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Bolton Valley Nordic/Backcountry & Bolton Mountain 20FEB2012

An image of evergreens caked and buried with powder snow along the Catamount Ski Trail north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Despite this winter’s low snowfall so far, the snowpack is quite deep along the high elevations of the Catamount Ski Trail and Bolton Valley’s backcountry network.

A little fresh snow fell when we were out on our tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry yesterday, but in general we’ve been in between systems over the past couple days.  That’s presented a great opportunity to explore the backcountry with the boys though, and yesterday they completed their longest tour to date as we took them out to one of the glades along the Catamount Trail.  E and the boys had to head back to school today, but I had the holiday off and decided to do a tour similar to yesterday’s, with some additional exploration along the Catamount Trail past the glade we’d visited.

I parked down at the edge of the tennis court lots as usual, made my way up to the Wilderness Lift, and connected over to Heavenly Highway from the Wilderness Summit.  Snow conditions were very much like yesterday – I checked the depth of the powder atop the base snow along Heavenly Highway and found it to be around 9 to 10 inches.  The big change from yesterday was that there was nobody out on the backcountry network trails – Monday afternoon on a holiday weekend must have meant that most people had already headed home.

“It was so quiet that even
the nearly silent shuffling
of my skins through the snow
had me feeling like a marching
band crashing through a
sleepy town in the
middle of the night.”

Once past that first glade along the Catamount Trail, I was into what was for me, uncharted territory.  I continued along the trail, which gradually rose as it headed generally north-northwest toward Bolton Mountain.  One of the most impressive aspects of this part of the trail was seeing the impressive depths of snow that have built up, in what has really been a very low season for snowfall.  The general area below the Catamount Trail junction with Raven’s Wind, which is sheltered like parts of Heavenly Highway, revealed evergreens that were just choked, buried, and ensconced with snow.  Around every corner I was finding fantastic, gravity-defying deposits of powder.  Once past the junction with Raven’s Wind, which marks the last outpost of Bolton’s backcountry network, the Catamount Trail began to level off and skirt along the eastern edge of Bolton Mountain.  At over 3,300’ in elevation, this area marks the highest point on the entire Catamount Trail.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow above the Cotton Brook area connected to the Catamount Ski Trail and Bolton Valley's backcountry ski network in Vermont
Ski tracks leading to the Cotton Brook area provide a rough sense of the snow conditions out along the Catamount Trail today.

I contoured along the southeast face of Bolton Mountain as the trail switched to a northeasterly direction; I couldn’t see the summit of Bolton Mountain (3,680’) through all the evergreens, but the steep rise in the terrain off to my left let me know that it was looming up there about 400’ vertical feet above me.  As I continued to scan the elevated terrain to my left, I quickly noticed that the density of the evergreens had become sparser, and I began to see potential ski lines through the trees.  I eventually decided that I’d gone far enough out on the trail for the day, and chose a spot to ascend a bit and see if I could start my descent up in the trees above me.  The terrain was fairly steep, but there was that consolidated base below that top layer of powder, so I wasn’t wallowing in bottomless fluff as I broke trail.  With the evergreens all around me, the air was deathly still.  It was so quiet that even the nearly silent shuffling of my skins through the snow had me feeling like a marching band crashing through a sleepy town in the middle of the night.  I continued generally westward and upward, following what looked to be the most open lines through the trees.  The terrain began to flatten out ahead of me, and I could see on my GPS that I was approaching the Long Trail along the ridgeline; I decided that that was a good goal to mark as my turnaround point.  I know that I was very close to meeting up with the trail when I finally stopped my ascent, as I was definitely on the ridgeline and the land clearly began to drop off to the west.  I was tempted to go a little farther and make the trail connection, but it just didn’t seem worth it to lose elevation.  It was after 3:00 P.M., I was well away from the Catamount Trail, and I was alone.  It was at least generally downhill back to the Catamount Trail from my location, and there was no need to push my luck.

“Some trees even displayed that
hanging moss that I’ve often seen
in the mountains of the Pacific
Northwest and British Columbia…”

I stripped off my skins and reversed my course, traveling along generally flat, ridgeline terrain at first, and negotiation a steep south-facing gully as well.  When I’d finished crossing the flattest terrain and could see that I was about to begin the descent to the Catamount Trail, I stopped in a comfortable spot and pulled out some of my food supplies.  I ate a Clif Bar and had a couple rounds of the hot tomato soup that I’d packed in my thermos like yesterday.  That absolutely hit the spot.  I definitely needed the recharge after throwing in all that extra trail breaking on top of the ascent of the Catamount Trail.  The energy expenditure had been enough that I was getting a bit drained, and I definitely wanted something in the tank for the descent.  Once I stopped moving, the silence around me was redoubled, and it was indeed eerily quiet.  Such is the scene at times when one is alone in the deep woods of winter.

An image of a ski line through the trees above the Catamount Trail on Bolton Mountain, north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a line through the trees high on Bolton Mountain

I packed up my food and gear and began the real descent through the evergreens.  There were indeed some reasonably open spaces and nice turns, but it was steep enough that it really would have been better with deeper powder for the available tree spacing.  The 9 to 10 inches that were there were OK, but I’d say something around 18 inches would be more appropriate.  And, although the natural lines through the trees were good, they could be dramatically enhanced just by clearing off the all the dead branches that were still on the lower parts of the evergreens.  That would be a great off-season project for someone to tackle, and the process could continue right on down below the Catamount Trailas well, because the terrain just keeps going.  In any event, even in its natural state I’m keeping that terrain in mind for a place to visit after a reasonably big dump with depths of powder that will fit the pitch and spacing of the trees.

