There was another inch or two of snow from Winter Storm Goliath overnight, and after finding some decent turns yesterday up at Bolton Valley, I contemplated another visit to see what the new snow had done to the overall conditions. It was a fairly nice day in the valley today – temperatures edged a bit above freezing and the stormy conditions of yesterday had moved out. It was cloudy, and we had occasion bouts of snow giving the area that snow globe atmosphere that is more typical of the Northern Greens in winter.
I finally got around to heading up to the mountain in the midafternoon period, and the weather in the Bolton Valley Village was quite a contrast to what we experienced yesterday. The air was calm, the temperature was just below freezing, and I was quickly dropping layers as I began my ascent of the skin track on Lower Turnpike. There appeared to be about an inch of new snow at Village elevation, and there was also some rime on the trees as I ascended that gave everything quite a wintry look.
To explore something a bit different than yesterday, I got off Lower Turnpike at the junction with Wilderness Lift Line, and made my way over toward Work Road, Lower Crossover, and eventually Fanny Hill. Testing snow depths revealed a general 6 to 9 inches of snow in most areas, and it had set up a bit in the higher elevations where it was colder. As was the case yesterday, the best turns were in those sheltered areas along the edges of trails. The upper part of Fanny Hill had seen very little traffic, so I had my pick of lines and got in some nice turns. I quickly got into more tracks lower down, but still managed to get some untouched snow off to the skier’s left. That area conveniently held some of the best powder as well. I peeked into the trees here and there, but they’re really not ready yet aside from a few of the milder pitches – another inch of liquid equivalent will get a good chunk of the lower angle trees going. The lower half of the mountain actually offered the best overall snow since it was just a bit warmer and the snow hadn’t set up as much. I talked with some other folks in the parking lot who had been ski touring and they agreed. I could actually see groomed terrain offering some very nice turns today where this dense snow had been tilled.
Like we’d experienced in the valley, there were some pleasant bouts of snow on my tour today as part of the next system affecting the area. We’ve actually got a series of small systems expected to hit the area over the next several days, so hopefully the mountains will work their magic with the snow showers and enhance the ski conditions even more.
We’ve had a decent buildup to Winter Storm Goliath over the past several days because it was expected to be the first widespread winter storm to hit the Northeast this season. The forecasts were spot on with an initial burst of heavy snow in the wee hours of Monday night, as snow began to fall not too long after midnight, and by the time I made my 6:00 A.M. weather observations there were 4.3 inches on the boards here at the house. Early morning reports from the mountains weren’t actually all that much greater than our total in the valley, topping out around a half a foot, but the snow was certainly going to do a decent job of resurfacing the slopes – my liquid analysis showed the snow coming in at a hefty 13.0% H2O. That’s actually a great way to start building a natural base of snow.
“I could tell that in the appropriate areas the snow was going to offer those surfy, buttery powder turns that you get atop a good dense snowfall.”
We were getting set to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns around noontime when we hit a very unexpected snag – Ty put on one of his Telemark boots and immediately let out a boisterous “Whoa, that’s tight!” Apparently kids his age grow. Ty likes his boots really tight, so for him to say that was a bad sign, there was no way he was going to be able to ski in those boots. E quickly offered him one of her new boots, and it was a great fit. Ty was of course elated to have the chance to try out E’s sweet ski boots, but of course that left her without a pair. Let’s just say that it’s fortunate for us that trash day is Thursday. E’s old Telemark boots had been sitting around for a couple of years, and after finally bringing them to OGE last week for consignment and finding out that they were just too beat up for them to even accept them, it seemed like it was time to give them the heave-ho. Desperate times call for certain types of measures, so into the trash I went this afternoon, and the old Garmonts came back into service. Ty actually tried them on and found that even those were too tight, so “conveniently” he somehow still wound up with E’s nice new boots and E donned her old ones. Needless to say, a trip to OGE is going to be in order to see what we can find for Ty in the Tele boot department.
