Tag Archives: Skiing

An image of Ty Telemark skiing on one of the Mt. Washington snowfields in New Hampshire

Mt. Washington, NH 18MAY2013

An image of Erica skiing the eastern snowfields on Mt. Washington
Mt. Washington delivering the goods today

Using the Auto Road to gain access to Mt. Washington’s East Snowfields is a convenient way to get to some fantastic spring skiing, but a number of factors need to align for an optimal outing to come together.  First, the road has to open.  One never knows exactly when that’s going to happen, since it depends on how much snow has to be removed, how fast it’s melting, how much road maintenance needs to be done, how often bad weather delays work, etc.  Then, even once the road is open, weather can still play a factor.  Although some folks might be inclined to head up into the alpine regardless of the forecast, I think most folks would agree that a calm, warm, clear spring day (or at least as close as you can get to that ideal) is the way to go.  Those types of days can be rare on Mt. Washington, but they certainly happen, and they typically occur more frequently the farther one gets into late spring.  While time might be on your side with regard to weather, it’s generally not on your side when it comes to snowpack.  With each passing day of warmth, the snowpack melts a little more, and ski options diminish.  And, even if the stars align to create that perfect combination of access, weather and snowpack on the mountain, there’s everything else in life that has the potential to get in the way of letting you jump at the opportunity.  Once in a while, things just don’t come together before the snow melts, but somehow, even with all those obstacles, we usually manage to get over to New Hampshire for some spring camping and skiing with the boys, and this year was no exception.

“We had the snowfield
 to ourselves the entire
 afternoon…”

For two weeks from the end of April through to the second week of May, we saw an incredible stretch of clear, warm spring weather with absolutely no measurable precipitation at our house in Waterbury.  This period produced some great spring skiing, but the warmth and sun also accelerated the snowmelt to a rate that was a bit faster than usual.  This period was great in terms of progress on clearing snow from the Mt. Washington Auto Road however, and it was open to the summit as of last weekend.  The weather was unsettled for that first weekend though, so we opted to head down to the South Shore area and visit Erica’s mom for Mother’s Day, and keep our eyes peeled for a good weather window.  After a couple more days of unsettled weather, the clear regime returned this week, and prospects for an Auto Road trip were looking excellent.  This morning, the forecast called for decent weather with temperatures in the 40s F, and the morning shot from the Ravines Cam revealed crystal clear skies.  It also showed that the east side ski options below the Mt. Washington summit are still quite plentiful, with many additional snowfields available along with the main one.

An image of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire from the west
Presidential view

We were on our way to the mountain by mid morning, and views from the west side were already encouraging as we approached the Presidentials.  When the west side still has skiable snow, you know the east side is going to have plenty of options.  Steep lines with decent snow were even visible on the north side of the range as we passed by on Route 2, and on the ascent of the Auto Road we could see various snowfields in the peaks towering above the Great Gulf.  In the proximity of the Auto Road itself, the first signs of snow were at roughly the 3,500’ elevation.  As for the East Snowfields, the setup today was a lot like we encountered during our 2010 trip, in that the broad strip of snowfields was present off to the north of the main East SnowfieldA look at the availability of snow in 2010 shows an interesting distribution of snow – that strip of snowfields off to the north was very prominent, and the main East Snowfield was surprisingly small.  The current snowpack is definitely different from what we had available on our 2011 and 2012 trips, where the skiing was essentially down to just the main snowfield.

“The snowfield held
beautifully flat and
pristine corn snow…”

With the lower snowfields in action, we decided to go with the approach applied in our 2010 trip, which is to use the parking area below the 7-mile post on the road, instead of the parking area at the top of the snowfields.  Using this technique, one can tour out along the more northerly snowfields as far as they want, even hitting the main East Snowfield if they’d like.  Then, to finish the tour, instead of having to hike back up to the parking area atop the East Snowfield, one can essentially traverse back along the base of the snowfields with minimal additional ascent.  Along the way, you can make descents in the other snowfields as well, which often have untouched snow.  They’re used much less than the main East Snowfield and we’ve typically found that we have them to ourselves with untouched corn snow.  At the end of our 2010 trip, we also discovered a very efficient use of the mountain’s hiking trail network for this type of tour.  We’ve started traversing on the Nelson Crag Trail before, but, it turns out that simply descending straight down from the lower parking area on the Huntington Ravine Trail drops you right onto the northern edge of the snowfields, so you can use the trail to get you right to the snow.  You can’t really see the snow from above, so it’s not obvious unless you know what you’re doing, but as long as those northerly extensions of the snowfield are present, it’s a really sweet and efficient approach.  Even though the distribution of the snow in the snowfields area is different each spring, it’s nice to be developing a knowledge of what works well for getting to the snow.  We’re definitely starting to dial in a good understanding of how to best approach what we see on the Ravines Cam in terms of touring the snowfields.  This year our goal was to tour out toward the main East Snowfield as described above, with the potential to ski there, but it would depend on how good the skiing was that found along the way, as well as time, and of course the boy’s attitude and morale, which can be extremely flighty on these outings.

A dimensionally square image of the Dakine Women’s Pro II 26L Ski backpackAs expected, taking the Huntington Ravine Trail got us to the snow in just a few minutes of hiking from the car, and Ty and Dylan were ready to just stop right there and start skiing.  E and I explained to them that what they saw was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of snow, and that we would be traversing southward for some longer lines.  The snowfield there was only about 50 vertical feet or so, but typically the priority for the boys is to minimize the amount of hiking they have to do in whatever way they can.  The boys did have a bit more challenge this year, since they were both carrying their own skis on their packs for the first time.  Fortunately, they had both decided to use their Telemark skis, also a first for them, so it’s nice that their Teles are lighter than their alpines.  This also meant that they could simply wear their Telemark boots and hike like me and Erica in ours, since they are very flexible and have rubber soles.  This meant we didn’t have any alpine boots to carry, although Tele boots still aren’t quite as easy for hiking as standard hiking boots, so that was a bit of a bump in challenge for the boys.  For E, this trip was also a chance to carry her skis on the Dakine Women’s Pro II 26L ski pack that she got for Christmas.  Although she used it on some backcountry outings this winter, we were always skinning, so there was no need to carry her skis on her back.  This was her first opportunity to really put it to the test with skis on it, and she was very impressed.  I wouldn’t have thought about it, except that she commented on how it didn’t even feel like she had skis on her back – that’s always good sign when it comes to a ski pack.  She also mentioned how the diagonal carry is so superior to the A-frame style carry in terms hitting the backs of the skis with your legs.  I’ve always been very impressed with the diagonal carry on my Dakine Sequence ski/photo pack, so I’m glad E is getting to make use of that system.  Dakine definitely knows how to set up a ski carry system.  The one issue I did notice with E’s pack is that since it has a helmet carrying system (very cook and I wish I had one) it gets a bit tight when the skis are on there in diagonal carry as well.  Overall the skis and helmet were nice and snug there though, and E had no complaints.  Our only lament heading outbound on the tour was that with our skis angled down to the right, it meant that they occasionally touched the rocks because of the direction of the side slope on our southward traverse.  It was only an occasional inconvenience though, and I joked that we could always traverse around the entire Mt. Washington summit cone in the other direction if we really wanted to avoid that issue ;).

An image of Jay carrying his skis on his pack on one of the snowfields on the east side of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Time to hit the snow!