I popped out on the Catamount Trail and had begun to head back toward the resort, when I ran into the first pair of people I’d seen all day.  It was a couple of younger guys, and they asked me if I knew the area.  I said that I knew it fairly well, but when they asked me what lay to the north of where we were, I told them that that was out of my range of knowledge – I was currently the farthest north I’d ever been on this section of trail.  In terms of descents, I said that I’d recommend descending back in the Cotton Brook area if they were unsure of where they were, because I knew that one could ascend back out of there quite easily.  It was likely that one could traverse and get out from areas to the north as well, but one never knows just what the terrain would be like until they’re actually in there.  I’m not sure what they ended up doing, but since it was well after 3:00 P.M. by that point, I hope they made an appropriate choice.

An image of evergreens with snow and some hanging moss along the Catamount Trail north of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Views of countless snow-covered evergreens and even hanging moss as I travel through the high elevations of the Catamount Trail

I was tempted to do a little extra exploration on my return trip, especially as I looked at the vast expanse of evergreens below me.  Some trees even displayed that hanging moss that I’ve often seen in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia; as if the deep snowpack wasn’t enough, the sight of the moss seemed to me like a real testament to just how much precipitation falls in the higher elevations of the Northern Greens.  As much as it would have been nice to poke around, ultimately I wasn’t willing to explore a descent down into the Cotton Brook area with the time of day, so I descended back toward the resort on the Catamount Trail itself.  The trail isn’t very wide, so the descent below Raven’s Wind was quite a hoot.  Let’s just say that I’m glad that I didn’t “run” into anyone ascending at that time of day.  It’s definitely an exhilarating descent back toward the main glade though if you can catch it without any uphill traffic.  I enjoyed a descent of the main glade back toward the Cotton Brook Trail junction, but despite the decent amount of powder, the combination of tracked snow, irregular surface underneath, and some previously work by the sun, made it rather challenging and nothing special in terms of flow.  It’s definitely time for another storm.

I cruised quickly back along the Catamount Trail to the Bryant Cabin area, and headed right onto Gardiner’s Lane and North Slope.  I was determined to find that glade that I’d missed with E and the boys yesterday, and after a bit of searching, I did.  I made another mental note on the entrance to set myself up for next time, and had a fun ride down through there.  When I finally got back down to the lower Nordic trails, I saw a couple of other people, but amazingly that was it for the entire tour of almost six miles.  I can’t wait for my next chance to get out in the farther reaches of the Catamount Trail and explore it further.

A Google Earth GPS map tracing of my tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic/backcountry network of ski trails and the Catamount Ski Trail in Vermont on February 20, 2012
The Google Earth GPS track for today’s tour

Bolton Valley, VT 11FEB2012

An image of Dylan skiing some powder on the Lower Tattle Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Although we haven’t had snow in about a week, there’s still untracked powder out there for turns – Dylan enjoys some today on Bolton Valley’s Lower Tattle Tale

There’s been sufficient coverage for skiing at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area since at least mid January, and I made my first turns of the season there on January 15th, but apparently the resort hasn’t been confident in the ability of the snow to hold up to much skier traffic, because it wasn’t until yesterday that they started running the Timberline Quad.  It’s incredible to think that we’ve had such a late start to Timberline lift-serviced skiing, and similar things may have happened before, but certainly not in the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana.  At this point though, it’s just really nice to have the expansion to spread everyone out and open up some of our favorite terrain, so we were excited to get in on this first weekend day of Timberline lift service.

There’s the potential for cold temperatures and even some fresh snow as we move through the weekend, but today it was sunshine with temperatures in the 20s F.  We didn’t get up to the mountain until roughly 11:00 A.M., but the number of visitors was pretty light and parking spots were open right in the circle below the Timberline Lodge.  The parking was so easy that after dropping off E and the boys and all our gear at the, I parked the car and then walked over and began chatting with them – forgetting to even put on my ski boots.  We’re definitely still getting into our Timberline rhythm for the season.

We kicked off the day with a trip down Villager to Sure Shot, and then took the link onto Lower Tattle Tale to hopefully get into some powder.  Pickings were a little slim since we haven’t had fresh snow in a week, but some lines were still available and we shot some pictures of the boys getting into the untracked snow.  The powder was getting a touch stale after a week, but we weren’t complaining.  We jumped on Spur to get into some additional untracked snow on our trip back to the base, and then headed up again for a mid station run.  We took Wood’s Hole and worked our way down to check out the Corner Pocket Glades for the first time this season.  Coverage was more than sufficient, but the tracks of previous skiers combined with a mixture of shaded and sunny areas really produced a lot of variability in the powder and even the subsurface.  The challenging conditions had us quickly getting back out on Spell Binder, where surfaces were much more consistent.

An image of Erica skiing powder on the Lower Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E cruises along in some of the powder on Lower Tattle Tale.

