls. The boys had already finished their waffle by the time everyone else arrived, but E said all of the girls had done really well – it just took time as she coached them on how to deal with uneven terrain by taking it one turn at a time, and there were a couple of small tumbles that just required a lot of time for reassembly. It had been a great day for Kenny and his family all around, and it looks like they’ll hit the ground running when ski program starts up next week at Stowe.
At some point after 9:00 A.M., I headed up to the mountain – I did check in with E and the boys to see if they wanted to head up for turns, but none of them were interested. I can’t blame them, since I knew it was going to be pretty vanilla with just Bear Run off the Mid Mountain Chair and the Mighty Mite learning area going. In terms of natural snow, at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’) the snowpack was sitting at around an inch, with snow melted out on south-facing slopes, pretty much like it is at our house. At around 1,000’ the snowpack became consistent on all aspects – the depth was only about an inch or so, but the consistent snowpack gave everything a much wintrier look. Up above 2,000’ in the Village there was a general 2-3” inches of snow everywhere – not enough to open any natural terrain, but certainly enough to know that winter was here. Temperatures were in the mid 20s F, and there was on and off light snow falling, so that really helped to fill out the wintry scene.
I still had some time before the lift would be loading, so I skinned up Bear Run to catch an early descent. I could see that the mountain had made just enough snow to get the Bear Run area open wall to wall, and it sounds like they were crunched for time to even do that. Up at Mid Mountain I enjoyed the solitude while I de-skinned, and took in the scene for a few minutes. There were patches of blue sky appearing as the snow clouds began breaking away, and it was turning into a nice December day. I had a nice mellow descent of Bear Run, enjoying my first groomed turns of the season. The snow was a little firm since it was almost 100% man-made, but it was decent enough for opening day. I poked around a little off the edge of the trail at the junction with Sprig O’ Pine, and there was that roughly half inch to inch of new snow to be found, but they had groomed essentially everywhere that they had put down the man-made base so there weren’t really any fresh turns to be had. The few inches of snow on the natural snow trails actually looked pretty nice aside from the tall grass sticking through, and there’s plenty of snow out there to make it a paradise for junkboarders.
It was just after 10:00 A.M. when I got to the bottom, and a queue was already forming at the Mid Mountain Chair, but I decided to hop on and catch a lift-served run before I left. I got a nice little burn going from continuous Telemark turns, and was reminded of the benefits of lift-served skiing in that regard. Heading down toward the lodge after my run I ran into Jason, one of the instructors I know from the summer glade crew, and we chatted for a while. They had about 200 people from some group visiting the resort that were skiing and taking lessons, and they were all still quite keen to go despite the limited terrain. I popped into ski patrol to pick up my Powder Pass tickets from summer glade work, and then I was able to find patroller Quinn in civilian clothes up in the lift queue to thank him for getting all of us the tickets. The mountain appeared to be running the lift a little slow, perhaps to keep any trail crowding to a minimum, and there had been some starts and stops of the lift, so the queue was actually getting pretty big. It would have been a bit of a wait for another lift-served run if I had been planning to do any more.
I checked the time and decided that I could catch the start of the Vermont food vendors display that was going on upstairs in the main lodge, so I stopped down at the car, changed out of my gear, and then headed up. I sampled everything they had and got some of their business cards to keep for holiday gift options, clearly timing was great in that regard for all the vendors that participated. The mountain really got together a lot of fun stuff to make opening day festive; they were having an Eastern Mountain SportsTelemark Demo Day and a Christmas tree lighting and visit from Santa later in the day as well.
The resort is planning to go top to bottom on the main mountain for next weekend, which should be possible with what looks like decent snowmaking temperatures for the coming week (low in the 10s and 20s F, and highs generally in the 20s and 30s F). In terms of natural snow, the next shot appears to be in the Wednesday through Friday period; it’s not expected to be any huge dump as far as I know, but we’ll see what plays out when we get there.
One can see from the chart that ’10-‘11 was basically average for snowfall, and that the amount of snow (330”) was identical to ’07-’08. I would add that the general impression was that consistency of winter temperatures was a bit better than average in ’10-‘11 due to fewer warm events, so the quality of snow surfaces was higher. I’m not sure how much better than average it was though, since it seems that during midwinter, the norm in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens is to have about one warm episode per month. Also, since we were essentially out of the main track of synoptic storms until February, there wasn’t much in the way of moderate-density snowfall to resurface the slopes. I try to address the consistency of temperatures/quality of the snow surfaces in the text below though, at least in the context of weekends; I should note that it’s possible there could have been some midweek weather issues that simply flew under the radar for me. For the quality assessment I simply focused on whether or not we were skiing powder, because unless there is some sort of notable rise in temperatures, there is always powder available.
A monthly breakdown of snowfall and my perspective on the season follows below – you can click on each month (except November) and it should bring up that month’s posts in the J&E Productions Web Log. I only have the monthly snowfall for my house and not the ski areas, but the percentages relative to average often parallel the mountains reasonably well, especially for Bolton which is right up above us:
October: Pretty typical in that we got at least some snow for skiing; we had 1.0” of snow at the house. October snowfall in the lower valleys is often minimal enough that the percentages aren’t all that relevant, but that number is 111% vs. the five year average since we’ve been at our house, so indeed that’s rather “normal”.
