Between almost daily soccer coaching, practices, and games now stacked on top of the usual routine, the spring schedule for E and the boys has been pretty crazy, but fortunately I was able to get them to sneak in a trip to the slopes today. I saw great pictures of the coverage on Nosedive from Powderfreak’s report on Wednesday, so we knew it was a good bet for spring turns and headed off to Stowe in the mid-morning. We’d been hoping Joe would be able to join us, but he ultimately decided it was just going to be a little too much to manage the hike and still have enough left in the tank for dancing tonight at the BJAMS Bash.
We parked in the Midway Lot and had to walk about 50-100 yards over to the start of the snow on Lower Nosedive. You could definitely see the effects of the past couple days’ summer-like temperatures, because bare areas were making substantial intrusions into parts of the trail. The snow coverage is still fairly continuous though, with just one actual break of about 20 feet about halfway up. We topped out a bit shy of the 3,000’ mark, which was about as far as E and the boys wanted to push themselves with more soccer games tomorrow. In terms of the skiing, the snow quality was fine, with nothing overly mushy despite the temperatures. We’d all brought ski pants, but E and the boys were pretty gutsy and skied just in their shorts. I’ve been there before, and especially since I was Telemark skiing I decided to stick with full ski pants and knee pads. E was skiing Tele as well, but she didn’t care – she and the boys all felt that the cooling of the snow and breeze was worth it, and fortunately there were no notable falls to contend with.
There were several groups of skiers around that we encountered on either the ascent or descent, and it was quite the fun atmosphere. We tested out playing Pandora on one of the cell phones on the ascent and that worked out well – Dylan made an Imagine Dragons station that had me grooving my way up the mountain at a really quick pace.
On the way out we took a peek at some of the other routes on the mountain that had substantial snow, and the best alternative to Nosedive looked like it was that North Slope area above the terrain park. Temperatures look to cool down somewhat as we head into next week, so that should slow the melting process a bit. These warm days have been great, but they’re causing the snow to disappear quickly!
Our protracted stretch of pleasantly warm and sunny weather has continued this week, and it’s allowed the ground to dry to the point that on Tuesday, I headed out for a mountain bike ride to sample some of local terrain by the house and into town. Indeed even some of the typically wettest terrain down by the Winooski was dry enough for riding, so things are ready on that front, but after seeing Powderfreak’s ski report from yesterday at Stowe, it reminded me that I should probably get back out on the slopes while the snow is available. I can still see bright areas of white snow on the slopes of Bolton Valley from my office in Burlington, but from that distance it’s hard to know exactly how continuous the coverage is. I popped up the image from the Bolton Valley Web Cam and could see that there were only patches of coverage on Beech Seal on the bottom half of the mountain, but it looked as if the snow at the bottom of Bear Run might be stretching upward for some substantial coverage.
I headed up to the resort with plans to at least get in a hike, since the areas without snow already looked pretty dry. I saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road at the base of Timberline at 1,500’, and it was clearly leftovers of manmade snow. Up in the Village it was very quiet, and I’d thought about getting a sandwich from the Deli, but it was closed. This is probably one of the quietest times of the year, so I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. I took a quick walk up to the slopes and could see that Spillway had some large areas of snow, and it was enough to suggest that I should throw my skis on my pack and bring them along.
The visible snow near the base that appeared to head up to Bear Run was the start of a reasonably long section that went about halfway up the trail, and from there to Mid Mountain the coverage was a lot more fractured or nonexistent. Above Mid Mountain I began to hike toward Spillway, since I’d seen the snow up there, but once I saw far more substantial coverage on Sherman’s Pass, I switched my route in that direction. I stopped my ascent at around 2,600’ near the top of the steeper Sherman’s Pass terrain above Mid Mountain, since there was another gap in coverage at that point.
