Tag Archives: Skiing

Camel’s Hump – Monroe Trail, VT 08MAR2014

An image of ski tracks in one of the glades off the Monroe Trail  on the east side of Camel's Hump in Vermont
Out for some powder on the east side of Camel’s Hump today

It’s been a light week for snowfall here in the Northern Greens; since the storm that hit the area last Sunday, we’ve had generally cold and dry weather, with just one small round of snow in the Tuesday-Wednesday timeframe. That got me thinking about a backcountry tour for today. My initial inclination was to head northward, since as our snowy Sunday outing at Stowe confirmed, the northern mountains had really picked up the most snow, and accumulations tapered off as you headed southward. With that in mind, I was thinking of heading to Nebraska Notch for some turns. However, yesterday’s and today’s weather history also needed to be factored into the mix. Temperatures reached above freezing in some spots yesterday, and today was looking similar, so I figured that something sheltered and with relatively high elevation was the way to go for the best snow. I decided to head to some of the skiing around the Monroe Trail, on the Waterbury/Duxbury side of Camel’s Hump. I had planned to have Ty come with me, but at the last moment he decided that he didn’t want to skin today, so I said we’d head up to Bolton Valley for some lift-served turns when I got back from the tour.

It’s been over four years since I last visited the Monroe Trail area of Camel’s Hump for skiing. On that outing, I followed the Monroe Trail up to the large cliffs beneath the peak of Camel’s Hump, then traversed somewhat northward to set up for a descent fairly distant from the trail and toward the glades that drop down near the trailhead. I got in some good skiing in the trees, but really just caught the end of the glades, so I knew there would be more lines to explore. This time, my plan was to simply skin up one of the descent tracks made by skiers coming down through the glades, since it would save a lot of time traversing around up high to find the best starting points.

I headed out from the house a bit before noon, and temperatures were in the mid 30s F. The temperature fell as I headed up Camel’s Hump Road, dropping to 31 F by the time I reached the winter parking area at ~1,200’. Just a couple hundred feet below the parking area, I’d seen the first flakes of snow from a small system that was expected to come through in the afternoon. From the trailhead at ~1,500’, I skinned up the Monroe Trail for a few more minutes and then as the trail started to bend southward, I jumped onto one of the ski tracks coming down out of the obvious glades in the terrain above. The tracks traversed northward for a bit, but then gradually began to make a more direct ascent up toward the east face of Camel’s Hump. I was a little worried about the snow quality, because although it was below freezing and most snow that wasn’t in the sun was still wintry and dry, there were only a few inches of powder above an old crust. I wasn’t quite sure how that was going to ski. But, the snow got better and better as I ascended, with the powder on top of any crust getting deeper and deeper. It was really nice skinning though – the temperatures were just below freezing, the wind was calm, and light snow was falling in association with the afternoon’s storm. I hiked in just a vest over my polypropylene base layer, and quickly had my hat off as well.

As I ascended, it became obvious that the lower parts of the glades represented a common track to regain the Monroe Trail, but in the higher elevations, there were a number of interconnected glades from which to choose. About halfway through the ascent, I stuck with a glade that was generally on the skier’s right of the area that had seen very little traffic. There was just one very old descent track in it, and that track was actually hard to find at times because so much snow had fallen on it since it had been made. I knew that there were other glades around to my north, because I saw a couple of skiers descending in that area. After generally rejoining with tracks from some of the other glades, I traveled for a bit through more gently sloped terrain until I hit the trail for the Camel’s Hump Challenge at roughly 2,800’. I followed that northward a bit more until I topped out around the 3,000’ mark in some of the upper glades just below the Cliffs of Camel’s Hump. The quality of the snow had definitely improved up at that elevation, with any crust buried below several inches of powder.

I had a snack, switched my gear over, and then began my descent. There were some decent turns above the Camel’s Hump Challenge Trail, but the best turns were definitely when I got onto that lesser used glade below that point. The highest quality snow was in the top half of the vertical, and with my fat skis it was generally soft, bottomless turns. On the lower half of the descent, even my fat skis weren’t enough to always keep me floating, as the depth of the powder decreased to just a few inches; to best handle any partially tracked and/or narrower sections of terrain, I had to inject a lot more alpine turns into the mix vs. just Telemark turns. I did venture off the main glade that I was on at times, and there was plenty of skiing to be had right in the natural trees all around. I saw one other skier as I was descending – he was ascending through the glades as I’d done. He and his dog moved out of the way when he saw me off in the trees beyond the glade, but after I let him know that I was solo and nobody else would be coming down behind me, he quickly resumed his ascent.

Just as I’d experienced on my last outing in the area, from the bottom of the glades it was an easy downhill ski on the Monroe Trail itself. I was even able to catch some turns in the powder off to the side of the snow-covered roadway below the trailhead, then shouldered my skis to walk the last tenth of a mile back to the parking area. The temperature was 31 F just as it had been when I arrived, and the light snow had mostly tapered off down at that elevation. Despite the deeper snow and lack of a defined skin track in the glades relative to the beautifully packed nature of the Monroe Trail, I almost wonder if it’s more efficient to ascend in some cases because it’s a much shorter distance due to the way the Monroe Trail wraps around so far to the south. In terms of preserving the powder and ascending if the unconsolidated snow is deep and there aren’t many descent tracks, the Monroe Trail is the way to go, but now that I’ve gone up via both routes, I’d say they are both pretty convenient options. Hopefully I can get E and the boys along on one of these Monroe Trail trips – now that I’ve had a couple of sessions out there, I think I could guide them on a great tour.