November: Very poor; we got just 2.4” of snow at the house (29% of average) and I don’t really remember it, nor do I have any entries for that month in my ski log, so that says plenty right there. I do have a vague recollection of storm after storm tracking to our north and west giving us mostly rain though, so that would explain the low snowfall total. The lack of snowfall wasn’t necessarily a huge concern at the time since it was “only November”, but without good November snowfall, getting to appropriate base depths and excellent skiing in December can be that much harder.
December: Quite normal, 46.0” of snow at the house (right about average at 102%). Fortunately, even with minimal November snow we were skiing natural snow terrain by December 10th up at Bolton; the holiday period featured some decent skiing, with 7 outings for me during that stretch, indicating that the snow was obviously OK. Bolton had picked up 4 feet of snow from the storm at the beginning of the month, however, a lot of that snow, as well as what fell later in the month, was upslope fluff. So, even if one assumes a fairly average amount of snowfall for the mountains like we saw in the valley, the very dry nature of the snow meant that there was less liquid than usual, resulting in base depths that really didn’t build quickly. The Boxing Day Storm was unfortunately the start of a pattern that would last the next five to six weeks, with the big synoptic storms staying well south of the region and pounding Southern New England, while northern areas remained on the fringe and essentially survived on fluff. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and out of the 12 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Friday, Dec 31st, so that suggests pretty consistent temperatures.
January: We got 55.5” of snow at the house, which is above average (137%) in what can sometimes be a dry, midwinter month. However, January was essentially a month-long continuation of the trend that started on Boxing Day, and we were living on mostly Northern VermontChamplain Powder™ fluff. We had a couple of good upslope storms in the early to mid part of the month (January 7th and January 12th) that made for some fine skiing, but obviously since so much of it was pixie dust, the base depths just could not build the way that they would with some synoptic storms. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, and out of 11 outings in my records, the only outing without powder skiing was Saturday, Jan 1st due to the warmth at the end of December. So I think one could argue that weekend ski surface consistency through Dec/Jan was better than average with only one (instead of two) weekend-affecting warm up(s) for the two months.
February: This is when the storm track finally shifted north and we got some notable synoptic storms; the first one was right on the 1st, and then we had a second storm on the 5th. That first storm brought just over a foot of snow for us down in the valley, and was by far the largest for the month. Thus there weren’t really any mega dumps based on my records from the house, but there was plenty of the usual good skiing at Bolton and even good skiing at Stowe. Snowfall was 48.1”, which is roughly average at 108%. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Out of the 10 outings in my records, all 10 of them had powder skiing, so February was perfect in that regard. However, while skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, we had to wait until Monday of the long weekend to ski because there had been some sort of warm-up. So I’d say the month was pretty typical with at least that one warm-up.
March: We continued to stay in the storm track for most of March, with our biggest valley snowfall of the season (25.0”) coming from the March 5th storm. We did wind up with notably above average snowfall in the valley for the month (39.6”; 155%), essentially due to that one big storm and aided by the fact that what I’ve got for a March average could be a bit low due to very poor Marches in ’09 (12.6”) and ’10 (2.1”). Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 4 weekends of the month, and powder skiing was done on all those weekends, however, there was also notable infiltration of non-powder skiing days into the weekends. Relative to the previous three months, only 9 of our 12 outings for March featured powder skiing, so while still a pretty good ratio, it was certainly a decrease. Indeed there were multiple warm ups in the month because those three non-powder days were actually on three different weekends (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th weekends). Fortunately, those weekends were somewhat redeemed by powder on the other day. By March, especially toward the end, things may start to fall off a bit from the typical rate of one warm episode per month, but I would expect that with at least 3 individual warm ups in March, it was nothing great or even above average in terms of consistency.
April: This was again quite a poor month in terms of snowfall and powder skiing; although snowfall correlation between our location down at the house and the mountains can really start to wane as one moves through April and snowfall becomes more and more elevation dependent. Snowfall at the house was well below average for the month (4.4”; 61%). We did at least start out the month with a snowstorm on the 1st and another one on the 4th; these events produced some good weekend powder skiing at Bolton and helped the mountain snowpack to surpass 100 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. However, the snowfall really fell off after that. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: Skiing was done on all 5 weekends of the month, but only 3 out of 9 days had powder and only 2 of the weekends had powder skiing. People were excited because we had a relatively deep snowpack during the month and coverage stayed longer than normal, but after that first week the storm track had shifted to the north/west and it was just storm after storm that featured warmth and little to no snow, even for the mountains. I commented on that trend in a post at Americanwx.com, since there can easily be feet of snow in the higher elevations in April, and instead of just some corn days or spring crud, we could have been skiing some great powder.
May: The May skiing was good due to the healthy snowpack, and I did get out in the powder on the 6th for top to bottom skiing on Mansfield. We didn’t get any snowfall at the house during the month, but May’s average snowfall numbers down at our elevation are pretty minimal like October, and with the high sun angle and warming as we approach the solstice I suspect even more removed from correlation with what the mountains see. Temperature consistency/snow surface quality: I wouldn’t say May powder is consistent enough to worry about. I only got out for two days during the month, but at least one was a powder day; the other day was a corn snow day at Bolton so that was also good even if there wasn’t fresh snow.