For the descent, I found that the snow definitely had some sun cups and dirty areas, but there were a variety of areas with decent turns, and the coverage there basically brought me down to Mid Mountain before I took off my skis to connect to the lower half of Bear Run. That bottom part of Bear Run offered the longest stretch of continuous snow, and it carried me to within about 50 yards of the base lodge. With Bolton’s western exposure and more limited snowmaking than some of the larger resorts, May turns are often spotty, and this year was fairly typical in that regard. Based on what I saw, today’s turns were likely my last of the season at Bolton Valley, so that’s probably it until the fall. There’s a ton of snow left at Stowe and some of the other resorts around, so hopefully I can get out to some of those spots for more turns this month.
There’s still almost six feet of natural snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, and with manmade snow supplementing coverage in the lower elevations and Mansfield’s penchant for snow preservation, there’s going to be skiing on the mountain for quite some time to come. There’s even a lot of snow left across Route 108 on Spruce Peak, but with the way much of that ski terrain faces south, it’s going to disappear much faster. With that in mind, I decided that today would be a great day to make some turns on the slopes of Spruce Peak before it was too late. The weather made outdoor activities a no-brainer, with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s F. I’d planned to head to the slopes at some point today, but by mid morning, E could sense that none of the boys in the house were moving quite fast enough to enjoy the great day, so she quickly started ushering us out. Unfortunately she wanted to take care of some spring cleaning chores, and after a long week of soccer practices and some games tomorrow, the boys were supposed to rest their legs today. That left me en route to a solo outing at Stowe for the afternoon.
“The corn snow on the Main Street and Side Street areas was superb, with just a couple of inches being shaved off, and none of that bottomless mush that can sometimes form in the warmer weather.”
The lower mountain valleys are pretty much bare now aside from the stray snow pile, but even from Waterbury I could see the slopes of Mansfield and Spruce Peak glistening white with copious amounts of snow. The slopes of Spruce Peak were still looking good as I got close up, and with the main Spruce Peak parking area generally closed to traffic for continued construction, I headed up to the base of the Sensation Quad to start my tour. I found a few other cars, and a family playing in the snow in the Meadows area, but overall it was pretty quiet. I walked for just a minute to get to some the snow on Side Street, and then I was able to put on my skis and skin up the rest of the way. There were a couple of small breaks in snow coverage, but they were pretty inconsequential and you’ve basically got continuous snow all the way up to the top of Spruce Peak.
It was a good ascent, and I was definitely in need of the workout with ski time slowing down over the past couple of weeks. I wrapped around by the top of the Sensation Quad and continued on the trails up by the Spruce Peak Summit, then enjoyed a good 15-20 minutes taking in the views to the south. I also consumed a good amount of food, since I was pretty tanked by the last 10 minutes or so of the hike. I sent a phone picture to E to let her know I was at the top (and of course to let her know what she was missing), and then packed everything up for the descent.
The corn snow on the Main Street and Side Street areas was superb, with just a couple of inches being shaved off, and none of that bottomless mush that can sometimes form in the warmer weather. The manmade snow was actually the best for turns because it was so dense. One great thing about Spruce Peak this time of year is that traffic is especially low, and you can really find a lot of unblemished, or very lightly tracked slopes for some excellent spring turns. I did see a couple of other groups of skiers here and there, but traffic was light as one would expect. Between the ascent and plenty of Telemark turns on the ride down, I’d say my legs got what they needed. I’m tempted to try to figure out how to get in some more turns tomorrow among the boys soccer games, because the forecast is looking fairly similar to what we got today.
Today was Stowe’s final lift-served day of the season, and with a pleasant, sunny forecast, we headed off for some runs in the afternoon. Temperatures were in the 50s F at the base, and the Mansfield parking lot was awash in group after group of tailgaters. We got a nice parking space in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge from someone who was just leaving and hoofed it up to the base of the Fourrunner Quad. There was a lift queue of a few minutes, which seems to be common this time of the year when the Fourrunner Quad is bearing the lion’s share of the workload.
Overall, the skiing was a little sloppy in spots, but there’s generally been plenty of freeze-thaw cycles to get the snow turned into corn. We did find some snow high up in the bypass chutes that was almost wintry in consistency because it was so protected from warmth. Hayride was fun, with some steep bump lines, although they were generally spaced wider than our preference. Lower National had much better bump lines as is typical. We also had some fun cruising on Lord. As usual during the corn harvest season, we had our own corn harvest of sorts each run as everyone got the snow off their skis to supply snowballs for lift tower and chair target practice.
