Bolton Valley, VT 14APR2012

An image of recent ski tracks in the snow left by a recent April snowstorm on the steep Spillway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Today on Spillway – recent tracks

The huge cutoff low pressure system that brought more than two feet of snow to the mountains has been great for replenishing the slopes and supplying winter-like temperatures, and we made good use of it with ski outings on Tuesday and Thursday, but the sun was finally out consistently today and temperatures have been warming up.  Even though we’re just a few miles from Bolton Valley, it’s been really hard to get a sense for how the snowpack is doing in the mountains.  From the house, you can’t see snow in any of the 2,000’ peaks across the Winooski Valley, so that makes it especially hard to gauge.  Also, when it’s sunny with temperatures in the 60s F at the house, it can be hard to think about snow.

“The descent really wasn’t
the highlight of the trip,
since the snow was still
fairly isothermal and mushy,
but I did manage some
decent turns here and there.”

I’ve definitely been curious about the state of the snowpack though, and hadn’t visited Bolton since the recent storm, so after making use of the weather to get some yard work done during the day, I headed up in the late afternoon for a ski tour.  Some clouds actually came into the area during the afternoon that kept temperatures relatively cool, so I was thankful of that with some hiking ahead.  Honestly, most of the trip up the Bolton Valley Access Road, you wouldn’t even know there was snow anywhere.  The first snow I saw was at 1,500’ at the base of Timberline, but that was just leftover manmade snow that had been stockpiled in that area.  The first natural snow along the road was visible at around 1,800’, just patchy of course, but right around 2,000’ in the Village the coverage started to become continuous, with a depth around one inch.  Just jumping up in elevation minimally to back behind the base lodge at ~2,100’, the depth of the snow had increased to 2-4”.

A pile of balanced rocks sits at the base of the Vista Quad Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont, with snow from a recent April storm in the background
Rock balancing down near the base of the Vista Quad, with some of the recent snow in the background

Even if not super deep down near the base, it was nice to see all the slopes covered with the recent snows.  There had definitely been plenty of skier traffic since the end of the storm, and tracks were scattered all over the slopes.  I ascended on Beech Seal, using various tracks of others to ease my ascent.  The snow was certainly thick and heavy, and the depth increased very rapidly with elevation, just as I’d seen at Stowe on Tuesday.  By the time I’d reached the Mid Mountain area at 2,500’, the depth of the snow was 8 to 10”.  Above Mid Mountain, the main skin track eventually continued onto Hard Luck, and although it’s much too steep for an efficient skinning ascent, I decided to stick with it just for a change of pace from my usual ascent routes.  Indeed it was pretty rough, with post holes galore amidst a bunch of descent tracks, but it worked out OK.  Up around the 2,800’ level the snow had reached 16” in depth, and again similar to the results at Stowe, it didn’t get much deeper than that, with roughly 16-18” near the Vista Summit at 3,100’.  That 2,800’ level must have been where the storm was snow throughout, whereas below that level it had gradually changed over to snow while the temperatures cooled.

The descent really wasn’t the highlight of the trip, since the snow was still fairly isothermal and mushy, but I did manage some decent turns here and there.  The snow was tricky enough on Telemark skis that I stuck to the Sherman’s Pass and Bear Run combination.  The snow seemed to be consolidating a bit with the afternoon’s cooling temperatures, but it certainly wasn’t where we want it yet.  Sub-freezing temperatures tonight should help out with some consolidation though – there could be a nice window of skiing tomorrow when the snow surface softens up.  I’d say today’s outing was most fun from the tour aspect and the chance to assess the snow depths, but the snowpack up high is definitely looking good.  Another storm in the near future would have some base snow to set down on and produce some nice turns.

Jay Peak, VT 12APR2012

An image of Ty on The Jet carving through some of the recent snow that fell on Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty at Jay Peak cutting into some of the recent snow that fell during the big spring snowstorm in the Northern Green Mountains.

The spring snowstorm that’s been in the area this week has really delivered the goods to the higher elevations; when I headed up to Stowe on Tuesday morning, there was already a couple of feet of new, dense snow at 2,500’ and above.  The snowfall hasn’t been quite as vigorous since that initial barrage, but there’s still been on and off snow showers to varying degrees depending on elevation; Powderfreak reported that Mt. Mansfield was up to 27 inches of new snow accumulation at 3,200’ as of yesterday afternoon.  The new snow has put a huge dose of water into the mountain snowpack, with close to four inches of liquid equivalent falling on Mt. Mansfield.  Even down at the house we’ve had 1.68” of rain from the storm as of this morning.

E has been at a teacher’s conference in Boston for the past couple of days, and with the boys on spring break, I’ve been mostly out of the office to watch them.  With the recent snow we’ve had, today was an obvious day for us to get out for some skiing, but based on my experience with the snow quality on Mt. Mansfield on Tuesday, skinning for turns wasn’t going to cut it with the boys.  Depending on elevation, the dense Sierra Cement-style snow had been quite challenging to ski, and in order to get to the best snow, one really has to make the long trek above the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range.  That’s a big ascent to ask of the boys, only to deliver challenging snow conditions that would probably frustrate them anyway, so lift-served skiing with the potential for some groomed runs seemed to be the way to go.  Killington and Jay Peak were running lifts today, and since both were reporting about a foot and a half of new snow, deciding between them was a toss-up in that regard.  I decided on Jay Peak, being a touch closer and hopefully a touch colder; I was also hoping to check out all the expansion that has gone on at the resort since my last visit.

Even with all the snow that the mountains have received over the past few days, there’s literally no snow in the lower valleys, and it wasn’t until fairly high elevations along Route 118 south of Montgomery that we saw any snow along the road during our trip to Jay Peak.  What we saw were just a couple of old north-facing snowbanks along the side of the road, but snow cover did build steadily once we got up high enough up on Route 242, and it carried through right to the base of the resort.  We parked on the tram side, and the changes in the area’s development were obvious.  The last time I’d visited Jay Peak was during the Mother’s Day snowstorm in 2010, and while the Tram Haus Lodge was there and we got to eat at Alice’s Table, the new Hotel Jay and the massive Pump House Indoor Water Park were not.  I could see that the new Hotel Jay was quite a step up in size from the old one, and while I couldn’t see any sign of the water park that everyone has been talking about, I figured we’d have some time for exploring the area after we gotten in some skiing.

The weather in the late morning was a mixture of clouds and blue sky, and we were presented with some impressive views of the snowy slopes.  I’m not sure what the slopes had looked like before the storm, but they were totally covered today.  I’d told the boys about the tram, and let them know that while it was closed for the season for skiing, they’d at least get to have a look at it.  The tram was in action though, apparently running in association with some maintenance, and the boys just had to watch it dock at the Tramside Base Lodge.  We booted up inside the lodge, and there was literally nobody there but employees.  We could see that there were about a dozen ski bags hung in various spots along the walls, but it was obvious that we weren’t going to see too many others out on the slopes.  It’s easy to see how dicey the prospects for making a profit must be on these midweek days in April, but we were thankful that the mountain was open and they were definitely getting our business.  Tickets were reasonable at $45 for me and $25 apiece for the boys, and from what I’d heard, they had about two thirds of their terrain open.  The resort now employs an RFID ticket system like we’re used to using at Stowe.  In fact, when we bought our tickets, the associate recommended removing our Stowe RFID passes just in case they interfered with the signal on our Jay Peak tickets.

An image of blue skies and fresh snow viewed while riding the Flyer Express Quad at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
On and off blue skies and plenty of fresh snow were found at Jay Peak today.

We kicked things off with a ride on the Flyer Express Quad, which whisked us right up toward the peak.  We did see some skiers down below us on Exhibition, and the snow looked fantastic.  Coverage was deep and soft thanks to the storm, so the only concern was whether or not the snow was sticky; unfortunately it’s not easy to tell that from just watching a skier make turns, since you can’t see the subtle corrections being made by their muscles as they adjust their balance, but the folks we saw sure seemed to be enjoying themselves as they silently cut arcs into the groomed snow.  The air temperature was definitely cooler when we reached the summit of the Flyer, and we found that the snow itself was actually pretty cold and wintry.  It was very dense like one would expect, and in untracked areas you only sunk into the snow an inch or two, so it certainly wasn’t mush.  In fact, the mountain had a sign up about how the off piste snow was going to be difficult for the first part of the day until the temperatures warmed up a bit, since areas that had seen skier traffic were going to have relatively stiff, uneven snow surfaces.