So in terms of overall snowfall, the two above average months of January and March were basically counteracted by the two below average months of November and April, and with the rest of the months being about average, the snowfall for the season ends up… about average. Some plusses were better than average snowpack in April and May, but that’s somewhat counteracted by the lower than average snowpack in November, December, and January. It looks like there was an uptick in consistency in the December-January period due to just that one notable warm-up, but with February and March coming in probably about average in that category, and while November is not especially consistent in terms of temperatures, even in the higher elevations, it must have been below average to get so little snow for the month. So taking the trends of consistency as an aggregate from November through April, I wouldn’t say that there was a massive improvement in temperature consistency/snow quality for this area. Something that I have noticed around here is that having a few more storms with mixed precipitation is not necessarily a huge detractor in terms of snow quality. The ’07-’08 season was a good example of this. We were right in the storm track, so if we did receive some mixed precipitation, there was often another storm on its heels so quickly, that old snow surfaces were covered up. It felt like we were right in the storm track for most of that winter, except that we had a relatively poor April with little snowfall (we picked up just 1.6” of snow at the house, even less than this past April). It is interesting to note that winter ’07-’08 (consistently stormy from November through March) and winter ’10-’11 (biggest synoptic storms focused on just February and March) provide quite disparate examples of how to get to very similar seasonal snowfall totals (203.2” and 197.0” respectively at the house, and 330” and 330” respectively up on the mountain).
Tree skiing: While working on some web page material, I came across the post I made about the average date for the start of Northern Vermont tree skiing, so I decided to add in the ’10-’11 data and see how the season compared. In my initial analysis through the ’09-’10 season, the average start date for tree skiing was December 9th ± 13 days with an average of 28.2 ± 6.8 inches of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. In terms of my personal log of outings from last season, I’ve got a start date of December 18th, 2010 for tree skiing, and the addition of these data alters the averages very slightly, bringing the date one day later to December 10th ± 13 days, and the average snowpack down a tenth of an inch to 28.1 ± 6.5 inches. So in terms of the ’10-’11 season, the start to tree skiing was slightly late in that it started about a week later than the mean date I’ve calculated. With the horrible November in terms of snowfall, and much of the December snowfall being dry fluff, the late start is not too surprising. However, the date is well within one standard deviation, so in that sense the start to tree skiing was another parameter of the season that was basically “average”.
On that temperature consistency/snow quality note, I was curious about the powder skiing we did throughout the season, so I checked my reports. For the list of outings below, I placed a P whenever we were skiing powder, and put a red X if we weren’t, so it shows the pattern of when we did have powder, and when we did not. Links to the text and pictures for all the individual reports are available below if people want more details about the depth/consistency of the snow, or one can also step through the J&E Productions web log, which has an entry for each outing. It’s interesting to note that starting at the beginning of the season in October and continuing through to March 26th, there were only four days (December 31st at Bolton Valley, January 1st on the Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry Network, March 5th at Cochran’s, and March 20th at Stowe) where we weren’t skiing powder. Strangely enough, I’ve never looked at a season in that way before, but it did give me an even greater appreciation for just how much powder there is to ski around here. After March 26th, the powder skiing really trickled off this season, although there were still at least a few days in there. I’m not sure how this season compares to others since I’ve never looked at one like this before, but I suspect most other “average” seasons would look similar for the way we ski, and with our pattern of skiing there might be similar patterns even in seasons that deviate more from average snowfall.
So yeah, long story short, pretty average season in my book. On that note, since we’ve been back from Montana, the only season we’ve had with substantial snowfall deviation from average for Northern Vermont was a negative one in ’09-’10 as I show in that table of Bolton Valley snowfall near the top of the post. There definitely hasn’t been anything like what many parts of the Western U.S. saw last season, but as I look at the list of outings above there’s still been plenty of great skiing.
The Mount Washington Auto Road was finally open for business by the weekend of May 22nd – 23rd, but since E was out of town, Memorial Day weekend was our first opportunity for a ski trip. As always, weather was an important determinant in whether or not we would try to take the boys up the mountain, but as the weekend grew closer, the good forecasts continued to hold. None of the days looked like a total washout, but Saturday looked like the best bet since the NWS point forecast indicated the chance for gusts as high as 100 MPH in the higher elevations of the Presidential Range on Sunday, and Monday had higher potential for precipitation. On Friday evening we put ice packs in the freezer, charged batteries, and planned to make a final check on the forecast in the morning.
Saturday morning’s forecast still looked decent; there was a chance of precipitation in the afternoon, but winds were expected to be low with comfortable temperatures. I reserved a campsite for Saturday night, and we spent most of the morning getting things together for the trip and taking care of other stuff around the house. We finally headed out in the late morning under mostly cloudy skies, but no signs of precipitation.
Once we’d reached the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, we stopped in at the Great Glen Lodge to hit the restrooms and check on the summit weather. We were excited to see that the summit weather board indicated winds of just 4 to 12 MPH and a temperature of 50 F. Even better though, was being able to look up toward the higher elevations to the west to see blue skies. Last year’s trip featured 50 MPH winds and fog, conditions that were more amenable to playing in the strong gusts on the deck of the observatory than skiing with the boys. From our views along Routes 2 and 16, the snow up high looked less plentiful than we’ve often seen at this time of year. The level of the snowpack was potentially due to at least a couple of factors. Although there were some nice snowy storms in April and May, too many of the midwinter storms skirted off to the south of Northern New England this season, and more recently we’d seen warm, or even hot, dry weather with lots of sun. One never really knows quite what the snow situation is going to be until they get up on the mountain though, and based on the Mt. Washington web cam images, we knew there was going to be plenty of terrain to ski.
