Tag Archives: Skiing

Bolton Valley, VT 17JAN2016

An image showing almost a foot of powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort on the Show Off trail
Snow from the past few days have really put down a nice layer of powder that’s still around in low traffic areas.

Yesterday we picked up a quick inch of snow at the house, but I was surprised to find out that Bolton Valley had received up to 4 inches out of the deal. It was fairly dense snow as well, and combined with more snow from a couple of days ago, that gave them 8 inches in the past 72 hours. I know we haven’t had quite a large enough storm for a real resurfacing of the slopes, and it is a holiday weekend with higher than usual skier traffic levels, but that snow was enough to inspire me to head out for at least a couple of runs today.

It was a real nice winter day to be out in any case, temperatures were comfortably around 30 F as I approached the Bolton Valley Village at 2,100’. Holiday visitors were in full effect, which was great to see for the resort. The upper parking lots in the Village were just about full, but I was able to grab a spot one tier from the bottom thanks to someone who had left. Wilderness and Timberline aren’t yet in operation this season, but the remaining lifts were doing a decent job of supporting the holiday traffic. Even the line at Vista wasn’t past the corral ropes, and it was probably 5 minutes or so of a wait for the quad queues. I hopped in the singles queue since I was solo, and that was just a couple of minutes.

An image of skiers in a lift queue at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Welcomed holiday visitors patronizing Bolton Valley today

Being solo, I rode with other parties and got to hear their conversations, and everyone seemed happy with the conditions. Steeper trails with manmade snow had the usual sort of firm surfaces you’d expect without a decent resurfacing in a while, but it was well up above where things would be post-thaw thanks to the recent snows. There are some new additions to the trail lineup, with Hard Luck available thanks to manmade snow. I headed right there on my first run, and the middle 80% was pretty much the slick sort of surface you’d expect from snowmaking and traffic on a steep slope, but the sides held plenty of loose snow, both from the natural over the past few days and whatever skiers had pushed there. Unfortunately, there were still some large chunks leftover from snowmaking, grooming, or whatever, and they weren’t ice, but they were pretty firm and really marred what would otherwise be some excellent conditions on the sides.

“That was where I really hit gold. There had been no snowmaking to deteriorate the natural snow, and there was a substantial base with generally 7 to 8 inches of powder on top. In some places there was as much as a foot of loose snow.”

I picked my way down the first half of Hard Luck along the edge, and then dove into the Hard Luck trees to find ample base and another 8+ inches of powder atop that. The total snowpack depth in there is still just shy of 18 inches, so it’s not quite game on, but you could hit some of the cleaner lines if you wanted to, and people had certainly been doing that. My plan was actually to continue on through to Show Off, since it was open below the Hard Luck crossover, and it looked really good from the lift. That was where I really hit gold. There had been no snowmaking to deteriorate the natural snow, and there was a substantial base with generally 7 to 8 inches of powder on top. In some places there was as much as a foot of loose snow. Few skiers had actually been though there, so there was plenty of powder turns left of the taking. It was so good that I immediately hit it again on my next run, that time starting from the very top Hard Luck connection that was open. The resort has unfortunately left some higher brush on Show Off so that limited a few lines, but those should be available with another foot or two of snow.

On the lower mountain I made my way over to Snowflake to check out how those trails were doing, but the trails to the south of the lift were roped off, so that left Butterscotch as the main route. Skier’s right of Butterscotch held some decent snow, but there was still some contamination from manmade snow, and the powder wasn’t as deep as higher on the mountain so it couldn’t quite compare. I also checked out Glades on the lower mountain, which has opened on natural snow. It’s seen a lot of traffic, so even it has firm surfaces in the middle, and something similar to Butterscotch along the sides without any manmade snow.