After only about ten minutes of southward traversing, we came to a substantial snowfield of about 250’ vertical or so, and we decided to do some skiing.  We hit the snowfield about midway up, so I set in a boot ladder to the top.  The snowfield held beautifully flat and pristine corn snow, aside from a couple of very faint tracks from a previous skier or two that must have been there quite a while ago.  The snowfield was continuous, but did have a choke point about midway down along the left, so one had to take that route.

It was good that we’d reached at least an initial snowfield, because the boys were already getting grumpy.  They really wanted to get on with the camping, and while they enjoy being out on the snow, getting them to thoroughly relish all aspects of earned turns is always a challenge.  Some days they enjoy the experience, or at least substantial parts of it, but other times it’s essentially putting up with Mom and Dad dragging them around to these snowy spots.  We’ve learned that it’s good to have a “carrot” aspect of the trip as well, whether it’s a stop in a the Bryant Cabin on a Bolton Valley Backcountry Network outing or the swimming pool after, a chance to eat out somewhere once we’re done, or in this case, a chance to do some camping.  We relayed to them that they were sitting on their own private snowfield with great temperatures, no wind, no bugs, beautiful snow, and even some sunshine.  These aren’t things that you can get every day, but in their minds they were already off the mountain and down by the tent and campfire.

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on the East Snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in May
Getting after some of that smooth corn snow today

At the top of the snowfield, I hung out for a while and enjoyed the scene, while the boys did a bit of sliding on the snowfield, and E made the first descent.  Her turns looked good, and it was amazing how fast she dropped that vertical.  It seemed like she was down toward the flats of the Alpine Garden area in an instant, and she looked so far away.  I skied a run next, and then we eventually got the boys to make some turns, even though they were being somewhat lazy and reluctant.  They both put together some nice Telemark turns, even though the pitch of the snowfield was quite steep.  E and I both made some additional turns, with me finishing off a run on the lower right of the snowfield while E shot some pictures.  We had the snowfield to ourselves the entire afternoon, so even though it was only about half the vertical of what was available on the main East Snowfield, it was such good skiing that we never even continued over there.  The boys were a bit too sour for that anyway, and really wanted to get on to the camping.  We could hear that occasional shout from people on the main snowfield though, and I’m sure there were some great times going on over there.

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in May on the East Snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
Dylan out there carving some turns on the Telemark skis

The return traverse to the car was pretty quick, and E and I helped out the boys by each carrying a pair of their skis.  For the extra set of skis, we went with a vertical carry, and E seemed to still be impressed with the stability and ease of her pack, even with the second set of skis on it.  I made the lowest traverse, so that meant a few minutes of hiking back up the Huntington Ravine Trail at the end, but I was eager to test that out.  It was nice to walk on an established trail, since the going was a big quicker than across the random jumbles of rocks that give the Rock Pile its name.  While we were loading up the gear at the parking area, we had some inquiries about where we’d been skiing, and one guy was very intrigued to know that you could access the snowfield from that lower parking lot.  He said he’d like to try it out in the future.

“…but in their minds
they were already off
the mountain and down
by the tent and campfire.”

Each year we like to try out a new campground on our visit to the snowfields, and this year I decided that we’d head south to Glen, New Hampshire.  I’d found a couple of potential campgrounds there.  The first was the Green Meadow Camping Area, but when we stopped in and found out that they weren’t opening until next weekend, we headed to the Glen Ellis Family Campground a couple of miles down the road.  I’d put it as the second choice because it was a bit more expensive, but once we got there you could immediately tell why.  The grounds are immaculate, and the building that functions as the main office and store was a beautiful building.  Everything was first rate, and they’ve got a huge playground, basketball and tennis courts, and even a pristine baseball diamond.  It’s certainly in that upper echelon of campgrounds.

Visitation was only modest since it’s no Memorial Day yet, so they gave us one of the riverside campsites.  We thought that would be nice, but it wasn’t until we finally got to it that was saw how amazing it was – it was absolutely one of the coolest campsites we’ve ever had in either to Eastern or Western U.S.  There’s a wooded section with the usual fire ring, picnic table, etc., but then that expands up onto a riverside area comprised of the rocks that are part of the riverbed, with a second fire ring.  It overlooks a gorgeous stretch of the Saco River that made E and I feel like we were back in Jasper National Park.  As soon as we saw that riverside section, we knew we were going to pitch our tent right up there.  The boys headed off to the playground for a bit, we cooked up some hot dogs and beans for dinner, and finished things off with s’mores and lot of campfire time.  There wasn’t actually anyone else camping out on the river since campground visitation was light, but I have to believe those riverside spots are pretty coveted on busy weekend.  The fly fishing looked amazing, and we saw one guy out working the stream about a half mile downstream.  That is a campsite that will not soon be forgotten, and it will definitely be on our list for the next time we’re in the area.  Apparently their Laundromat is a big deal as well, because there are as many signs for that as there are for the campground itself!

An image of a campsite along the Saco River at the Glen Ellis Family Campground in New Hampshire
The view from our campsite at the Glen Ellis Family Campground today

An image of the sign for the Glen Junction Family Restaurant in Glen, New HampshireSunday update:  The evening sky had some on and off broken clouds and a nice moon, and I bet it dropped into the 30s F overnight because even with the rain fly on the tent, we were down to the mid 40’s F.  After breaking camp, we decided to try out one of the local restaurants for breakfast on the way home, and found the Glen Junction Family Restaurant.  It definitely seemed to be the hot spot for breakfast, and the menu was almost overwhelming with the variety of combinations of fresh toast, omelets, and most of the usual morning fare that you can think of.  Not surprisingly with the junction location, the theme is trains, and they’ve got some fairly large-scale trains that circulate around the rooms up near the ceiling.  The boys definitely enjoyed watching those, as did the numerous children that were there as well – especially the younger ones.  Of course any adults like me would enjoy them as well.  One of the specials had eggs Benedict on French toast, which was tempting, although I ended up making my own omelet which contained corned beef hash and spinach.  The waitress said that was the first time she’d ever had anyone put together that specific combination, and it turned out great.  Everyone liked their fare, and we even had some extra to take home as the portions are plentiful.

We got home today around noontime, after a bit of maintenance on the mowers, I was able to do the first lawn mowing of the season.  It’s only about four short months until I’ll be on the last mowing of the season, and we’ll be thinking about the first snows, but there are plenty of summer activities to do in the meantime.  In terms of skiing, we’ll have to see if we want to take a trip down to Killington for some turns in the next couple of weeks, since they’re apparently going for June this year just like old times.

An image of Jay sitting at a table on the back deck of the Spruce camp Base Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in vermont

Stowe, VT 05MAY2013

An image of skis and poles on the snow at the top of West Slope at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont looking down on the Spruce Peak Base area
High above the Spruce Peak Base and ready for some corn snow turns

Our stretch of incredible spring weather continues, and today was another clear one with temperatures in the 70s F.  We had to head to Morrisville for a midday first communion mass, but we took along the ski gear in case we had the time to do some skiing on the way back through Stowe.  After grabbing some subs in Morrisville, headed up to the resort and took a look around to assess the ski options.  The most continuous snow is over on Mt. Mansfield, where the North Slope area is still looking very good, with no breaks that I could see even down to the lowest elevations.  There’s still a good amount of snow over at Spruce Peak as well though, with a lot of continuous vertical over in the Main Street area, and even snow down by the Spruce Peak Base.