On our first decent we set off alongside the lift on Northway, and the snow was indeed in good shape – it was somewhere between winter and spring in consistency, but stickiness wasn’t an issue.  We worked our way back toward the lift line of the quad on Upper Goat Run, which was our first taste of something steeper.  The snow was holding up well in consistency, even as we descended in elevation.  As we merged back toward the lift line, Dylan seemed hesitant for us to drop into the steepest terrain because ski patrol had placed some poles at the top of the “slow skiing area”, but it was just serving as the warning about speed control, and there were no coverage issues.  You could just sink your edges in and let the skis ride.  We’d soon reached the top pitch of Upper Exhibition, something we’d seen from the lift that was steep, groomed, and looked like it was a lot of fun for the skiers that were on it.  We opted to save it for after a little more warming up, and instead veered to the right down Upper Goat Run and over toward Lower River Quai.  Lower River Quai is actually a bit steep, and while there, we met a family that was picking their way down it.  The snow was starting to get a little tricky at that elevation, and by the time we hit the Interstate trail below, the snow had indeed taken on that stickiness that made it a challenge.  I was excited about the conditions though, our sampling of the terrain suggested that we’d only have to deal with sticky snow in the low elevation runout trails, and if that was the case then we were in for some great runs.

An image of Ty and Dylan trying out the covered magic carpet lift at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty and Dylan test out the Jay Peak’s covered Magic Carpet-style lift.

The boys had been quite intrigued by the resort’s covered magic carpet lift, and since it was running, they just had to check it out.  It feels a bit like one of those informational rides at a theme park, or maybe like the Light Tunnel in the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit Metro Airport, without the lights.  Stowe has a small cover that they place over their magic carpet at night to keep off the snow; it’s only a couple feet high and the boys got a kick out of imagining what it would be like to ride with that in place.  Having a full cover probably means less hassle dealing with snowfall during storms.  We immediately headed to the Flyer again, and took a similar descent route with the change to Upper Exhibition this time.  Exhibition delivered some nice steep turns, and was above the elevation of the sticky snow issues, but of course the flats of Harmony Lane were a slow return to the base.

With all the new snow, the mountain did indeed have quite a bit of its terrain open, so I definitely wanted to get the boys out for some farther-reaching explorations over toward the Stateside area.  From the top of the Flyer we followed the usual Northway Route, and on the way noticed a skier come down from one of the untracked trails above us.  He was skiing some of the dense powder up there, and although he only sunk into the snow a few inches, it looked pretty fun.  We’d been playing around in the powder off to the sides of the trails a bit, but with it still being somewhat dense and stiff, you really wanted some reasonably large untracked areas to have the best experience.  We were eventually lured off Northway to our right, into some terrain in the Catwalk area that hadn’t been groomed; the snow was decent, so we just sort of kept going.  We found ourselves above some steep tree lines there, and I was leery of the snow conditions, but Ty really wanted to jump in… so we did.  The lines were generally tracked, and we were low enough in elevation that the compaction of the snow was probably for the best, as the untracked snow was getting wet and difficult to ski.  Ty and Dylan ripped up the lines though, and we found ourselves continuing on non-groomed terrain all the way to Stateside.  There seemed to be just enough snow to cover the natural terrain down to the base with a couple of careful water bar navigations.  That last part was a lot of fun, as I knew our general location, but had no clue of exact where we were until we popped out at the base of the Jet Triple Chair.  I’ve got a reasonably good knowledge of Jay Peak, and there was definitely enough semi-obscure terrain open to keep us exploring.

An image of snow falling in a localized squall off to the east of Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
When it wasn’t falling on us, snow was crashing out of the clouds all around us while we skied today at Jay Peak.

The weather had continued to be a mix of clouds and sun through midday, and all around us we’d continually see these huge billowing cumulus clouds that made if feel like spring or summer.  At times, we’d be able to watch snow crash out of these clouds atop various surrounding peaks.  This was going on all over the place, but we had some gorgeous views of it from the summit of the Jet Triple Chair, and of course being Jay Peak, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we were going to get blasted with snow.  The Jet trail itself looked really enticing, so we hit that up, and indeed the carving was fantastic.  We watched a really accomplished Telemark skier crank some amazing turns down The Jet, and he seemed to be doing lap after lap.  He really liked the boys’ alpine skiing though, and made a comment to me about them.  If they can get their Telemark turns to be half as graceful as that guy, they’ll be well on their way to some great Telemark skiing.  They had a lot of fun with the turns on The Jet, but probably just as much fun with the snowballs they were carrying and tossing at each other.  Because the snow was so good, I wasn’t sure that we wanted to pull away after just one run on The Jet, but I knew the boys were soon going to request a mid afternoon snack, so we started to work our way back toward the tram side.  We found ourselves in the same Catwalk trees that we’d hit on the way over, so we skied those again.  After a few more pitches, the rest of the trip back was rather flat and sticky though, so I’d often help Dylan along with some pushes to keep him up at Ty’s pace.

An image of Ty pausing for a moment on The Jet trail at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty pausing after ripping some turns in the great snow we found on The Jet
An image of Ty and Dylan having a mid afternoon snack near the fire in the Tramside Base Lodge at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Mid afternoon snack time

I’d hoped to introduce the boys to some poutine in the lodge, but the cafeteria had already closed; apparently they were only keeping it open for the immediate lunchtime period on weekdays.  Fortunately we’d brought a collection of our own food, and it was enough to hold us until dinner.  It was still quite quiet in the lodge, but a few skiers were around, those that had apparently skied the morning and were calling it a day.

When we headed back out onto the slopes, we gave Dylan the choice of lift and descent route, and he decided on the Metro Quad.  Both Ty and I told him that it only serviced the bottom flat area of the mountain (which had the stickiest snow) but he was keen on giving it a try, and it would mean we’d ridden every open lift on the mountain.  The partly sunny conditions of the morning had been gradually giving way to a few more clouds, and this was actually cooling the air down enough to let the stickier snow tighten up a bit.  It was a subtle change, but definitely there, and much appreciated when we were in the lower elevations.

Clouds continued to build as we made another lap on Exhibition and enjoyed the good snow, and meanwhile, the skies began to darken around us with the promise of snowfall.  During the day we’d already encountered various snow showers on the mountain; we’d seen rounds of regular snow, graupel, and even these pyramidal-shaped (or miniature Hershey’s kisses as Dylan described them) flakes falling from the sky.  Our next ride on the Flyer was when things really started to get exciting though.  On our previous ascent we’ seen heavy precipitation in the peaks just off to our north like Jay Peak West, Middle Jay and North Jay Peak.  Those peaks had soon disappeared in a maelstrom of white, and that snow clearly seemed to be building in our direction.  A few minutes later it moved in on us, and it meant business.  The snowfall was so intense that at a couple of points we could see a wall of flakes in front of us, and we had only a few moments to batten down the hatches (i.e. hoods and parka collars) before the lift carried us right into it.  We got hit with some very heavy snowfall comprised of huge, wet snowflakes .  The gargantuan flakes were at times falling so intensely that they rapidly accumulated on our goggles to the point that we could barely see, and we had to keep wiping them off almost continuously during the height of the squall; I’d say we picked up about a half inch of snow in just 10-15 minutes in that episode.  The clouds and precipitation associated with that blast of snow even gave an additional shot of cooling to the air.  The huge flakes also put down a fresh, stippled coating of snow on everything that was very picturesque.  That whole squall cycle was a fun experience, and the same thing appeared to be going on throughout the high peaks of the Northern Greens, because Powderfreak sent in a very cool report to the American Weather Forum entitled “Photos of the passing of a convective snow squall”, in which he documented the whole progression of one of these convective snowstorms today from Stowe.  He photographed the scene on Mt. Mansfield from blue skies with white, billowy cumulous clouds, to dark clouds building in, to getting hit hard with massive snowflakes, just like us.  The report was very nicely done with the usual quality pictures that Powderfreak produces, and folks on the weather board seemed to enjoy it a lot.