An image from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont showing Whiteface Mountain disappearing into the clouds of an approaching winter storm
Our next storm is closing in as Whiteface Disappears into the clouds

It was definitely worth the trip today for those turns on Show Off though; it made me wonder what the powder turns were like for those hiking at Wilderness or the backcountry network. I suspect sheltered spots at similar elevations are providing some great turns. I stopped in at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery and ordered some sandwiches to bring home, and by the time I was heading down the hill the Timberline shuttle bus was running and there were already three rows of cars in the Timberline lot. That’s more great news for the resort considering that they had to be closed for much of the holiday week. We’ve got another storm coming into the area tonight, and we should be in a rather snowy regime right through Wednesday, so I expect we’ll see some improving conditions and additional trails opening. Clouds were already lowering when I was at the mountain when I was out, and by the look of the local radar snow is just about on our doorstep as I write this.

Bolton Valley, VT 13JAN2016

An image of ski tracks on the Twice as Nice trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont.
My first sign of ski tracks today confirmed that I’d be able to find some decent powder turns on the slopes of Bolton Valley’s Timberline area.

The Alberta Clipper system that affected the area yesterday was expected to drop fairly modest amounts of snow in the 3 to 6-inch range, but I began to suspect we might do a bit better than that when the snowfall really cranked up in some areas last night. When we’d already picked up half a foot by late evening here at the house, I planned to check the mountain reports in the morning before heading off to work. Bolton Valley was reporting 5 to 7 inches of snow, and although it was very dry, Champlain Powder™ fluff (2 to 5% H2O based on my analyses down at the house), that was just enough accumulation to convince me to stop by the mountain to check it out. The base snow is very firm right now, but with fat skis and appropriate terrain, there would likely be some good turns out there.

The season has been off to an incredibly slow start, but today I finally decided to pay a visit to the Timberline area for some turns. I found 4 to 5 inches of new snow in the Timberline lot at 1,500’, which jived nicely with the report of 5 to 7 inches higher up at the main base area. There were a couple of cars in the lot, and a skin track heading up along the usual Twice as Nice route. A quick survey of Twice as Nice revealed the most protected powder along the skier’s left of trail, and the lone skier who had descended Twice as Nice earlier had made a good choice in that regard. Looking for something with a fairly consistent but mellow pitch, I made my way over to Spell Binder just below the headwall. The combination of powder and pitch was just what I was looking for, and there was a descent track already in place from a previous skier that confirmed that.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The sight of some nice turns on Spell Binder this morning

With the super dry snow, I was easily touching down on intermediate pitches, and even at times on mellower pitches, but the fat skis certainly helped keep me afloat and the turns were really fun. It was certainly worth a quick trip. We’re not quite to the land of bottomless powder skiing glory yet, but the weather pattern at least looks decent going forward with chances for storms. Timberline will still need a decent synoptic storm with an inch of liquid equivalent or so, or a few smaller events, before the resort could open the terrain without snowmaking.

Stowe, VT 10JAN2016

An image of Dylan carving a turn on the Liftline trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan cuts hard into a carve today at Stowe, where soft, spring-like snow was in plentiful supply.

The forecast for today has looked dicey for a while. With a warm storm passing west of the area there was the chance for rain, but depending on the timing of the precipitation, one could encounter just warm temperatures and soft snow. As the forecast was refined it began to look like it would be rain for Sunday afternoon ski program at Stowe, and indeed it was pouring when we arrived at the mountain a bit before noon. With the intensity of the rain, and the addition of some wind, I wasn’t planning to bring my group on the slopes, but fortunately by 1:00 PM when we assembled for program, the rain have moved out to reveal just cloudy skies.

An image of a boy wearing multiple pairs of ski goggles for funWe had a small group today of me and the boys, along with Jack and Norris. There were few enough people that Ken and Luke were able to come along with us as additional chaperones. We started off with a run on the Meadows Quad, and found the snow nice and soft as expected. We stepped it up to the Sunny Spruce Quad and started to hit some wind near the top, but it was still pretty tame and didn’t suggest that we needed to avoid going higher.