“I’d say it might
be the best corn
snow I’ve skied
all spring.”

E and the boys weren’t up for skiing, but I was still looking to get in a quick run, so we decided to set ourselves up with some easy slope access right below Slalom Hill and West Slope.  We had lunch at one of the tables on the back deck of the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, and while E and the boys were off on a bathroom break, I stuck around and enjoyed the view of the slopes.  It has really been quite the run of clear spring days for us out here in the mountains – we’ve now gone 10 days without measurable precipitation at the house, and that’s very impressive for the land of upslope where Mother Nature can find a way to make some sort of precipitation more often than not.  Even if the rate of snowmelt is a bit faster than usual, we’re enjoying it, and there’s more to come this week.  After finishing up our lunch, E and the boys headed off to play some chess on the outdoor chess set, while I headed up for a run.

an image looking down toward the steep pitch of the West Slope trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont  on a day of spring skiing in May
On the descent of West Slope

Although I put my ski pants in my pack, it was warm enough that I just threw on my Tele boots and hiked in my shorts.  The effects of the continued warm and dry weather are very obvious on the slopes, as the areas without snow are essentially dry.  That made the hiking very easy on the grassy terrain, and it was a quick ascent up to the top of West Slope.  The views were excellent, and although I couldn’t quite make out E and the boys over by the Stowe Mountain Lodge, they said that they were able to see me.  I took a line down the skier’s left of West Slope, and the snow was beautiful – it was smooth, with a couple inches of peel away corn snow on top.  I’d say it might be the best corn snow I’ve skied all spring.  It was also nice to be back on the Telemark skis – I decided to just stick with skiing in my shorts since it was a fairly simple run, and was rewarded with some nice corn spray on the knees along with some really glorious Tele turns.  There was a final stretch of snow at the bottom of Slalom Hill, so I walked across the slope to connect to that, and it brought me right down to the car.

E and the boys timed their return to the car just right because they could see me on my descent, and when we met up I tried to tempt them into going for a run by letting them know just how great the snow was.  It didn’t work, as they were all just a little too tired from the busy weekend.  We’re watching the Mt. Washington Auto Road to see how things develop in the next couple of weeks.  There’s still quite a lot of snow up there, and the sooner they open the more options there will be on the snowfields.

An image of Stein's Run in May at Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont

Sugarbush, VT 04MAY2013

An image of Dylan skiing on Stein's Run at Sugarbush on spring snow in May
Dylan at Sugarbush today

Last weekend I visited Bolton Valley for turns, but in general it’s been another week with day after day of sun and warm spring temperatures of 70-80 F for the valleys, so I suspect Bolton’s snowpack isn’t very continuous at this point.  The Mt. Washington Auto Road opened to tree line today, but a full opening is required to use it for access to the snowfields, so local turns seemed to be on the menu again.  Stowe has plenty of snow and is one of the closest options at this point, but once I found out that Sugarbush was offering free skiing this weekend in support of Vermont Land Trust’s preservation of the Bragg Farm, that jumped right up on the list.

I’d been tossing around different ideas about when to ski among other weekend chores and activities, but once I got the word that Sugarbush wasn’t going to be opening on Sunday, that sealed the deal on today’s trip.  Ty was away at a friend’s house and E was busy with other things, but Dylan definitely needed to get out of the house, so I grabbed him in the early afternoon and we headed off to Sugarbush to make some turns.  Dylan actually protested about today’s trip at first, and you could tell that there was a big activation energy required to get him moving, but even he realized that he needed to get his butt off the couch.  We hadn’t been in the car long before his disposition started to change.  With him and Ty, it’s often about that activation energy.

The main paved parking lot right below the Clay Brook Complex had a decent amount of cars in it, but it wasn’t chock full and there were plenty of available spaces right up front from people who had already left for the day.  The mountain was requiring that everyone have free tickets, even with the free skiing, but the process was easy – we just stopped in the ticket building and they handed them over to us.  You could make your donation to the Bragg Farm preservation project right there as well if you wanted.  As we were walking over to the base of the lifts, my fired Chris spotted us from his seat outside at the Castlerock Pub, and he said to stop back after we’d done our skiing.  The scene was lively outside at the pub, with live music from a guitarist going strong.

I was initially surprised when we walked up the steps and found that the Super Bravo Chair wasn’t running, and quickly realized that skiing was off the Valley House Double today.  That’s a much slower and lower capacity lift setup, and meant that there was a decent queue of about 10 minutes or so to be able to load.  The upside was that it probably helped to keep traffic down on the minimal terrain they had open – essentially Stein’s Run with the Coffee Run runout below that to get you back to the base of the lift.  I wasn’t too excited when I’d initially heard that the skiing was only off Stein’s, since it never really seems to have any decent bump lines, just big, widely-spaced things, but at least it was warm enough out that its traditionally hard, manmade snow would likely soften.  As we stood in the queue, Dylan was still a rather reluctant participant.  He said, “Dad, I’ve got three things to tell you that I don’t like… one, it’s too hot out; two, this line is too long; and three, the snow is going to be sticky.  Apparently his glass was well empty, but I did assure him that the snow wasn’t going to be sticky; it was definitely well-ripened corn snow and you could tell that even as we stood there at the base elevation.

The skiing turned out to be much better than I’d expected, not so much due to the snow, which I expected to be decently softened with temperatures in the 70s F, but the terrain setup.  In this case, Stein’s tendency for those wide, spread out bump lines meant that there was actually some pretty smooth snow off to the sides where fewer people were skiing.  It wasn’t totally flat, but the bumps were fairly scattered, so you could enjoy that area for smooth turns, and then move toward the middle of the trail for more bumps.  Amazingly, even on such a warm day, Stein’s still found a way to have firm snow between some of the bumps.  It’s almost hard to imagine that on such a day, but Stein’s is steep and it really faces north.  Dylan worked on his pole technique and we both had some fun turns.  I’d gone with alpine equipment, not wanting to deal with Telemark turns on the typical crazy assortment of bumps that can sometimes be found on Stein’s, but it turned out to be so much better than I’d expected; Telemark skiing would certainly have been fun as well.

The lift queue at Valley House had gone down somewhat by the time we finished our run, but I still couldn’t convince Dylan to do any more skiing.  He did say that the skiing was better than he’d though it would be, so that was at least a bit of a positive note in his rather sour disposition.  We met up with Chris down at the Castlerock Pub, where we had some nachos and root beers.  We’d checked over at Timbers first, but they weren’t opening until 4:00 P.M., so it seemed like a perfect time to introduce ourselves to what to the pub had to offer.  On such a gorgeous day, you could either sit inside and be just out of the sun but catching the cool breeze, or hang out on the patio and absorb some rays.  We haven’t seen Chris since the Warren Miller movie in the fall, so we caught up with his latest exploits; he’ll be up in the area for some work in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully we’ll see him again.

An image of a Route 100 highway sign in Vermont covered with a variety of ski stickers
At least Vermont’s Skier’s Highway has got it’s 15 requisite pieces of flair.

I’m really glad that Sugarbush offered the free day today, because in our case, it needed to be something pretty economical to make it worth it for the minimal terrain.  Simply skinning for turns at a place like Stowe is pretty high on our list, but today’s skiing was definitely worth it for a nice change of pace.  It’s been a couple of seasons since we’ve had the occasion to visit the ‘bush, so I’m glad that we snuck a visit in under the wire today.