The precipitation we encountered was generally sleet as we headed up to the resort, and we got a pretty good sandblasting with pellets driven by a strong wind in the Bolton Valley parking lot. There generally seemed to be 3 to 4 inches of new snow at Village elevation, but there was also plenty of drifting due to the strong winds, so it was hard to get a good estimate. The process of being blasted by sleet pellets tamed down as we began skinning up the sheltered slopes of Lower Turnpike, and after gaining a couple hundred feet of elevation, depth checks revealed 5 to 7 inches of dense snow along the sheltered areas on the climber’s right of the trail. Even on Lower Turnpike, there were still some areas that were wind packed and or showed reduced snow depths due to stripped snow, but I could tell that in the appropriate areas the snow was going to offer those surfy, buttery powder turns that you get atop a good dense snowfall. The boys stopped their ascent at the junction with Wilderness Lift Line and jumped into the woods to play in the snow, but E and I continued on up to the base of the headwall on Cougar to get into some of the typically good snow that sits there. As we neared the top of our ascent I was finding pockets of 8 to 10 inches of snow in the best spots, but even half that amount was plenty to keep you well off the subsurface with the density of this storm’s snow.
After a quick break, E and I began our descent, sampling the snow along the skier’s left of Cougar and finding some reasonably soft lines in the dense accumulations. As E descended I took the opportunity to get in a first test of ski action photography using the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens. I’ve been looking for a really bright lens to supplement my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM workhorse – especially for dark storm days like this near the solstice. Although it’s a prime lens, 50 mm on an APS-C camera is in a pretty nice spot with respect to focal length for my type of ski action photos. And, it’s hard to argue about the monstrous light-gathering ability of an f/1.2 lens – wide open it’s more than an 11-fold increase over my f/4 lens, so it should be able to handle even the darkest of storm days. Obviously shooting action photos wide open at f/1.2 with its razor thin depth of field isn’t necessarily going to be practical, but even stopping down to a respectable f/2 is going give me a four-fold increase in brightness and the ability to hit action-stopping shutter speeds in lower light without having to crank up the ISO too high. Today I started off with a reasonable f/2.8 and a locked shutter speed of 1/1000 sec, and an ISO of only 250 was required. After looking at the images, I’ve got nothing to complain about so far; the focal length is looking like it’s going to be great, and the lens has got that beautiful color retention and contrast you’d expect from one of Canon’s L-series lenses.
“Dylan was back on his game of trying to one-up me with his Telemark turns, but I had my fat skis today, and boy were they the right tool for the dense snow.”
There was certainly some variability in the snow due to areas affected by the wind and dense precipitation types, but the sheltered spots yielded some very nice turns. When we’d made it down to the boy’s elevation we found that they had already put away their skins and were just about ready to go – that was a pleasant surprise. Dylan was back on his game of trying to one-up me with his Telemark turns, but I had my fat skis today, and boy were they the right tool for the dense snow. They made that beautifully stable platform that kept you up in the upper reaches of the powder, but still let you slice your way into it. I’d say the most consistently good powder turns were in the upper reaches where E and I began our descent, but there were some nice turns to be had lower down as well. Ty was unfortunately off his game a bit due to a sore leg, but Dylan had some beautiful carves and was working hard on fast transitions from turn to turn as he followed me into some of the best lines along the skier’s left of the trail.
I’d heard that the James Moore Tavern was going to be open for business this weekend, but I guess they changed that plan because we found it closed, and instead headed for some food at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery. The resort was pretty quiet in general, with just a few skiers around hitting the slopes and enjoying the new snow with a bit of extra solitude. There was plenty of snow being made on the slopes of the main mountain today, and combined with this natural accumulation (which added up to over an inch of liquid even down at our place in the valley) they should be in good shape to handle lift-served levels of traffic on the terrain they open. We’re getting into a much more wintry weather pattern now, so this storm should serve as a good base for the start of the season’s snowpack.