The boys were already urging us to get lunch, so we hit the Timberline Lodge for a break.  The boys wanted to order from the grill, so Ty got a cheeseburger and fries, and Dylan went with chicken fingers and fries; it was a good thing too, because I overcooked today’s tomato soup and it was tasting rather smoky.  On a positive note though, our replacement Stanley® “bullet” vacuum bottle recently arrived, so we had a chance to test it out and it was keeping the soup incredibly hot.  Our other Stanley bullet that we’d had for several years had ceased to insulate (it probably had lost its vacuum), and indeed Stanley stands behind their lifetime warranty.  I called Stanley up, informed them about the loss of insulation in our bottle, answered a few questions, and said a new unit was on the way.  So, if there are others out that use any sort of Stanley insulating equipment for their ski outings, (or are thinking of getting one) know that the company is quite serious about that lifetime warranty.

On our way back out to the slopes after lunch, we gave Stephen a call and planned to meet up.  While we waited for him we basically repeated our first run from the day, but mixed in some Sure Shot Trees for variety.  We eventually met up with Stephen and Thomas and did that route yet again, but Stephen got spun around and had a fall on Sure Shot, so he didn’t join us for the powder on Lower Tattle Tale.  We peeked into the KP Glades, and they looked awesome, but we didn’t get a chance to head in.

We were done after that trip and headed home, but it had definitely been a good day on the slopes of Bolton Valley despite the recent lack of snowfall.  It doesn’t look like we’ll be at Stowe tomorrow, as E and Claire are canceling BJAMS ski program due to the expected combination of temperatures and wind; temperatures aren’t going to get out of the single digits, and wind chill values are going to be in the -40 F range.  I think we’ll all be happy enjoying the day inside tomorrow.

Stowe, VT 05FEB2012

An image of Mt. Mansfield capped with clouds and the ski trails near the Gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The view of Mt. Mansfield today from the Sunny Spruce Quad

Our first winter storm of February continued the good timing for weekend skiing by starting up for us on Friday, and we’d already picked up an inch of fluffy Champlain Powder™ at the house by Friday morning when I made my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS observations.  By yesterday morning we’d passed three inches of accumulation at the house, and the local mountains had reach a half foot of new powder, so things were looking good for the slopes.  Indeed we skied some fantastic powder conditions yesterday at Bolton Valley, especially when we headed over to the Timberline area.

“I’d put the snow conditions
that we encountered somewhere
in the good to great range;
skier traffic is all that
kept it from being as
outstanding as what we skied
at Timberline yesterday.”

This afternoon it was back to Stowe for turns, and much like yesterday, the morning low temperatures were cold at around zero F.  Fortunately, the forecast called for highs in the 20s F with clear skies, so we were looking forward to getting into some of the recent fresh snow.  Today is Super Bowl Sunday as well, and that can help to keep crowds lower as many people stay off the slopes to participate in parties.

We headed to the resort around midday, and the boys and I hooked up with Luke and Jack and got in a quick Alpine Double run on the open terrain above Meadows while we waited to see if Alexia was going to join the group.  I’d put the snow conditions that we encountered somewhere in the good to great range; skier traffic is all that kept it from being as outstanding as what we skied at Timberline yesterday.  Back at the base area, we still had no word on Alexia, so we did another lap and jumped into the trees to the skier’s left of the lift line.  There were no tracks in there at all, so the powder skiing was excellent.

An image of the Adventure Triple Chair and the Inspiration Trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont on Super Bowl Sunday 2012
The Inspiration trail at Stowe’s Spruce Peak Base Area on Super Bowl Sunday

After that lap we were finally able to meet up with Alexia, who was with her brother Jordan, their parents, and Claire.  We all got together as a large group and took Sunny Spruce over to Sensation.  Like last week, we saw plenty of great snow on Spruce Line, so those of the group that were feeling up for it took a run in there, mixed in with turns on Main Street.  We also found a good access point to the final pitch of the Sensation Lift Line and caught first tracks though there.  Our next Sensation run brought us over to Upper Smuggler’s for some steep turns, and we returned to the Spruce Peak Base to work our way over to the Mansfield side of the resort.  We spent the second half of the afternoon over there on the big mountain, starting off with a run of Perry Merrill/Rim Rock/Switchback and some of the associated trees.  We followed that up with a similar start, but worked our way over to High Road and tried out some lines in the trees down to Rim Rock that we’d never seen before.  We found plenty of nice snow in there, which isn’t surprising with the combination of elevation and protection from the sun and wind that the area offers.  The trees are mostly evergreens in there, and all that really needs to be done to create some nice additional lines is to trim off a lot of dead branches on the lower limbs.  After that enjoyable variation, we worked our way back across Gondolier to hit some more of the Switchback trees, and then the boys finished off the day with a couple of their requisite runs in the little terrain park off Midway.  A number of folks were up for après ski at the resort again today, and this time people gathered in the Spruce Camp Bar area to cap off the great weekend on the slopes.