Typical of April, the weather looks like it will soon be changing, and after this relatively sunny and warm week, next week looks to be cooler and wet with some potential for snow. The forecasts suggest that a cutoff low pressure system may form in the region, and those can sometimes deliver copious amounts of precipitation as the storm sits and spins. We’ll have to watch and see if anything develops, but there’s always the potential for late season snowstorms this time of year in the mountains. Some recent favorites that come to mind are April 28th, 2010 and April 10th, 2012, which each delivered hefty dumps of snow to the mountains for fun April powder turns.
Temperatures were around the freezing mark in the valley, but dropped into the 20s F up in the higher elevations. I swung past Timberline and found about 3-4” of new snow there, but I kept going up to the main base area, planning to use the Wilderness ascent route. It was in the mid 20s F, blowing, and indeed downright wintry up in the Village. I made my way over to the base of Wilderness, and broke trail up the ascent route, since nobody had been out in that area before me. There really wasn’t any noticeable difference between the accumulation of new snow up there above 2,000’, and I found essentially the same depth as I did at the base of Timberline and even our house, so there wasn’t too much elevation dependence with this snowfall. This was actually my first time getting to use the official ascent route on Wilderness since it’s been in place. I stuck to the climbers left where the signs are, although my usual preference up there is on the climber’s right for whatever reason. I can’t figure out if it’s because it feels more sheltered or what.
I ascended to near the mid station elevation, switched over, and started my descent. The snow was reasonably dense, so with my 115 mm AMPerages it was easy to float on the available snow. There were a few scoured spots due to the winds, so I did touch down in a few of those however. I skied a bit of the Wilderness Woods, but with the contours in there, the wind had actually scoured a few more spots, so I quickly returned to Lower Turnpike. It was a nice run, certainly nothing epic, but there was some good powder skiing, I got in a quick workout, and naturally it was a great way to start the day.
Back down in the valley, snow totals had fallen off west of Bolton Flats, and in the town of Bolton itself it only looked like there was an inch or two of new snow. Snow totals seemed the least in the zone heading westward from Bolton to around Richmond, and then they increased again as I got into the Champlain Valley. I’m not sure exactly why the snow stuck to the trees so well in the Burlington area relative to other towns to the east, but it was unquestionably the most picturesque area I saw west of the mountains. Eyewall’s pictures do a great job of showing how beautiful this snowfall was in the Burlington area.
The sun was just starting to come out in spots as I left the house in mid afternoon, and as I headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road I could see the last flakes from the storm blowing lightly through the air. I’d opted to head all the way up the main mountain based on the strong elevation dependence of this recent storm, and I grabbed a spot in the top parking lot from someone who had already left. The winds up high were sufficient to keep the Vista Quad from running, so I walked right over to Wilderness for a run. The sun was really starting to come out and produces some wonderful views of the fresh snow, but it was still cold like mid winter, with temperatures around 20 F. I decided to take a run through White Rabbit as I’d done last Saturday, and found that the storm had totally erased any signs of previous tracks. Indeed the snow was right in line with the report, as there was roughly a half foot of powder out there. Although the powder turns on White Rabbit were fine, I’d already encountered some potentially challenging conditions in some places where the subsurface snow hadn’t fully refrozen, so you could sink down through the new powder and get into some mush. In a way it was a really good excuse to call on the extra floatation of fat skis, although I’d just brought my midfat Teles today. They worked fine, although once I got down toward the end of Snow Hole I found that the lower elevation meant less freezing of the underlying snow and more potential to punch through the soft subsurface. The main traveled areas of Snow Hole were skiing fine though, so I just stuck with the spots that had previously been packed and skied. Lower Turnpike was skiing beautifully, as was the Wilderness Lift Line based on the quiet sounds of people making their turns while I was on the lift.