Bolton Valley, VT 28APR2013

An image looking down the Spillway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont on a sunny spring afternoon
Enjoying the descent of Spillway today in the afternoon sunshine

We’ve had some decent temperatures to get the corn snow cycle going over the past week, and this weekend has been much better than last weekend in terms of warming up the snow on the slopes.  Yesterday was pretty nice in terms of weather, but today was even warmer, and the sky was crystal clear.  In terms of the mountain snowpack, Stowe is looking great down to pretty low elevations based on Powderfreak’s latest pictures, but I know the snow at Bolton Valley isn’t going to last as long due to its western exposure and late-day heating.  With that in mind, I decided to make it a Bolton tour today, and since I haven’t been up since my April 14th tour at Timberline, it was a good time to check on the snow situation at the local hill.

“I actually found some of
the smoothest snow, or
more accurately softest
snow, on Beech Seal…”

I headed up in the late afternoon, with valley temperatures around 70 F.  There’s no visible snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road until one reaches the 1,500’ elevation, where there’s a big patch at the base of the Timberline area.  There’s really not much snow visible on the Timberline trails below the 2,250’ elevation though, and I suspect most of what is there is leftover manmade snow.  After passing Timberline, I next saw natural snow appearing a bit below the 2,000’ elevation as I approached the Village.  Temperatures were in the low 60s F up at the main base area, and on the slopes in that area there’s snow right down to the main base lodge, but it’s not continuous on all trails.  I had to walk a couple hundred feet in the flats above the lodge before I could put on my skins and ascend Beech Seal.  From there on up though, the snow is basically continuous on Beech Seal, Sprig O’ Pine, Sherman’s Pass, and Spillway right to the Vista Summit.  I took the Sherman’s Pass ascent, and there is some pretty dirty snow in protected areas that haven’t seen much sun.  That sun was glorious today though, and I definitely brought along the sunscreen because we’re talking about an August-like sun angle now.  On the upper half of the mountain, there’s actually a good mix of manmade and natural snow options, although the trails that received manmade snow are the ones that will really give you those continuous runs with good snow coverage.  I stopped my ascent at the Vista Summit right beyond the top of Spillway Lane, ripped off my skins, and got into descent mode.  There was just the slightest breeze, but the wind turbine was making good use of it and spinning along.

There are some sun cups starting to form that make the snow surface uneven in spots, but Spillway has smooth options just about everywhere so you can get in some really nice turns.  Spillway’s steep pitch felt good as usual, and the snow is indeed nice after this week’s corn cycling.  I actually found some of the smoothest snow, or more accurately softest snow, on Beech Seal; perhaps the lower elevation let it warm a bit more than what’s up on Spillway.  In any event, the softening was far superior to what we experienced last weekend on either Saturday or Sunday – those temperatures were just a bit to cool to get things to where I found them today at Bolton.  At the bottom of my run, I took off my skis and threw them back on my pack to walk through the couple big broken patches of snow in the flats above the lodge, but you can essentially ski all of the ~1,000’ of vertical on the main mountain for now.  There’s no snow or even cool temperatures in the forecast this week; it looks fairly mild and sunny, so I’m not sure what the situation will be on the mountain next weekend.  There will still be snow for skiing, but I don’t think it will be continuous with the melting that could take place in the sunny, warm afternoons we look to have on tap in the coming days.

An image of skiers tailgating in a packed Mansfield parking lot at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont

Stowe, VT 21APR2013

An image of Jay in a Telemark turn in spring snow on the Gondolier trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan doing some work behind the camera today capturing Dad in a turn.

It was a Telemark day for the family yesterday at Stowe, but today was an alpine day for the boys, in line with plans to hit some steep and challenging terrain.  We were hoping to introduce Dylan and E to some of the Bypass Chutes that Ty and I had skied last Saturday, with additional plans to head over to the Gondola area of Mt. Mansfield and potentially up to some of the steep alpine terrain of The Chin.  The weather was looking pretty good, with clear blue skies and fairly seasonable temperatures.  E had tweaked her back a bit the other day, so she ultimately decided that the best course of action would be to rest it, and I took the boys off to the mountain in the mid afternoon.  On our drive, the one thing I quickly noticed was that today’s temperatures were actually a bit colder than yesterday’s – whereas it was roughly 50 F in the lower mountain valleys yesterday, today I was seeing numbers more in the mid 40s F.  The car thermometer was reading just 39 F when we arrived at the base of Mansfield, and that got me a little concerned about the snow surfaces, since yesterday’s slightly warmer temperatures were already somewhat marginal with the softening.  Today had 100% sunshine though, so I was hoping that could make a difference.

An image of skiers tailgating in a packed Mansfield parking lot at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The sea of vehicles and tailgating people in the Mansfield parking lot today

As soon as we arrived in the Mansfield Parking Lot, it was obvious that the number of people at the resort was nothing like what we’d encountered yesterday afternoonYesterday we just pulled up and grabbed a parking spot in the first row, directly in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge, but today I didn’t see a single open spot in the entirety of the east side of the lot.  I eventually decided that it would just be easier to park over in the Midway Lot at the Gondola, since we’d be finishing our day there.  Even over there though, there was a healthy amount of vehicles, so the resort was definitely drawing a crowd for its last official day.  As we made our way over to the base of the Fourrunner Quad, we witnessed the incredible sea of vehicles and skiers that filled the Mansfield Parking Lot.  The sights and sounds were simply everywhere, there was one source of music that was so loud that it sounded like a live band was playing.  I even heard someone mention something to that effect a bit later, but didn’t know if it was true.  Anyway, that’s what happens when you combine that last day of Stowe lift service with weather like we had today.

An image of the Gondola area at Stowe Vermont below Mt. Mansfield from the Midway parking lot
Arriving to a beautiful day on Mansfield

“It was still reasonably
good corn snow, and
fortunately it improved
with ever turn we took
as
 we dropped in elevation.”

Up at the summit of the Fourrunner Quad it was certainly a bit chilly, and I suspect that the temperature was right around the freezing mark.  I thought about doing a run on some of the quad terrain before making our way over to the Gondola, but decided that it was best to get going early so we’d have maximal time for whatever touring we wanted to do.  The snow seemed at least somewhat softened in the sun from what we could see below us on our trip up the quad, but as soon as we dropped onto Nosedive, we found out that anything out of the sun was going to be a total nightmare in terms of surface consistency.  We saw that the upper entrance to Bypass was roped, presumably because of the firm snow surface.  The trip down those next couple of pitches of Nosedive was quite hairy, and I wouldn’t have recommended it for anyone like us that doesn’t keep their edges sharp.  We picked our way down with some survival skiing to find that even the next entrance to the Nosedive Glades was roped off.  Access over to Rimrock was only available once the pitch flattened out a bit, and we got our butts off Nosedive as soon as possible.

An image of Dylan hiking on the snow on the Perry Merrill trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan sees the light at the end of the tunnel as he finishes off the ascent on Perry Merrill.