The fair weather made for an enjoyable drive up the Auto Road, and the views were stupendous as usual. We stopped in just briefly at the summit, and got an overview of the various eastern snowfields on the drive back down the road. We could see that there were plenty of options, and continued our drive down to the parking area below Ball Crag where we’d based ourselves before.
Consistent with the faster depletion of the snow this season, although potentially due to seasonal variability as well, the snowfield that we’d skied with the boys in May of 2008 was absent. But, based on the boy’s enthusiasm, along with their improved endurance and ski abilities, we were looking to hit some different snowfields this season anyway. The plan was to head up the Nelson Crag Trail for a bit as we’d done on our last ski trip to the area, and then traverse generally southward below Ball Crag to search out some snowfields that would work well for everyone.
Our equipment setup from our last Mount Washington ski trip had worked well, so we used a similar configuration with just a couple of changes. I carried the big SLR in my photo/ski pack, which is also set up well to carry multiple pairs of skis, so I carried mine as well as the boy’s. E and I simply hiked in our Telemark boots, but since the boys would be skiing in alpine ski boots, they wore their hiking boots to make their traveling much easier, and along with her skis, E carried their ski boots in her pack. The boys had their poles for hiking, and a new addition this time was that they carried their water, food, clothing, and helmets in/on their packs.
We hiked roughly two tenths of a mile up the Nelson Crag trail before breaking off and contouring southward. The boys were very mobile in their hiking boots and light packs, and they moved along at a great pace. Compared to our last ski outing on Mount Washington, Ty was much more comfortable traveling through the alpine setting; he was well ahead of the rest of the group and opted for a much higher traverse. I knew that we would eventually run into the main portion of the east snowfield if we didn’t run into any other snowfields first, but there turned out to be earlier options. Ty was the first to spot some of the bigger snowfields below us along the Upper portion of the Huntington Ravine Trail, and we planned to work our way toward those after seeing what we found ahead of us. After only about a tenth of a mile of traversing, we hit a small snowfield, and the group, which had become a bit scattered during the traverse, got back together to start the descent.
That first snowfield was moderately steep, perhaps in the 30 degree range or so. Since it was steep and rather short, the boys decided to wait until one of the bigger snowfields to start skiing. They opted to simply do some sliding on the snow. E and I mentioned that it was likely to be easier to ski than slide since they would have edges to control their descent, but they were having fun. E and I skied the snowfield, and then we all traversed over to a much larger snowfield off to the north. When we’d arrived at the initial snowfield, there had been a couple of people skiing laps on the edge of the larger snowfield below, but by the time we got there they were gone, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. In fact, they were the only people we’d seen on any of the snowfields in that area. We were surprised by the lack of people since it was Memorial Day weekend, but perhaps everyone had already done their skiing the previous weekend. The weather continued to feature interludes of sunny and cloudy periods, and although we’d seen what looked like thicker clouds and showers off to the Green Mountains in the west, no precipitation materialized in our area.
Ty and Dylan were the first to ski the larger snowfield, and it was fun to watch Dylan follow Ty through the terrain. The snowfield wasn’t quite as steep as the first one, and it was a fun experience for the boys to have the whole face to themselves with the ability to decide what route they wanted to take. The boys stopped about 2/3 of the way through the descent to wait for us, then E joined them, and I skied all the way to the bottom to get some pictures from below.
From the bottom of that snowfield we traversed north and slightly upward to another snowfield section that was connected to the first. At that point we were on the long collection of snowfields that sits above Huntington Ravine. The next section of snow didn’t provide quite as much vertical drop, but it didn’t seem like it had seen any skier traffic in quite a while, so it was extremely smooth. I made a boot ladder that was spaced well for the boys, and we hiked up to the top of that section. The boys had been happy with their earlier turns, and were most excited to play on the rocks and stairs of the Huntington Ravine Trail, so they switched back to their hiking boots and played around while E and I did a bit more skiing. Those turns were a lot of fun, and E got the time she’d been looking for that let her practice and dial in some smoother Telemark turns.
I hadn’t really been following the recent freeze thaw cycles up on Mt. Washington prior to our outing, but looking back at the Mount Washington summit weather archive, it says that the lows for the two nights before our trip were only down to 35 F, and the nights prior to that were even warmer. Apparently, once the corn is formed, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the temperatures go below freezing nightly or not in terms of maintaining quality conditions for spring skiing. We never encountered sticky, rotten, or mushy snow, just good corn with a peel away layer on the surface. I’m sure it would have been much less enjoyable for the boys if the snow had been difficult, but thinking back, I can’t recall any really tough snow in our Mount Washington outings at this time of year. Perhaps the snowpack is dense enough by this point in the season that freezing cycles aren’t as critical.
It was only a few minutes of hiking to get back to the car from there, and it really had been an efficient outing; for all the skiing we’d done, it had only required about ¾ of a mile worth of total travel. Although I’m sure Dylan was a bit tired, both boys were still bounding around on the final leg back to the car, so the distance had clearly been good for them. Just as we were about finished changing clothes and packing the gear back into the car, one of the Auto Road vans came by and let us know that he was the last one heading down. It was just about 6:00 P.M. by that point. We didn’t dawdle on the way down so that we wouldn’t hold up the final van, but there were plenty of people still out of their cars below us as we passed by, and even a pair of hikers just below our parking area that seemed to be making their final descent via the road.