For my next run I headed up Wilderness again, and this time visited the Outlaw Woods. The subsurface there in untouched areas was less secure than what I’d found on White Rabbit, and perhaps that was due to more exposure to the sun. With the Vista Quad down on wind hold, I cut left at the Wilderness Mid Station and headed over to some of the Vista trails to see how they were skiing with no traffic. The trails were awesome with the packed surface underneath, and a few fresh inches on top. I caught some turns at the bottom of Hard Luck and they were fantastic – it probably would have been worth a skin up to higher on Vista, but I hadn’t brought my skins since I’d planned to take it pretty easy as I recuperated from being under the weather this week. I made my way over to the Snowflake Summit and found Snowflake Bentley totally untracked, so I put a nice signature down that and then headed onto Lower Bentley to do virtually the same thing. From there I just skied down past the townhouses and back to the parking lot. It should be interesting to see how the skiing shapes up for tomorrow with the way it’s cooling down tonight – it might actually improve the powder skiing in the lower elevations if that subsurface tightens up.
After our morning session at Bolton working with Josh and Mike, we headed off to Stowe for BJAMS ski program. With the recent fresh snow in the past couple of days and the bright sun of late March, the alpine areas of Mansfield looked blindingly white as we approached from the south. The overall timing of the trip was actually quite good, and we were even able to grab some lunch at the Great Room Grill before the start of program. The line for the main grill area was long, and at first I thought it might be groups of ski racers from the races going on, but upon hearing all the British accents, I quickly realized that that’s who it was. They’re certainly getting some midwinter-like conditions on their ski vacations this weekend.
After lunch we suited up and headed to the base of the Spruce Peak lifts to gather our group for the day. There were some absences, so there were only six students (Ty, Dylan, Wiley, Elizabeth, Luc, and Jonah). I had Joe to help me as a second coach though, so we had a very good coach to student ratio for exploring whatever we wanted. Based on the snow conditions, and in the interest of expanding the student’s repertoire and keeping things fresh, I decided that we should take a trip to the Outer Planets area. I can’t recall the last time I’d been out there, and I didn’t really have a chance to make a recon trip this season, but I knew everyone could handle it.
I told the students that we’d be heading out past Angel Food on the traverse, and that we’d play it by ear as we scoped out the terrain. The traverse was in great shape, and the powder up there was midwinter light aside from areas exposed to significant sun. In those areas you could see that powder was just starting to take on some melt, so we knew that we might want to factor that into our skiing if we had options. Once past Angel Food, we continued on the traverse for a few more minutes and headed upward with some side stepping. I didn’t recall ever seeing any specific trail signs in the area, but I told the kids to keep their eyes peeled for anything they might see in that regard. I didn’t see any obvious trail signs, but I did see an interesting piece of artwork on a paper birch just above the traverse that presumably had some interesting meaning – it was a pair of eyes with almost mask-like surroundings. Not long after passing that image, I felt like we’d gone far enough and opted to take the next obvious line for the descent. I chose one with a couple of tracks, which in this case was good; we were doing a bit of exploring, but I didn’t want to take the kids on anything too exotic that might push things over the edge. Eventually as one gets farther and farther into the notch, things can get overly steep, and that’s not what we were looking for.
The line we got into, perhaps Yeranus but I can’t say for sure, was well defined, much like a mini Angel Food. As we pushed farther down the line, it got a bit less defined at times, but in general it didn’t matter because the hardwoods all around were eminently skiable and we could just fan out wherever we wanted. The snow quickly transitioned from somewhat settled midwinter powder to a wetter powder as we descended. Fortunately, it skied well, and the main issue arose when you’d stop. You’d melt enough snow to make it sticky, but as soon as you started skiing that went away. The snow continued to transition until we got down into what was becoming a very supportable spring-type snow. That really skied well with a few inches of dense proto-corn that shaved away nicely over a supportable base. A few minutes into the run, I could see that the terrain was going to be rolling over down below us, and it naturally got me wondering if we were going to have to deal with some sort of cliffs. When we finally arrived at the top of that section, I could see that a pair of very steep chutes lay below us. I was fairly committed to the right chute, which was the narrower of the two, and it did have a bit of ice in the throat that I could navigate with a bit of side-slipping. I let the kids know that the chute to the left was larger and offered a better entrance, so those who could, headed that way. Luc was committed to the chute I was in, and got hung up in there and lost a pole below that tumbled down to me. It took a couple minutes of strategic ski placement, and me tossing up his pole, but he managed his way through. Meanwhile, Dylan had circumvented the whole deal simply by skiing the snow just to the left of both chutes – the snow was great there and the trees were quite open. I love how he finds these great ways around obstacles.