Based on the snow surfaces, I didn’t think there was much sense in heading above tree line, but the ascent over to the top of the Gondola still looked viable, so we set our sights on that.  To make it easy on the boys, especially since they’ve been under the weather a bit this past week, I took care of carrying their skis for them.  I skinned with my skis, and attached theirs to my pack.  We actually encountered a number of people heading over to the Gondola via Rim Rock, they were keeping that aggressive traverse that would let them reach High Road and maximize their vertical.  We were heading higher than that though, since we continued up Cliff Trail once we got to that High Road intersection.  After a break at that intersection, we continued on up with the Cliff Trail ascent, and even though it’s just an intermediate pitch, it looked daunting to the boys compared to what we’d just traversed.  It really went quickly though, it felt like we began to see the top of Cliff Trail just after ascending the first steep pitch, and even with the boys somewhat beleaguered pace due to recent fought illness, it couldn’t have taken much more than 10 minutes.  We could still see some sunlit terrain above us at that point, so after a quick break, we continued on a bit more and finally stopped our ascent up near the flats leading to the Cliff House.  In terms of both sunshine and slope, there wasn’t much point in going beyond the first big pitch of Perry Merrill.  We could hear, and in some cases see, people picking their way down through the Rock Garden and other, even steeper lines off the Mansfield ridgeline, and it sounded horrible up there.  That terrain is shaded, high in elevation, and steep.  It looked like it was worse than what we’d found on Nosedive, and that experience was already going down as serving up the most hellacious ski conditions we’d encountered all season.  At least the snow was being well-preserved for future use, but it had me longing for the fresh snow that Ty and I got to play in last weekend.

“…we found out that
anything out of the
sun was going to be
a total nightmare
in terms of surface
consistency.”

The boys finished with a final snack and some roughhousing in the snow off to the side of the trail as we enjoyed some sun, and then we were off for some turns.  We stuck to as much sunny terrain as we could, descending on Perry Merrill and then to Gondolier on the skier’s left.  The snow was only marginally softened, so it was OK, but like yesterday, not really as great as the sunshine might suggest.  It was still reasonably good corn snow, and fortunately it improved with ever turn we took as we dropped in elevation.  All I can say is that the upside of the minimal softening is that even down in those lower elevations below the alpine, the preservation of the snowpack was looking quite good.  I was happy for E though, as she’d made the right call in staying home and resting her back.  Although she missed a fun bit of hiking and touring, which gave us a nice workout, she certainly hadn’t missed out on any extraordinary (or even ordinary for that matter) spring skiing.

An image of Dylan with Ty mostly hidden behind as they begin a ski descent of the Perry Merrill trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan leading the charge down the top of Perry Merrill with Ty right behind him on his heels

For the final half of the descent on Gondolier, we used my camera (Canon EOS 30D) and E’s camera (Canon PowerShot ELPH 510 HS) between the three of us and played “Shootout”.  It’s a contest in which everyone skis in front of the cameras, but also gets behind the cameras to serve as photographers.  The goal is to see who can get the shot of the day in both the photographer and skier roles.  E’s point and shoot camera does have a decent high speed shooting mode that runs at 7.8 FPS in low (~3 megapixels) resolution, and it does a decent job of capturing images, even if you can’t really view your subject the way you can with a DSLR.  The big downside of her camera is that the focus, exposure, and other parameters are set on the first shot and remain fixed – also, you have to stop shooting to adjust the zoom.  For sports photography, this represents a serious disadvantage compared to the DSLR that is rapidly adjusting all these for every high speed shot, and even though it’s only shooting at 5 FPS, it’s going at full resolution and is attempting to optimize the picture every time.  Also, you can zoom on the fly and keep filling the frame with the skier if you want.  E pointed out that I had a huge advantage using the DSLR (since it’s big, the boys don’t typically use it), so it was a bit uneven in that regard, but we’ll see how things come out in the end.

A landscape orientation image of E Telemark skiing in spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont

Stowe, VT 20APR2013

An image of Erica skiing spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
On the spring snow today at Stowe

We almost did a little skiing at Stowe on Thursday this week, but it was just starting to rain when we stopped in at the mountain around midday, and with E and the boys a bit under the weather, we decided to hold off.  The weather was much better today, so we headed up to Mansfield in the afternoon to make a few turns.  Temperatures were up around 50 F in the mountain valleys, and the sky was a mix of clouds and sun, so it seemed like a reasonable spring skiing day.  It was only in the 40s F at the base of the mountain, but that was still more than warm enough to soften up the slopes.

An image of the women's Scarpa T2 Eco Telemark boot

One item of note today was that it was E’s first chance to try out her new Telemark ski boots that she bought a couple of weeks ago.  After almost six seasons of using the $50 boots that she picked up at the South Burlington Ski Swap, it was finally time to up the fit and performance level of her Telemark footwear.  Her boots had always been just a bit on the large side, and she’d just either worn some thicker socks or dealt with the minor inconvenience, but when she got some fatter Telemark skis this season (Black Diamond Element) with a width of 115 mm underfoot, the fit became a real concern.  There weren’t any serious issues in untracked powder, but as firmer or more uneven surfaces were encountered, the slop in the boot was clearly making things difficult.  Relative to a narrow-waisted ski, getting a wide ski like that on edge takes more pressure, and if you don’t have a snug fit in your boot, you’re potentially going to have problems when you encounter groomed or other firm surfaces.  Since I have the standard, slightly stiffer version of her ski (Black Diamond AMPerage) I could feel the extra force required to get the ski up on edge when encountering groomed surfaces, but I found the inconvenience fairly trivial in a good-fitting boot.  With that in mind, E got a gift certificate from Outdoor Gear Exchange for her birthday last month so the she could go and get the boot that she liked best without thinking about the price; she’s more than paid her dues the past six seasons in her current boots.  E’s birthday has always been timely for ski-related gear, and as is typical, all the current boots are on sale now that we’re near the end of the ski season.  After a solid boot-fitting session with one of the associates, she found the Scarpa Women’s T2 Eco to be the perfect fit.  It’s a three-buckle boot with a power strap, similar to my Garmont Garas.  It looks like they’ll be a great boot for the combination of lift-served and backcountry skiing that we do.  It’s also interesting to note that Scarpa T2s were the Telemark boots we tried back in 2002 at Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana on our first day of Telemark skiing ever.  We had no other reference at that point, but liked the boots a lot.

“As for conditions on the
hill, they were a mixture
of corn snow bordering
on loose granular at the
very top, which blended to
a softer corn snow below.”

While we were getting changed in the lodge, Ty found an Easter egg in his Telemark boots, and we realized that it’s been a few weeks since he’s been out on his Telemark skis.  While Dylan had last used his Telemark skis for our trip down the Bruce Trail on March 31st, for Ty it’s been since back in mid March when the boys and I skinned over to Wilderness at Bolton for fresh tracks.  That’s over a month that he’s been off his Telemark gear, so indeed it was good that he was getting out for an opportunity to keep working on his skills.

As for conditions on the hill, they were a mixture of corn snow bordering on loose granular at the very top, which blended to a softer corn snow below.  I enjoyed the snow a lot, being able to really bite in and carve, although Ty and Dylan felt like they were being pushed around in the soft snow at times.  The major downside I found today was that it wasn’t quite warm enough to really soften up the subsurface to where I like it, so there were occasional encounters with firm patches.  Both boys were still feeling the effects of being under the weather this week and they didn’t really have their usual levels of energy.  With the combination of low energy and what they found to be challenging snow, they ended up going pretty minimal on the number of Telemark turns they made.  They stuck with alpine most of the time, but at least they got a bit of Tele practice and were out in the fresh air.

“Those were
some very
smooth turns.”