An image of ski tracks in the powder underneath the Sensation High Speed Quad Chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Fresh tracks underneath the Sensation Quad today

We’re in the heart of winter now, and although snowfall hasn’t been as prodigious as usual this season, the constant snowfall is adding up and the local backcountry is skiing well.  The skiing has definitely been good both on and off piste at the resorts over the past couple of weeks, and we’re thankful for that because it looks as though the immediate future will provide only minimal additions to what we’ve currently got down on the slopes.  The forecast suggests that a fairly quiet week of weather is coming for Northern Vermont, with just a couple of minor snow events.  There’s one round of snow expected to come through tomorrow night into Tuesday, and then another one expected for Friday.  If these storms do their usual thing with the mountains, it should work out just fine since there don’t appear to be any major warm air intrusions on the horizon.  It would be nice to have the new snow go right into enhancement instead of recovery from firm conditions due to mixed precipitation events, which seemed to be the pattern in much of January.  The scuttlebutt I hear from some of the meteorologists is that we have undergone a significant weather pattern change (I guess the lack of any mixed precipitation in the forecast this week is a testament to that), which will only offer minor events for now, but does hold the potential for some bigger systems down the road.  The base (both snow and skier) is definitely ready for some bigger dumps, and it would be nice to build it for spring.  We’ll see what Mother Nature offers in the coming month to set up the rest of the season.

Stowe, VT 29JAN2012

An image of Greg and some of the boys in our ski group on the Sensation Quad at Stowe Mountain Resort, with tracks visible in the powder on the lift line trail below
Greg and some of the boys riding Sensation today between laps in the powder below

There haven’t been any major snowfalls in the area since the storm that dropped up to two feet in the mountains around mid month, so when I assessed the monthly snowfall at the house through yesterday (27.2”), it wasn’t surprising that we were well below the January average I’ve calculated from the past five seasons worth of data (40”+).  Even without any huge storms though, the Northern Greens have been doing their thing to keep the slopes fresh as they capitalize on the moisture from more modest systems or make their own upslope snow.  Today was another perfect example, as we found ourselves amidst massive flakes when we arrived at Stowe around midday.  It was a bit of a surprise to see all the snow in the air and the cars covered in white, since all we’d seen at the house were a few flurries, but that’s Mansfield being Mansfield.

An image of arriving at the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont with snow falling and a couple of trails on Mt. Mansfield just visible in the background
Our snowy arrival in the Spruce Peak Village today

“Every week we seem to
get one of those mixed
storms to make a mess
out of the slopes, and
Mansfield pulls another
7, 8 , 9, 10 inches or
whatever out of the sky
to bring back the powder
skiing.”

The day was set up as a nice comfortable one with temperatures in the 30s F for the mountain valleys, and a high of around 25 F on Mt. Mansfield.  Naturally, the combination of nice temperatures and fresh snow had us excited to hit the slopes, so with some extra time before our coaching session began, I grabbed Ty and Dylan and we rode the Alpine Double for a run in the terrain above Meadows.  Consistent with the latest temperature fluctuations above and below freezing over the past week (which seems to be a theme this month) there was certainly a crusty layer under the powder, but the turns were very good with all the new snow, even down at the low elevations near the Spruce Peak Village (~1,500’).  In fact the snow was nice enough that when we met up with our group for the day, which consisted of Jack, Luke, and Greg Pause as a second coach, we headed right back up to do the same run.

An image of Greg and the boys stopping in the powdery woods for a photo during one of our trips on the Sensation Quad at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching Greg and the boys on one of our snowy Sensation runs

Seeing how nice the skiing was down low with the new snow, we didn’t want to wait too long to get higher up on the mountain, so we caught Sunny Spruce to make our way over to Sensation.  While on the lift, we saw a few tracks on Spruce Line, but loads of untracked snow, so we worked our way through the trees to get there.  The boys were challenged by some difficult routes through the trees, but Ty encouraged everyone, letting them know that they could really handle it, and they did.  Indeed the powder skiing was excellent up at that elevation with the additional depth of new snow afforded by 1,500’ of increased elevation.  One aspect of the run that had everyone grinning was the fact that nobody else was skiing the area, so we had it all to ourselves.  We continued on down to Whirlaway, where the snow remained quite good, and then decided that it would be a shame if all the untracked snow on Spruce Line went to waste, so we did the exact same run again.  We concluded our Spruce Peak session with one more Sensation run, hitting the steep terrain of Upper Smuggler’s down to Side Street, then back to the Spruce Peak Base Area to catch the Over Easy to Mt. Mansfield.

“It was a bit of a surprise
to see all the snow in the
air and the cars covered,
in white, since all we’d
seen at the house were a
few flurries, but that’s
Mansfield being Mansfield.”

The second half of the afternoon was spent over on Mt. Mansfield exploring areas serviced by the gondola.  Waterfall continues to have good snow, so we enjoyed its somewhat steep terrain as a good variation down to Gondolier.  We played around a lot in the Switchback trees, and a quick check on the powder there revealed 7 inches of depth for the mid to lower mountain elevations.  We did a run on Perry Merrill as well, and worked our way back to Switchback for a variation on the trees we’d skied before.  The snowfall had slackened during the middle of the afternoon, but it resumed for the end of the ski day, and gave everyone a renewed sense of excitement.  The boys finished off their last run as they do with most gondola runs, the requisite trip through the small terrain park below Midway.  We headed back to Spruce as the light began to fade and the snowfall ramped up.