An image of snowfall at the end of an April snow squall at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
A mid afternoon snow squall winds down at the top of the Flyer

The boys started picking areas of the mountain that they wanted to explore, and one area that we’d not yet visited was the slot between Exhibition and Northway.  We eventually found ourselves approaching to top of Upper Can Am, and I was definitely concerned about what we’d find down there.  I was expecting deep snow that hadn’t seen any grooming, and indeed that’s just what we found.  Dylan definitely had some trepidation about dropping in, but Ty was so eager that his enthusiasm won out.  There had been some skier traffic since the storm, so we found 16” of partially tracked, dense snow.  Ty was flying down like a madman, but Dylan was struggling, and started to get upset because he seemed to be falling every time he made a few turns.  We gave him some reassurance, and I let him know that I was battling the slope on Telemark gear, so he could definitely do it on alpine gear.  As before, the fact that there had been some skier traffic was good, because the bottomless cement was the most difficult part to ski, and the partially compacted areas were better.  Dylan eventually got himself into a better rhythm, and soon I found that both boys has already descended through the steepest terrain and were waiting for me.  As difficult as the turns were on my Teles, the challenge was worth it.  We had all this steep terrain to ourselves that had just seen a major resurfacing with 2+ inches of liquid equivalent.  Coverage wasn’t an issue, and if you got your groove going you could just let the turns fall away.  There was definitely a part of me that wanted to have my alpine fat skis to really crank things up, but it was a heck of a lot of fun convincing the Teles to do their job.

The traverse back to the tram base was still somewhat slow and sticky, so any cooling of the air hadn’t helped out down that low.  The boys amused themselves with another ride on the magic carpet, and then we thought about finishing out the day.  The snow up top was so good that we couldn’t pull away without at least one more run, even though the boys were getting anxious for some après ski food (which they knew was going to be pizza).  I convinced them that we needed to do at least one more run, and said that we’d check out something new.

Ty and Dylan point to one of the trail signs for the "Green Mountain Boys" trail at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Those Green Mountain Boys

I wasn’t sure exactly what that something new was going to be, but we got ourselves to the big intersection below Upper Goat Run and had to make a choice.  The top of Green Mountain Boys was in view, and it was only then that I realized just how good it looked.  It had been groomed, and then it had seen some traffic, but it looked smooth, soft, and fast.  I had the boys read the trail sign at the top of the stack… “Green… Mountain… Boys”, Ty said at a reading pace.  The boys were excited to try it out, and I got a picture of them pointing to the sign with their poles.  The different generations of intermediate trail signs left Dylan intrigued by the fact that Green Mountain Boys seemed to be not a blue square trail, but a purple square trail.  He started to discuss what that might mean before I eventually suggested that it was likely just a different shade of blue from a different batch of signs.  The boys didn’t want to wait around long though; they wanted to get at it, and quickly dropped in.  Within moments they both moved into big, fast, swooping arcs down the trail, because they immediately felt how perfect the surface conditions were, and they knew that their edges were going to hold whatever g-forces were thrown at them.  It was deep snow that had been freshly groomed and softened to perfection for carving, and matched with the fairly steep terrain, it was just beautiful.  Dylan was especially invigorated by how fast he could go – when he’d make his big, fast arcs, he said it was his “gliding” technique.  The end result was that they flew down the trail in a state at high speed, somewhere shy of reckless abandon, and I had my work cut out for me keeping up.  Indeed they skied it like you’d expect from a couple of Green Mountain Boys, and I suspect Ethan and Ira Allen would have agreed.

I hadn’t held out much hope for interest another run, since the boys had already had pizza on their minds before the last one, but something about the experience that Green Mountain Boys had offered them lit a fire under their ski enthusiasm.  When I said that we had time for another, and that we could do Green Mountain Boys again, they jumped at the opportunity.  If the skiing can pull Dylan back to the slopes and away from potential pizza, you know it’s got to be good.  The descent was just like the previous run, and whether it was the extra round of cooling from our earlier snow squall, or just the correct timing of the day, something had left the trail in a state that really impressed the boys.  Had the lifts still been running, I think I could have kept them going, and at that stage of the day that’s not easy to do.  To say that they finished the day on the highest of notes would still be an understatement.

An image of the sign for Mountain Dick's Pizza in the Hotel Jay at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Mountain Dick’s Pizza in the Hotel Jay

The boys’ transcendent vibe continued as we headed into the lodge and changed out of our gear.  The lodge was essentially deserted at that point, so they had the run of the place.  Once they’d taken off their ski boots, they played hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in the various nooks and crannies of the Tramside Base Lodge, while I packed up the rest of the gear.  We dropped everything off at the car and then went to check out Mountain Dick’s Pizza on the ground level of the new Hotel Jay.  It’s got one of those modern, part wood, part metallic decors, along with some funky accessories like coat racks made of wooden spoons, and it seats about 30 to 40 people.  I ordered a pie for each of us (to ensure that there would be plenty of leftovers of course, since Mom was out of town) and the boys picked out some funky looking drinks from the cooler.  The pizza is good; I wouldn’t put it up quite at the level of Jimmz Pizza in Waterbury Center, but we all liked it and everyone ate their fill.

An image of coat racks made from spoons at Mountain Dick's Pizza in the Hotel Jay at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Food-themed coat racks

While we’d waited for our pizza to come out, I searched around and discovered that Mountain Dick’s is connected right to the interior of the hotel; eventually I realized that some of the people we’d seen picking up pizza had called from their hotel rooms.  When we’d finished up our meal and boxed up our extra slices, we decided to head right through the hotel so that the boys could show me the water park.  We wound our way through some halls, headed up an elevator, and came out at an elevated area at the water park entrance, overlooking all the features.  It was even bigger than what I’d surmised based on all the pictures I’d seen, and the boys gave me a quick visual tour from the overlook, and they were quickly spotted by their schoolmate Connor, who was there with his family.  We all got to chat a bit and catch up on the day as we headed back to our cars.  While E and the boys have already been to the Pump House, it’s definitely on my list to join them next time as I’m sure we’ll have a blast.

An image of the interior of the Pump House indoor water park at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking in the expanse of the Pump House Indoor Water Park that was added to the resort this season

I’ve got to say it was really nice being back at Jay Peak, having not been to the mountain for a couple of seasons.  With so many great ski areas like Bolton Valley, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen notably closer to our location in Waterbury, we don’t frequent Jay Peak all that much right now.  Along with the slightly longer distance though, there are also some aspects of Jay Peak that knock it down on my list: the cold, the wind, some of the long flat areas on the Tram Side, and the way the glades and trees can get tracked out (and indeed even bumped up) so quickly (relative to what I’ve experienced at places like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush where lines can sit untracked for days after a storm).  Jay Peak has always touted its glades, so of course people go there for that type of skiing and those areas get a lot of traffic.  I love Jay Peak’s snowfall of course, but after scrutinizing and documenting the snowfall patterns in Northern Vermont’s mountains very carefully over the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana, I’ve noticed how marginal the difference is between the snowfall at Jay Peak and that at Mt. Mansfield.  I think the weather patterns over the past few seasons have exacerbated that, as they really haven’t favored Jay Peak as much as they have traditionally, but I’ve paid more attention to just how much snow Mt. Mansfield gets, and it’s impressive.

The above is really just nitpicking for the sake of comparison though, because Jay Peak is a fantastic resort that offers some excellent terrain and amazing powder – there are numerous resorts even out in the Western U.S. that would probably love to receive the amount of snowfall that Jay Peak gets.  And, the whole Jay Peak experience seems to be getting better with the developments going on around the resort, at least based on what we saw on this trip.  While the host of resort enhancements that have been added at Jay Peak over the past few seasons may be a turn off to some hard core skiers, they are definitely a plus in my book; not from just the family perspective, but a personal perspective as well.  The developments are things that if anything will lure us up there more.  One aspect is simply knowing that the resort will be active year-round, and that whenever we go we can anticipate that some dining options will be available.  In the days leading up to our trip, I knew about the upcoming spring snowstorm and was very close to getting a package of a room along with ski and water park tickets.  I didn’t quite find the level of discount I was looking for this time, especially since the pricing per person wasn’t as efficient without Mom along, but it was absolutely a factor luring us toward the resort.  They had a really good ski and stay package going at the Tram Haus Lodge a couple of seasons back, and I’m sure that there will be some similar April deals out there in the future, since it can be a slow time of year for skiing.  We’re certainly excited to check out all the new terrain when the resort expands into the West Bowl area with lift service; the feel of the mountain is really going to be different when that happens, and I’m eager to see what it’s like.  Perhaps it will spread out the visitors and keep the glades and trees from getting tracked out so quickly.  The sidecountry, backcountry, and in-bounds opportunities that would be provided by the new trails and lifts look really impressive.  Now that the boys are older and day-ticket style skiing is becoming more practical, Jay Peak will certainly be high on our list for visits, especially if they keep staying open longer than other resorts in the state.

