Tag Archives: Skiing

Dewey Mountain, VT 31JAN2015

An image showing some ski glades on Dewey Mountain in Northern Vermont
The glades on Dewey Mountain held some fantastic Champlain Powder today.

I’m sure there are many interesting stories that begin in a dark room, but in this case, the story begins in a darkroom. It was early June of 2010, and I was in the Pharmacology darkroom on the third floor of UVM’s Given Building. It must have been a popular day for western blotting, because I was in there with another guy as we both queued up some films for the developer. I can’t recall his name, but I think he knew I was a skier, and as he was as well, the conversation almost inevitably migrated in that direction. As backcountry skiing was discussed, he told me that I should check out the west face of Dewey Mountain sometime – he said you just drive up to the top of the road, put on your skins, and go up. It all sounded pretty straightforward from what I could tell. Being well entrenched in the warm season at that point, there was of course no way I was going to run off and check it out anytime soon, but I made a mental note and figured I’d check it out at some point in the future when the time was right. As one might expect, things happened to align, and that time was today.

“I was thankful to be able to use the track, because that powder was indeed deep – my checks were giving me measurements of 20-24″ of fluff.”

Our most recent snowfall in the Northern Greens came yesterday from Winter Storm Kari; it wasn’t an especially big storm up here, but much of the Champlain Valley picked up a half a foot of snow, and the west side resorts like Bolton Valley and Smuggler’s Notch received more than a foot. While yesterday’s temperatures were quite pleasant (and the skiing fantastic from what I hear), the storm pulled down more arctic air and was back into highs in the single digits F for the weekend. Combined with wind, temperatures would be well down into the negative numbers, and E and the boys had no interest in going out in that. I didn’t really feel like riding the lifts in those temperatures either, so another backcountry day was calling. I’d been a bit leery to head to the western slopes with the way they were lagging in snowpack earlier in the season, but with the way they cleaned up in this most recent storm, it seemed like the time had come. I had enough time to head out toward Underhill, so I figured I’d finally head to the top of the road and see what Dewey Mountain had to offer for snow and terrain.

“The best way to describe what’s up there is simply “steep and deep” terrain.”

It turns out that “the road” that you head to the top of, is Stevensville Road coming out of Underhill Center. There’s a fairly large parking area there, and I’d actually just visited it this past fall when Mark and I did a shuttle hike up to the ridge line of Mt. Mansfield and down to Underhill State Park. I’d never been there in the winter though, and it was an interesting drive. Even though this past storm wasn’t a big one, as I got into the upper elevations of Stevensville Road, I could see that they had a ton of snow, and it looked like a mini fluff bomb had gone off in the area. Delicate upslope Champlain Powder™ snow was piled on everything. The prospects for some powder skiing were looking very good.

An image of the Overland Cross-Country Ski Trail sign near the Stevensville parking lot outside Underhill Center in the Green Mountains of VermontThere were about a half dozen cars in the parking area as I geared up and hopped onto the skin track at the east end. It was really more than a skin track; there had been enough use that the trail was essentially packed. It reminded me of a narrower version of the Bryant Trail at Bolton Valley. It wasn’t long before I came to a junction that gave me the option to follow either the Overland X-C Ski Trail or the Nebraska Notch Trail. My initial assessment of the area on Google Earth had me planning on the Overland side, and with the vast preponderance of skin traffic heading in that direction, it sealed the deal. I did a few checks on the depth of the surface snow as I continued onward, and was getting measurements in the 15-16″ range. Even down in that 1,400′ to 1,500′ elevation range, the area had clearly been reeling in some good snows as of late.

An image showing some potential ski terrain above the Overland Cross-Country Ski Trail on the west face of Dewey Mountain in Vermont
Catching views of skiable lines along the skin track accessed by the Overland Trail

After about a half mile, the blazed Overland Trail seemed to head off to the north across the local streambed, but I stayed on straight ahead following the majority of the skin traffic. The skin track meandered upward through hardwoods, and I could see that people descending in the area would sometimes head off to the sides of the trail and ski the surrounding powdery terrain. The skin track began to steepen, and at some point above the 2,000′ mark I began to get into more obvious glades. Based on the distribution of mature trees vs. hobblebush and striped maple saplings, it looked like the area had seen some pruning at some point in the past. The skin track steepened further, and very obvious ski lines through glades with mature trees became more apparent. I caught sight of a couple of women who were ascending the skin track ahead of me, and eventually caught up to them at an elevation of around 2,700′ as they were switching over for a descent. We were just hitting the evergreen line, and I could see why they would start a descent there, but as I could also see a good number of ski tracks coming down from the evergreens above, I decided to push on a bit farther. We exchanged greetings as I prepared to step up above the skin track to get around them, but they happily moved when they saw just how hard it was to step into the powder and go around the track. I was thankful to be able to use the track, because that powder was indeed deep – my checks were giving me measurements of 20-24″ of fluff. I continued on up into the evergreens for about another hundred vertical feet, following a mish mash of skin tracks and possibly descent tracks, until I found a nice spot to stop that looked like it would give me a good start to a run.

An image showing a skin track for backcountry skiing access among glades on the west face of Dewey Mountain in Vermont
Beautiful glades along one of the skin tracks on the west face of Dewey Mountain

I actually had a nice sheltered spot among some evergreens; it would have kept me well out of the wind, but I really hadn’t experienced any during the trip anyway. I poured some soup from my thermos to let it cool in the snow, and began the gear switch for the descent. It was definitely one of those “one skin at a time” types of transitions, as the powder was so light, fluffy, and deep, that it would be a hassle getting out of my skis entirely. I’m sure the temperature was somewhere below zero up there, and I made the switch to my heavier gear quickly before I began to cool down post-ascent. I had my soup, gathered my gear, and got set to push through the evergreens to look for a line.

“…it’s not the sort of terrain that would be great without sufficient snow – you’d be bottoming out all over the place.”

A little traversing through the evergreens was all it took, and I was into skiable terrain. The best way to describe what’s up there is simply “steep and deep” terrain. It’s indeed steep, probably 25 degrees or so, and you really want the deep because it’s not the sort of terrain that would be great without sufficient snow – you’d be bottoming out all over the place. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the current snowpack. The roughly two feet of powder up there provided plenty of cushion, as well as resistance. There’s plenty of spacing in the hardwoods, and you can open up the turns; even slower Telemark turns were comfortable thanks to the tree spacing and depth of the surface snow. Well, some credit in that department is definitely due to fat, rockered skis as well. Also, any concerns about west side base depths was pretty much erased on this outing – if there were no concerns on that really steep terrain, it’s not an issue. The steep terrain goes on for several hundred vertical feet before it starts to become more moderate. I hung to the left and continued downward, eventually finding a popular catch track that actually headed up a short incline and off to the skier’s left away from the area of the skin track. I suspected that this would work in some additional lines down to the skin track, but available daylight and air temperature suggested that it would be best to save that exploration for another time. I headed down through the various trees around the area of the skin track, and there were plenty of additional turns to be made. Eventually as the pitch of the terrain became shallower, the Overland Trail itself was the most practical route, with just occasional forays off into the powder as speed allowed.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from a backcountry ski tour on Dewey Mountain in Vermont
A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour on Dewey Mountain

One nice aspect about the current snow conditions up there is that they allowed for good skiing in both the steep terrain, as well as the more moderate terrain below – the depth of the powder decreased pretty well in concert with the terrain’s pitch. One could easily ski just some of the lower sections of terrain if the depth of powder didn’t suit the steep shots. In any event, thanks to the quality and depth of the snow, it was some pretty fantastic skiing for an exploration that started in a darkroom. I guess there might have been some nice symmetry to the report if I finished my run as darkness approached, but with these temperatures it’s not wise to push your luck being out there too late.

Bolton Valley, VT 28JAN2015

A map showing the routes of ascent for Bolton Valley's offical uphill travel policy for those skiers and riders that want to ascend the hill under their own power
Bolton Valley now has an official uphill travel policy in place for all those skiers and riders who enjoy making the uphill trek under their own power.