An image of Ty jumping over a sloped box in the small terrain park near the Midway Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching that last terrain park run in the fading light
An image of a pair of skis leaning on a carved wooden bear at the entrance to Spruce Camp Base Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Spruce Camp entrance

We headed to the Great Room Grill for après ski, and the snow continued to fall; the forecast calls for up to another 6 to 8 inches tonight on top of what fell today, so I suspect that conditions are going to be even better tomorrow.  It certainly makes me want to hit the slopes instead of heading in to Burlington.  I’ve got to say, Stowe really continues to impress this season in terms of conditions.  Sometimes the heavy traffic at the mountain can really wear things down, but in this season of low snowfall, big temperature swings, and mixed precipitation, Mansfield just keeps coming through.  Every week we seem to get one of those mixed storms to make a mess out of the slopes, and Mansfield pulls another 7, 8 , 9, 10 inches or whatever out of the sky to bring back the powder skiing.  I really thought this was going to be the weekend in which the conditions wouldn’t make it back in time, with this week’s mixed precipitation storm coming so late in the week, but damn if there wasn’t some fine skiing out there today.

Stowe, VT 22JAN2012

An image of Ty entering the Green Acres area of trees at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty dives into Green Acres today as we seek out powder on Stowe’s Spruce Peak

Temperatures started out quite cold this morning, way down around -10 F at the house.  Fortunately, it was warmer in the mountains, and the forecast called for temperatures topping out around 20 F today with clear skies.  Like many areas, Stowe had seen some warmth earlier in the week, and some crust had formed on the powder.  However, with 7 inches from the Thursday/Friday storm, and then another couple of inches yesterday, there were significant amounts of snow above that layer, and any firm snow was already starting to disappear into the snowpack.  Powderfreak indicated that the groomed terrain at Stowe was fun, but we were anxious to see just how good the snow was getting off piste.

Indeed it was sunny this afternoon at Stowe, and temperatures were warming right up as expected.  I had Ty, Dylan, and Jack skiing in my coaching group, with the additional of Alexia on her snowboard.  It always constrains things a bit when we have a snowboarder in the group, not because of ability, since Alexia can rip down just about anything, but snowboarder mobility for traversing and side-stepping is so much more limiting that I really have to think through our routes well ahead of time, or forego certain areas that might be difficult to deal with on a board.  My goal was to get the kids into the upper elevation terrain of Spruce Peak to see if we could make use of the new powder the mountain had picked up over the past few days, so we jumped right on the Sunny Spruce Quad and got ourselves over to Sensation.  There was a giant slalom race taking place on Main Street, so we got to watch some of the impressive racers carrying speed through the course.  Seeing all of the maintenance workers involved in the race really gave us an appreciation for how much time and effort it takes to maintain a good race course.  We could also see that there was plenty of fresh snow available below us in the Spruce Line area, so we put that on our hit list.  From the Sensation summit we dropped right into Green Acres, finding plenty of powder for the kids, and that continued with even more untouched snow as we dropped into Spruce Line.  These days with substantial racing on Main Street are a somewhat mixed blessing – terrain is a little more limited, but with so many people focused on the race, and some staying away from the area because of terrain limitations, there is the chance for some great powder to hang around untouched.  And the powder absolutely delivered today; despite the crust somewhere below, the higher elevations had plenty of new snow to give it a good covering and make for some excellent bottomless turns.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spruce Line Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Checking out the Spruce Line area from the Sensation Quad

With the superb snow we’d found, we opted for another run on Sensation, and this time we headed over to the steep terrain of Upper Smuggler’s.  The kids were able to rip it up, and Dylan got a great compliment about his skiing from a stranger we met along the way.  Dylan really has stepped up his game this season on all sorts of terrain, and we expect that it’s only going to continue.  I worked the kids down onto the open terrain above Meadows, and they had fun letting loose with their turns.  Even down at that low elevation the snow was really good, and it seems that once again, despite these warm episodes that keep popping up this season, the Northern Greens keep reeling in enough snow to make great skiing for the weekend.  We took the Alpine Double Chair, went through the Catwalk tunnel, and skied that terrain again because it was so good.

An image of Ty skiing in the open terrain above the Meadows trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dropping through the open terrain above Meadows today

I wasn’t sure if we wanted to leave the nice conditions we’d found on Spruce Peak, but eventually we decided that we needed to explore more terrain, so we headed to Mt. Mansfield and did some runs off the Gondola.  We worked in some Perry Merrill, Gondolier, and Switchback, and conditions were good enough that I brought the kids into the far skier’s right of the Tombo Woods.  It’s a bit tight in there, but not a problem for folks with skis and snowboards their size.  That’s steep, tight terrain there, and all the kids handled it well.  We topped the afternoon off with another Gondolier/Perry Merrill/Switchback assortment, and then finally had to pull away so that kids could get some hot chocolate and s’mores.

An image of a s'more being assembled at the fire pit in the center of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Careful assembly at s’more time

I’m glad we made it for the hot chocolate/s’mores session in the Spruce Peak Village this afternoon, because along with the food, we got to browse around and view all the ice sculptures from the recent competition.  The theme was obviously circus-related, and we got to see an impressive array of work – some of the artists must be professionals.  What was also inspirational was the level of creativity that was shown; although all the sculptures were based on the circus, everything was so diverse that we never saw the same thing twice.  We’ve seen ice sculptures in the village square before, but it almost seemed like this year’s contest was the biggest yet.  We’re already looking forward to what we’ll get to see next season!