An image of Ty carving a turn and pushing some soft snow on the Liftline trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ty cuts into some soft snow on the steep terrain of Liftline

In general, the rain we’d experienced had been pretty light, so we decided to venture over to Mansfield and see what conditions were like on the big mountain. The Gondola was on wind hold, so we caught a ride on the Fourrunner Quad and encountered minimal wind until the last few hundred feet of the trip near the Octagon. Up there it was a wind driven rain, so we quickly started on our way down and headed to Liftline because it seemed to have a lot of fun contours left over from snowmaking whales. The snow was beautifully soft, which is certainly atypical of the usual conditions there, and the boys couldn’t get over the “giant moguls the size of coach busses”. Indeed you could have a lot of fun playing around on those huge features, using them as jumps, quarter pipes, spines, or whatever. The boys enjoyed it so much that we had to do it again the very next run.

Following that, the boys deemed it time for a break at the Octagon, so we went in and had a snack. It seems as though our timing was good, because while we were inside it seemed to be a real wind-driven tempest outside. That bout of rain had settled down significantly by the time we were ready for our next run, where we skied Nosedive as a good option to get us heading back toward the Spruce Peak Base. We’d ridden up with another skier who said that Nosedive was totally deserted, and groomed nice and smooth, so we were happy to pay it a visit to cruise a nice long run. Indeed below the upper switchbacks, Nosedive was just as he said, so with the boys hitting it at Mach 5 I decided that it was a good run to go for nonstop and really burn the legs. There was a quick pause at the junction with National, but other than that it was a great way to earn one’s dinner. Crossing back on the Over Easy, Ken and I both agreed that in general the conditions today were such that you could just forget about the surface – your skis were simply going to hold in the soft snow and all you had to do was let them carve. There still was a spot or two with hard snow out there, and they would definitely catch you off guard when you were so used to just blithely cruising the slopes.

Back at Spruce Peak, Ken, Luke, and I did one more run on the Sunny Spruce Quad, but the boys kept lapping it until it shut down. In the lodge it sounded like we’d timed our break at the Octagon quite well, because it had rained pretty hard and soaked some folks during that period. This latest infusion of liquid into the snowpack is going to create a bomber base as temperatures cool down overnight, but surfaces are clearly going to be hard until we get enough snow for a resurfacing. We’ve got some snow chances this week however, so that should get things going in that direction.

Bolton Valley, VT 09JAN2016

An image of pizza at Fireside Flatbread at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The mountain is gearing up as wintry weather persists, and Fireside Flatbread is back in action with their great pizza!

It’s been a slow start to the season, but Bolton Valley has finally started running the Vista Quad to offer lift-served skiing from the Vista Summit, so on the way back from some errands in Williston, we stopped in for some turns. We had a bit of new snow in the area this morning, but it was just cloudy when we arrived at the mountain. Temperatures were quite comfortable, sitting in the low 30s F in the Village.

“I thought conditions might be a bit spring-like with temperatures near freezing, but it was immediately evident that surfaces were full on wintry at all elevations.”

We were in that sort of transition time between the day and night skiing, so we caught a great spot right at the top of the main parking area, suited up, and headed right for the Vista Quad. The night skiing lights were just coming on as the daylight was fading, which is always a fun time to be out on the mountain. I thought conditions might be a bit spring-like with temperatures near freezing, but it was immediately evident that surfaces were full on wintry at all elevations. The areas with snowmaking and high traffic were somewhat scratchy as one would expect, but boy was there great snow off to the side of the trails and on natural snow terrain. I was surprised to find that that there was even powder off piste, just like I’d experienced on Monday, albeit with a bit more settling. Down at our house in the valley the powder has gone through a number of thaw-freeze cycles and become crusty, but clearly that hasn’t been the case up at elevation. I had some fantastic turns along the skiers left of that first long stretch of Sherman’s Pass – between the natural snow and what the day’s skier’s had thrown there on top of it, it was really soft. There was a lot of contour as well, with all sorts of dips and rolls in which to play with your turns.