As with most ski areas in Northern Vermont, I’ve always found Bolton Valley to be very accommodating of skiers and riders hiking, skinning, or snowshoeing up their slopes under their own power in order to ski down. Although there wasn’t necessary a formal policy in place, the practice was at least tolerated as long as the individuals were respectful of operating hours, mountain operations, and other factors involving skier safety. So, as a Bolton Valley season’s pass holder who frequently visits the resort for both lift-served and self-powered ascents, I was very intrigued last month when I found out that they had initiated an official uphill travel policy. There are two designated uphill routes: one on Wilderness, and one on Timberline, and although I haven’t seen them yet, Stephen and one of my students told me the resort even has signs marking the uphill route on Wilderness.

“In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches.”

I’ve visited the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network over the past couple of weeks, but today was the first time I’ve made an ascent on the alpine trail network since the announcement of the uphill travel policy. The impetus for my ski tour in this case was that Winter Storm Juno just hit the area yesterday, and it meant that this morning would be a good time to check out the new snow. While the Green Mountains certainly didn’t get the storm totals of up the three feet that were seen down in the Boston area, the Vermont ski areas did pick up general accumulations of 3 to 8 inches throughout the state. Even without a huge snowfall in the area, it seemed like it would be worth getting out for some turns; the ski conditions have just been so darned good over the past few weeks that even a modest dump makes for some excellent skiing.

I headed out the door early this morning, and decided to go with an efficient Timberline outing to leave me plenty of time to get to work. Temperatures were in the middle single digits F at the house, and low single digits at the Timberline Base. So indeed it was cold, no doubt about that, but the air was fairly calm and that helped keep it manageable. There were about a half dozen cars parked in the usual spot off to the right in the main lot, and I could see a couple people either prepping their skins for a run, or packing up their gear as they got ready to depart. There were just a few flurries in the air, but there was a healthy coating of snow all around, and I was able to start my skinning ascent right from the car.

An imae of two hikers ascending the Twice as Nice trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
There were a few folks out early this morning to enjoy the new snow at Bolton Valley.

I was a little surprised that the skin track started on the hiker’s right of Twice as Nice, since it’s typically on the left in line with the uphill travel policy, but I wasn’t going to eschew a track that was already there. I was measuring surface snow depths in the 4″ range, and it was medium-weight powder. As is often the case with big storms, there had been some wind, so some of the powder was pushed around in spots. But, it really hadn’t been hammered or packed too hard, and it looked like turns would be nice. Up ahead of me on the skin track I saw a snowboarder, and behind him a skier. After a few minutes I noticed that the skier was struggling to get up one of those short steep pitches that roll over – he finally managed to get past it with a little herring boning and/or side-stepping. When a similar pitch came up a little while later, he was struggling again and eventually let me pass. He said that it was actually his first time ever trying out skins, and he’d come to Bolton Valley after reading online about the uphill travel policy. As I seemed to have no trouble with those slick spots, he said that wanted to watch how I managed them. After we were both past that spot, I first asked if he had full-width skins, since I know that not having full width has given me trouble in those types of areas in the past, and he said he did. We then chatted about the balance between getting up on your ski edges or staying the skins, and finding out what worked best when you began to slip. He said that what I seemed to do was just keep my momentum really going through those tough spots. I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I do. I also let him know that I keep a lot of pressure on my poles, and ensure that I’ve got a very good plant so that if I do slip, my arms can help pull me through. After a couple of pitches, the skin track switched to the more typical left side, and there were actually a couple of skin tracks there, so we were able to skin alongside each other and chat for a bit. Eventually I stopped to get a few pictures, and he headed on ahead. Like me, he said his goal was the Timberline Mid Station, and he thought that he might like to do that instead of the Timberline Summit and do a couple of laps.

“As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns…”

When I reached the Timberline Mid Station, the skier I’d ascended with was just taking off his skins. We chatted for a few moments, I wished him well on his first descent, and then I headed across toward the top of Spell Binder. I switched over for the descent, did a quick survey of the snow on the headwall, and opted for the skier’s right. There were a couple of old tracks in there that looked like they’d been made yesterday, and the snow had been pushed around a bit by the wind, but the overall conditions were quite good. I worked my way toward the middle of the headwall and found even smoother snow, although the powder was perhaps a bit shallower there. On the steep pitch of the headwall, the new powder certainly wasn’t bottomless, even on my 115 mm AMPerages; I was touching down to the base at least a bit on most turns, but I’d say the snow delivered a pretty smooth ride. As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns, and if the wind had played with the snow a little up on the headwall, it definitely hadn’t done much to the powder lower down. In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches. The skiing did feel a bit slow with temperatures around zero F, but I didn’t find any issues with movement, even on the shallowest pitches. When I got to the bottom of Spell Binder, I made a few turns on the corduroy, and boy, that was some sweet groomed snow. The snow from this storm is really just topping off what are already fantastic conditions, so folks who were coming out for a day at the resort were really going to be in for a treat.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont thanks to Winter Storm Juno
Thank you Juno!

On the way into Burlington, I stopped off at the Williston rest area, and one of my former students was there. He said he thought he’d seen me up at the mountain, and now he was sure of it. After hearing about the uphill travel policy, he’d actually been up skinning on the main mountain using the Wilderness route this morning, and he’d had a great time. He said that he and a friend often went out ice climbing in the early morning, but they think they’ll be mixing in some ski touring as well. I had first heard about Bolton’s uphill travel policy in a post on the Vermont Backcountry Alliance Facebook Page, and it wasn’t too surprising based on Bolton’s history in that area. What was surprising though was finding out that Sugarbush now has a hiking/skinning policy in place. That’s exciting news, because they have not generally allowed uphill travel in recent years. I also just saw that Bolton Valley will be having an uphill ski demo day on February 7th, where people can try out alpine touring, Telemark, and split boarding equipment. Hopefully that will serve for a great introduction for people that have been curious about trying ascents on their own power on that type of equipment.

It looks like our next winter storm could be coming into the area tomorrow night; it’s expected to be an Alberta Clipper type of system with the potential for 6 to 8 inches in the local mountains.

Nebraska Valley, VT 25JAN2015

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on a backcountry ski outing in the Nebraska Valley area of Vermont
Gliding through some backcountry powder in the Nebraska Valley area today

The weather yesterday was very comfortable, with highs in the local mountains around 30 F at ski resort base elevations. Today was a different story though; mountain temperatures were expected to start in the single digits and drop in the afternoon to produce wind chills well below zero. With that forecast looming, E and Claire decided to cancel today’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe to avoid any frostbite issues with the students. The program can make up the session later in the spring anyway, hopefully on a nice warm day.

“The ski lines were obvious and everywhere, there’s no hunting around necessary if you’re looking for some moderate angle powder to ski.”

With the chilly forecast and some extra time in the afternoon, I decided to head out for a backcountry ski tour in the Nebraska Notch area. Some of the higher elevations of the Northern Greens did pick up as much as 4 to 6 inches of snow overnight, so that added a little extra incentive to get out and see how conditions were faring. I’ve wanted to do an exploratory tour near Nebraska Notch for a while, and I’m familiar with the tour highlighted in David Goodman’s book that starts on the west side of the notch. I’d been through some of that area this past summer when our family was on a backpacking trip with the Handler’s, so I thought that something on the east side would be a fun alternative. From Jacquie, I’d heard about the backcountry skiing potential above the overnight parking area near the Lake Mansfield Trout Club, so I decided I’d give that a shot. It’s a quick trip from our house in Waterbury, and I’d be able to take care of some necessary grocery shopping on the way home as well.

“I’m not sure how deep the base was, but surface powder was 13-14″ in the trees just above the parking area (~1,100′), and pushing two feet up high depending on prior wind and sun exposure in underlying layers.”