An image of an ice sculpture and onlookers  in the middle of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking in the ice sculptures today in the Spruce Peak Village

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 21JAN2012

An image of Ty skiing a glade below the Heavenly Highway trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty glides through some Champlain Powder today in a glade below Heavenly Highway.

There was some warmth in the area in the early part of the week that put a crust on snow surfaces, but then the mountains picked up in excess of a half foot of snow in the Thursday/Friday storm, and that remedied the issue pretty quickly.  And, although the current storm has been focused down along the south coast of New England, the local Northern Vermont resorts reported another 2 to 3 inches of fluff to top the powder off further.  This latest addition was extremely dry snow, classic Champlain Powder™.  With only about 8 inches or so of new snow atop the old base, and the top of that being some of our ultra fluff, it wasn’t going to be extremely durable when stacked up against resort levels of skier traffic, so it seemed like a great day to head out for some backcountry turns.  It also turned out that Dylan had to go to a birthday party today, so it meant that Ty and I could ski together; we’d be able to cover ground a little faster and extend our tour a bit compared to an outing in which Dylan was with us.

“…we were surrounded by
accumulations of that 2%
water-content Champlain
Powder™ that I affectionately
call ‘see-through’ snow.”

Ty and I spent the morning around the house, and light snow was in the air because we were on the northern periphery of that storm off to the south.  The snowfall transitioned from small 1-2 mm diameter flakes in the early hours, to huge, 1-inch monsters by mid morning.  The small flakes deposited just a couple tenths of an inch, but by noon we’d picked up another couple of inches thanks to the loft from those huge flakes.  My noontime snow density analysis revealed that the water content of the snow was just 2%; indeed it was as light as feathers.  While I prepared the ski gear, Ty grabbed his sled and hit the front yard slope to enjoy some of the fresh fluff.  Even though the top coating on the snowpack wasn’t all that deep, it was so dry that it easily exploded up around him as he cruised through it on his sled.  We talked about why this snow behaved that way, and I pointed out the fact that since this snow was 2% water, that meant it was also 98% air.  Looking at it that way really puts a perspective on just how delicate and airy such accumulations are.   One great thing about living so close to Bolton Valley, is that when we get snow like that at the house, we know that they’ve received at least that much (and almost always significantly more) up on the resort’s slopes.

An image of Ty sledding in extremely dry, 2% water content powder at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
Champlain Powder comprised of just 2% water explodes around Ty this morning as he takes a run on one of the sledding hills at the house.

It continued to snow lightly at the house, and we’d picked up another half inch of fluff by the time we headed up to the mountain around 1:00 P.M.  We skinned up Bryant, and I figured that with Ty’s energy level, we’d be able to head up past the Bryant Cabin and add in some of the higher elevation glades to our descent.  The trip up Bryant was very serene, as we were surrounded by accumulations of that 2% water-content Champlain Powder™ that I affectionately call “see-through” snow.  Indeed, the snow piles up with such loft on tree branches and other objects that you can actually see right through it in certain spots.  As we ascended along the trail, touching the snow-loaded branches would produce the most amazing effect, as hundreds of huge crystals would scatter and float ever so slowly toward the ground in a brilliant, shimmering storm.

An image of an evergreen branch coated with super-dry, 2% water-content "Champlain Powder" along the Bryant Trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Branches along the Bryant trail coated with some of that 2% H2O “see-through” Champlain Powder

Once we approached the Bryant Cabin, we found out that it was occupied by a group that had rented it out for an overnight to enjoy some backcountry skiing, and they invited us to join them inside.  They had the woodstove running, and it was delightfully warm in there.  Ty and I pulled out our snacks and hot chocolate, and had a great time chatting as Ty intermittently explored the cabin.  I can’t recall exactly where the group was from, but I think at least some of them were from parts of Southern New England, so it was great to see that they had been able to come up and enjoy the snow – as deficient as our snowfall has been so far this season in Northern Vermont, farther south, the dearth of snowfall seems even worse.  While we were there, various members of the group were in and out getting in some touring, and it was just what you’d expect to see at the Bryant Cabin in the heart of winter.

An image of the Bryant Cabin with smoke coming from the chimney on the Nordic/backcountry trail network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Smoke from the chimney foretold a warm welcome at the Bryant Cabin today

After our brief stay, Ty and I bid everyone at the cabin adieu, thanked them for the “warm” hospitality, and headed out to gain a bit more vertical before our descent.  We used Birch Loop to connect to Heavenly Highway, and then continued up for a few more minutes to get to the higher glade that drops us down to Gardiner’s Lane.  While switching gear, I initially couldn’t figure out why my pack smelled so much like hot chocolate, but then I saw that my thermos had leaked a little liquid into the pack’s interior.  The thermos has one of those recessed valves in it that enables you to pour out the liquid without removing the inner cap, but it’s easy to forget to close that valve (and you often can’t tell at a quick glance whether it’s open or closed).  Indeed, simply screwing the outer cup/cap back on the top of the bottle was not liquid-tight.  The spill wasn’t too large, but I did smell like hot chocolate for the rest of the tour and learned a good lesson about those valves – since it’s difficult to tell whether they are open or closed, close them as soon as you are done pouring so you don’t need to worry about it.