Today’s first run on Stowe’sPerry Merrill had our training group thinking of old adages such as “Life’s too short to ski bad snow.”, or perhaps “Any day at work is better than the worst days of skiing.” Yesterday featured very spring-like temperatures, and this morning’s cold weather and undercast left the snow on Mansfield locked up like one of those ice blocks on the cooling unit of a mini fridge. All of us questioned why anyone would pay for such conditions, but people were out there, and along with race training groups and other school ski program training groups such as ours it made for an incredibly crowded trail. What we had was essentially a perfect combination of dangerous snow and tons of skiers in the same place; it’s exactly where you wouldn’t want to be. We were all amazed when about 100 vertical feet above the Midway Lodge, the snow suddenly softened into something reasonable. Everyone exchanged thoughts of joy as they were actually able to carve turns; apparently we’d hit the freezing line.
Fortunately our instructor Steve knew that there was no point in going back up the Gondola, and instead led us over to Spruce Peak. The sunny slopes of lower Spruce were soft and good to go, and all of us were more than happy to stay over there and work through the progression of techniques for beginning skiers. As the low clouds broke away and the sun hit in the second half of the morning, it became a beautiful day to be out on the slopes. Spruce softened up to as high as we were skiing, which was up to the top of the Meadows Quad. I suspect that even the Mansfield side softened up, but I’m not sure how high that went since we never headed back over there until we hit the Midway Lodge on our way out.
In any event, good snow and comfortable temperatures made for a great annual training day over at Spruce Peak, and if we hadn’t had other things to do in the afternoon, it definitely would have been worth staying for some additional runs. The new construction at the base is certainly coming along, and the outdoor ice rink is already in place. It looks like that area is going to be a great core to the Spruce Peak Village when everything’s complete.
One highlight from this morning was the fantastic view of the mountains above the low clouds, which we’ve apparently been experiencing a lot in the past few weeks with the fairly benign weather pattern. It does look like storms are going to pick up in the second half of the month, but we’ll have to see how much cold air they have to work with in terms of creating snow.
I had a really busy Friday, but the views of the mountains caked with snow suggested that accumulations were really holding well in those elevations that had received snow, and my plan was to head out for some turns at some point today. Ty and E had left the house early today for some volunteer work at a school function, but Dylan and I were able to head up to Bolton Valley by late morning. The lower valleys are bare in terms of snow, and it felt quite warm, so it was really hard to imagine that there was going to be decent snow for skiing just a few minutes away. We saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road in the 1,300’-1,400’ elevation range by the big S-curve below Timberline, and the accumulations really shot up quickly above that elevation. By the time we got above 2,000’ to the Village, it was an entirely different world. Within the span of 1,000’ in elevation we’d gone right from November into December. There was a good 2-3” of dense snow on the ground, and temperatures were holding in the 34-35 F range. The snow was wet so that it packed very well, and as I got the ski gear together Dylan had rolled a massive snowball within moments. After a good session of building and destroying some snowballs, we headed over to the base of Wilderness to start our ascent.
We were able to strap on our skins right away, as there was plenty of coverage, and checking the depth of snow on the climber’s right on Lower Turnpike at ~2,200’, I was already measuring 3-4” of snow. We continued on up the available skin track, and I was surprised to see only about 3 or 4 tracks on the trail from skiers descending. I would have thought there’d be more pent-up demand for turns since it hasn’t snowed in a couple of weeks, but I think a few of the other trails had served as descent routes as well. We continued up to around the 2,600’-2,700’ elevation range, where we stopped at the base of the steep headwall of Cougar. The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry. Dylan tried to build snowballs as he’d done at the base and had no success; the snow was just too dry and it all crumbled away like sand through an hourglass. I was hoping that the loss to snowball building was going to be our gain with regard to fluffy turns.
“The snow up there had increased to a depth of roughly 4-6”, and the temperature must have been holding below freezing because the snow was quite dry.”
I started off the descent and struggled with turns on my long, skinny, Tele rock skis, and of course Dylan made fun of me as he floated along on his more modern gear. I’d brought along my rock skis because I really hadn’t known how much coverage we’d have, but with the generally grassy slopes of Lower Turnpike and decent snow depths, a pair of fat skis would leave you with minimal concerns about damaging any bases. I got my Telemark turns flowing as we descended farther, and Dylan and I exchanged some smack talk about who was actually the better Telemark skier. Dylan said that “only in my dreams” was I actually better than him, but I countered by asking if he’d like to switch skis and see how things went. I think I’d get the much better end of that deal, even if his skis would be on the short side for me. By the time we’d descended to the 2,400’-2,500’ range the snow was starting to get a bit wet, so we’d presumably hit the freezing line. The turns actually remained fairly decent all the way down to within about 100’ of the base though, and we were still able to even make Telemark turns for most of it. There were a few water bars negotiate, but we had a lot of fun working with the different techniques for those – simply zooming across the gap allowed it, or taking the more conservative approach of stepping over if it didn’t. You could certainly lap the top half of the mountain if you wanted to stay in totally dry snow, and we actually saw one guy doing just that up near Peggy Dow’s.