Heading up Nebraska Valley Road, I noticed that as I approached the 1,000′ elevation mark, the snowpack really took a jump. It went from the 8-12″ that we’ve currently got in many of the lower mountain valleys of the Northern Greens to something more, and you could really see how the higher elevations of the Nebraska Valley were holding the snow. I pulled into the lot for overnight recreational parking, and it was empty. There was probably space for 20 cars, but mine was it. I guess it’s just another one of those harbingers of the overuse and overcrowding associated with skiing in the Vermont backcountry. In any event, I could see an obvious, although apparently lightly used skin track off to the right heading up into the forest. More importantly, I could see the associated ski terrain looming right above me; well-spaced hardwoods appeared to fill the entire slope, and you could immediately see that there was some great skiing right down to the parking area.

An image showing a skin track heading off into the forest for backcountry skiing in the Nebraska Valley area of Vermont
An old skin track from the parking area marked an obvious route of ascent.

An image showing an old chain on a hook hanging from a tree along a backcountry skin track in the Nebraska Valley area of VermontThe skin track ascended through the hardwoods on what appeared to be an old logging road, and it sliced right through an impressive chunk of ski terrain. The ski lines were obvious and everywhere, there’s no hunting around necessary if you’re looking for some moderate-angle powder to ski. After looking at the area on Google Earth this morning, I’d decided to explore a drainage off to the northwest of the parking area, and conveniently that’s just where the logging road and skin track headed. After a few hundred feet of ascent I could see that there were a number of ski options, but three main ones were very evident: You could ski the logging road itself, which was relatively narrow and contained the skin track, but would serve up some decent turns. Much more expansive options were to either contour off to the east and make turns in the vast face of terrain containing the hardwoods, or head westward and ski steep gullies down into the drainage. I had plenty of time to survey the topography and decide on descent routes as I continued up the skin track; it’s set at a very nice, consistent pitch with none of these steep spots that might promote slipping.

An image of a "Tubbs Snowshoe Trail" blaze on a trail along the Sky Top Ridge on the north wall of the Nebraska Valley in the Green Mountains of VermontAt around 2,100′, evergreens began to mix in with the hardwoods, and the logging road gradually gave way to a skin track that worked its way more tightly through the forest and ascended small streambeds. By 2,500′ I was into exclusively evergreens, and the available snow was getting deeper. I’m not sure how deep the base was, but surface powder was 13-14″ in the trees just above the parking area (~1,100′), and pushing two feet up high depending on prior wind and sun exposure in underlying layers. I hit the ridge line (Sky Top Ridge east of Dewey Mountain) at an elevation of roughly 2,800′, and headed off to the east on the ridge line trail. Appropriately, the trail on the ridge is known as the Skytop Trail, and David Goodman’s Backcountry Skiing Adventures: Vermont & New York book has a specific chapter on touring there. I found it marked with red blazes, but I also noticed a “Tubbs Snowshoe Trail” sign as well. I continued on the Skytop Trail for another few minutes until I hit a local high point where I decided to halt my ascent.

“Some exploring would have been fun, but with the time of day, cold temperatures, and being solo, there really wasn’t much margin for messing around.”

Up there on the ridge it was cold, noticeably colder than the 10 F at the parking area. I was out of the wind, but it wasn’t a temperature to hang around in. I poured some soup and let it cool a bit while I changed over for the descent. My plan was to head back down in the area of the skin track for that first chunk of the descent, since I hadn’t come across any obvious lines in other areas. Some exploring would have been fun, but with the time of day, cold temperatures, and being solo, there really wasn’t much margin for messing around. During the ascent I’d seen that there were plenty of steep, ledgy areas above the open hardwoods. Those ledges and some dense evergreens lay right below me, and from what I’d seen it would be very easy to get cliffed out up there. Any exploration of that terrain will have to wait for another time.

“Being south-facing, it’s not the kind of terrain that one would want to ski on sunny days when temperatures are getting marginal, but on a midwinter day like today, the snow was great.”

The descent up high along the general area of the skin track was very nice – the powder was deep and there were occasional options of ski lines that cut corners or veered away temporarily from the track. When I was back into the open areas of hardwoods, I cut left of the track following a previous skier’s lead, and traversed out into the face of terrain that sat well above the parking area. It was classic Vermont hardwood ski terrain; there weren’t any obvious maintained lines, but you didn’t need them. It was pretty much see it and ski it. The powder was a little shallower on some pitches, no doubt a function of that fact that the terrain faces south and can get plenty of sun due to the leafless deciduous trees. Being south-facing, it’s not the kind of terrain that one would want to ski on sunny days when temperatures are getting marginal, but on a midwinter day like today, the snow was great. I eventually ran into the skin track again, and cut to the other side as I saw some attractive ski lines heading in that direction. I finally had to do a short traverse to get back to the last pitch above the parking area, but with the open nature of the forest, navigation was pretty easy.

An image showing GPS data on Google Earth for a backcountry ski tour in the Nebraska Valley area of Vermont
The GPS tracking data of today’s backcountry ski tour in the Nebraska Valley of Vermont plotted on Google Earth

I’d say today was a great first visit to the area; those hardwoods are exceedingly skiable, with the main downside being that it’s south-facing, so the quality of the snow needs to be watched with respect to recent weather trends. The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now, and I only encountered the occasional underlying obstacle to contend with. As usual, if you throw another couple feet of base down, more and more lines will simply open up and get even cleaner as additional saplings and other trees get buried. On that note, there’s another winter storm (Juno) coming into the area over the next couple of days – it sounds like the bull’s-eye areas are down to the south, but it’s expected to give us a moderate shot of synoptic snow up here as well, which should further improve base depths.

Bolton Valley, VT 24JAN2015

An image of Ty spraying some powder snow in the KP Glades area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
January cold has kept the powder in great shape this week.

We’ve only had an inch or two of new snow since Monday’s winter storm and our last Bolton Valley outing, but as is typical of January, it’s been consistently cold so the powder has just been sitting there. Heading out for some backcountry turns today was certainly a reasonable option, but I also suspected there would be plenty of lift-served powder available at Bolton Valley; with only a few midweek days since the storm, skier traffic should have been relatively low. Dylan’s very much on the mend from his recent bout of Strep, but he’s certainly not to the stage where he should be heading out on the slopes, so E decided to take him to BJAMS to get some work done. That left me and Ty in the mix for some skiing, and it made the choice easy – I know Ty would lean toward some lift served turns, and I was happy to hedge that way as well knowing that we’d be able to get into a lot of powder.

“The snow was fantastic – I stuck my poles in the snow to hold my gloves while I ran the camera, and the poles sunk up to the handles.”

We grabbed some fairly fat boards and headed up to the mountain in the late morning.  My plan was to start us down at Timberline, which turned out to be an appropriate choice because the resort already had signs up indicating that the parking areas at the main mountain were full. There was ample parking in the Timberline lot though, and the attendant directed us to one of the spots in the circle right below the Timberline Quad. Temperatures were right around 30 F and skies were partly cloudy, so it was a choice day to be out there.

We headed right to the Timberline Summit to get us on our way to the main mountain, and on our way down we made a quick visit to the Lower Villager Trees to sample some of the powder lines – there was 12″+ of soft snow above the base, topped off with a coating of the most recent bout of champagne snow that we received yesterday. Ty chose a neat line under what looked like a beech tree that had been bent into an arc. His biggest issue with the line was the photographer getting in the way.

An image of Ty skiing udner and arched tree in the Lower Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The line that Ty chose in the Lower Villager Trees went under an arching tree.

Arriving at the main base we could see that there really wasn’t much in the way of lift queues; with all the lifts running, even a full parking lot doesn’t seem to do much to back things up. There was an event going on atop the main deck at the base lodge; I’m not sure what it was, but the deck was full of people. Ty and I headed right over to Wilderness, and my plan was to take him to Stanton’s, or at least that general area to get some steep powder turns. I told Ty how I was taking him to a line that he’d said was too steep for him several years ago – it was January 6th, 2008, so he would have been four years old at the time. I guess we can cut him some slack for feeling it was over head at the time. When I told him about that story today, he sort of laughed and said that he doesn’t run into much that fazes him now because of steepness. Even way back on that day when he did find it too steep, we suspected where things would eventually end up. Sliding into position atop Stanton’s, we could tell that, not surprisingly, it had been hit by plenty of traffic, so we headed a few yards back to one of the lines that was still untracked. I dropped in to set up for some photos and found that there was plenty of powder, even for those steep shots. Ty skied a nice line, but we didn’t really pull any keepers out of that photo session.