 

An image of Ty skiing a glade near the World Cup trail on the Nordic/backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing off the day in the backcountry glades with the golden light of the afternoon sun.

That first glade dropping from Heavenly Highway has some pretty steep pitches, and even with all the new snow that had fallen, we would still encounter the underlying crust at times.  Ty had an advantage, as he floated on top of the snow better than I did, and he even worked a few Telemark-style turns into the pitch.  We both managed some nice turns though, since there are plenty of open spots in that area.  We next headed down to JJ’s, and since the trail itself had seen a good deal of traffic, we opted to check out some trees off to the side.  The tree spacing was just too dense for the pitch of the slope combined with the consistency of the snow, so we didn’t get a lot of great turns in there.  We got back into some really awesome turns though once we hit the lower elevation glades down near World Cup.  The pitches there are more moderate, and there were just a couple of old, partially buried tracks from other skiers, so that set us up for some beautiful floating through the trees in the golden light of the setting sun.  It was definitely a stupendous way to end the day.

Stowe, VT 16JAN2012

An image of Ty half buried in powder in one of the gullies in the Hazelton Zone at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting buried in powder wasn’t a problem today at Stowe.

The Northern Vermont ski areas picked up 1.5 to 2 feet of snow from the winter storm that hit the area at the end of the week, and we’ve been doing our best to make good use of it with some Bolton Valley night skiing on Thursday, followed by another outing there on Saturday, and a solo outing for me at Timberline yesterday.  It’s been cold the past couple of days though, with a reading of -15.3 F at the house this morning for the coldest of the season thus far, but the forecast for today called for a good rebound in temperatures and we planned to get in some skiing at Stowe.  We didn’t start too early due to those sub zero temperatures, but by late morning the early morning lows were already well on the rise.  Knowing the forecast for great temperatures in the afternoon, we were probably like many folks; we didn’t start until late morning and focused on the second half of the day.

Ty had stayed at Kenny’s house overnight as planned, so E, Dylan and I decided to get in some runs before picking him up around midday.  It was tough finding a parking spot on the Spruce Peak side of the resort in the later morning period today, probably due in part to so many people thinking like us and going with a later morning start, so I dropped E and Dylan off at the lodge and they started skiing while I took care of the car.  After some searching, I eventually got lucky with a great spot right outside the Stowe Mountain Lodge.  E was working with Dylan on his Telemark skiing on Easy Street, and once I met up with them it was time for E to head to Morrisville to get Ty, but I made sure to keep Dylan’s Telemark groove going.  We worked in some runs off Easy Street as well as the Inspiration trail off the Adventure Triple, and I shot some video with E’s camera.  As designed, the pitch of Inspiration is really consistent and good for learning, so Dylan had some nice turns there.

An image of the fish tacos available in the Great Room Grill at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Fish tacos for lunch today – yum!

Once lunch time approached, Dylan and I headed in and ordered up lunch at the Great Room Grill.  I tried the fish tacos for the first time and they were excellent; I suspect I’ll get them again at some point.  When E returned with Ty, he got into his ski clothes, she had a quick bite to eat, Dylan switched to alpine gear, and we got ready to head back out for more turns.  We also picked up Luke, since he’d been skiing with his mom during the morning, but she had to head off to take care of some work.

We headed over to Mt. Mansfield for some runs off the gondola, and right from the gondola summit, I was excited to see that the very top of Waterfall was open – with plenty of coverage and great packed powder.  I’m not sure if it’s just my timing, but that area never seems to be open, so that says something about the coverage and snow quality that have been attained due to the recent storm.  We worked our way down to Perry Merrill, and after poking around a bit, we got sucked into the Hazelton Zone because the coverage and powder looked so good that it was just too hard to resist.  There was more than a hint of trepidation in Luke’s voice as we dove into the trees – he’s not nearly as comfortable as Ty and Dylan with being led off into the great unknown by me.  He’s survived trips with me before though, so he knows that he can do it, even if we’re well outside his comfort zone.

“He came down carrying good
speed, but crashed in an
intense blizzard of white,
and when the smoke cleared,
we could only see the
bottom part of him.”

We began dropping into one of the many Hazelton gullies, and got some OK turns in the powder, but didn’t want to fully commit to the base of the gully since coverage was still a bit marginal in spots for really exploring with reckless abandon.  Therefore, we kept ourselves on the slope marking the skier’s left of the gully with a healthy dose of traversing.  I was leading and breaking trail, making it easier for the kids to work their way through the deep snow, but navigating the combination of steep terrain, trees, and bottomless powder was still challenging for some.  At one point, E found a nice route, and suggested that Luke follow her.  He might have had to back up or navigate a bit of a steeper slope, but E heard him emit some sort of exclamation, and when she asked if he was OK, he replied with and exasperated “Nooo!”  Fortunately he was OK, just stuck in the powder and generally discombobulated.  E asked Dylan to check on Luke, but before he could even do that, Luke had managed to regain his footing and was back on track.  I think he’s learning more about dealing with powder all the time.