E immediately noticed the security and stability in her new boots.  They were noticeably harder to flex than her old boots, but of course these are new, and her old ones must have seen a decade worth of ski seasons… and they had cracks in the bellows as well.  The rigidity and support in her new boots must be light years ahead of what she had.  E was quite impressed with the increased control she had with the new boots, she said that she could feel the soft snow wanting to push her skis around, but she could overpower that more easily and direct her skis wherever she wanted.  She said that she couldn’t do that to nearly the same degree with her old boots.

An image of Erica skiing in spring snow at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont as she tries out the Scarpa Women's T2 Eco Telemark ski boots
The new boots in action

By our second run, temperatures seemed like they were cooling, because the snow was beginning to tighten up near the summit of the Fourrunner Quad.  By that point the boys had had enough skiing anyway, as they were feeling tired.  One can always tell when Ty is tired, because he’ll take a seat or lie down when we stop on the trail.  He used to do that a lot when he was much younger since he didn’t have any stamina, but if we see it frequently now, we know he’s getting tapped out.  We did finish that next run on quite a high note by catching some untracked corn snow on Lower Gulch.  Those were some very smooth turns.  On a weather-related note, we were very surprised to find that it was actually snowing at times this afternoon, despite the fairly warm temperatures.  Clearly some colder air has moved in at the higher elevations to support the snow we saw, because that’s the only type of precipitation that fell.

So E had a great experience with her new boots today, and I think it’s going to be interesting as she tries them out under different conditions, and eventually on her fat, powder skis.  It seems like they’re going to give her much more control, but we’ll just have to see what the combination of boots and skis is like.  I realize now that after checking them out more closely, that her old boots are actually only a two-buckle model with a power strap; they seem like they might be some Scarpa T3s, and an old well-used T3 from a decade ago is going to be a dramatically different boot than a modern T2.  I’m sure we’ll have more boot updates as we move ahead in the spring skiing season.

An image of the Adirondacks with snow squalls approaching taken from the Timberline area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont

Bolton Valley, VT 14APR2013

An iamge of the Timberline Lodge sign at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Snow falling at Timberline today

We had a family gathering through early afternoon today, but in the mid to late afternoon, I headed up to Bolton Valley for a tour.  Up to that point we’d had on and off bouts of precipitation in the valley, often showers mixed with sleet, but no notable accumulation other than transient stuff.  Temperatures were in the mid 40s F in the 300’-500’ elevation range along the bottom of the Winooski Valley as I headed westward toward Bolton; we’d had breaks of sun among the clouds and precipitation, and I was preparing for some fairly soft and slushy spring turns up on the hill.  Since I never pulled them out yesterday at Stowe, I’d even brought my fat skis to evaluate how they’d perform in the soft stuff.  A lot of people seem to like the way they smooth out the mushy stuff, but I’m still curious about how well that works.

An image of the entrance to the Ponds event area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont showing a lit street lamp in the afternoon in April due to cloudiness and snowfall
A dark, November feel today

Precipitation was pretty sparse as I headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road, and while there’s patchy snow all the way up out of the valley, consistent natural snowpack really didn’t appear until roughly the 1,500’ elevation at the Timberline Base.  Temperatures had dropped into the upper 30s F by that elevation, and light snow was falling.  It was mid to late afternoon, but it was actually pretty dark with the clouds around, and more of them appeared to be building in from the west.  Based on the available light, it actually felt like a typical November outing in the mountains.

“The snow was
good on the
whole descent…”

On the slopes, the snow wasn’t really the mushy spring snow that the valley temperatures had given me the impression I’d find; I think the temperatures and/or available sunlight really weren’t high enough to support that.  Instead what I found was the couple inches of wet snow/sleet that we’ve picked up from these latest storms, sitting atop the base.  The subsurface was still fairly soft and spring-like, presumably due to the recent rounds of wet precipitation percolating some moisture down in there.  The intensity of the snowfall was fairly light on the ascent, although I could see squalls around off to the west.  There was one off to the south, and another more ominous-looking one off to the north, they were both starting to devour the views of the Adirondacks and it looked like the spine of the Greens was in their path.

Up around the Timberline Mid Station at 2,250’, the surface snow began to have a bit more coalesced consistency relative to what was below.  The temperature was approaching the freezing mark, and it appeared to be due to a combination of elevation and some cooler air coming in with the approaching weather.  I topped out at the Timberline Summit at 2,500’, and the temperature by that point was either below freezing or very close – the trees still held snow from the recent storms.

An image showing ski tracks on the Brandywine Trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Brandywine Tracks

After starting down Upper Brandywine, I was about to head back toward the Timberline Mid Station, when I saw that there was a lot of good untracked snow farther down on Brandywine, so I followed that less traditional route.  The coverage was actually quite good, and although I don’t follow that route as often, I’m realizing that it’s got more of a northerly aspect than the slopes below the mid station.  I think it’s going to be a good route to use in more marginal situations of coverage or sun exposure.  The snow was good on the whole descent, transitioning from that stronger, peel-away stuff in the higher elevations, to a wetter consistency down low.  I was amazed at how much be  It was very much like what we experienced yesterday at Stowe up to the midday hour before the freezing level rose up above the summit of the Fourrunner Quad.  There are certainly areas starting to develop bare patches at Timberline, but if you wanted you could ski natural snow terrain all the way down to the Timberline Base; that’s pretty decent for west-facing terrain down at those low elevations this time of year.

The precipitation that had been looming off to the west finally pushed its way over the ridge and into the valley as I was switching out of my ski gear at the car.  In typical Bolton Valley style, it came strong, and it was snowfall that meant business.  It wasn’t quite the whiteout that I saw in Powderfreak’s Stowe pictures, I think in part because the flakes weren’t as large (probably about ½” max in diameter), but a decent wall of snow came in and made its presence known.

If that snow had been rain, it would have been pouring, and indeed I was able to watch that transition as I descended back down the access road.  The snow stayed with me down to around the 500’ elevation, and finally mixed out to just a pouring rain.  That rain followed me through the lower elevations of the Winooski Valley, and then by the time I got up a bit higher back at that house along the Waterbury/Bolton line, snow was mixing back in.  Checking the radar a little while later, it showed a nice shot of moisture making its way through the Winooski Valley.

An image of some ice waterfalls up ini the area of the Bypass Chutes at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont

Stowe, VT 13APR2013

An image of Ty skiing in the Bypass area of Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Fresh snow in the Bypass Chutes today

The storm that came through the area over the past few days was a real mixed bag; we certainly got some snow, but there was also a lot of sleet, and that was the preponderant precipitation down at our house.  By the time the storm wound down this morning, we’d picked up roughly eight tenths of an inch of liquid equivalent in our sleet and snow, and I suspected that would translate into more than an inch of liquid up in the higher elevations.  Although the new snow accumulations reported this morning were only in the 3 to 5-inch range in the Northern Greens, the snow had all that liquid in it, so there was a good chance of a decent resurfacing of the slopes.

“…a healthy layer of smooth,
dense snow that offered up
some great turns and did
a nice job of covering the
subsurface.”

E and Dylan had midday communion practice, but Ty and I planned to ski, and I’d alerted Ty about the potential for some fresh snow earlier in the week.  He was definitely ready for some skiing, but I was still torn about whether or not to head out first thing in the morning.  Either the snow was going to be good and wintry from the get go because it was soft and sufficient to cover up the old subsurface, or we’d have to wait for it to soften up.  We told E and Dylan that we might just end up doing a run or two if the snow wasn’t good, and Ty was definitely prepared for the worst.  I brought both fat and mid-fat Telemark skis for me, and fat alpines and Telemark skis for Ty – we also brought out skins and ski packs in case we got ambitious and wanted to earn some untracked powder over on the upper part of the Gondola area.