The remainder of that run was one of the most enjoyably adventurous parts of the afternoon. We just continued on down below the chutes and let our noses guide us toward fresh tracks. We were in a bunch of seldom used terrain areas, working our way through the trees among Lower Crossover, Coyote, and Work Road. I laughed at one point and said to Ty, “I have no idea where we are!” Actually, I knew we were in the Fanny Hill Woods, but we were following a streambed that I’d never skied before, so we never knew quite what was going to come around the next bend. We eventually wound up at the junction of Fanny Hill and Abenaki Trail, and of course Ty said he knew we’d end up in that area all along. I wasn’t convinced. In any event, that area sees very little skier traffic, so we saw hardly a track. Our first run of powder exploration was a rousing success.

An image of Ty looking out from behind some snow-covered evergreens in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe headed to Vista next, and found Cobrass in really good form, especially off to the right side where the soft snow usually collects. We came screaming around the big bend below the headwall, where the snow was beautiful and you could just sink in those edges and let it rip. Next it was off to sample the Villager Trees, where Ty skied Heaven for the first time this season. The snow was fantastic – I stuck my poles in the snow to hold my gloves while I ran the camera, and the poles sunk up to the handles. We headed to the Sixth Corner area and then to some lines in Gump’s on our way back to the Timberline Base.

It was mid afternoon at that point and we’d discovered that in sun-exposed areas there was just the slightest of melt layers atop the powder in the last few hundred feet of vertical above the Timberline Base. That wasn’t surprising with the temperature so close to freezing down there, but it hadn’t reached the stage of making the snow sticky, and it still skied like dry powder, so we decided to do a little more Timberline skiing. We visited more of Gump’s, the KP Glades, and the Corner Pocket Glades with the usual powdery results. We rode up with an older couple from South Burlington that saw our skis and inquired about rocker in skis and whether it was worth it. I told them that most of the skis still have camber in the middle of the ski, so they’re very versatile, and indeed the rocker is great for powder. For us the choice was a no brainer since we spend so much of our time off piste in the powder, with today being a perfect example. We talked about width as well – I was using my Rossignol Sin 7 skis, which are close to 100 mm at the waist, but said that if they spent a lot more time on piste, something with a width somewhere in the 80-90 mm range would be a good fit.

All told, Ty and I had a great day of exploring some new lines, visiting some old favorites, and generally catching a lot of powder. For today’s action photography it was definitely the Ty show, but that’s often how it goes when he’s the only one along for the ride. I didn’t get a chance to give him the camera since I was usually tracking down lines for him to ski, but perhaps we’ll get one of the boys behind the camera next time.

Bolton Valley, VT 19JAN2015

An image of Ty skiing in the glades at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting out of the wind and into the glades today at Bolton Valley to enjoy some of that great fresh powder

Today was a bit of a whirlwind as we set out to ski some of the new snow from this latest winter storm. We initially headed to Stowe in the early morning, since school ski program ticket vouchers typically work for coaches’ passes on MLK day. Surprisingly, we were told that wasn’t the case this time. We did have a good breakfast in the Mansfield Base Lodge and got E’s coordinator pass taken care of over at Spruce Camp while the boys took a run on Meadows, but we ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth buying an expensive holiday ticket just to ski for a few hours. We instead headed off to Bolton Valley, knowing that there was plenty of day left for everyone to get some runs together.

An image of fresh snow on some railing posts outside the cafeteria at the Mansfield Base Lodge at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontThere wasn’t much going on in terms of snowfall while we’d been at Stowe, but it started to pick up as we made our way southward through Waterbury and on toward Bolton. There was generally a very wet snow falling in the valleys, but once we hit ~1,000′ elevation on the Bolton Valley Access Road the temperature had cooled enough that the flakes were really starting to stick. There was some nice snowfall as we parked at Timberline, and the slopes were looking very inviting.

“…during that early afternoon there was a much steadier snow on the mountain, with rates up to 1″/hr at times.”

While we were unloading, E got a call from Claire indicating that they’d gotten the appropriate officials at Stowe involved, and indeed they had confirmed that the coaches’ vouchers were valid. I’m still amazed that we were the first ones on the entire day trying to apply a voucher at what must have been at least 9:00 A.M., but if we served as the guinea pigs to get things straightened out, that was good for everyone that decided to go later. When we’d set out this morning, we’d planned on skiing with some of the other BJAMS families at Stowe, so it’s too bad that plan didn’t come together. Things worked out really well in the end of course; we were at Timberline, and we could see how much great snow was out there and how few people were skiing it. Even thought we hadn’t arrived until mid to late morning, we knew that Bolton Valley would still be serving up the usual plentiful allotment of fresh tracks.

Knowing that the snow was generally denser down low, we headed up the Timberline Quad and immediately went over to check out the main mountain. The snow was definitely drier in the higher elevations, but the top of Vista came with a healthy dose of low clouds, wind, and colder air. The wind turbine at the summit was running though, and boy was it turning in that wind! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the blades spinning as fast as they were today.

“…there was a good foot or more of powder in there, and you could see just how high the quality of the powder could be when it was entirely out of the wind.”

As we headed down through Spillway Lane, our initial observations were that the exposed slopes had been blasted with wind; the new powder was wind-packed, and you barely sunk into it while skiing. We dropped down onto Vermont 200 out of the wind, and the conditions improved as the powder along the trail edges was much better thanks to the protection offered by the surrounding trees. We crossed over to Hard Luck and found similar snow, but we really got into some good stuff once we jumped into the trees in between the two trails; there was a good foot or more of powder in there, and you could see just how high the quality of the powder could be when it was entirely out of the wind. We quickly took that lesson to heart and headed into the trees on the lower mountain, catching some good lines in the Glades area.

A view lookout out at a snowstorm from the Timberline Base Lodge at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the view of the storm today from the Timberline Base Lodge

Dylan was pretty tired from a long weekend filled with activity, therefore we decided that we should work our way back toward the Timberline Base so that he could rest a bit in the lodge down there and call it a day if he needed to. We had a pretty classic long run featuring Cobrass, Cobrass Woods and Five Corners to get us back toward Timberline. Those were our first turns of the day down at the Timberline elevations, and the density of the snow actually didn’t affect the skiing until the last few hundred feet above the Timberline Base Lodge. I had initially thought that people might be staying away from Timberline because the snow wasn’t as good in those lower elevations, but it really wasn’t all that different on most of the terrain.

“You could tell it was dumping though, as even under the protection of the trees we could barely view the pictures on the camera screen because the snow was accumulating so quickly.”

Dylan went to rest in the lodge with E, while Ty and I headed off in search of more powder. Traffic had been pretty low at Timberline, and you could find great powder throughout the trees and even on the trails. We’d found plenty of untracked snow on Tattle Tale on the previous run, so we decided to explore some lines in that area. I pulled out the camera and got some great shots of Ty blasting his way through the powder. That was definitely some great storm riding; the intensity of the snowfall had been ramping up since we’d arrived, and during that early afternoon there was a much steadier snow on the mountain, with rates up to 1″/hr at times. I told Ty that it looked like I’d gotten a pretty cool shot of him from the side sending up a massive powder tail, so when we’d made our way down lower on the mountain, we pulled into the protection of the trees along Spur so that we could take a look at the images. You could tell it was dumping though, as even under the protection of the trees we could barely view the pictures on the camera screen because the snow was accumulating so quickly. It was a great test of the weather sealing on the 7D2, because even after just a couple of minutes all the surfaces were well covered with melted or partially melted flakes. There were no issues, although I suspect the 7D2 shouldn’t even blink at that level of weather. We’ll keep putting it through the paces though.