We skied down to the landing at the northeast corner of the village hotel complex, and pulled out the cameras take a few more pictures. Dylan had actually asked to bring along one of the DSLRs to use today, so I gave him the Canon EOS 30D with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM on it, and I used the 7D Mark II with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. He was shooting in auto mode getting used to monitoring the focus lock indicator as today’s training, but we talked shutter speeds as we worked on imaging either droplets or streaks from the meltwater coming off the roof of the hotel complex. We stopped in to grab some lunch at the Deli & Grocery before heading home, and then it was back down to the valley and a return to more of a November environment. These mild temperatures are pretty nice though, and getting to ski in some dry powder snow out there on such a gorgeous day was somewhat of an unexpected treat. It looks like the temperatures stayed pretty cool at elevation, so I suspect the powder will still be up there tomorrow.
This morning though, I was feeling notably better, and it seemed like a trip to the snow would be in order. Assessing what I’d seen for coverage on the Bolton Valley Web Cam at 2,100’, and comparing the pictures that Powderfreak posted yesterday from ~2,500’ on Mansfield, it looked like Stowe had picked up the better accumulations, so I set my sights there. Around midday I was ready to head out. I knew that the snow wasn’t going to be dry in the lower elevations, because temperatures were already well up into the 40s F, but even if the snow turned out to be sticky, I’d still get a nice hike out of the deal.
The first traces of snow along the Mountain Road appeared in the 900’ – 1,000’ elevation range just below The Matterhorn, and up at the Mansfield Base Lodge there was about an inch of patchy wet snow. A quick survey of the area had shown me that North Slope had some of the best-looking coverage, and apparently, that was because the resort had actually made some snow there. I threw my skis on my pack, unsure of whether or not I’d be skinning, and headed up the stairs to the base of the lifts. I just happened to run into Claire and Luc, who were up because Luc was anxious to get in some turns on the available snow. We hiked together at various stages, and since she was hiking back down, Claire stopped at the Crossover elevation while I switched over to skins, and Luc and I continued up to the top of the next pitch of North Slope around 2,400’. There were actually a fair number of people out and about for the “day after” the storm, but I guess it wasn’t too surprising with the nice warm temperatures.
Luc headed down before me to catch up with Claire, and when I finally started my descent, I found out that the snow conditions were quite good. I’d been worried about the warm weather making a mess of the snow, but the combination of natural and manmade snow, along with some skier traffic, turned a good portion of the route into dense, spring-like snow that skied very well. I hit Tele turns where the snow was good, stuck in some alpine turns where conditions were more variable, and had quite a good ride for a quick outing. We’ve got a warmer week coming up, with highs in the mountains generally in the 40s F, but it looks like we might have more cold and snow as we head toward the weekend and Thanksgiving week, so we’ll see what chances that period brings for additional turns. For now though, I’d say there’s enough snow on North Slope to last through some warm days for people interested in earning some turns this week.
Between almost daily soccer coaching, practices, and games now stacked on top of the usual routine, the spring schedule for E and the boys has been pretty crazy, but fortunately I was able to get them to sneak in a trip to the slopes today. I saw great pictures of the coverage on Nosedive from Powderfreak’s report on Wednesday, so we knew it was a good bet for spring turns and headed off to Stowe in the mid-morning. We’d been hoping Joe would be able to join us, but he ultimately decided it was just going to be a little too much to manage the hike and still have enough left in the tank for dancing tonight at the BJAMS Bash.