After an enjoyable Auto Road descent with more fun views, we headed over to Shelburne, NH and checked in at White Birches Camping Park. We’d reserved a grassy site, and they’ve got some nice ones right on the edge of an evergreen forested area that contains access to the Shelburne Basin Trails. The evening’s burgers were some of the best in a while, and there were no complaints from me when Ty couldn’t quite polish his off burger or sausage.
In the morning, we had some breakfast and broke camp, then the boys went off with E for a while to go swimming and play on the campground’s equipment while I worked on repacking the gear. The weather was still nice, so we decided to take a circuitous route home and see some sights. We headed back to Gorham, then north along the Androscoggin through Berlin, past Umbagog Lake, and up to Lake Aziscohos. North of Berlin, we were certainly in the land of lakes, loons and logs; houses seemed just as likely to have a loaded logging truck in their yard as anything else. Between the abundance of big rivers, dams, and lakes, it’s quite a water paradise. We saw several groups of flat water and whitewater boats, and lots of fly fishing taking place. At Aziscohos we were getting close to the Saddleback/Sugarloaf zone, although we didn’t head quite that far into Maine.
After lunch at the picnic area on the south shore of Aziscohos, we headed west through Dixville Notch and got to take in its impressive craggy views. We also stopped in to check out The Balsams Resort Hotel and The Balsams Wilderness Ski Area, which we’d never visited before. The ski area isn’t huge, offering just over 1,000 feet of vertical, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s very much the type of ski area we enjoy. Akin to some of our favorite local ski areas like Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana and Bolton Valley in Vermont, it’s got low skier traffic, low speed lifts to keep it that way, and decent snowfall. Wilderness doesn’t quite get the 300+ inches of annual snowfall that Bolton and Lost Trail do, but knowing the snow trends for northernmost New Hampshire, I suspect they do decently on snow preservation like Saddleback and Sugarloaf. Based on an article I found by David Shedd on easternslopes.com[SJ2] , it sounds like minimal skier traffic helps out in maintaining the powder and general snow quality as well. The 1,000 feet of vertical at Wilderness is said to be nicely sustained, with no runouts, and that was definitely the impression we had when we drove to the bottom of the lifts and looked around. E and I have been thinking it would be nice to do a ski trip coupling Wilderness, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf together. Of the three areas, we’ve only been to Sugarloaf, and only in the spring. It’s usually hard to leave Northern Vermont’s snow during the middle of the ski season, but a good time to go east would be when one of those storm cycles comes through that focuses on Northern New Hampshire and Western Maine.
We got back into Vermont in the far northeast part of the Kingdom, and took the northerly route to I-91 along the Canadian border past Wallace Pond. It’s not a huge body of water, and it was fun pointing out to the boys that the houses just a couple hundred yards away on the other side of it were actually in Canada. We also passed Great Averill Pond, Norton Pond, and finally Seymour Lake, where we stopped for a few minutes. We went through Derby, but didn’t quite get up to Derby Line to show the boys how the library/opera house is split by the international border. At some point we will have to get them up there. Once on I-91, we were pretty quickly back in our own neck of the woods, and I’d say one of the more surprising things that we discovered was how close Balsams Wilderness Ski Area is to our location. Being so far north in New Hampshire, and mentioned so infrequently, it seemed to be on another planet. But, barring horrible road conditions, it should only be two to three hours from Waterbury. After our visit to the area, it has certainly moved up higher on my hit list.
Below I’ve added a web cam image of the east side of Mt. Washington from last weekend, showing the various areas of snow that were present at the time. The longest runs up near the summit still seemed to be off the main east snowfield that we didn’t visit. We haven’t had any of the hot temperatures that we had the week before our visit, and things have been much more seasonable, so there should still be some decent easy access skiing up there at this point.
“The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun.”
With the snowfall thoughts in mind, the plan was to do some skiing off the west side of the Camel’s Hump/Mt. Ethan Allen area. Unfortunately, on Friday we found out that Tom had tweaked his knee and ankle at soccer, so the ski group for the day was going to be just James, Ty, and myself. We met up with James in Huntington Center a bit after 9:00 A.M., and decided on an initial plan of heading up the Forest City Trail to do some skiing on the lower flanks of Mt. Ethan Allen (3,674’), the next prominent peak south of Camel’s Hump. We headed up Camel’s Hump Road, finding that the access to the Forest City trailhead was going to be difficult because the road there wasn’t plowed in the winter. There was a little room along the snowbank to potentially park a couple of cars, but a more important factor in our case was the added distance to get to the trailhead. Ty’s backcountry range is not that great yet, so we weren’t looking for a big approach. There was the option to connect over to the Forest City Trail from the Burrows Trailhead area, but we decided to just do something simple off the Burrows Trail. James had commented to me earlier that there was going to be a temperature inversion in effect, and that was indeed what we saw on our ascent of Camel’s Hump Road. From down in Huntington Center (690’) where the temperature was somewhere in the middle single digits, the temperature was up around 10-11 F at the trailhead parking area (~1,900’). The lot was about half full, and while we geared up, we could see that several parties of people were heading out for hikes on snowshoes.