An image of Ty send up a tail of snow flying into the air as he skis powder snow on the Tattle Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty sending up that tail as he races through the powder
An image of Dylan skiing in powder snow on the Tattle Tale trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan flowing through the powder while he works on his rhythm, stance, and timing with pole plants

We stopped in the lodge to see E and Dylan, and we ended up hanging out for a while and getting some food. While inside, Ty and I worked to convince them that they needed to come back out because the skiing was just so good. Dylan eventually felt that he had enough energy to oblige, so we brought them back to the Tattle Tale area for more good lines. With the steady snowfall and a little wind out there, we were definitely talking refresher runs where our previous tracks were getting filled in. That’s part of the fun of storm days of course. Dylan was eager to do some of the photography with the 7D2, so we set him up with it and with some training and a little on the fly help from E, he had a blast. It would be great if he wants to keep working on that and become more experienced, because he already captured some excellent shots, and I’m always happy to get out from behind the camera and let others have fun with it. He snagged a really nice shot of me cutting a hard turn along the edge of Tattle Tale.

An image of Erica skiing some deep powder on the Tattle Tale Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E, back out for more turns with free refills of powder

We did one more run in the Intro Woods before calling it a day, and I’d say that was good stopping point so that we didn’t tire Dylan out too much; the season is still young and hopefully he’ll be working up to some longer days. Still, we found some really great snow out there during those last couple of runs, and it was hard to pull away and head home knowing how many great spots we didn’t even get to visit. The weather looks to stay wintry this week though, so the snow could be well preserved over the next several days.

Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry, VT 18JAN2015

A picture of Jay skiing the Sasquash glade on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Trying to get to some of that Bolton Valley backcountry powder today before temperatures warmed up too much.

The boys both ended up staying over at the Handler’s house last night, and we wouldn’t be picking them up until the Warren Miller ski movie (No Turning Back) in Stowe this evening, so that gave E and I a chance to get out for a bit of skiing together today. I got a really good sampling of the snow and glade conditions on my solo ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network yesterday, and I found some spots that I thought E would really like, so I planned on a mini tour that would let us focus on just those glades. The Gotham City area and the glades below that looked like a very good option; based on the pitch, tree spacing, and depth and consistency of the powder, it felt like a good fit for E’s off piste Telemark skills.

Temperatures were rising today ahead of our next incoming winter storm, and they were right around the freezing mark when we arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village at midday. The resort was absolutely packed with the cars of visitors; now that the temperatures were nice and comfortable, presumably everyone was making their holiday trips to the slopes. The Village lots were actually all full and they were parking people down at Timberline, but since we’d be visiting the Nordic side of the resort, we figured we’d be able to find something down by the Nordic Center. Even down there it took some creative parking to get a spot, but we managed one in the lowest tier of the main area.

We walked over to the tennis court area, strapped on our skis and began following a short skin track that others had made that quickly merged onto Broadway. From there it was up to the Bryant trail, where we stopped at the highest junction with World Cup to drop some layers and open some vents. We continued on Bryant up to the 2,400′ elevation, where we cut off over toward Coyote. There’s a skin track leading right up into Gotham City that I’d seen yesterday, and my estimates were that an elevation of ~2,400′ was just about right for getting there. Indeed we quickly found the skin track off Coyote, and it was just another few minutes up to Gotham City. They even have a sign now that welcomes you to the area. I’m not sure when it was, but at some point today I realized that Gotham City must of course be name after Ann Gotham of Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry. I’d initially thought that the name referred somehow to the Gotham City of Batman fame, but the link to Ann seems so obvious now.

A map of the Nordic and backcountry terrain network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A map of Bolton Valley’s Nordic and Backcountry Network with more than two dozen glades listed.

We stopped our ascent in the middle of Gotham City to switch over for descending, and we were treated to sunshine peeking in and out from behind clouds as we enjoyed the mild air and snowy scene. We had some soup and hot chocolate, but they almost seemed out of place with the relatively mild weather. Despite the rising temperatures, the powder had appeared to hold up pretty well in areas we’d checked during our ascent, but we soon noticed that it was starting to stick to our skis in sunny areas. We knew we’d better get a move on lest the powder turn to mush on us.

We headed down by skiing a combination of Girls and Sasquash, and fortunately the powder was still decent in the more shaded areas. It was starting to turn in sunnier areas though, and when we got into some of the lower elevation glades below World Cup, it was definitely past its prime. Fortunately we’ve got a winter storm on the way this evening, with Winter Storm Warnings up for the Northern Greens. A good storm will make quick work of any adulterations to the powder in those lower elevations.

In any event, we got some good turns, hit four different glades in that short tour, and finished off on the Telemark Practice Slope. I bet one could easily do that tour in under an hour if they got right to it and didn’t pause to do other things. An efficient route for access might be just to go up Coyote, although I’m not sure if the skinning there would be quite as easy as on Bryant since it’s not used as much. We’ll definitely get back there with E, and hopefully the boys with even better snow, but it’s a great little tour that hits some beautiful ski terrain.

A map of a ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry ski network in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network plotted on Google Earth

An image of the window sign for Bender's Burritos in Stowe Vermont taken from the insideThis evening we met up with the Handler’s and the boys at Bender’s Burritos on the Mountain Road in Stowe. Our family has been a few times now since Ty really likes burritos, but apparently it was a first visit for everyone but Jeff in his family. It’s a small place that seats maybe a dozen people, and we were worried that it might be packed with holiday visitors, but we essentially had it to ourselves. A memorable part of the experience was watching the end of the Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game, in which the Packers seemed to have it all locked up with just a little time to go, but the Seahawks made a ridiculous comeback to win the game. At one point the Bender’s staff was all out front at the counter, eyes riveted to the screen as they watched the dramatic conclusion of the game. Of most importance of course was the fact that the winner of the game could potential be playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I think everyone had a great meal – I got a fish burrito as I often do, going with the cod this time.

“An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up…”

The next phase of the evening was to head up to the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center at the resort to watch the latest Warren Miller ski movie, No Turning Back. We usually catch it in the fall at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, but we didn’t get a chance this year. It was just sort of luck when I found that it was playing at Spruce Peak because I was getting some links for another ski trip report. When Jeff found out about the movie, that set things in motion and he got us all tickets. I believe this showing of the movie is one of those put on by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, and it’s very unlike the Flynn Theater experience. Whereas that’s a real raucous affair filled with hundreds and hundreds of people, this was a much mellower time, with about a couple dozen of us in the entire theatre. They do have the intermission, but the only prize drawing is for the grand prize opportunity to win a ski trip. Another cool aspect of this showing was that they have free snacks and drinks for everyone – at intermission you just pop out into the lobby and grab your complimentary food. The movie was great, with a lot of depth in each feature as opposed to just the skiing. An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up; it’s worth a little more description as I wrap up this report.

Indeed the thing of greatest importance in the world of Vermont skiing this evening was the weather. This current storm has been potentially dicey in the Northeast, with areas off to the east of the Greens likely to see a lot of rain. But, here in Northern Vermont we’ve been in the game for a good shot of snow, and as of this evening it looks like that might be coming to fruition. When we left the house around 5:00 P.M. there wasn’t much going on, but we got into some light rain in the valley during the trip northward. While we were at Bender’s Burritos on the mountain road (elevation 750′), there was a little light rain, and when we left there around 6:30 P.M. the rain had picked up – it was actually freezing on some ground surfaces, but it was spotty so it must have only been those that were very cold. Upon heading up to the mountain to watch the movie, snow mixed in at roughly 1,200′ elevation. At the Spruce Peak Village (1,500′) the precipitation was all snow, and it was starting to come down at a really healthy clip. At intermission during the movie we could see that the snow was really picking up, and when we were leaving around 9:00 P.M. we were getting a real shellacking of dense snow; there was a good inch or so already down. It was snow all the way back to the house at that point, and a very isothermal 33 F on the car thermometer the entire trip. Here in Waterbury at 500′ I measured 1.2″ of snow as of 11:00 P.M. this evening and I’m planning to do a liquid analysis at midnight. Things are looking good for a day on the slopes tomorrow though.

Bolton Valley & Backcountry, VT 17JAN2015

An image looking down Randy's glade on the back side of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heading down into the Cotton Brook area on today’s backcountry ski tour near Bolton Valley.