Those two chutes quickly converged into a beautiful gully that must have been 30 plus degrees in pitch. I suspect it’s the pièce de résistance of that run, because it’s a few hundred vertical feet from there down to the notch road. The group skied most of it before cutting off to the right where a tree had fallen that required a bit of a limbo move to get past it. I later learned that Ty, or course, ducked under the tree and skied it anyway. On the notch road it was about 10 minutes of traversing before we were back to Stowe’s equipment barns and the Gondola area. There was some grumbling about the trek to get back to the lift, and everyone was dropping layers and getting warm in the sun. It was hard to complain when we were out there cruising along on the snow on such a great spring day, but as fun as it was, I knew I wasn’t going to push the kids to run another lap in there. We’ll have to get back there some time after a nice dump of snow and see how that gully skis.
We made another Gondola run on Gondolier and found the on piste conditions rather mixed – there was some winter snow, some areas of hard refrozen stuff, and some areas of nice soft snow lower down. We took a break at the Midway Lodge, and based on what we’d found for snow, Joe and I decided that it was best to head back to Spruce Peak and see if we could find some good spring snow on its south-facing slopes. The upper elevations of the Sensation Quad were still high enough to be generally a mix of midwinter snow and refrozen snow, and it really wasn’t until we got down to the Meadows elevations before the snow was consistently spring-like.
The day concluded with a BJAMS ski program tail-gating party in the parking lot of the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. Although temperatures were only in the low 30s F, there was no wind and that late Much sun was doing its work. It wasn’t the kind of day that you’d be stripping down to your shorts, but in ski gear it was very comfortable, and indeed we saw a lot of groups having similar parties today. It was a fun way to finish off the official ski program season, although I think many of us will be back in the coming weeks for some additional ski days, even if they aren’t official program days. The nice part about those days is that we can play it by ear with respect to the weather, and there’s no need to cancel if the weather is sour. The forecasts suggest we’ve got some additional storms coming as we head into April, so we’ll see how much extra snow we’ll have before the season finishes up.
Thursday night’s storm did a nice job of coating the mountains with some picturesque snow, and that seemed to be on Josh’s mind when he contacted us about a potential photo shoot today up at Bolton Valley. I hadn’t gotten the details on the timing via the phone message he left with me, but I knew the biggest hurdle with respect to our participation was whether or not it would interfere with BJAMS ski program in the afternoon at Stowe. I wasn’t optimistic about fitting everything in today, but when I checked in with E about the possibilities on Friday evening, she said the scheduled session at Bolton Valley actually looked like it would fit into the day. Josh wanted us in the 8:30 A.M. to 10:00 A.M. timeframe, and that would be easy to fit in prior to our afternoon session. The photo shoot plan would likely be for groomed slopes, so when I got back from skiing yesterday, I packed the ski rack with carving skis for the morning, and fatter boards for the afternoon at Stowe. From actual experiences on my solo trip to Bolton yesterday, and recent Stowe snow reports from Powderfreak, I knew we’d be able to get into plenty of powder on the slopes of Mansfield. The weather continued its cool trend today, with lows at our place somewhere down in the single digits F, so I expected snow surfaces both on and off piste to be preserved in the wintry state I’d seen yesterday.