Stowe, VT 10APR2012

An image of a well-established skin track and some old ski tracks on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after a two foot dump of April snow
The beautiful skin track on Nosedive today that delivered folks to the goods

A cutoff low pressure system backed into the region yesterday, and it began to dump a mixture of heavy snow in the mountains and pouring rain in the lower mountain valleys of Northern Vermont.  Meanwhile, in the Champlain Valley it was just dry and cloudy, so it made from an impressive scene; at the American Weather Forum I sent in a post with a mid afternoon picture from Burlington showing the wall of snow in front of the mountains.  Powderfreak headed up to Mt. Mansfield yesterday afternoon and sent in a nice collection of snowy pictures from his trip.  He reported that the mountain had already received a foot of snow by that point, and the radar showed that moisture continued to pour into the area.  When the precipitation data from the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in, it indicated that the mountain had already received roughly two inches of liquid equivalent by the late afternoon.  The snow and rain just kept pouring down all evening and right through to this morning, and we’d picked up over an inch of liquid at the house as of 6:00 A.M.

I had some time earlier today, so I headed off to Stowe to check out the new snow and make some turns.  The temperature was in the upper 30s F through the valleys, so the precipitation was all rain, and it was literally pouring at times.  Snow started to mix in with the rain up around 1,200’ as I ascended toward the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center, and it quickly changed over to all snow by the time I’d reached the Inn at the Mountain a few moments later.  The precipitation was wet snow as I parked at the Midway lot (~1,600’) and the accumulation was a couple of inches.  The snowflakes were small, in the 1-3 mm range, but it was coming down fairly heavily and I quickly had to put on my ski jacket to avoid getting soaked.

An image of my ski measurement pole showing a depth of roughly two feet at the 2,500' elevation on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Two feet of new snow at 2,500'

There were a few cars in the lot, and to begin my ascent I followed the collection of boot prints and skin tracks that led toward Nosedive; I definitely wanted to find an established skin track, because it sounded like the couple of inches in the parking lot was quickly going to turn into a lot more in the higher elevations.  And indeed it did – within just a couple of minutes after leaving the lot, I was walking through several inches of fresh snow, so I put on my skis and hopped in the skin track.  I was immediately thankful for the skin track, which felt like a superhighway since it was made by some pretty fat skis.  With that great skin track in place, the ascent was smooth and fast, and as I continued to check the depth of the new snow with my measurement pole, I was astonished at how quickly it increased.  By 2,000’ the depth of the snow was already 11”, and by 2,500’ it was 24 inches.  That meant that it was essentially increasing by a couple of inches every 100 vertical feet, and if that level of increase kept up, there was going to be four feet of new snow at the top.  However, the depth of the snow stopped increasing at 2,500’, and remained right around two feet from there on up.

I saw a couple of other guys on the skin track during my ascent, and talked to one of them when we both stopped near the top of Nosedive.  He said that he was one of the guys that set the skin track this morning, and I thanked him a lot for that because it was fantastic.  He said it was tough, but that the second person in line really had it easy because the dense snow compacted so well, so he and the guy he worked with switched off pretty frequently because the back person was rested so quickly.  He had just done a lap down to the 2,500’ level, and said that he felt that was a bit low to go to stay in the best snow; ending a few hundred feet higher would be better.

The wet snow that had been falling heavily throughout the ascent was giving my Gore Tex quite a workout, but there was no wind and temperatures were very comfortable in the 30s F, so various vents and flaps on my gear were open to keep cool.  As I crested the last part of Nosedive though, winter came roaring in, with the wind picking up a bit, the temperature dropping below freezing, and all the moisture that had accumulated on my gear during the ascent freezing into crustiness.  These are the days when you really appreciate those high-tech waterproof breathable fabrics though, because things were nice and dry on the inside.

An image of two skiers ascending through deep snow via a skin track on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A pair of skiers ascending Nosedive this morning amidst the continued snowfall

I stopped at the top for a few minutes, and there were several folks using the new ski patrol building at the top of the Fourrunner Quad for a quick break.  Overall the snow was still just a couple feet deep, but there were a few drifts, and at one point while I was out of my skis, I stepped down and sank up to my waist in powder.  The snow was still fairly dense even up around 3,700’, but bigger flakes were falling and it was overall a notably drier environment than the lower elevations.

An image of snow and snowfall on the Lookout Double Chair at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
It was still snowing all the way down at the base elevations when I'd finished my ski tour this morning.

For my descent, I headed down in the direction of Hayride; I was unsure how this dense snow was going to ski, but I figured Hayride was a reasonable, steep piece of terrain to keep me moving if necessary.  After my first few turns I could tell that this snow was going to be challenging on my midfat Telemark skis.  It was bottomless Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete, and it definitely required a certain level of finesse on the Teles.  I’ve been used to skiing fairly dry Vermont powder all season, so it took a couple of impressive flops before I dialed in my technique and started to cruise through the dense snow.  I was reminded of a day in December 2001 that E and I skied similar snow at Schweitzer Ski Resort in Idaho – they’d just received four feet of Cascade Concrete, and people were flopping all over the place on the trails, sometimes taking several minutes to extricate themselves each time.  We were on alpine skis at the time, so things were a bit easier, but there’s no question that bottomless dense snow can be a challenge to ski.  A group of three snowboarders passed by me on their descent, and watching them, I thought about how nice it would be to have my snowboard, but it would have been a pain on the ascent.  I was happy to find that my turns were smooth for a while, but between the 2,500’ and 3,000’ level the snow began to get wetter, and I had to work harder and harder to keep my stance dialed in.  Below the 2,500’ mark the skiing was a bit “survival style”, with the focus on just on keeping that perfect balance on each turn.  There was actually another change in the snow that made things a bit easier below that point (perhaps dense enough that one didn’t sink in much at all) but as I approached the Crossover trail, the snow began to change once more as it really got slushy and difficult to do much more than straight line it.  I rode Crossover back over to the Gondola base – it continued to snow even down that low in elevation, but I could tell that it was wetter than it had been at the base in the morning.  Back at the car I chatted with Powderfreak, who had just arrived for some turns.  I let him know about the nice skin track on Nosedive, and at one point he mentioned that there could be more snow coming into the area tonight.

I’m going to be home with the boys over the next few days, so I’ll have to decide what skiing to do with them.  If the texture of the snow doesn’t tighten up a bit, Telemark skiing will be very challenging for them, so we may have to think about getting in some lift-served turns on their alpine skis.  Jay Peak is running their lifts, and they’re reporting 15 inches in the past 48 hours.  Killington is also offering lift-served skiing, and they’re reporting 19” in the past 48 hours.  With Stowe already at 24 inches as of this morning, and precipitation continuing to fall, it will be very interesting to see where the storm totals end up over the next couple of days.  There’s been a nice recovery of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, as of this evening there’s been about 3.5 inches of liquid equivalent from this storm, and the snowpack at the stake is back up to almost 50 inches.  This storm system has really felt like a classic Pacific Northwest-style dump though, with heavy valley rains, and lower elevation wet snow gradually morphing into dry, but still dense snow at elevation.  I can certainly say that when I got back to the house this morning, my ski clothes felt like they’d taken a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and a good period of drying was definitely in order.  They’re ready to go out into the storm again though, and so am I.

Stowe, VT 01APR2012

An image of moguls on the Centerline Trail in April at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Deceptively beautiful moguls on Centerline today

The sky cleared out for us yesterday at Stowe to produce some excellent spring skiing, but with snowfall on the way for tonight, this morning’s clouds were expected to stick around and the prospects for soft snow didn’t seem quite as good today.  Due to the potentially marginal snow conditions, E and the boys chose not to head to the mountain, but I decided to stop in for a couple of afternoon runs to get in a quick workout and see what the slopes offered.  The main parking lot at Mt. Mansfield wasn’t nearly as full as what we saw yesterday, but there were still a good number of cars there when I arrived in the mid afternoon.