Best… Bolton… backcountry… tour… ever. That’s really the only way to start this trip report, because even after years of exploring the backcountry around Bolton Valley, that’s what today’s tour was for me. I can’t say that this tour was tops in every category; the powder was fantastic, but there have been numerous days that top it, and E and the boys weren’t with me, so it was a solo outing. What made the tour so great though was the combination of great powder on all aspects, the good distances covered to provide a nice workout, but most importantly, the breadth of the backcountry network used and the substantial number and variety of glades visited. The tour spanned all the way from the alpine trails of Wilderness to the Cotton Brook area, and featured nine different glades. What also made the tour so outstanding was that I could use my knowledge of the area to connect all those glades very efficiently; in terms of powder turns that meant getting the most bang for my buck.

“…we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week.”

It’s a holiday weekend, which typically means lots of visitors to the ski resorts, and the forecast today called for fairly chilly temperatures in the single digits for the mountains. That’s a combination that just calls out for some backcountry touring, and that’s the plan that gradually evolved this past week as I watched the forecast. Although we haven’t had any huge storms in the past week or two, the snow out there in the Northern Greens is simply fantastic – we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week. And, the January weather just keeps all that powder pristine.

Ty was out at a dance until late last night, and friends came back to our house and stayed overnight to play with him and Dylan. I wasn’t about to pull them away from that this morning, and in fact, I wasn’t really planning to ask anyone if they wanted to ski with only single digits in the mountain forecast. I knew it was going to be one of those days where it could be uncomfortably cold if you didn’t keep moving, so going out by myself meant that I could keep the tour at whatever pace I chose. Knowing that I was going out solo also let me devise a more ambitious tour than if I was heading out with the whole family. After considered the many options, I decided that a lift-assisted tour out toward the Cotton Brook area would be a good option. There are glades farther to the north there that I’ve yet to explore, and at a decent pace, it looked like I’d be able to put together a solid tour out to that area and back in the three to four hour window of time I had.

The Wilderness Chair was scheduled to start running at 10:00 A.M., so I headed up to the mountain a bit after that and found that parking had reached the third tier of the main Village lot. That’s actually less than I’d expect for a Saturday on a holiday weekend, but I think the cold weather kept some folks away. I was able to wrap around and get a spot in the first tier, and then headed right over to the base of the Wilderness Chair to start my tour with a lift assist. Temperatures were certainly on the chilly side, probably somewhere in the single digits, but there was no wind, and that made quite a difference in terms of sitting out there lift. The lift ride gave me a chance to check out the on piste conditions, since I haven’t been to the resort since our trip back on the 4th of the month, and what I saw today looked really good. I didn’t hear any hard sounds as some snowboarders passed below me, and off in the Wilderness Woods to my left, I watched a boy glide through the powder in silence. I’d say ¾ of the terrain in Wilderness Woods was still untracked, so there was a lot of good skiing to be done there. I was even tempted to take a run, but keeping on track for my tour was a necessity.

An image showing a sign for the Heavenly Highway trail on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VemontFrom the Wilderness Summit I skied down the top of Peggy Dow’s to the junction with the backcountry network at Heavenly Highway. I let my momentum carry a bit of the way into the forest, and then stopped to put on my skins. At that point I definitely felt the cold – it had the bite of below zero cold up there around 3,000′, and having just sat on the lift for a while meant that I wasn’t producing much heat. As I got my skins on another skier appeared, coming from Heavenly Highway. We exchanged greetings and I saw that he was heading for a descent on the alpine terrain. I got my skins on quickly, and headed northward on the trail. My goal was to head down Devil’s Drop and get on the Catamount Trail, and I made good time through those high elevations. I checked the depth of the surface powder as I moved across the ridge line on Heavenly Highway, and generally I found about 13 inches. I saw a couple other skiers along the way toward Devil’s Drop, but as usual it was pretty quiet. For Devil’s Drop, I debated taking off my skins and really having some fun on the descent, but opted to just keep them on. I did switch my binding to ski mode so that I could make some Telemark and alpine turns as needed. I actually had first tracks Devil’s Drop, and if I’d been with others it probably would have been worth pulling off the skins and skiing it hard with some pictures.

As I neared the bottom of Devil’s Drop I saw a group of eight skiers below heading northward on the Catamount Trail. That’s one of the larger groups I’ve seen out there, and then seemed pretty organized; as I caught up to them they all pulled over to the right in near unison and let me pass. Within another few minutes I’d passed Birch run and reached the border of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. I continued on a bit more until I was just below “The Glades”. My goal actual goal was down below, but I had the time and energy, and there were few tracks in The Glades, so I continued up to add another couple hundred vertical to my descent. That’s when I really started to warm up, and I had to hit the side zips on my pants and open the vents in my helmet. I actually think the air temperature was starting to warm a bit as well as southerly flow was starting to kick in ahead of our next storm. The ascent overall there was really quick though, and soon I was at the top of The Glades switching over to descent mode.

I hadn’t really gotten the feel of the skiing since I’d had my skins on at Devil’s Drop, but now I had them off and could dive into those turns in the Glades. The turns were excellent; there was a good foot or more of midwinter powder that easily kept me floating on my fat skis. I continued straight on below the Catamount trail onto “Randy’s”, which began with a modest pitch, and then dropped right off into a nice steep, open drainage. The pitch was close to 30 degrees in spots, and I can imagine this is quite a spot after big dumps of snow. The powder there was the deepest I’d seen on the day, but even that wasn’t quite enough to keep from touching down to the subsurface in a few spots because it was just so steep. That’s some really sweet terrain down there though, and there was just one or two other ski tracks in there, so the untracked lines were plentiful. Below that I got into “Great White Way”, where the pitch mellowed out a bit relative to Randy’s. The route just kept going, and as far as I understand, you can essentially take it all the way down to Waterbury Reservoir if you want, but after about 700-800′ of vertical I decided to call it a descent so that I could stay on track with the rest of my tour.

I skinned up along the edge of Great White Way, using a skin track that others had put in place. It would great to have a skin track that was totally out of the way of the trail, but the pitch is reasonable enough that you can head straight up the trail. As I approached Randy’s, the pitch really steepened of course, and the skin track had to make some pretty tight switchbacks. Fortunately, a more official, off trail skin track is quickly offered that heads up toward Birch Loop; there’s even a sign to let skiers know where that ascent route is, and it’s marked by blue blazes. That ascent was excellent, with a well-established skin track, and it delivers you right back that the Catamount trail just below The Glades.

“The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course.”

I left my skins on and zoomed across the flats toward Bryant Cabin. I didn’t stop inside, but instead continued along Gardiner’s Lane and up to North Slope to set up my final descent of the day. I stopped at the top of Upper JJ’s as my starting point. Since it was my final descent, I pulled out some tomato soup from my thermos, let it cool while I removed my skins, and then chugged the soup down and got on my way. The turns were beautiful, and I continued on Gardiner’s Lane, noting that there was a nice line above A1A that I hadn’t recalled seeing. I’ll have to check that out in the future. When I got to Grizzwald’s I found it completely untracked, and bounded my way down the steep pitch with some deep, fluffy turns. I contemplated a look at Alchemist, since it faces south and might be well preserved in this cold weather, but I saw what looked like just a track or two heading toward Gotham City and my skis just ended up pulling me that way. I skied Girls, and I think those might have been my favorite turns of the day. The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course. I hit two more glades on the descent before I was down to Broadway, but I don’t really know the names of those – the snow was good to the very last drop though.

A Google Earth image showing GPS tracking data from a backcountry ski tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry plotted on Google Earth

I really can’t think of a tour I’ve done in the Bolton Valley backcountry that delivered such a huge amount of perfect turns in so many different areas, so this one really does go down as my best tour in that regard. The lift assist really allowed this tour to fit into a reasonable window of time while covering some good distances. There are really limitless combinations to do out there in terms of tours, but I know I’ll visit parts of this one again because it delivered so well.

Stowe, VT 11JAN2015

An image of Kenny jumping off a rock as he skis in the Chapel Glades at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Kenny holds no punches as he drops into the Chapel Glades at Stowe today.