We got together with Josh in his office, and as we geared up, we met our photographer Mike. I hadn’t met Mike before, but I’d seen him a number of times in some of the great Bolton Valley promotional videos that he’s put out this season. He started us off with an Alta Vista run, and shot stills of us skiing at various angles as he made use of the morning sunlight. Then it was on to some Spillway shots that he had planned, and it was great to see that Spillway was actually in nice shape with respect to a carving surface. Sometimes it can really get stripped of its snow by the winds, but with recent snow and a fresh grooming, our skis were able to bite in quite well. The photos went smoothly and Mike was pleased, so for the bottom half of that run we just had a free ski. That gave us a chance to head off into the powder, so Ty, Dylan, E, and I all jumped off to the untracked snow sitting off to the left along the junction with Sherman’s Pass. I was in the lead and heard a lot of commotion behind me, and when we finally got back onto the groomed snow I found out what it was all about. It turned out that Ty was near the back of the group, and as he looked ahead he found me taking every little powder line that he’d spied. Finally, just as we were about to return to the trail, I opted for something different and a line was going to be his… except Dylan took that one. It was all in good fun of course, but apparently we’ve got some seriously similar thoughts on line choice. I wonder how that could have evolved.
Mike had to be done around 10:00 A.M. for other duties, so we decided to make that the last photo run. He’d already set up Josh for capturing the time lapse of the pond filling for the pond skimming taking place later in the day, so things were definitely hopping at the resort as they set up for that event.
From the bottom of Snowflake it was a quick trip across the Village Circle to Josh’s office, where we got out of ski boots and prepared for the trip over to Stowe for the next phase of the day. One great bonus from today was that Josh gave us a huge promotional Bolton Valley poster that features an image of E and the boys skiing. They’d used it for ski shows and other events, but now they’re done with it. It’s made of fabric and seems quite durable, so it should make a great addition to the walls of the recreational area downstairs.
The Northern Greens picked up about a half foot of snow on Thursday night, and it made for some fun powder skiing on Friday. I couldn’t get out Friday myself, but temperatures stayed nice and wintry to preserve the powder in the mountains, so I headed up to the mountain for a little skiing this afternoon. I knew that Bolton Valley had done well with the storm, and although there would have been plenty of visitors hitting the new snow between Friday and this morning, trips to the usual spots off the beaten path were likely to yield some of that classic Bolton powder.
Temperatures were around 30 F down in the valley, and upper 20s F when I pulled into the Timberline lot at ~1,500’. I was happy to see that the resort is letting folks park in the upper Timberline parking lot near some of the winter driving center terrain, so I parked up there planning to ski right back to the car. Driving through both the lower- and higher-elevation valleys today, one could see that the freezing level must have risen up to around the 2,000’ mark yesterday, because while below that point there’s no notable snow accumulation on the trees, above that point, the trees were remarkably white and wintry. The fresh snow was also especially bright with the late-March sunshine that was out there.
I hopped on the Timberline Quad and I could see that the fresh snow in the 1,500’ – 2,000’ elevation range was just an inch or two, and subsurfaces there were a bit scratchy, but above that, things generally got deeper and softer. I saw that Cam was manning the mid station, and seemed to be having a good time in the sun while he monitored his post. I headed over toward the main mountain, and as I hit Five Corners, I remembered that the Snowflake Lift wasn’t running, so I skated up to the Snowflake Summit to see what the potential was for fresh tracks in the powder. Indeed Snowflake Bentley had just a couple of tracks on it, probably from patrol, so I had almost the entirety of the trail to choose from with 4 to 5 inches of untracked snow on it. That was a treat, and after that I put the Snowflake terrain on the hit list if I found myself in the area again.
I headed up the Vista Quad and took a run through the Villager Trees, finding some nice powder in there. Despite the relatively cold temperatures, it’s till important to pay attention to aspect, because terrain facing the south and exposed to sun has certainly seen more melting underneath than more protected aspects. I found myself near Snowflake again, so I farmed another run of powder next to my tracks from the previous pass.
I thought that White Rabbit might be a good bet for today, so I set a course for Wilderness. On the ride up, I could see lots of people having a great time in the Wilderness Woods – with the soft snow and sunshine it was simply looking great in there. Peggy Dow’s was in nice shape, especially with that high elevation, and White Rabbit had a few tracks, but plenty of untracked powder. Snow Hole was actually skiing really well, and just the way the contours of the snow have evolved in there let me know that indeed our snowpack is currently quite deep.