Not long after that, we found a nice steep pitch of powder in the streambed that we decided to ski.  Ty agreed to be the guinea pig, and check out the slope for the other boys.  He came down carrying good speed, but crashed in an intense blizzard of white, and when the smoke cleared, we could only see the bottom part of him.  The front half of his body was obscured under the powder, and he wasn’t moving.  Initially he didn’t respond to our inquiries about his status, but after a few moments he responded from beneath the snow with “Am I in heaven?”  We pulled him out and he was fine, but not surprisingly, the other boys weren’t overly enthusiastic about dropping into the line themselves.  We resumed our traversing along the skier’s left of the gully, and eventually made out way back out to Perry Merrill, and I’m sure Luke couldn’t have been more relieved.  We saw some other riders having fun in some lines on the other side of that gully, and there are definitely lines opening up in there, but a couple more storms are going to be needed to really get all the lines flowing in there for the boys.

“After experiencing the
mountain first hand
today, I’m not surprised
that Stowe was able
to open 100% of their
terrain as of Saturday.”

We made another run off the gondola, taking it easy on the boys and not venturing off piste to any great degree, and then we worked our way over to the Fourrunner Quad.  In general, there were amazing on piste conditions on the hill – I’m usually less than impressed with the conditions on the snowmaking trails at Stowe because of how that manmade snow turns to ice with skier traffic, but conditions on many of the trails were head and shoulders above what I’ve seen on them in quite a while.  For whatever reason, perhaps the good combination of dense snow/mix followed by fluff, there was a layer of natural snow that really had staying power to mask the manmade stuff underneath – runs like Centerline and Hayride come to mind (I think they’ve both got snowmaking).  The steepest pitches still got down to that slick stuff, but wow, last week’s storm was a great one for producing some packed powder conditions.  Coverage was quite impressive as well – at one point E said she couldn’t believe that we were in the midst of a low snowfall season.  After experiencing the mountain first hand today, I’m not surprised that Stowe was able to open 100% of their terrain as of Saturday.  Temperatures ended up topping out around 20 F at the base elevations, which wasn’t overly warm, but certainly fine for mid January, and there were no temperature issues for any of the boys.  Also, Luke survived another day with us on the slopes.  When we dropped him off in town with his dad, Luke seemed like he was pretty exhausted, but I think he was satisfied with his day.

A westward view from near the top of Mount Mansfield in Vermont showing the beginnings of a January sunset
Approaching sunset as the ski day winds down

Bolton Valley (Timberline), VT 15JAN2012

An image of ski tracks in nice powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the great powder on Spell Binder today

Our late week storm brought plenty of powder to Northern Vermont, but it brought ample cold air as well.  With some help from hand and foot warmers, the boys dealt with it pretty well yesterday at Bolton, where temperatures ranged through the single digits, but this morning was even colder.  We bottomed out at -3.6 F at the house for our coldest reading of the season to date, and up in the Bolton Valley Village at 2,100’ I watched the thermometer sit around -10 F for much of the morning.  Naturally, the temperature had me thinking of a backcountry outing instead of sitting still riding lifts in the frozen air, and although I haven’t been out on Bolton’s backcountry network yet this season, our observations from yesterday suggest that base depths are more than ready, even in the middle elevations.  As I prepared my ski gear however, another option entered my head.  Despite what appears to be fairly decent coverage, the resort has yet to open up Timberline, so the slopes are just sitting there loaded with all the fresh powder.  The beautiful tracks we saw in the powder at Timberline yesterday made the thought of skiing there hard to resist, and since it shouldn’t be too long before lift-served skiing starts up over there, I switched my plans to a hike of Timberline.

A temperature plot showing the cold temperatures on Janunary 15, 2012 at the base area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Watching the cold temperatures up at Bolton Valley today

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.

An image of late winter light illuminating ski tracks at the bottom of the "Doug's Woods" glade at Bolton Valley Ski Area in Vermont
Tracks have started to appear in Doug’s Woods.

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.

Bolton Valley, VT 31DEC2011

An image of the main upper mountain at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont with low clouds
Today had a bit of a Pacific Northwest flavor on the mountain, with low clouds and soft snow.

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.

An image of various people from our group having lunch in the base lodge at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Enjoying lunch with our big group in the base lodge

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.

An image of snowboarders riding the Vista Quad Chair in heavy fog at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Clouds enveloped the mountain peaks today and visibilities dropped to incredibly low levels on the upper mountain.

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.

Bolton Valley, VT 10DEC2011

A December image from the mid mountain area of Bolton Valley looking up toward Ricker Mountain
Checking out a December scene from mid mountain as the snow clouds pull away

With lake-effect snow coming off the Great Lakes, and some upslope hitting the Green Mountains, we picked up about a half inch of snow at the house overnight.  The local ski areas also picked up an inch or two, which was enough to get me interested in heading up to Bolton for opening day.  Checking their morning update on the website, I found out that they weren’t opening until 10:00 A.M., so that gave me a chance to take it easy for a while in the morning.

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.

An image from the Bolton Valley Village area - December 10, 2011
Checking out the snow in the Bolton Valley Village area this morning

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.

A picture of some of the Vermont food vendor tables at Bolton Valley - December 10, 2011
Vermont food vendors hosted by Bolton Valley Resort upstairs in the main base lodge

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 Sports Telemark 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.