An image of Ty dropping into some April powder in the Toll Road trees at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
First things first: Ty checks on the powder in the trees.

Ultimately we went with a mid morning start, finding temperatures in the mid 30s F at the base of Mansfield.  The snow on the lowest slopes of the mountain had clearly softened into something nice based on the sounds (or lack of them) we heard from the lift, but up in the higher elevations, the temperature was below freezing and the quality of the skiing was still a mystery.  The top half of the mountain remained in the clouds, and appeared to be well protected from any warming effects of the sun.  We started off the day’s explorations near Ridgeview, and with a few quick samplings off piste it was quickly evident that the high-elevation snow was not some hard, refrozen amalgam of immovable ice, but a healthy layer of smooth, dense, sugary powder that offered up some great turns and did a nice job of covering the subsurface.  Discovering this, we quickly dove into the trees toward Toll Road, and Ty was immediately captivated by the quality of the turns.  He confirmed that we wouldn’t be going home after just one run.  We found ourselves certainly more “on” than “in” the powder, based on the density, but the turns were silky smooth and skiing the trees was like mid winter.  We worked our way down through a series of gladed areas on the various tiers of Upper Toll Road, before reaching Sunrise.  Ty is always talking about how much he likes Toll Road, more for the glades that cut the switchbacks than anything else, and with the discovery of all these new lines it’s becoming even more attractive.  We’ll have to find a way to get in there more often; perhaps I’ll have to capitalize on Ty’s requests.  We dove back into the Sunrise Trees, and continued into the Chapel Glades, with good snow all the way to the Chapel.  The snow really started to transition to a wetter, spring-style consistency below that point, and going was slowed on Lower Tyro.  We did catch some nice, albeit somewhat sloppy and wet, fresh tracks down there though.  After the experience of that first run, I was ever so close to grabbing my fat skis off the car and switching to them, but the mid-fats were getting the job done and I decided to save the time.

An image of the snow depth in the Bypass Chutes at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontOn the next run I decided it was time to introduce Ty to the Bypass Chutes.  He’d never been in there before that I can recall, but I told him that it was like doing the Kitchen Wall traverse in the opposite direction.  We traversed high, and saw a lot of good lines.  The snow was definitely the deepest of the day out there, and when we finally hit an area where my depth checks revealed 11 inches of new snow, it was time to ride.  I couldn’t believe how deep the snow was in that area, but you could see that it was likely spillover from the ice cliffs above.  Mt. Mansfield always seems to find a way to deliver the goods.  Ty hiked up a bit higher than me to get a good starting point, and then let it rip down a beautiful line, while I shots some photos.  Some other skiers who were on the traverse below us stopped to watch the show, and gave him props for his turns.  Ty was definitely loving his first experience in the Bypass Chutes; it’s totally his kind of terrain.  The trip through various steep cutes continued, until we reached Rimrock.  We worked our way over to check out the Gondola area next, and eventually got back into that springtime snow as we dropped in elevation.  One nice aspect of this recent storm made itself apparent though – the sleet that fell really isn’t all that different than corn snow, so it really made a quick transition to something other than mush.  There were still sticky areas due to the recent snow, but overall that snow was transitioning to a nice spring snow much quicker than dry, fine-grained powder would.

“…the turns were
silky smooth and
skiing the trees
was like mid
winter.”

We had a good lunch in the Mansfield Base Lodge, and by the time we got back out, the clouds had risen up to near the peaks, and it was really starting to warm up.  There were even some breaks in the clouds off to the east and it was starting to turn into a partly sunny day.  The freezing level had climbed all the way to the top of the Fourrunner Quad.  We did get back into the Upper Toll Road Glades, but the snow was much wetter than it had been, and we spent most of the run back on the trails.  Although not quite up to the level it was before, the skiing was still decent, but Ty was pretty tired and we called it a day.  We’ve got more precipitation falling this evening though, and with temperatures in the 30s F down here in the valley, it’s going to be frozen up high.  The snowpack at the stake continues to sit in that 70-80 inch range, and coverage remains excellent at Stowe all the way down to the lowest elevations.  I suspect the mountain could be sitting at roughly 100% open if they really had the traffic to warrant it.

Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 07APR2013

An image of Dylan dropping into a steep line on his skis in the Cliff Trail Gully in the alpine terrain above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan up in Stowe’s alpine today, dropping into his line

I didn’t have high hopes for the overall ski conditions today after what I experienced during yesterday’s outing at Stowe.  Snow surfaces in the lower elevations had warmed earlier in the week, followed by plenty of cold nights, and the temperatures yesterday just weren’t warm enough to get the snow to soften.  Gondolier was quite firm yesterday afternoon when I made my final descent to the base, with generally frozen granular and a bit of loose granular.  Fortunately there was some refuge up in the alpine elevations above ~3,800’ where the snow was still wintry, but it would take some sun and/or warmth to get the lower elevations in shape today, and sun didn’t appear to be in the forecast.  Whatever the case, we’d be able to head back up into the alpine to get to the good snow if necessary; today was our final BJAMS ski day of the season, and if the right group of willing students came together, my plan was to make use of the reconnaissance I’d done yesterday and get them up for some fun turns in the area of The Chin.

“…he dropped in with
gusto and led into a
huge sweeping turn…”

Throughout the morning today, E was getting various calls and text messages from folks letting her know that they weren’t going to be making it to ski program.  Those students in the BJAMS theatre program have been putting in many long days of preparation over the past 10 weeks, and this weekend was the culmination of those efforts with shows on Friday and Saturday.  Most of those students were so sapped of energy from long days and very late nights, that skiing just wasn’t in the cards.  Luke was one of those students, but fortunately Claire had made it out for the day.  After combining the usual number of absences for various reasons with the ugly-looking weather forecast and the many students resting up from the play, the end result was eventually just a handful of students and adults meeting at the base of Spruce Peak today.  When the dust and reorganization had settled, it turned out that both E and Claire were free to go with our group, and the only kids that we’d have would be Ty, Dylan, and Jack.

Ty and Dylan were raring to go for some hiking and turns in the alpine, and it turned out that Jack was more than ready as well.  Somehow, a little bird had told him that I’d been out on the mountain yesterday doing some reconnaissance in the alpine near The Chin… and that I just might be planning to take the ski group up there today.  He came ready with his backpack holding a couple bottles of water, and an attitude that said “Let’s get up there!”  Ty, Dylan, and I grabbed our ski packs, E and Claire joined us, and we headed up the Gondola for a visit to the wilds of The Chin.  Everyone in the group had been up on The Chin and other alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield extensively for hiking in the warmer months, but for everyone but me, this was going to be their first experience up there with winter snowpack and skis.  We hoped that Mother Nature was going to make the experience a good one.