I decided to head up the Vista Quad again and take a big, varied run all the way back to the car to finish off the session. I skied a nice long full vertical run of Vista à Cobrass à Five Corners à Sixth Corner à Timberline Lane à Tattle Tale Woods à Split Rock Traverse à KP Glades à Spur à Corner Pocket Glades à Timberline Run à Car. That definitely got the Telemark burn going, and left me with a very satisfying feeling with respect to exercise by the time I’d hit the car. Just about as good though was being able to change boots and put my gear away in that warm sunshine. It’s fun this time of year to get midwinter snow surfaces and a taste of spring warmth at the same time.
It’s been another one of those weeks without much new snow, so we didn’t have a ton of inspiration to get out on the slopes this weekend. There was a day or two during the midweek period that got into the 30s F in the valleys, and it might have warmed some of the south-facing or lower-elevation slopes in the mountains, but it didn’t seem like there had been enough warmth to affect the conditions in the higher elevations. Yesterday in a post on the American Weather Forum, Powderfreak mentioned that at Stowe, the upper mountain was in midwinter form. We didn’t ski yesterday with somewhat gray skies and mountain temperatures in the low 30s F, but today we had to head out in the afternoon for ski program. The forecast looked very unappealing – single digits at the summit elevations with winds pushing practical temperatures down into the -20s F. Morrisville canceled their ski program for today based on the forecast, and E considered it, but canceling for cold in late March just didn’t seem right. With a sun angle equivalent to September, it’s really hard to get that feel of deep winter cold this late in the season. Even when the temperature is the same, late March cold is just not what it is in mid-January. It would have been hard to inform everyone of a cancellation of the program this morning anyway, so ski program was on, and off to Stowe we went. I wasn’t too optimistic about the overall conditions off piste, and planned on a lot of on piste skiing, so it felt strange not packing the fat skis on the rack for the first time in what must be at least a couple of months.
It was indeed brisk as we walked into the wind through the Spruce Peak Village, but as we gathered for meeting up with our ski groups in the sunshine at the base of Spruce Peak, it was clear that the March sunshine was beating out the cold. My plan was to take the group over to the Gondola to stay out of the wind and get a feel for the conditions in the higher elevations, and a quick conversation with Rick confirmed that the woods were the place to go. He said that the wind had pushed a lot of snow into the trees and the powder was fantastic. Hearing that, I decided that we’d explore some of the terrain that we’ve been eyeing above us whenever we return on the traverse from Angel Food. Very few people cut off the outward traverse prior to the main Angel Food line, and the powder just sits there. Several people from our group were actually out today for various reasons, so our crew was only six students with Ken and myself as coaches; that would be a very manageable number for out in the Angel Food trees
“I told everyone to hold up as I assessed the terrain options below, and found that we were right atop a 15-foot, double-decker frozen waterfall.”
Embarking on our first run, we were faced with the reality of what the wind had done to exposed slopes. The first hundred yards of Upper Gondolier was a heinous, bulletproof disaster. None of us generally pay too much attention to the sharpness of our ski edges since they’re typically not that critical for our usual skiing, but it hardly seemed to matter what edges were like on the start of that run. My carving skis typically have at least some edge, but heck if I could get a good hold on the stuff we hit. Fortunately, the snow improved as we got lower on the trail and the loose snow hadn’t been blasted away by the wind. Picking the right spots where the snow had collected actually yielded some decent turns, but you still had to be aware of scoured areas.
Fortunately we were into the trees within another couple of minutes, and it was an entirely different world. It was obvious that the idea of a spring thaw clearly has not caught on in the higher elevations; as everyone started to probe the state of the snowpack, they found themselves pushing their ski poles down past the handles as they disappeared into bottomless nothingness. We stopped on the Angel Food traverse about 50-100 yards before Angel Food itself, chose a nice area of untracked snow, and dropped in. As we headed down, a snowboarder on the traverse told us that we should be careful down there. I could only assume that meant cliffs or some sort of terrain trap, but whatever the case, I knew the kids could handle it.