Roughly halfway up my first ride on the Fourrunner Quad, flakes began to appear in the air, and it snowed lightly on and off all the way to the top.  At the summit of the Quad I took in the views, and all around, the higher summits were disappearing with the onset of the light snowfall.  I figured I’d warm up with a run on the Ridge View/Sunrise/Tyro/Crossover/Dalton combination that we’d been skiing with the boys over the past couple of visits, and it was immediately apparent that temperatures had not reached that critical threshold for snow softening in the higher elevations today.  The main surfaces were refrozen granular, and while there had been some loose, sandy piles of granular snow kicked up and pushed together in places due to skier traffic, these areas were too few and far between.  Skiing in the upper elevations definitely required some significant contact with the frozen granular surfaces, and I definitely did not have the edges for that.  Around the elevation of the Sunrise/Tyro junction the snow began to soften somewhat and the piles of loose granular became more plentiful, but it still wasn’t possible to get continuous turns on soft snow.  I called E when I got down to Crossover and let her know that she and the boys had made the perfect decision to stay home today.  The snow got softer still down on Dalton, but so much of the route had been a tilted ice rink that the route didn’t seem like it was worth another run.

Skier traffic had actually been reasonably heavy on that route, presumably because a lot of people had been skipping the steeper terrain due to the slick conditions.  It had made the skiing even more challenging though, because one had to navigate around other skiers and riders, further limiting the options to get to any soft snow.  With that in mind, I decided to go for one more run and take one of the alternate routes.  From the summit I opted for Lord Loop, which was similar to Ridge View in consistency, but it had nobody else on it and I was able to head wherever I wanted in order to get the best snow.  I then stopped at the top of Centerline and looked down – the bumps looked really good, so good that I figured it would be worth dealing with some slick spots to check them out.  It was the wrong decision; after a few Telemark turns, when I was already in too far to change my route, I found out just how hard the snow was.  As the slope steepened, I went from Telemark turns, to occasional Telemark turns, to alpine turns, to “get me the hell of this frozen egg carton before I kill myself!”  The bump lines were so tight and appealing looking too, but the snow was just too nasty.  Alpine skis would have made life much easier, but it still would have been more hassle than it was worth.

An image of a sign informing people about ticket refunds at Stowe Mountain resort in VermontI got myself down onto North Slope, and worked the best I could to ride the berms of sand-like granular snow along the edges of the trail.  Access to this type of snow gradually increased as I descended, and I was able to burn out my legs pretty well with lots of tight turns thanks to those soft lines.  The final descent of North Slope above Crossover and on to Dalton’s was the best part of the run, and I pushed my legs hard enough with very short radius Telemark turns that I felt good calling it an afternoon.  I’d seen enough of what was available, and had enough close calls and unnerving situations with the Teles on the upper mountain, that leaving was easy.  As I skied down the last slope to the lodge, I heard a guy mention to his friend that he was going to see if he could turn in his ticket and get a refund or voucher.  I don’t blame him, since with the combination of terrain and conditions probably put the day in that bottom 10% for the season.

I’d definitely call today a rather inauspicious ending to Stowe’s lift-served ski season, in what was certainly an inauspicious season for snowfall (it looks like Stowe’s final snowfall tally will be 211 inches, which is just 63% of normal).  Back at home, E had commented that we’d had a nice sunny spring day with good snow yesterday, and today wasn’t really going to top it; she was happy to end on yesterday’s note and that’s a good day to have for the last of Stowe’s lift-served skiing.  I’m happy with the workout I got today, and glad I coupled the trip to the mountain with the grocery shopping that had to be done, but folks who didn’t make it out you really didn’t miss much.  These sort of firm conditions certainly happen on cool, gray days in the spring, but normally we’d have a few weeks left to catch up on some more soft conditions due to powder or sun.  Stowe’s early closing almost seems like it’s a manifestation of the collective psyche of the skiers, who appear to be finishing off the season earlier than usual, intent on putting 2011-2012 behind them.  Other local areas are certainly staying open for a while though, so we’ll see where our ski travels take us next.

Stowe, VT 31MAR2012

An image of Erica Telemark skiing in the spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont on March 31, 2012
Morning clouds cleared away to provide sunshine for spring skiing today at Stowe.

Temperatures have been fairly seasonable over the past week, with a couple rounds of light snow in the mountains to produce some small powder days on Monday and Friday.  Today dawned sort of gray with a snowstorm passing to our south, but the clouds gradually dissipated, the temperatures rose to around 50 F at the house, and we decided to head off to Stowe for some afternoon runs.  We’d been eyeing the forecast in the morning and it had seemed really iffy in terms of getting warm enough to soften the slopes, but eventually it became obvious that even the mountains were going to get there.

An image of recent snow in the alpine areas of the Chin on Mt. Mansfield in Vermont
Recent snows still visible in the Mt. Mansfield alpine today

En route to the resort we caught some views of Mt. Mansfield, and you could still see the signs of yesterday’s snow in the alpine.  Indeed, even in some shady spots down below 1,000’ in elevation, vestiges of the recent snow were still hanging around.  We opted for the Mansfield Base Lodge again as we’d done last Sunday, but the parking lot was nothing like what we’d seen then; it was obvious that it was a Saturday and the weather was nice, because the main lot was packed.  Temperatures were in the 40s F, and the sun was out, so folks were all around the mountain and parking lots having a good time.

An image of Ty and Dylan Telemark skiing together in spring snow on the Ridge View trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The boys working together on their turns

We worked with the boys on their Telemark Skiing using the same Ridge View/Sunrise/Tyro/Crossover combination that we’d skied last weekend.  With the beautiful weather, the skier traffic was much higher today than what we’d encountered on Sunday, and that changed a couple of things.  The terrain got a little more bumped up, which gave the boys some opportunities to try some Telemark turns through the moguls.  Dialing in Telemark turns through the moguls requires quick footwork and good transitions, but the boys are at least getting to the stage in their progression that they can piece together some good segments.  Dylan had a fall at one point that actually cracked his goggles a bit, so it looks like he’ll be able to get some fancy new ones like his brother.  We even discovered that yesterday’s powder was around in areas off the edges of the trails.  It had often thickened (and become good for building snowballs as we tested) but it was pretty nice in spots and it was refreshing to get a few floaty turns.

The downside of the nice weather was the increase in skier traffic to Stowe-like levels, which was unfortunately exacerbated by the reduced terrain options.  Even sticking to the moderately-pitched routes, there were way too many people skiing way too fast for comfort.  Ty and Dylan are definitely well into that intermediate stage with their Telemark turns, and while the terrain was perfect for them, the number of people straight-lining the slopes is really incompatible with kids trying to work on the larger radius turns that are common at their stage of learning.  We had a few close calls, but fortunately no collisions.

The logo for the Crop Bistro & Brewery in Stowe, VermontEventually the Quad shut down for the day and we had to call it an afternoon.  Back in the Mansfield Base Lodge we got to listen to the après ski band they had playing.  It’s been kind of nice visiting the scene there; it’s really the old school alternative to the Spruce Camp Base Lodge.  On the way home we checked in at some of the ski shops on the Mountain Road for a new pair of goggles for Dylan, and stopped for dinner at the Crop Bistro & Brewery, which is the new restaurant where The Shed used to be located.  The caliber of the food appears to be a bump up from The Shed’s offerings, and not surprisingly, the prices have increased to match.  As anyone who has been up the mountain road in the past several months has seen, the exterior of the building has been changed from the red of The Shed to a more yellowish color, and the interior has been all redesigned as well.  They’ve gone with that “contemporary rustic” style, and have included several impressive (and large) photographs of the Vermont countryside from one of the local photographers.  The overall feel of the Crop actually reminds me a lot of the Farmhouse Tap & Grill in Burlington, featuring high-quality food that is locally sourced as much as possible and really showcases what the local agriculture has to offer.