An image of Erica Telemark skiing on the Sherman's Pass trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ski conditions have been great this week thanks to new snow early on and cold temperatures maintaining it.

Everyone but Dylan was on Tele gear, and Ty is still in E’s boots since we haven’t picked up any larger ones for him yet. It was evident today that he needs something with softer flex though, because despite his foot size, he really doesn’t have the weight to properly flex E’s boots. As we’ve often seen before, there were a lot of skiers in military attire, one of the local mountain divisions etc., but what we noticed was that they were on some sort of alpine touring gear now. That makes total sense as far as I’m concerned, because they shouldn’t have to try to learn to ski in free-heel equipment with the modern types of bindings that are out there. A lot of those guys aren’t hard-core skiers, so working with fixed heel bindings is hard enough.

A sign for Fireside Flatbread Pizza at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe Vista Quad seemed to go on wind hold for a bit, so we did a run on the Mid Mountain Lift and then headed up to Fireside Flatbread for some dinner. The football playoffs were on the big screen, and they were running a special with $2 slices and $2 drinks. The boys renewed their love affair with Fireside’s great crust, and it was three rounds of slices before they were finally satiated. Terrain is still somewhat limited on the mountain at this point, but it was great to finally get back for a lift-served session and some food. It looks like we’ve got a reasonably cold week coming up with the potential for some natural snow, so I’d expect to see some terrain expansion coming by next weekend.

Bolton Valley, VT 04JAN2016

An image of the snow depth at the top of the Wilderness Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Up to eight inches out there today at Bolton Valley made for some great turns.

After Winter Storm Goliath last week, we moved into a pattern of snow showers with minor accumulations here and there ahead of a cold front that passed through the area yesterday. The approach of the cold front intensified the snowfall, resulting in snow totals of up to a foot in the Northern Greens. Unlike the dense snow from Winter Storm Goliath, these latest rounds of snow have been light and dry, with densities of 3-6% H2O based on my analyses. With this fluff on top of the dense snow, it was actually a setup for some great powder skiing. The temperature drop with the arctic cold front was notable, with highs expected to be only in the single digits F today, but I still wanted to get out for some turns and exercise, so I decided to go for a ski tour up at Bolton Valley this morning.

Despite temperatures running in the low single digits as expected, I was happy to find that there wasn’t much wind as I ascended the Bolton Valley Access Road. I swung into the Timberline parking lot at 1,500’ on my way up the road, and measured 4-5” of powder over the old base. Although likely serviceable for some turns on appropriate terrain, I know that the base snow is a bit thinner down at that elevation, so I continued on up to the Village at 2,100’ to start my tour. It was right around 0 F up at the Village, and there was the occasional bit of breeze blowing things around, but it was nothing like that wind from last Tuesday during Winter Storm Goliath. I ascended via the designated Wilderness route, and for the first time this season it felt like it was worth a trip all the way to the Wilderness Summit. Indeed that was the case, as the new snow kept getting deeper and deeper, eventually reaching a point where even black diamond terrain was quite skiable. The person before me who had set the skin track up to the summit had descended via Bolton Outlaw, and the turns looked quite nice.

An image of sunlit evergreens in the morning behind a skin track used for ascending the slopes of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Following the skin track in the Peggy Dow’s area

Here’s the summary of the snow depths atop the old base up to the Wilderness Summit at various elevations, with the 500’ value being from our house:

500’: 2-3”
1,500’: 4-5”
2,100’: 5-6”
2,500’: 6”
3,000’: 7-8”
3,150’: 8”

I can’t say that all the snow up on the mountain was necessarily from the past 24 hours, but it’s very easy to distinguish the new powder from the dense base snow that we picked up from Winter Storm Goliath.