Today marked the start of the season’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe, so the whole family was excited to once again hit the slopes with friends, classmates, and faculty. I was also quite interested in finding out what the ski conditions were like on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield. We’d headed out into the Jay Peak backcountry yesterday after hearing about the good snow that the area had seen this past week, and the conditions we found certainly didn’t disappoint; there was roughly a foot of midwinter powder out there. I knew Mansfield had picked up some good snow in the past couple days based on Powderfreak’s pictures on American Weather, but was it on par with what we’d found farther north, and how would it hold up to all the weekend visitors to the resort? I hedged my bets after seeing the pictures, and decided to bring my Rossignol Sin 7 skis for the day – I had a hunch that we’d be able to spend a good amount of time off piste and I suspected I’d want my wider, rockered boards instead of my on piste carvers.

“While riding the lift I caught sight of a couple of kids skiing in the trees above meadows, and as I watched the powder spraying off their skis, I knew it was going to be game on in the off piste.”

On our way up Route 100, we could see that the Greens were lost in snowfall off to the west, and fluffy flakes soon began to fill the air down in the valley. The snow globe flakes stayed with us all the way to the resort and put quite a spirit in the air as we kicked off the ski program season. With all the construction going on for the new facilities in the Spruce Peak Village, parking is at a real premium, but our ski program participants are being allowed to use the parking area at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center. It’s a bit of a walk for the kids, but everyone was really appreciative of the resort allowing that use; I think the logistics of transferring over from the Mansfield side are even more challenging with all the little ones.

Our usual ski group would be growing today with the addition of Wiley and Jonah – everyone felt that they were more than ready to join us in our usual off piste escapades, and both boys were excited to get at it. Although our group had now increased to a total of eight students, Ken was joining us as well, so we had a pair of adults to keep tabs on everyone. Having a lower ratio of students to coaches is nice, but it’s especially helpful with the amount of off piste skiing our group does. It’s much easier to get separated among the trees than out on the trail, so it’s important to have as many eyes on the group as possible. We’ve found that if we have one or two of the older or more experienced students leading, that can free up one coach to be the tail guide and a second coach can then keep their eyes on things from the middle of the pack and follow individuals that might take different routes. Ken and I have done it with similar groups before, so we were ready for the increased numbers today.

“…when the powder is looking good down at the bottom of Spruce Peak, you know it’s going to be good on Mt. Mansfield.”

We kicked things off with a ride on the new Meadows Quad Chair, which has replaced the Alpine and Easy Street Chairs. This new chair is a fixed grip quad, but it has one of those moving carpets underneath for efficient loading – the chairs are spaced quite close together on the new chair, and presumably the moving carpet lets them load a higher volume of skiers overall. While riding the lift I caught sight of a couple of kids skiing in the trees above the meadows area, and as I watched the powder spraying off their skis, I knew it was going to be game on in the off piste. The boys inquired about jumping into the trees, and I told them that we’d do a warm up run on the trails first, but we’d be getting into the trees right after that; when the powder is looking good down at the bottom of Spruce Peak, you know it’s going to be good on Mt. Mansfield.

Our group made its way over to the Gondola on Mansfield and as we traversed across the initial flats of Perry Merrill, I headed off to the skier’s right to check on the depth of the powder. A quick check revealed almost a foot and a half of champagne fluff, further confirming that we were going to be able to find plenty of soft snow. We worked our way down into the north side of the Nosedive Glades, and found lots of soft snow as expected. The good conditions weren’t too surprising, since Luc had told me he’d already been in there earlier today and found it quite good. Still, it’s always nice to really get you feet on it and find out for yourself. There was a solid foot of powder on untouched lines, and I’ve got to say, there was really just about the same amount of fluff as what we found in the Jay Peak backcountry. Mighty Mansfield has clearly done well in the snowfall department over the past several days. There was the usual amount of ice in the middle of snowmaking trails, but just about everywhere else it was not only the powder that was impressive, but the underlying and on piste surface as well.

An image of Luc, Julia, and Kenny lining up to drop into the Chapel Glades area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Lining up for the drop in on Chapel Glades today

We worked our way over to the Fourrunner Quad and visited the Chapel Glades and Sunrise Glades. As usual all you had to do to get some untracked lines was just venture a bit farther afield. As we finished off that run I started exploring any woods shot that I came across, and was very impressed to see Wiley and Jonah right behind me on all those adventurous forays. With attitudes like that, I think they’re going to have a lot of fun in our ski group. And, they weren’t just handling it, they looked really comfortable following my traverses and lines through the deep powder.

An image of Dylan's ski boot liners warming up on the heater at the Octagon building at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontAfter a break in the Octagon, and a trip down Liftline to retrieve Kenny’s gloves that he’d dropped from the lift, we worked our way over to Nosedive Bypass and down through the glades again. Wiley really seems to have a nose for powder, and I often found him poking around the same areas as me as we sought out the best snow. I think one of the best treats today, aside from the fact that Stowe had picked up such a good amount of snow this week, is how much of it people had missed over the course of the weekend. Ken and I just kept finding good snow slightly off the beaten path, and that’s really nice for a Sunday afternoon.

Big Jay Basin, VT 10JAN2015

An image of Dylan skiing in some powder snow out in the Vermont backcountry in Big Jay Basin
Out for some backcountry powder in Big Jay Basin today

All of Vermont has seen a number of modest snowfalls this past week, and with the squally nature of some of them, snow totals were quite variable at the ski resorts up and down the spine of the Greens. As is often the case though, the Jay Peak area did quite well in the snowfall department, with a seven day snow total of over two feet. After seeing a couple of photos showing the delectable powder at Jay Peak on Thursday, and knowing that even more was on the way for Friday, a visit the Jay Peak area backcountry was sounding very appealing. I mentioned the idea to borderwx on the American Weather Forum, since he lives right in the area and is a regular at the resort and local backcountry, and he got back to me with a number of options. Previously we’ve skied Gilpin Mountain using a car shuttle off Route 242, and I was initially thinking of a variation on that theme, but borderwx also mentioned some options for tours in Big Jay Basin. There were variations starting from Jay Pass, as well as the parking areas down on Route 242 where Big Jay Basin drains out. After weighing the options, and consulting the nice Google Earth map of the Big Jay area put together by Guru Gered in his Big Jay Powder Day trip report at the Nor’easter Backcountry Blog, E and I decided that an out-and-back tour from the lower parking area at the outlet of the basin was the most practical with the boys. We really didn’t want to drive two cars to set up a shuttle, temperatures were expected to only be in the 10 to 15 F range, and this was our first tour in the area. A simple out-and-back meant that we could stop and descend at any time should the need arise.

“The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range.”

Temperatures were right around 20 F in the Waterbury area as we left at noontime today, but the thermometer gradually dropped with our travel northward until it was 12 F at the Big Jay Basin parking area at ~1,500′. There were about a half dozen cars parked there, and we saw one guy just prepping his gear and starting on a tour. We could see he was using the prominent skin track right across the road, so as soon as we’d geared up, we followed suit. An initial depth check right there at the base of the skin track revealed 7 to 8 inches of powder, so even down at that elevation, the Jay Peak area had clearly picked up a decent amount of new snow this week. The powder was cold, fluffy, midwinter stuff… just like you’d expect out of January.

An image of Dylan, Erica, and Ty on a skin track heading up toward Big Jay Basin in Vermont at the start of a backcountry ski tour
The skin track began in the rather open surrounds of a logging road and surrounding fields.

The skin track was indeed well established, and easy to follow as it worked its way up at a gentle pace on what appeared to be a logging road. We traveled along the road through areas of dense and sparse vegetation, as well as some acreage cleared by logging. The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range. I’m not actually sure how deep the base snow was, but aside from a few windswept areas it was quite plentiful; we never really had to deal with underlying obstacles due to thin snow. Along with the skin track, we could see that people also used this route for descent out of the bowl, and that was clearly evident when we had to make way for a couple of groups skiing down. They appeared to be having a really good time as judged by their greetings and attitudes.

“It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay.”