An image of Jay and Claire hiking the Cliff Trail Gully as they head into the alpine terrain above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ascending into the alpine today

Indeed the weather was ultimately on our side today, and skies that might have been cloudy became blue and almost cloudless as we set off on our midday adventures.  Claire was unsure of how long she wanted to hike and ski, but when I told her we’d be starting off with and ascent and some turns in the Cliff Trail Gully, which was a fairly quick ascent to the ridgeline, she was game.  While I was finishing with the other boy’s packs, Dylan led the charge upward, and blazed the ascent using a combination of the boot pack I’d used yesterday and some variations of his own.  It was immediately obvious that we were going to be dealing with a different kind of snow today.  The snow that had been firm with a bit of wind or sun crust yesterday was now softening in the sun.   The ascent was absolutely delightful; there were occasional bouts of gusty winds, but for the most part the temperature was perfect, the snow supportive, and the boy’s attitudes positive.  Although notably slower than my solo pace yesterday, we probably gained the ridge at around 4,100’ in roughly 30 minutes.

An image of Dylan and Ty on the ridgeline of Mt. Mansfield above the Cliff Trail Gully at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Ridgeline Walkin’

The views from the ridgeline were tremendous, and Claire was absolutely loving her decision to join us for the full ascent.  The boys were already feeling in their element, as we watched them traverse higher on the craggy rocks farther south along the ridgeline. We hung out for about 20 minutes for drink and snacks, where we conversed about the season’s skiing, and just generally enjoyed the scenery and weather.  We could have just as easily been up there in gray and cloudy conditions, but apparently the sun wanted to make its presence know.

An image of Ty skiing in the Cliff Trail Gully in the alpine terrain above Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty carves up some great snow in the Cliff Trail Gully.

To begin the descent, the boys headed over to the lip of the gully so that they could drop in on the steep terrain.  The snow that was protected against the ridgeline was somewhere between spring and winter, but generally dry and edgeable; it was going to support some nice turns.  Dylan was chomping at the bit to drop in, and after heading to the highest part of the lip, he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn that send him flying right down the gully into the terrain below.  Ty and Jack followed suit, and within moments the boys were whooping and hollering about how great the turns were as they made their way down the upper sections of the gully.  Indeed once I dropped in myself I found the snow to be well worthy of their praise.  One could stick next to the protection of the rocky wall of the ridge for the driest snow, or head left out into more sunshine for more spring-like surfaces.  We mixed it up with turns in various part of the gully until we’d dropped a couple hundred vertical feet, right to the spot where I’d descended yesterday that at that time marked the transition to lower-quality snow.  That wasn’t the case today thanks to the assistance of the sun, but as we stood atop one of the overlooks and Jack saw the Cliff House below, he lamented the fact that we’d already descended so far and would soon be back to the bottom of the gully.  I told him not to worry – we didn’t have to descend if we just wanted to keep touring.

An iamge of Jay skiing in one of the alpine gullys up above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Great turns in our second gully today

Instead of descending the rest of the gully, I led the group on a traverse across to the next gully southward (see stage 4 in the detailed Google Earth GPS map from yesterday’s outing), and we were able to follow the same track that I’d used yesterday.  I told the group that one option was to make another ascent here and ski this gully from the top of they wanted.  The boys weren’t all that enthusiastic about another ascent, so after a few moments of discussion, we decided to descend the new gully and see how it went.  We saw some great terrain below us, but I warned them that I hadn’t scouted the bottom of this gully yesterday.  I told them that we could end up having to hike back out and descend via the Cliff Trail Gully if the trees got too tight or we got ran into cliffs.  The acknowledged my advice, and then it was time to drop in.  The descent of the second gully started with some nice steep terrain among sparse, buried evergreens.  There were really a lot of fun terrain options such as rollovers and small ledges in there that will lend themselves to a lot of future exploration.  As we continued downward, the trees began to get tight, and Dylan seemed to be having quite a time blazing a trail through the evergreens using a combination of his own ideas and the tracks of a previous skier that had passed through the area.  With all the experience they continue to build, it really is inspiring to watch how confidently the boys navigate their way through challenging terrain like a maze of subalpine evergreens.  They were inspecting options and helping each other out all while they were well ahead of the adults.  Eventually my spider sense told me that that we needed to break right toward the Cliff Trail Gully, and after some tight squeezes through a few spots, we found ourselves in a pleasant spot atop a rock outcropping among the sea of evergreens.  About 100-200 feet below we could see the Gondola summit area, and it felt as if we were on a balcony overlooking a show of skiers and boarders starting their way down the slopes.  We spent another few minutes there on the knoll while everyone gathered back together via their own routes through the evergreens, and then we cut right about a dozen yards to get back to the Cliff Trail Gully.  We finished our descent to the Cliff House there, and that bottom section of the gully served up some nice turns.  It was ski pole-style high fives all around for the folks that had just completed their first descent from the alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield.  I didn’t track our outing today by GPS, but for visual details, refer to stages 3 through 5 shown on the detailed Google Earth/GPS map from yesterday – today though, instead of ascending the gully shown in stage 5, we descended it.

“Indeed the weather
was ultimately on
our side today…”

It was around 3:00 P.M as we began the next phase of our descent through the resort.  We took Perry Merrill, and didn’t see another soul on the entire descent.  The late season date, the fact that it was Sunday afternoon, and the ominous forecast had really cleared out the mountain.  With the terrain entirely to ourselves, I led the boys in some huge GS-style turns that took up the whole width of the trail, and they had a lot of fun with that.  Ty said that he had used up all his patience for going slow during the hiking portion of the day, so with that in mind it was a great time to let him really open it up.  The snow was in fact fantastic, not too firm, not too sticky; it was just what you’d want in corn snow to sink in those edges and let the skis ride.  Whatever the sun had not been able to do yesterday in terms of softening up the snow surfaces, it had done it in spades today.  We had time to squeeze in one more run of Gondolier before calling it a day and heading back to Spruce Camp.  Today is the end of the season for the Gondola and for Spruce Peak, and it ultimately turned out to be a great one.  The weather was extremely changeable though – once we were back at Spruce Camp, gray clouds had come in and sleet began to fall.

We finished off the day with a visit to Frida’s for dinner, since we hadn’t been there at all this season.  The guacamole was excellent as usual, with a real good dose of lemon today.  Despite the fairly spring-like atmosphere out there, the boys both went for hot chocolate, which Frida’s does Mexican-style with some interesting extra flavor.  It looks like this week is going to have more precipitation coming in, although not necessarily a lot of snow.  It doesn’t look especially warm though, so it looks like it could be OK for snow preservation.  It’s great to be going into the month with such a strong snowpack, because it looks like there a lot more great skiing to come.

A Google Earth/GPS plot showing the route of my tour in the Chin Area of Mt. Mansfield

Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 06APR2013

An image looking down Profanity Chute above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Looking down from the top of Profanity Chute at some nice winter snow

Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield.  Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling.  There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F.  That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’.  I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse.  It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.

“The snow was
definitely all
winter up there…”

I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing.  There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today.  If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen.  Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring.  As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road.  The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.

I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off.  I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”.  There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles.  However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow.  That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there.  On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear.  Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’.  Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow.  I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.

An image looking down the Cliff Trail Gully in the alpine terrain of Mt. Mansfield above Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The Cliff Trail Gully today offering some winter snow

I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns.  The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds.  I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me.  The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over.  I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully.  I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully.  By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.

I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them.  I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing.  The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent.  Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before.  It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel.  The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there.  I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff.  The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’.  It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick.  Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations.  I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier.  Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around.  I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was.  The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions.  We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures.  It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.

A Google Earth/GPS plot showing the route of my tour in the Chin Area of Mt. Mansfield
A close up view of the Google Earth/GPS map of today’s tour – click for the full size image.