Starting up on the Burrows Trail, I checked the snowpack and found a couple inches of fluff on top of a generally thin crust, atop a lot more settled powder. A few of the lower elevation stream crossings on the trail were open with small gaps, and that represented a bit of a challenge for Ty, but he managed well. We didn’t have any lofty goals in mind other than getting in a little skiing, since our ultimate destination would likely be affected by Ty’s mood and stamina. Our pace was pretty slow with Ty taking his time, but it was an easy go, and everyone’s skins were working well on the packed trail. There were lots of dogs, lots of people on snowshoes (including a bigger group that seemed to be from the UVM Outing Club), and we also saw a party of about four skiers that passed us on their way up the trail. One of the more interesting sights was a woman coming down trail at breakneck speed on a sled that looked like a booster seat. We made sure to move out of her way, but she seemed to be very conscious of the uphill traffic and stopped easily. James inquired about how her sled worked, and she demonstrated that for braking, you just lean back. I know that people like to use those Mad River Rocket-style sleds on the trail and elsewhere, but this was the first time I’d seen what this woman had.
Up to about the 2,300’ elevation mark the surrounding vegetation was on the brushy side, but above that point it began to thin out and the potential for skiable lines looked a little better. Off to our right, we could see some open, moderate angle slopes across the big gully that had begun to parallel the trail, and off to the left we could see the more obvious lines that steepened on the way up to Bald Hill (3,041’). Ty had some good bursts of skinning speed when we kept him motivated, but as inquiries about how far we were going and when we would get to ski became more frequent, we decided it was time to think about our descent route. Heading off to the left for the lower slopes of Bald Hill was going to make things easiest for getting back to the trailhead for Ty, so a bit above 2,500’ when we hit one of the skin tracks breaking off the Burrows Trail and going in that direction, we took it. The change of scene was enough to keep Ty motivated for a little bit longer, since we were able to tell him that we’d be able to descend soon.
We headed up into the glades a little farther, reaching an elevation of about 2,700’ before Ty seemed to be getting just a bit too antsy. There were plenty of good lines available with untracked snow, but we could see that taking them would mean dropping right back down to the Burrows Trail almost immediately. So, we continued to contour westward to get something that might drop a little more directly to the trailhead. We could only traverse so far though, since Ty knew we were close to skiing and his inquiries started up again. When we finally called it on the traverse, James and I skinned up a little farther to catch a nice looking line, while Ty waited just below us.
The skiing was good, and definitely worth the hike, but certainly not perfect or quite up to what I’d found off the Monroe Trail the previous weekend. The combination of settling and the thin breakable crust in some spots made things tricky at times, but it was all soft and fun. Ty stuck with just alpine turns, but had a lot of fun catching air and working on his jumping technique. Our extra traversing had bought us a little longer descent, but we still dropped back to the Burrows Trail pretty quickly. Instead of trying to ski on and near the trail, we took a traverse out to the west with the aim of eventually dropping back down to the parking lot to finish our run. I used the GPS for route finding, and as is often the case, James went by his natural sense of direction. The biggest issue with the traverse was that like on the Burrows Trail itself, a few streams were still open from the previous warm weather. They weren’t too hard to cross since there were still snow bridges around, but Ty’s smaller skis definitely set him at a disadvantage for spanning some gaps. We helped him across when needed. Even with the aid of the GPS, I overshot the parking area by about 100 feet or so and had to swing back during my final descent, while James nailed it right on.
From what I’d been hearing, ski conditions were generally decent around the area this week, but new snowfall was sparse. Subsequent to the 9 inches of snow that Bolton picked up last weekend, they’d only reported 2 to 3 inches of additional accumulation. Down at the house in Waterbury (495’), we picked up 4.8 inches of snow from that weekend event, and then smaller events on Monday and Wednesday dropped 1.2 inches each. It was enough to keep things fresh, but it was rather dry snow that probably didn’t add too much new substance to the snowpack.
The end of the week also saw an increase in temperatures, with our location in the valley getting up to around 40 F at times. It was a little hard to get a sense of what had gone on with the weather in the mountains, since I heard talk of a crust in the Mt. Mansfield area, but Paul Terwilliger’s report from Central Vermont suggested that the powder was great down there. Unsure of whether I was going to encounter, powder, crust, mush, or who knows what, I chose to keep it simple and earn some turns close to home. I decided to check out some terrain right across the Winooski in North Duxbury below Camel’s Hump. From the Winooski Valley, at an elevation of about 400’ or so, the Camel’s Hump Road heads southward up into the mountains for several miles to an elevation of about 1,500’ where there is access to Camel’s Hump State Park and various hiking trails. My friend Weston used to live right up near the top of the road, and told me that there were plenty of glades up above him along the route to Camel’s Hump. I took a peek at my copy of David Goodman’s backcountry skiing book for Vermont, and he also speaks of the various glade skiing options along the Monroe Trail.
This was actually my first time driving up Camel’s Hump Road in the winter, so it was neat to get the perspective with the snow. The drive offered great views of Ridley Brook, which flows near the road throughout the drive. I always get a kick out of some of the funky houses along the road: some that seem to be accessed by unique bridges, and others with their own quirks, like one that seems to be some sort of partially underground structure with a flat roof. At this time of the year, the very top part of the road is closed, so I had to park in the winter parking area at ~1,200’. From a temperature of ~38-39 F down at the house, the temperature dropped to ~36 F at the parking area, and in terms of snow conditions, I hoped that the temperature would continue to drop as I ascended.