After about a half mile, the skin track left the logging road and headed off generally to the right into the trees. From here the pitch increased a bit, and the skin track wound through the slightly tighter confines of the forest. Around 2,150′ we came to an obvious open spot that seemed to be the base for a broad collection of skiable lines. The skin track continued off to the left, and there were no longer ski tracks around it – it seemed like this was the point where people were converging to the track from the various ski routes above during their descents. It also seemed to be a popular spot to use for people skiing laps above the final runout back to the road. The skin track steepened here, and there were a few spots where it was a little steeper than it probably should have been, but we managed our way through them. Since I knew the boys wouldn’t want to do a huge tour, I’d set an elevation mark of ~2,500′ as a good stopping point from which to descend. That would make for a respectable descent in the range of 1,000′ of vertical. At an elevation of ~2,450′, we came across a very nice flat area along the western edge of a bowl somewhere below Big Jay on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin. The spot had a nice view down into the various areas of open ski terrain within the bowl itself. It was slightly shy of the 2,500′ mark, but a quick look around revealed that it was the obvious choice for a comfortable respite and preparation for descent in the immediate area. It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay. For perspective, our route can be seen on the Google Earth map available at the end of this report.

“All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns.”

We had some hot soup and cocoa that we’d brought along, removed our skins, and generally geared up for the descent, but we didn’t linger long because it was definitely chilly. While we were there though, we saw a few skiers descend through the more open terrain in the middle of the bowl, and the skiing looked nice. As soon as we were ready, we dropped into the bowl. The snow quality was excellent, there was about a foot of powder over a generally smooth base. There were a few windswept spots with hard snow here and there, which was sort of strange because the area was generally sheltered. I’d say that the tree spacing and amount of smaller saplings was a bit too constraining though. It looked better a bit up from where we were, so I think that we’ll explore up there the next time we head into the bowl. A couple more feet of base would really help in those lower reaches of the bowl that we skied, since it would bury some of the smaller saplings and open up more lines. With that said, there were some nice lines in there and we managed some good turns. All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns. We made our way generally back in the direction of the logging road, and once we got there we skied a combination of on and off-road lines, depending on the pitch and spacing of the trees. The trees were actually pretty tight down along the logging road, and although the pitch was fairly shallow, it’s about as much as you’d want. There were some areas where the pitch was shallow enough that skiing on the partially packed logging road was the only option, but there were still shots of powder along the edges of the road to catch.

“We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass.”

As we were packing up our gear back at the car, a group of four skiers emerged from the forest about 100 yards up the road from where we were. One of them grabbed my attention and asked if he could get a lift up to the top of the pass where his vehicle was parked. He’d started a tour from there, and had intended to finish there as he’d done in the past, but somehow he got into a different drainage or something. He’d actually run into the other skiers along the way, who were presumably in a similar predicament, and they teamed up to make sure they all got out OK. We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass. He let the other guys know that he’d be back soon to pick them up. The delivery to his car went fine, and he was happy to have avoided a 1.5-mile hike up the road. There was a good amount of traffic on the road though, so I’m sure he could have found a ride pretty quickly if we hadn’t been there. I’m just glad we had space in the car for one more!

An image of the Jay Peak tram docking at its summit station back lit by light of the setting sunOn our drive to the area earlier in the day, we’d taken the Montgomery Center route, since it was closer to where we were touring, but on the way home we continued east down the pass and stopped in at Jay Peak Resort for a bite to eat. We went to Howie’s at the Stateside Base, which we’d last visited about a year ago during our Christmas trip to Jay Peak with my family. We had some appetizers (including poutine of course) and got to watch the start of the Patriots playoff game against the Ravens. There were a number of people at the bar, but we had the table area to ourselves as the resort wound down from the day and darkness descended. This evening when I was at a work function in Burlington, a colleague mentioned that he’d heard the trails at Bolton Valley were really icy, and I said that we’d suspect that might be the case and headed up to the Jay Peak backcountry for a tour. After hearing his comment, I’d say we made the right choice today and got some good powder skiing out of it.

An image showing GPS tracking data on a Google Earth map for a backcountry ski tour in the Big Jay Basin area near Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour plotted on Google Earth: our tour took us up into terrain below the col separating Big Jay and Little Jay, along the west edge of Big Jay Basin.

Looking at the Google Earth map of our GPS track, it’s really easy to see that we were quite far on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin, so we’ll certainly want to explore a bit farther to the east in the big bowl next time we visit the area. A start from Jay Pass would certainly get us in there, I just think spotting a car appropriately for the exit might be difficult. Aside from the large parking area that we used on the south side of Route 242, we didn’t see any other obvious spots between it and the pass. Another option would be to simply tour out and back to the pass, but of course that means finishing with an ascent.

Bolton Valley, VT 04JAN2015

An image of the Glades trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Soft conditions today at Bolton Valley after several inches of dense snow fell overnight

Snow began falling in the middle of the afternoon yesterday in association with our most recent winter storm, and it fell at an average of roughly ½ inch per hour through the evening down here at our location in the Winooski Valley. Around midnight the snow was starting to mix with some sleet, but it had essentially come to a halt anyway. When I check my snow measurement boards this morning I found minimal additional accumulation, and a perusal of the snow reports from the Vermont Ski Areas revealed a general 4 to 6 inches of new snow for the northern mountains.

“I did a check on the new accumulation there at the Vista Summit and found 5-6″, which was right in line with the snow report.”

We hadn’t made definite plans to head up to the mountain today based on the uncertainty of the results from any mixed precipitation, but it sounded like crust wasn’t an issue, so by mid morning we’d made our way up to the Bolton Valley Village. A few rain showers on the way up the Bolton Valley Access Road had us concerned about the appearance of mixed precipitation on the mountain, but as I dropped E and the boys off at the Village Circle, it appeared as though we were just dealing with passing showers.

“…this storm has covered up a lot of the old base and should be a good shot in the arm for the overall state of the subsurface going forward.”

We headed up the Vista Quad and found a good shot of dense snow up there. I did a check on the new accumulation there at the Vista Summit and found 5-6″, which was right in line with the snow report. Winds were generally light aside from the summit, and temperatures were relatively mild at somewhere around the freezing mark. We worked our way down to Hard Luck to check out some steep, on piste terrain, and found that the mountain had received a decent resurfacing. Packed terrain skied well, with a little stickiness in spots, and the off piste held dense powder that gave you a bit more of that stickiness to deal with. On the lower half of the mountain we skied Glades, which had good coverage among skier packed snow and snow that was a little wetter than it had been up higher on the mountain.

An image of Ty and Dylan skiing some dense snow on the Glades trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Soft snow on the Glades trail below Mid Mountain

An image showing the tip portion of a pair of 2014 Rossignol Sin7 skisSince my everyday RT-86 Telemark skis are currently at the Nordic Barn to get a broken binding repaired, I decided to pull out new my Rossignol Sin 7 alpine setup for the very first time. I’d been expecting to get the Sin 7 setup out when an appropriate day arose during our school ski program at Stowe, but this storm seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the skis into action with my midfat Teles sidelined. I’d already tested out the Sin 7 (128/98/118) at the end of last season, so I knew what to expect. Their width was definitely nice in that dense fresh snow, and I at ~100 mm at the waist, I could certainly feel that width on the groomed snow relative to my 108/70/101 Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots. But, I know they would still be quite spritely on the quick turns despite that width, and they were a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get them out in some lighter snow and put them through a good school program day with all the kids at Stowe.

“Their width was definitely nice in that dense fresh snow, and I at ~100 mm at the waist, I could certainly feel that width on the groomed snow relative to my 108/70/101 Salomon Scream 10 Pilot Hots.”

We took an Alta Vista/Schuss/Fanny Hill run next, finding plenty of good turns, but some sticky snow as well. Knowing that the snow was only going to be getting wetter as time went on, we skied down to the car after that. It was definitely worth getting out for turns today though; this storm has covered up a lot of the old base and should be a good shot in the arm for the overall state of the subsurface going forward. We’ve got a number of opportunities for snow this coming week that should continue to enhance the conditions.