An image of homemade sauces accompanying Erica's cheeseburger at the Crop Bistro & Brewery in Stowe, Vermont
Homemade sauces at the Crop Bistro & Brewery

I had an amazing pasta special with nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and a spectacular sauce.  E had a cheeseburger, which was accompanied by some of their homemade sauces, and we all shared an appetizer of bread, honey, nuts, and an assortment of local Vermont cheeses.  The boys got the grilled cheese, which was made with Cabot Cheddar.  Price wise, the Crop doesn’t seem like it’s quite going to be the place that The Shed was for popping in for meals off the bike path, but the locavore approach is nice to see, and the food we had was really good, so it’s a nice addition to the dining options in Stowe.

Stowe is planning to make tomorrow their last day running the lifts, and it seems to be mostly due to the lack of interest from skiers.  There’s supposed to be some additional snow coming in later in the day tomorrow, but we’ll have to see what the clouds and potentially cooler temperatures do to the snow surfaces, and whether it’s worth heading out for the resort’s last lift-served day this season.

Stowe, VT 25MAR2012

An image of Dylan in a Telemark turn on the Sunrise trail area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan hits the spring snow today at Stowe for his third day in a row working on Telemark turns.

Yesterday, Bolton Valley finished up its lift-served season, and we were able to get out and make good use of the soft spring snow as the boys worked on their Telemark turns.  Weather conditions were fairly similar today, with temperatures around 40 F or so at the mountain elevations, so we were anticipating the chance for more spring snow on the slopes as we headed off to Stowe.  On the way to the resort I was surprised to see a couple of pockets of natural snow all the way down at the elevation of the Matterhorn around 1,000’, but in general one had to head up above 2,500-3,000’ to really get into substantial natural snow.  The snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is down to just 26 inches after being at over 80 inches near the beginning of the Month – and this is at a time when the snowpack on Mt. Mansfield should still be increasing.  Based on the forecast, it looks like the melting will cease for a while, and there could even be some increases with additional snowfall, so this may mark the end of the most precipitous melting.  The rapid jump in snowpack in February combined with the quick drop in March makes for quite a dramatic plot of the Mt. Mansfield snow depth.

A plot of the snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake for the 2011-2012 winter season as of March 25, 2012
The plot of snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake this season as of today - the past month has seen a dramatic rise and fall in mountain snowpack.

With the gray skies today, we weren’t surprised to see that parking lots were minimally occupied.  For a change of pace from the rest of the season, we decided to park on the Mt. Mansfield side of the resort, and we were able to get a convenient spot right in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge.  It was fun stopping in there and checking out the scene, since we’ve been over at the Spruce Camp Base Lodge all season.  Stowe has currently got the most available terrain in the state thanks to their snowfall and snowmaking, and when I checked on the trail report on their website, I saw that there would be plenty of low/moderate angle terrain that would suit the boys as they worked on their Telemark turns.

A photo of a painting on the wall in Stowe's Octagon building, showing a Telemark skier in powder
This painting iin the Octagon caugt our eye, especially with the theme of the day.

Much of the mountain was shrouded in fog, but the snow was nice and soft right from when we arrived around midday.  The route that we used was Ridge View to Sunrise to Tyro to Crossover to Dalton/Liftline, and it was a perfect mix of pitches for the boys.  Both Ty and Dylan had obvious “vanilla” (in this case turning to the right) and “chocolate” (turning to the left) sides today, so we worked on catching that chocolate side up to the vanilla.  We noted that on their bad side, the boys would often have their weight a bit too far back, so we were able to pass that along to them and they were able to use it to consciously work on fixing those turns.  With this being their third day in a row on their Telemark skis though, their improved comfort level and increased skills were very apparent, and they were having a lot of fun with their turns.  E commented on how they were quite disciplined and rarely ever needed to resort to alpine turns, and she was especially impressed when she’d find herself in tight quarters throwing in an alpine turn and find that the boys were still dropping the knee.  The boys were certainly feeling those long Stowe runs in their legs, so we took a break up in the Octagon before it closed; it was mellow scene with just a few people around.

An image of four snowboarders walking up for another run in the terrain park at Stowe - March 25, 2012
Four riders prepare for another round of jumps as they climb their way back up in Stowe's lower terrain park today.

On one of our runs we stopped and watched what appeared to be an impromptu session taking place in the lower terrain park near the Mountain Triple Chair.  They had a tent set up with an announcer on a loudspeaker and music, and he was calling out the tricks that the athletes were throwing down.  It seemed like they were having a lot of fun making good use of the soft spring snow.  The weather is really supposed to cool off for the next couple of days, with a chance for a little snow tonight and mountain temperatures in the single digits tomorrow night.  I think we got lucky with the soft snow surfaces this weekend, but there definitely won’t be softening with high temperatures only in the 20s F tomorrow.  The snowpack is certainly going to be preserved this week though, and perhaps we could even see some increases depending on how much snow falls, so that will help keep the ski season going as we head into spring.

Stowe, VT 23MAR2012

An image of Ty Telemark skiing in spring snow on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty, working on spring Telemark turns today at Stowe

This is actually a second hand report from Stowe today – E didn’t have any parent-teacher conferences scheduled and decided to take the boys out alone for some Telemark skiing in the warm spring weather.  Temperatures have been incredibly warm as of late, with Burlington reaching a record 76 F on Sunday, which is 35 degrees above the average high temperature for March 18th.  However, that impressive record temperature was only the beginning; it was quickly bested on Monday, by a high temperature of 79 F, and then again on Tuesday with 80 F, and finally on Wednesday and Thursday, to the tune of 81 F, which is roughly 40 degrees above average.  The record temperatures finally waned today, but it was still quite warm, and the damage to the snowpack has been done.  The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake dropped 30 inches during the period, and in the lower elevations, slopes were melting out everywhere.  To couple such an historic period of warmth with a winter season that has already been quite warm and low on snowfall, really begins to put this season in rare company.  Were it not for the big storm that hit the area at the end of last month, I shudder to think where we’d be in terms of snowpack.  But, the good news is that local skiing continues to roll along, and since the resorts have been able to make it through this almost perfect storm of insults to the snowpack, it means that they should be able to handle just about anything that the weather can dish out.

“it was quickly bested on Monday,
by a high temperature of 79 F, and
then again on Tuesday with 80 F,
and finally on Wednesday and
Thursday, to the tune of 81 F, which
is roughly 40 degrees above average.”

E said that the Spruce Camp Base Lodge was utterly deserted today, and showed me her picture of just how empty is was in the locker area on the bottom floor.  Not surprisingly, they ran into friends in the form of Mrs. Cabot, Eliza, Ben, and Izzy at the base of the Spruce Peak chairs.  E and the boys did a couple of runs off the Alpine Double, and Ben hung with them as he continued to learn how to snowboard.  Some areas, such as the alpine slide tunnel, were closed due to melting, and connecting over from the top of the Alpine Double to the Sunny Spruce side involved a lot of traversing across grass.  They did have Slalom Hill open with good snow, and race preparations could be seen taking place.  Most of the time was spent on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak, which offer great terrain for the boys to practice on their Telemark skis.  With the low elevation and south exposure in that area though, it was quite warm, plenty of melting had occurred, and there were certainly muddy patches that required navigation to avoid.  It sounds like everyone took the day casually though, and they had a pretty good time.

Apparently a big attraction today was having snowball fights, which occurred over near the employee parking lot below Slalom Hill.  E said the fights went on and on and on because everyone was having so much fun.  Later in the day, E watched Ben while Mrs. Cabot took the girls for dance rehearsal/practice, and eventually everyone reconvened in the Great Room Grill to finish off the day.  With the massive heat wave done, it doesn’t look like temperatures are going into the deep freeze, but they should at least return to something near normal and offer some chances for snow.  There’s still time to rebuild some snowpack in the higher elevations, so it would be great if we could call on some storms to do that as we head into April.

Stowe, VT 18MAR2012

An image of skis poking out over the steep edge of the headwall of the National trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, with the steep, snowy, mogul-filled trail below
Perched atop National today

It’s been too warm for any additional snow recently, even in the mountains, but according to my records this is the first weekend/holiday period without powder since way back in the middle of December.  That’s actually pretty surprising in this season of warm temperatures and low snowfall, but despite the bouts of inhospitable ski weather, the Northern Greens have managed to continuously catch timely snow to revitalize the snow surfaces and provide powder skiing.  Yesterday the boys had a good session of Telemark training at Bolton Valley, but today they were back on the alpines for our weekly ski program session at Stowe.