We parked in the Midway Lot and had to walk about 50-100 yards over to the start of the snow on Lower Nosedive. You could definitely see the effects of the past couple days’ summer-like temperatures, because bare areas were making substantial intrusions into parts of the trail. The snow coverage is still fairly continuous though, with just one actual break of about 20 feet about halfway up. We topped out a bit shy of the 3,000’ mark, which was about as far as E and the boys wanted to push themselves with more soccer games tomorrow. In terms of the skiing, the snow quality was fine, with nothing overly mushy despite the temperatures. We’d all brought ski pants, but E and the boys were pretty gutsy and skied just in their shorts. I’ve been there before, and especially since I was Telemark skiing I decided to stick with full ski pants and knee pads. E was skiing Tele as well, but she didn’t care – she and the boys all felt that the cooling of the snow and breeze was worth it, and fortunately there were no notable falls to contend with.
There were several groups of skiers around that we encountered on either the ascent or descent, and it was quite the fun atmosphere. We tested out playing Pandora on one of the cell phones on the ascent and that worked out well – Dylan made an Imagine Dragons station that had me grooving my way up the mountain at a really quick pace.
On the way out we took a peek at some of the other routes on the mountain that had substantial snow, and the best alternative to Nosedive looked like it was that North Slope area above the terrain park. Temperatures look to cool down somewhat as we head into next week, so that should slow the melting process a bit. These warm days have been great, but they’re causing the snow to disappear quickly!
Our protracted stretch of pleasantly warm and sunny weather has continued this week, and it’s allowed the ground to dry to the point that on Tuesday, I headed out for a mountain bike ride to sample some of local terrain by the house and into town. Indeed even some of the typically wettest terrain down by the Winooski was dry enough for riding, so things are ready on that front, but after seeing Powderfreak’s ski report from yesterday at Stowe, it reminded me that I should probably get back out on the slopes while the snow is available. I can still see bright areas of white snow on the slopes of Bolton Valley from my office in Burlington, but from that distance it’s hard to know exactly how continuous the coverage is. I popped up the image from the Bolton Valley Web Cam and could see that there were only patches of coverage on Beech Seal on the bottom half of the mountain, but it looked as if the snow at the bottom of Bear Run might be stretching upward for some substantial coverage.
I headed up to the resort with plans to at least get in a hike, since the areas without snow already looked pretty dry. I saw the first signs of snow along the Bolton Valley Access Road at the base of Timberline at 1,500’, and it was clearly leftovers of manmade snow. Up in the Village it was very quiet, and I’d thought about getting a sandwich from the Deli, but it was closed. This is probably one of the quietest times of the year, so I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising. I took a quick walk up to the slopes and could see that Spillway had some large areas of snow, and it was enough to suggest that I should throw my skis on my pack and bring them along.
The visible snow near the base that appeared to head up to Bear Run was the start of a reasonably long section that went about halfway up the trail, and from there to Mid Mountain the coverage was a lot more fractured or nonexistent. Above Mid Mountain I began to hike toward Spillway, since I’d seen the snow up there, but once I saw far more substantial coverage on Sherman’s Pass, I switched my route in that direction. I stopped my ascent at around 2,600’ near the top of the steeper Sherman’s Pass terrain above Mid Mountain, since there was another gap in coverage at that point.
For the descent, I found that the snow definitely had some sun cups and dirty areas, but there were a variety of areas with decent turns, and the coverage there basically brought me down to Mid Mountain before I took off my skis to connect to the lower half of Bear Run. That bottom part of Bear Run offered the longest stretch of continuous snow, and it carried me to within about 50 yards of the base lodge. With Bolton’s western exposure and more limited snowmaking than some of the larger resorts, May turns are often spotty, and this year was fairly typical in that regard. Based on what I saw, today’s turns were likely my last of the season at Bolton Valley, so that’s probably it until the fall. There’s a ton of snow left at Stowe and some of the other resorts around, so hopefully I can get out to some of those spots for more turns this month.