With skins on, I quickly made it up the rest of the snow-covered road to the main parking area and trailhead at around 1,500’. I checked out the plaque near the trailhead commemorating the 1944 bomber crash on the mountain, and then I was on my way up the trail. I began checking the consistency of the snow, and it seemed like the powder was dense, but not really wet, and there was no detectable crust. Within a few minutes of being on the Monroe Trail, I began to see obvious glades up above me as Weston had suggested. The Monroe Trail didn’t really attack the fall line, instead it seemed to gradually contour up and to the left in a southwesterly direction. I figured that one approach to skiing the glades would be to see if I could gain some elevation on the Monroe Trail and eventually traverse back in a northeasterly direction for a fall-line style descent back to the trail, but I wanted to see where the Monroe Trail would take me on its own before I started breaking snow on a new route. The trail was well packed, and plenty wide as David Goodman suggests in his book, so it’s really easy to cruise along with skins. I was happy to have full-width skins in a few spots where the trail gets steep, but one could certainly make due with less as long as the snow consistency supported good grip. There were a few ski tracks where skiers had come out of some of the glades, and tracks suggested that a few more folks seemed to have skied on and around the trail, but I didn’t see any skiers during my tour. I did see a lot of people on snowshoes: one group of 6 to 8 people, a few couples, and a couple of other groups.
The trail continued it’s mostly gradual, southwesterly ascent, and at around 1,800’ I noticed that the trees seemed to have more brush in them than I’d seen in the earlier part of the climb. At 2,300’ in elevation, I reached the junction of the Monroe and Dean Trails, and direction-wise, continuing on the Monroe Trail was the obvious choice for what I wanted to ski. The Monroe Trail had been starting to wrap around toward a more northwesterly direction, getting more in line with my efforts to eventually head to the northeast, while the Dean Trail headed southwest. Not far above the junction, the forest began to turn into a beautiful combination of birches and evergreens, and I could see some nice ski lines for folks that opted for the skiing in the trail area. Then, a little above the 2,500’ elevation mark, I hit the frost line and everything began to turn white, changing the look of things again. Ascending farther, the forest transformed back into more hardwoods again with some decent open ski lines paralleling the trail, and I could see that a few people had used them. Finally, as I approached the 2,800’ level, the trail was actually starting to almost make a north/northeasterly jog and far above I could see huge cliffs on the eastern face of Camel’s Hump directly ahead of me. The forest quickly transformed yet again into an area of almost exclusively evergreens.
It was after 3:00 P.M. by that point, and as I didn’t want to push the available daylight, I began to look for the best route to traverse northeastward for my descent. I followed the Monroe Trail for as far as it seemed to jive with my plan, and when it really seemed to head southward I had to begin my traverse. I traversed north/northeastward among the evergreens, and down below the cliffs the trees were often quite open. If the snow was elevation-dependent, or if one wanted to simply stick in this terrain, I could easily see this area being used for some great laps of skiing. Indeed, I saw various tracks of previous skiers scattered around, suggest that folks had had some fun. As I made my traverse through the evergreen forest, I came across various tracks of people that had either been descending or ascending, but I eventually picked up a skin track that seemed to be very much in line with my plan. I followed the track through the evergreens until it broke back out into a lot of birches, crossing what looked like an interesting trail marked with blue flagging tape. That blue-flagged route looked intriguing, but it ran literally perpendicular to where I wanted to go, so I had to pass it by and chock it up to future exploration. I checked several times with my GPS compass to ensure that the track I was following was legitimate, and not something left over by somebody that had simply been lost, but it stayed on course.
After another couple of minutes of traveling through some flat, very open terrain, I noticed that the skier/rider before me had started to make a couple of turns, so I decided it was time to take of my skins and focus on the descent. I was excited about the skiing prospects, even if only due to the snow depths and consistency I’d see on the ascent. I had little idea about what I might find for slope continuity or vegetation below. In terms of snow quality, there had been no sign of a crust aside from a couple of isolated spots that had a thin coating that must have been from the sun. And, throughout the trip I’d been checking on snow depths, finding anywhere from 14 to 26 inches of settled powder atop the base snow.
You don’t always know quite how snow is going to ski until you actually get on it, but as soon as I dropped that first knee into a turn all questions were answered. The powder was dense as expected, and I was only sinking in about 4 to 5 inches, but the density made the turns really smooth. I continued on with turns, checking my GPS every couple hundred vertical or so to ensure that I was on track to hit the glades near the start of the Monroe Trail. There were some steeper options off to my left (north) but with the tree spacing they would be best for deeper/lighter powder. I found the conditions perfect for the moderate and low angle slopes that I encountered. Ultimately, my descent was not as fall line as I was initially hoping for, and I really had to keep pulling left throughout the descent to stay on target, but I was pretty happy with it for a first shot. I occasionally saw a couple of other tracks in the area as our paths crisscrossed, so obviously some others (presumably at least that track I’d followed) had done something similar. As far as tree spacing went, it wasn’t a brush-fest, and there were a few more open areas, but nothing extraordinary relative to what I’ve seen around here for what appears to be nature taking its typical course. If one didn’t have to check on or correct their route, most competent tree skiers could enjoy a fairly continuous ride without having to constantly hit the brakes for brush. A couple more feet of base would help a little on the bush front, but not too much from what I could see, and it’s certainly not needed in terms of coverage. With the base snow plus all the settled powder, coverage was absolutely bomber on everything I found on my ascent. I was able to pop off small boulders etc. and never heard a thing from my skis. The most consistently open glades on my descent were the terrain I’d seen down near the Monroe Trail, and I actually still came up just shy of one of the shots I’d been aiming for. Looking at my GPS/Google Earth plot, I can see that a longer traverse up high would be needed for a more direct fall line descent, but that’s something to strive for in a future trip. It does remind me of a quote from David Goodman’s chapter on the Monroe Trail, where he says “The quest for the perfect glade run will keep you coming back to Camel’s Hump time and again…”
So, both the base and ski conditions in the Monroe Trail section of Camel’s Hump State Park were great as of yesterday at all elevations I skied off piste (1,500’ – 2,800’). We picked up 1.4 inches of snow from last night’s activity, so that area should have picked up something in the 1 to 3 inch range as well, and I can’t imagine that would be anything but a positive on top of the conditions I experienced.