“according to my records
this is the first weekend/
holiday period without
powder since way back
in the middle of December.”

The resort didn’t seem to be too busy when we arrived today, as I managed a midday parking spot right in the first row near the Stowe Mountain Lodge.  The boys and I met up with Connor and did an early run on Easy Street; its fairly mellow slope was still somewhat challenging for Connor as he’s just switched over to snowboarding this season.  Snow on those low elevations, south-facing slopes near the Spruce Peak Base Area was quite soft and slushy, but at least it wasn’t overly sticky since it had long ago taken on that corn snow consistency.  When our coaching group for the day finally assembled, it was just Luke, Ty, and Dylan for students, with Luke’s Dad joining us as well since he was out on the mountain today.  As the spring temperatures continued to surge into the afternoon, with 50s and 60s F on the mountain and even some 70s F at the base area elevations, the layers of ski clothing seemed to be flying off faster than people could do laps.  We certainly weren’t immune to the warm temperatures, so as we headed toward the Over Easy we stopped in Spruce Camp and dropped some layers.  The process took a few minutes because we also had to switch our ski passes out of our parkas as we converted over to vests.

“the layers of ski
clothing seemed to be
flying off faster than
people could do laps.”

We kicked off our Mansfield turns with a trip down Cliff Trail, which we were happy to find full of bumps on its upper half.  The skiing seems much better there with some contour, and naturally the bumps were loads of fun with the spring snow.  We continued down onto Nosedive, and proceeded on our way to the Fourrunner Quad area – we’ve spent a huge amount of time on the Mansfield Gondola this season, so this was a chance to mix things up and get some time in the Front Four area.  The quad actually wasn’t running because work was being done on it, but the Lookout Double was running as the alternative.  We were happy that it was such a nice day though, because just as we were approaching to top of the lift, there was a five minute lift stoppage.  Dylan was with me, and Ty was actually with a stranger, but he said he managed a fun discussion.  Not surprisingly, the discussion included skiing.

“I straddled up to the
precipitous edge, stuck
my skis out into the air,
and enjoyed the view
beneath my feet.”

With the Front Four on our Minds, we headed right over to National, and the presence of soft spring snow meant that it was definitely time to hit the formidable headwall.  The National Headwall is so steep that it often just turns into an icy mess that’s not worth skiing if the weather isn’t good, but that was not the case today.  I was indeed excited to be atop National on a day like today.  I straddled up to the precipitous edge, stuck my skis out into the air, and enjoyed the view beneath my feet.  The pitch of the National Headwall doesn’t look like it’s quite 40 degrees, but with the way the catwalk above it is groomed, I’d say from experience that the first pitch is pretty darned close to hitting that mark.  After eschewing the headwall under nasty conditions earlier in the season, I assured the boys that they could handle the slope easily with the good snow, and indeed they did.  It was just pure fun letting the soft, steep turns just fall away with gravity on the upper headwall.  As we approached the junction with Liftline, we got an acrobatic demonstration of sorts – were able to watch a couple of lift mechanics transfer from a chair onto one of the lift towers.  It was very cool looking down at them as they were perched precariously on the chair, accented by the image behind them, which was a view of the valley far below.

An image of two lift mechanics with safety harnesses moving from a chair on Stowe's Fourrunner Quad to one of the towers to perform maintenance.
Mechanics high in the sky today on the Fourrunner Quad

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the Mountain Triple, making sure to catch a trip on Hayride, but also putting in a good dose of terrain park action at the request of the boys.  We even managed a terrain park trifecta at one point, coupling the small park on Lord to the larger parks on Tyro and North Slope in one long run.  The only downside we found to our “freestyle” terrain selection was that the resort didn’t build their huge half pipe this season, so we didn’t get to mix that in.  With the adhesive properties of the soft corn snow, we were able to really load up the tops of our skis with heaping helpings of it before getting on the lift.  Ty, Dylan and I we were able to stockpile it that allowed us to throw a lot of snowballs during our ascents, as we worked on hitting the chairs that were descending on the other side of the lift.  Hitting the skeleton-like chairlift frame, which is of course a moving target, while in a seated position on another moving object, is a fun challenge.  Although Ty had the pole position on that one, putting him closest to the target, he throws lefty, so that raised the bar for him.  We skied almost until the lifts closed, winding up at Spruce around 3:45 P.M. where we called it a day.  It was good ol’ Subway at the Alpine Mart today on the way home as the warmer season of après ski kicks into gear, and that closed the books on another fine day of Vermont spring skiing.

An image of Dylan carrying Erica's snowboard on his shoulders as he walks through the parking lot in front of the Stowe Mountain Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Top notch porter service for Mom at the end of the day

Bolton Valley, VT 17MAR2012

An image of the Mid Mountain Chair at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont, with the Beech Seal trail in the background containing leftover ski racing ruts that had been carved into soft spring snow
The Mid Mountain Chair with racing ruts carved into the spring snow on Beech Seal

Spring is definitely making inroads now that we’re into March, but last Saturday, winter was still in charge as we had a great powder day at Bolton with midwinter snow.  Today however, there was no denying spring its due, with a forecast for morning inversion fog in the valleys burning off to sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s up in the mountains.  This looks to be the first weekend since back in early/mid December without local powder available, and it was a good opportunity to get the boys out on the Telemark skis for some practice on groomed terrain.  E has wanted the get the boys out on their Teles for a while, and since they were excited about it today, we were hoping to seize that opportunity.

Around 10:00 A.M. I checked on the Bolton Valley Web Cam to get a sense for how much the snow had softened, and I could still see a sheen out there on the slopes of the Butterscotch Terrain Park, so I knew it wasn’t quite time to head up just yet.  Stephen also called us on his cell phone to let us know about the conditions – he was on the mountain and agreed that the slopes weren’t quite softened to that point of perfection.  I’d actually just seen Stephen on the web cam, and was able to look at him in the image while we talked on the phone.  We were certainly enjoying the convenience afforded by the new technology that the resort has added to the base area.  Stephen let us know that the resort was pretty busy, and with the parking lots getting full, he was unsure whether or not we’d have to park down in the Timberline lot.

As we approached midday, the fog in the valley had burned off, the weather was looking pleasant, and it was time to head up to the mountain.  We were still torn on which ski gear to bring for the boys – I wanted to give them the chance to tackle the steep, and presumably soft, bumps on Spillway with their alpine skis, but we definitely wanted to capitalize on that eagerness to work on the Telemark turns.  In the end, we brought both sets of equipment, and we figured we’d play it by ear once we’d seen how things looked on the mountain.  We ended up with a good spot in the parking lot; we’d basically gone late enough in the day that some people were leaving and spots were opening up.

An image of a couple of young children playing in the water in a spring drainage runnel at the base of Bolton Valley Ski Area in Vermont
Fun in the melting snow for a couple of young Bolton Valley visitors

Since the boys were keen on getting in some Telemark skiing, we ultimately jumped on that opportunity and decided to have them go with their Telemark gear instead of alpine.  We made several runs off the Mid Mountain Lift to get the ball rolling, and we had a good time coaching the boys with their turns.  We worked on aspects such as fore-aft weighting and leg positioning, and tried to keep them from sitting back too far.  Ty was really starting to self diagnose some of the issues himself, which was very helpful in making improvements.  We stuck to mostly Bear Run for the consistent moderate pitch for learning, but also did a couple of Beech Seal runs to increase the challenge, and a Sherman’s Pass run from the top for variety.

I shot various video clips throughout the runs we took, getting a chance to try out E’s new Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS camera.  Her old Canon PowerShot SD700 IS from several years ago finally had to be retired from regular service since there was a crack in the LCD screen that made it unviewable, but it had served us quite well and we went back for a new one in the same series.  In the five years since we got her last camera there have naturally been some huge improvements in the technology.  This new Canon has a touch screen, a 12.1 megapixel sensor, which is twice what her old one had, a 12X optical zoom versus only 4X before, and most importantly for today’s ski outing, her new camera shoots full HD 1080p video.