The powder skiing was fantastic, and everyone devoured the lines we found. At the completion of our first pitch, it was obvious what the guy up on the traverse had been talking about. I told everyone to hold up as I assessed the terrain options below, and found that we were right atop a 15-foot, double-decker frozen waterfall. I let the group know what lay below us, and said that everyone could take a look and decide what they wanted to do. Dylan said that he’d start looking for a way around that everyone could use as needed, and headed off to skiers right. I dropped into the icefall to get below it and scout the area, carefully negotiating a landing off to skier’s left to preserve the main landing zone for anyone else that wanted to jump. There was no doubt that it was a technical line; the options were either to drop the whole thing at once, or carefully dial in a landing on the small shelf below the first tier and then finish off the final drop into the powder. The entrance was very narrow, and I told the members of the group up top that if they wanted the most options, they should set themselves up for the entry with their ski tips to skier’s left. I assured them that the landing zone was clear, and filled with bottomless powder at a reasonable slope. Some folks assessed the jump from above; others could tell from afar that it was more than they were looking for and followed the route that Dylan had made around the side. Ultimately it was Ty and Wiley that decided to go for the drop. Although I made sure that they knew of the more conservative route of pausing on the middle tier, they both pretty much straight-lined it from the top. Ty went first and made an impressive show of essentially just touching down briefly on the middle tier during his drop, much like running a pillow line. Wiley took a line a bit more off to skier’s left and did a nice job, although he did eject when his skis sunk into the deep powder at the base of the icefall. Ken contemplated the drop as well, but after discussion we decided that it was better for him to go around and play it safe. Hats off to Ty and Wiley for going forth on that one, because I can tell you that when you looked down from the top of that thing you realized that you were higher than the roof of a single story house. Even with plenty of sloped, bottomless powder below, it still takes some skill and confidence to negotiate such an obstacle.
We didn’t encounter any more huge icefalls on that run, but we did find ourselves in a lot of untracked bottomless powder. We worked our way in and out of various gullies and ravines, and found that it was a veritable skier’s playground. After a while we ran into the main return traverse, and contemplated taking a longer run all the way down to Route 108, but the powder down at the base elevations was starting to get a bit shallower due to dense layers below that had been partially affected by spring temperatures. It seemed like the best bang for our buck would be to simply take the Gondola up and start from the top again. We paused for a brief snack and bathroom break in the Midway Lodge, and found the typically deserted upstairs seating area filled with people. To find it like that in the middle of a routine Sunday afternoon was very surprising, so there must have been something going on. We headed to the downstairs seating area instead, and found that it was fortunately deserted.
After our break it was right back up the Gondola and all the way out to Angel Food proper. Our approach this time was to ski the first pitch of the run, and then cut skier’s right into lines that would be farther north than what we’d just skied. After a bit of cutting through the evergreens, lines began to open up and the group was off into powder city again. We caught some great additional lines, and gradually found ourselves in some of the same drainages that we’d hit on the previous run. We mixed up our lines a bit based on our prior experience, and wound up coming out right at the bridge at the bottom of the traverse. The kids remarked at the four to five feet of snow that sat atop the bridge, which was a testament to the impressive snowpack that sits even at the base elevations of the resort.
We headed back to Spruce Peak and while most of the kids headed off to the s’mores area, Kenny and Luc wanted to take another run, so I said I’d join them. Of course the quality of the snow was nothing like what we’d just been skiing, but I got to watch Kenny on the groomed snow putting down some impressive carves. He’s really improved a ton in the past couple of seasons, and as I’ve always expected with his athleticism, time on snow was all he’d need. I’d say my only regret from today was thinking that we’d be skiing on mostly groomed snow and not bringing our fat skis. My carving skis are fine, but I could feel the lack of width and rocker making turns just that little bit tougher when the powder started to get a bit shallower. I guess that’s what one gets for doubting Mt. Mansfield. The Mansfield manta should probably be, “If in doubt, bring the fat skis.” The powder skiing was great though, and by riding in the Gondola and skiing in the trees, any cold and wind were essentially non issues. When someone would crash in the powder today, the rest of the group would just sit down in the sun and relax, and it was really comfortable. Despite the initially daunting weather forecast, I have to admit that it was a fantastic day. By the end, Dylan had devised his own version of what the forecast should have been; he said the forecast should have indicated that “There was a high chance of awesomeness.” I’d say that forecast verified.