An image showing the total depth of snow at 2,700' at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont on January 4th, 2016Wanting to go for something with a bit more pitch lower down, I passed by Bolton Outlaw and headed to Upper Fanny Hill so that I could also ski its lower portion. Upper Fanny Hill has a healthy black diamond pitch, and in terms of coverage it’s easily good to go now with the dense base covering up everything but the obvious major obstacles. I did find a good representative spot from which I could assess total snowpack depth at around 2,700’, and found it to be 14-15”. There’s a lot of single-black terrain at appropriate elevations that I suspect is good to go for at least the touring crowd, although I’d say one more good shot of liquid equivalent (an inch or so) would be needed to get things going for lift-serviced levels of traffic. I’m sure the mountain could open some natural terrain consisting of mellow pitches at this point if they chose to.

“Upper Fanny Hill has a healthy black diamond pitch, and in terms of coverage it’s easily good to go now with the dense base covering up everything but the obvious major obstacles”

In any event, the powder turns were excellent this morning, with my only complaint being that it was “slow snow” due to the very cold temperatures. Even with 115 mm fat skis keeping me afloat, I had to go steeper than the pitch of typical green terrain for a good ride – in that respect, Fanny Hill was a better choice than Lower Turnpike as I suspected. We’ve got a couple of potential storms coming up this weekend that may deliver something more like Winter Storm Goliath in terms of liquid equivalent. They probably won’t deliver the type of Champlain Powder™ we had with this event, but if they play out well they could set up the base to open a good amount of natural snow terrain.

Bolton Valley, VT 30DEC2015

An image of rime on spruce needles at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The higher elevations took on a coating of rime as Winter Storm Goliath pulled away.

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.

An image of the some chairs on the Wilderness lift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontTo 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.

Bolton Valley, VT 29DEC2015

An image of Erica skiing on some fresh snow during the holidays at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E enjoys a bit of fresh snow for the holiday week.

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.

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on some fresh powder from Winter Storm Goliath at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontAfter 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.

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing on fresh snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan in one of his smooth Telemark carves today

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.

Stowe, VT 13DEC2015

An image showing low clouds with mountains sticking out as viewed from Mt. Mansfield and Stowe Ski Resort in Vermont
Low clouds produced some stellar views on Mt. Mansfield today

Today’s first run on Stowe’s Perry 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.

Bolton Valley, VT 05DEC2015

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in the powder at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after an early December snowstorm
Dylan working on some Telemark turns in the powder today

On Thursday, our first winter storm of December began to drop snow in the mountains. There was a fairly sharp snow line above the 1,000’ mark, and although we had plenty of snow mix in with the rain even down at our house at 500’, there was no accumulation in the lower valleys. Images from the Bolton Valley Web Cam showed the snow accumulating nicely at the 2,100’ base level, and by Friday morning, reports were coming in of up to a half foot of accumulation at the local resorts.

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.

Dylan in the air jumping down to smash a snowbal he created in the snow up at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Bombs Away!

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.

An image of drops of water from melting snow in the village at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan doing some of the work behind the lens today.

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.

Stowe, VT 15NOV2015

An image of melted snow pouring off the roof of the Mansfield Base Lodge at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Warming up after yesterday’s new snow

I wasn’t able to head out to the slopes back in October when we had our first notable storm of the 2015-2016 winter season, but the storm affecting the area this weekend looked like it was going to be a bit bigger in the Northern Greens, so I was hoping to find a way to get out to the snow. With this storm, snow started falling in the mountains on Friday afternoon as the temperatures came down, and by Saturday morning the freezing level had dropped all the way to the valley floors and we woke up with a coating of white on the ground at the house. It continued to snow at our place all morning, and with temperatures staying cold, it would have been a great day to head to the mountains and make some turns in the fresh powder. Unfortunately, I was still under the effects of a cold that had come on at the end of the week, and I was in no condition to head out into the cold and snow.

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.

An image of a snowboarder jumping at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
One of many folks out enjoying the day at Stowe

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.