There’s still almost six feet of natural snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, and with manmade snow supplementing coverage in the lower elevations and Mansfield’s penchant for snow preservation, there’s going to be skiing on the mountain for quite some time to come. There’s even a lot of snow left across Route 108 on Spruce Peak, but with the way much of that ski terrain faces south, it’s going to disappear much faster. With that in mind, I decided that today would be a great day to make some turns on the slopes of Spruce Peak before it was too late. The weather made outdoor activities a no-brainer, with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s F. I’d planned to head to the slopes at some point today, but by mid morning, E could sense that none of the boys in the house were moving quite fast enough to enjoy the great day, so she quickly started ushering us out. Unfortunately she wanted to take care of some spring cleaning chores, and after a long week of soccer practices and some games tomorrow, the boys were supposed to rest their legs today. That left me en route to a solo outing at Stowe for the afternoon.
“The corn snow on the Main Street and Side Street areas was superb, with just a couple of inches being shaved off, and none of that bottomless mush that can sometimes form in the warmer weather.”
The lower mountain valleys are pretty much bare now aside from the stray snow pile, but even from Waterbury I could see the slopes of Mansfield and Spruce Peak glistening white with copious amounts of snow. The slopes of Spruce Peak were still looking good as I got close up, and with the main Spruce Peak parking area generally closed to traffic for continued construction, I headed up to the base of the Sensation Quad to start my tour. I found a few other cars, and a family playing in the snow in the Meadows area, but overall it was pretty quiet. I walked for just a minute to get to some the snow on Side Street, and then I was able to put on my skis and skin up the rest of the way. There were a couple of small breaks in snow coverage, but they were pretty inconsequential and you’ve basically got continuous snow all the way up to the top of Spruce Peak.
It was a good ascent, and I was definitely in need of the workout with ski time slowing down over the past couple of weeks. I wrapped around by the top of the Sensation Quad and continued on the trails up by the Spruce Peak Summit, then enjoyed a good 15-20 minutes taking in the views to the south. I also consumed a good amount of food, since I was pretty tanked by the last 10 minutes or so of the hike. I sent a phone picture to E to let her know I was at the top (and of course to let her know what she was missing), and then packed everything up for the descent.
The corn snow on the Main Street and Side Street areas was superb, with just a couple of inches being shaved off, and none of that bottomless mush that can sometimes form in the warmer weather. The manmade snow was actually the best for turns because it was so dense. One great thing about Spruce Peak this time of year is that traffic is especially low, and you can really find a lot of unblemished, or very lightly tracked slopes for some excellent spring turns. I did see a couple of other groups of skiers here and there, but traffic was light as one would expect. Between the ascent and plenty of Telemark turns on the ride down, I’d say my legs got what they needed. I’m tempted to try to figure out how to get in some more turns tomorrow among the boys soccer games, because the forecast is looking fairly similar to what we got today.
Today was Stowe’s final lift-served day of the season, and with a pleasant, sunny forecast, we headed off for some runs in the afternoon. Temperatures were in the 50s F at the base, and the Mansfield parking lot was awash in group after group of tailgaters. We got a nice parking space in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge from someone who was just leaving and hoofed it up to the base of the Fourrunner Quad. There was a lift queue of a few minutes, which seems to be common this time of the year when the Fourrunner Quad is bearing the lion’s share of the workload.
Overall, the skiing was a little sloppy in spots, but there’s generally been plenty of freeze-thaw cycles to get the snow turned into corn. We did find some snow high up in the bypass chutes that was almost wintry in consistency because it was so protected from warmth. Hayride was fun, with some steep bump lines, although they were generally spaced wider than our preference. Lower National had much better bump lines as is typical. We also had some fun cruising on Lord. As usual during the corn harvest season, we had our own corn harvest of sorts each run as everyone got the snow off their skis to supply snowballs for lift tower and chair target practice.
Typical of April, the weather looks like it will soon be changing, and after this relatively sunny and warm week, next week looks to be cooler and wet with some potential for snow. The forecasts suggest that a cutoff low pressure system may form in the region, and those can sometimes deliver copious amounts of precipitation as the storm sits and spins. We’ll have to watch and see if anything develops, but there’s always the potential for late season snowstorms this time of year in the mountains. Some recent favorites that come to mind are April 28th, 2010 and April 10th, 2012, which each delivered hefty dumps of snow to the mountains for fun April powder turns.