The boys were more interested in planting flowers with Mom on Saturday than skiing, so unfortunately I couldn’t interest them in going out for some turns. This meant that I was on a solo outing, but the upside was that I’d be able to do a much bigger tour than I would have been able to with Ty, or especially with Dylan. The skies were clear and blue all Saturday morning on what was likely our warmest day of the spring up to that point. The temperature was already around 80 F when I pulled into Stowe’s Midway lot (~1,700’) in the early afternoon, and with the forecast for temperatures in that range, I hadn’t been too optimistic about the snow quality. My major goal was to at least get in a good workout, so I was willing to negotiate some sloppy snow on the descent if that was the way it had to be.
Snow was available right from the Midway Lodge elevation, with just a couple hundred feet of fairly flat walking on grass to get on it from the parking lot. I was immediately surprised when I got on the snow and found that it wasn’t sloppy at all; it was all corn with just the top inch or so loosened up. That’s the sort of corn that seems to provide some of the easiest turns, so I was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for a quality descent. There wasn’t much of a breeze in the lower elevations, but the snow helped keep the air temperature a bit cooler and the ascent was very enjoyable. For ascent attire I’d gone about as minimally as I felt comfortable doing, with a short sleeve polypropylene T-shirt and my ski pants with the side zippers fully open, and that worked out to be a comfortable setup for the temperature. I hadn’t made a non-powder ascent on skins in a while, and I was quickly reminded how the lightness of Telemark gear allows you to simply fly up the slopes. Before I knew it I was up at the Cliff House (3,625’) and feeling great, so I decided to keep going up into the alpine.
I set my skis onto my pack and hit the climbing gully. There was a bit of rotten snow in spots, and as I didn’t immediately find a boot ladder, I had visions of an inefficient, sloppy climb with lots of post-holing. I’d already post-holed a few times in the outskirts of the gully (it only took one of those to remind me to get my ski pants zipped up at least halfway) but fortunately, about 50 feet up the climbing gully I found a boot ladder made by some nice big feet. That made the going fairly smooth, and the views of the Green and White Mountains continued to improve with each step. Near the top of the gully, I ran into a guy about to descend. He had spent an overnight or two on the mountain, and said that he’d been amazed to find fresh powder on Friday morning when he’d started skiing. It sounds like along with Thursday morning, Friday morning had also been good in the higher elevations with regard to fresh snow. The downside of the fresh snow was that conditions in the alpine were still a bit sloppy. The new snow had not yet cycled to corn in the highest elevations, so it just wasn’t going to provide an optimal surface. By the time I departed from my conversation in the gully, I was moments from the Mansfield ridge line. Up on the ridge I enjoyed the new westerly views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and decided to stop in at the top of The Chin (4,395’) since I was so close. There was a small group of college students enjoying the popular leeward side of the summit, and there was a pleasant breeze of probably 15 MPH or so. The high temperature for the day at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 67 F, so I suspect that the summit maximum temperature was probably close to that. Getting an April day like that at the top of The Chin is certainly a treat.
For my descent, I wasn’t able to ski right in the summit or the West Chin area due to lack of snow, but I was able to ski down the gully where the Long Trail drops away from The Chin as it heads south. It was quite a perspective to see the snow create a flat surface through the gully, when in the off season it’s a 10-foot deep chasm containing the hiking trail. I had to remove my skis to descend the very top of the climbing gully, but below that point one could keep them on continuously. As expected, the new snow up high that hadn’t fully cycled to corn wasn’t as nice as the corn snow on the bottom 2,000’, but I actually had some fun turns in the climbing gully, and it let me work on Telemark turns in steeper, tighter confines. I still had to make some alpine turns and throw in some side slipping up there since some areas were just so tight, but overall the gully allowed a good mix of styles. The crème de la crème of snow surfaces for the day was probably the top half of the Gondolier descent. There must have been very little traffic up there because most of the snow surface was just a smooth layer of ripe corn. The lower half of Gondolier still had nice corn snow, but the surface wasn’t as smooth as the top half of trail. Perhaps the lower elevations had experienced more melting that started forming aberrations in the surface. Based on my GPS data, it looks like my descent was 2,720’, not quite what you can get for vertical in the winter when you head all the way back down to Route 108, but still a decent run. There were still about 7 feet of snow at the stake on Saturday, and even though that level has dropped some with the recent warmth we’ve had, skiing should available on Mt. Mansfield for a while.
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.