An image of the sign indicating the requirement for shirts and shoes at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery

We took a mid afternoon food break when the boys needed it, and started out on the main deck beside the James Moore Tavern, where table service was an option.  We quickly decided to move on though because it was so sunny and hot, and instead headed down to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to sit outside on the covered deck.  We got some snacks and drinks and started out sitting on some milk crates from the huge stack that they had at the east end of the deck, but the picnic table quickly cleared and we commandeered that.  We weren’t even sure if the boys were going to want to go back out on the slopes, since working on Telemark turns in substantially more tiring that just ripping laps on the alpine skis, but we had time to rest and discuss the session we’d just had.  Ty said that his toes were definitely getting worked, and that’s something that I’ve experienced when first getting up on those toes for extended periods of Tele turns.

An image of the exterior of the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery in the village at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Outside the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery this afternoon

The boys were actually able to rest up enough that they wanted to go back out and make some additional runs.  E and I were certainly excited about that, so we quickly got ourselves back out to main base area.  While on the Mid Mountain Chair, I invented a way to use all the soft corn snow that was accumulating on the tops of our skis.  I made snowballs from it and attempted to throw them hit the chair in front of us, which contained combinations of E, Ty, and Dylan depending on who sat with whom.  All the chairs are moving at the same pace of course, so one doesn’t lose target distance in that regard, but it’s much harder to get a snowball to reach the chair in front of you than you might initially think.  It’s a challenge to throw from a seated position, and, the chair in front of you is often elevated relative to the one that you are on.  After many trials, I was finally able to hit a chair containing Ty and Dylan when E was away using the restroom.  I eventually discovered that the spacing of the chairs on the Mid Mountain Chair is far from consistent – I was able to hit the back of chair 25 from chair 24 because they are quite close, but many other chairs were farther apart.

We had a greater focus on Beech Seal in that second session, and I was able to work on my own Telemark turns in the leftover ruts from the race course.  That was quite challenging because the ruts were almost like the corners of a bobsled track by that point, and you were really locked into taking that fixed, fairly aggressive line.  It was indeed a pretty challenging line, but by my last run I was really starting to get it.  You had to hang on, carve hard, and have confidence that you were going to hold through the entirety of the sharp arc.  I was amazed that the boys were trying it with Telemark turns as well, but they clearly wanted to see what it was like, and could manage in the flatter sections of the course where the turns weren’t as aggressive.

It was well after 5:00 P.M. before we finally called it quits, but it was hard to pull away from such a beautiful day with temperatures in the 50s F.  I love how the mountain keeps things running a little later take advantage of their western exposure and the long lasting spring sunshine.  The boys definitely made a lot of progress on their Telemark turns though, so the whole afternoon was worth it even beyond the chance to simply be outside on the slopes.  It sounds like we could be in for quite a warm one this week, with some temperatures in the valleys getting up near the 80 F mark, so we’ll really have to hope that the slopes can handle some melting if that forecast comes to fruition.

Stowe, VT 11MAR2012

An image of Dylan looking up as we head out along the Kitchen Wall traverse at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan on a lower route as we head out to the Kitchen Wall traverse today at Stowe

It started snowing on Friday night thanks to our most recent upper level low pressure system; it was yet another storm that was brilliantly timed to set up the slopes for the weekend, continuing a trend that seems like it’s been in place for several weeks.  The Central Vermont Ski Areas were the focus for this latest storm, topping out with over a foot of fresh snow, but even the Northern Vermont Resorts reported accumulations passing a half foot.  We made turns at Bolton yesterday, finding a nice round of powder in which to play, even if the effects of previous warm temperatures could still be felt in spots.

Today we were back out at Stowe, and we were set up for a nice one with overnight lows in the 20s F to keep the powder in good shape.  We arrived at the Spruce Peak Base around 12:15 P.M., and after dropping off E and the boys it took me a couple of circuits of the parking lot to get a spot – a very nice one eventually arose right near the Stowe Mountain Lodge just a couple of rows out from the Stowe Mountain Club parking area.  So, I’d say that based on parking, the number of visitors to the resort today was ample, but pretty typical.

“I led the boys down
at mach speed, carving
huge arcs with radii
of probably 150 feet.”

Temperatures were expected to climb above freezing as the day wore on, so when I got my students for today, which were just Ty, Dylan, and Luke, we headed right over to the Mt. Mansfield Gondola area to take advantage of the elevation it offered.  We were thinking of checking out the Kitchen Wall as long as the snow wasn’t getting thick, but Dylan requested a warm-up run first, so we had a good trip from Cliff Trail to High Road to Switchback.  Indeed there were spots where the snow was already starting to get sticky, but the presence of sun was the key factor sending it there; staying in the shade made all the difference, and one could actually tune their skiing to be in their desired level of snow firmness depending on how deep they went into the shade.  Having assessed the snow, we did head to the Kitchen Wall for the next run, and the shaded spots were still holding winter snow, although some thick snow did have to be negotiated.  There were certainly areas of nice, untracked powder to ski in the spirit of what we found yesterday at Bolton, but for the best ride you had to be careful not to get into snow that had never been hit by the sun.  We continued on through the Nosedive Glades to Nosedive, and the on to Liftline to get to the Fourrunner Quad.  Conditions continued to be that mix of dry, winter-style and softer, spring-style snow, but as long as the soft stuff wasn’t too wet, it really did make for some nice skiing because you could sink and edge into it like nobody’s business.  That incredible grip was building confidence that we were ultimately going to test at high speed.

An image of blackened marshmallows prepared for s'mores at the fire pit in the center of the Spruce Peak Village at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Some like ’em black – s’more prep time at Spruce Peak

We made one quick run off the Fourrunner Quad, visiting some pretty steep terrain on National and Liftline before returning to the Gondola.  Everyone was game for a run down the moguls of Chin Clip, so we had a long run of bumps that got everyone a workout.  Back at the top of the Gondola again, we started out on Perry Merrill, and I proposed a run down the Tombo Waterfall, but Dylan said he was too tired for that.  I’m glad that he was able to tell that he was too tired for that run instead of just muddling through.  The rest of that run on Perry Merrill turned out to be quite an experience though, because it was virtually devoid of any other skiers and we turned on the afterburners.  I led the boys down at mach speed, carving huge arcs with radii of probably 150 feet.  The speed was a little intimidating at times, but the groomed snow was so good that you knew it was going to hold, and the only limits were your legs.  Back at Spruce at the end of the afternoon, the fire pit area was roiling with children and adults at the s’mores session.  Perhaps the warm weather had everyone especially exuberant to be outdoors, or maybe the food supplies were more plentiful than usual, but the place was definitely hopping.  I had time to capture a number of images of the scene, and with so many photo opportunities, that process was as much fun as eating.

An image of Ty eating toasted marshmallows on a stick among the crowd at the Spruce Peak Village fire pit at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty get set to devour some toasted marshmallows today among a sea of other visitors around the Spruce Peak fire pit.

On the way home, we stopped in at Harvest Market on the Mountain Road to grab something to eat.  We’d been there once before when we were in town for an event, but we decided to check it out as a potential place to get après ski food.  It’s definitely got that Vermont/local foods/gourmet slant, so prices aren’t going to be as low as what you’d typically find at a convenience store, but of course you’re getting food of a totally different caliber.  They’ve got a deli counter with meats, prepared food options, etc., and what immediately grabbed our attention there was the assortment of samosas; E and I enjoyed ours immensely, and they’re about as easy to eat in the car as one could want.  The boys shared a stick of local Vermont pepperoni, which they devoured in the back seat.  Space inside at Harvest Market is pretty tight; they’ve packed most of the items you’d expect to find in a small market into a pretty minimal footprint, and the deli section takes up roughly half that area.  I’d say the overall feel is one of combining a Vermont country store with a gourmet food shop, so naturally it fits right in at Stowe.  I’m sure it would be pricey to do a substantial amount of your weekly shopping there, but of course you’re paying a premium to get items that are often locally sourced.  After our experience today though, I’m sure we’ll be mixing it in as one of our options after a day on the slopes; it’s a fresh alternative to throw in with restaurants and the usual convenience stores.  I hear the temperatures are warming up in the area this week, so this may be the last of the winter conditions on the slopes for a bit.  We’ll see what we get when we’re at the mountain next weekend, but I’d certainly say that we were able to enjoy what Mother Nature offered today.