A Google Earth map with GPS data from a ski tour in Vermont on the east face of Camel's Hump in the area of the Monroe Trail
The GPS data from today’s backcountry ski tour overlaid onto Google Earth

 

Stowe, VT 02MAR2014

An image of Luc dropping into some deep snow in the Kitchen Wall area at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
The boys out in the white stuff today on one of those sleeper powder days at Stowe

One of the early signs that Stowe has received a decent shot of overnight snow, is when Powderfreak sends out a pre-sunrise update and you see some nice depth to the snowy tire tracks in the parking lot.  That’s the way it went this morning, and since a few inches down low can mean even more up high.  It definitely piqued my interest, and suggested that we should go for one of those morning starts ahead of our afternoon ski program.  With Dylan still under the weather, and E staying home with him, it would be just Ty and I heading out today.  I waited until Ty woke up, he grabbed a quick bite, and we were off.

“Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know.”

An image of Ty skiing powder in the open terrain above the Meadows trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Ripping up some big turns above Meadows

The lifts hadn’t been running too long at Spruce Peak when we arrived, and you could tell by the tracks that were appearing that there was some great fresh snow.  We suited up in Spruce Camp, and then hopped on Sunny Spruce for a quick first run.  When we saw that Freddie’s Chute was open, we headed right there and caught some of the fresh lines still available along the skier’s right.  The snow that fell overnight was some gorgeous light and dry Champlain Powder™.  There were several inches of new snow, and it skied really well, even if it didn’t have the density to keep you off the subsurface in previously tracked areas.  We grabbed first tracks on some lines we knew in the Lower Smugglers Trees, and found the turns to be mostly bottomless there.  We finished off with a run through the terrain above Meadows – there wasn’t quite enough powder to be bottomless down at those low elevations on south facing terrain, but the snow provided a good amount of resistance to make the turns fun.

“It was just me
and Ty, and a
couple hundred
acres of fluff.”

It was off to Mansfield next for some Gondola runs.  We started with a run in which I introduced Ty to a full trip through the Hazelton Zone.  With the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake above 60” now, there are no concerns about coverage.  We just let our noses guide us through the terrain, and it was powder-filled adventure through streambeds, powder fields and steep river banks.  We didn’t see another soul, and we didn’t even run into any tracks until we got down toward the main line in the bottom half of the area.  It was just me and Ty, and a couple hundred acres of fluff.  Depth checks revealed powder close to two feet on north and other protected aspects, and while that crusty layer from a couple of weeks ago was presumably in there, it’s so deeply buried now that you’d never know.  South facing chutes were where that crust was evident though – there featured conditions with more like six inches of powder with a crusty base underneath.  Once we found that out though, we stuck to the north facing terrain and other aspects where there were no problems.  Ty said he loved the explorations and skiing in the area, along with the roller coaster exit traverse at the end.  One comment he made was that the run seemed sort of long, which I’d argue is a nice problem to have.  Our next run was through the Tombo Woods followed by some of the Switchback Trees, where the snow was great all the way to the bottom.  When I did a depth check around the 2,000’-2,500’ mark on Switchback, I got a reading of 6 inches for the new snow.  Ty noticed that his fat skis were serving him well, keeping him planing atop the snow and moving even when the terrain flattened out.

An iamge of Ty skiing some powder snow in the Hazelton area of Mt. Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
In the morning it was Ty and I getting to rip up the powder on Mansfield together.

Ty and I headed in for lunch at the Great Room Grill, getting sandwiches from the deli area, and then met up with Luc and Jack for our afternoon session.  We started them off with the run that Ty and I had skied in the morning, and Ty like the fact that he’d had both first and third tracks through the Lower Smugglers Trees for the day.  Back over on Mansfield, we took a great run through the Kitchen Wall area, and worked our way all the way through the Goatdive Woods and some of the Liftline Trees.  Jack hurt his leg a bit on a run through the Sunrise trees, so we made our way back to Spruce, where he took it easy for the last hour in the lodge while the rest of the group finished off with some runs on SensationMain Street was an interesting mix of hard manmade racing snow below the fresh stuff, but outside the racing fences was some really good powder.  We’ll definitely be back to check out some of the new routes we learned there.  This was definitely one of those sleeper Stowe powder days that sneak in under the radar – we were psyched to have it on a Sunday.

Bolton Valley, VT 01MAR2014

An image of Nikki doing a jump in powder at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Nikki, up for a visit and enjoying some powder at Bolton Valley today

As we enter March, the polar vortex continues to flood Northern Vermont with unseasonably cold air.  It’s great for preserving the snow, but it’s also pushing synoptic storms southward, and it’s been two weeks since we’ve had a major storm cycle.  Fortunately, smaller impulses have rotated their way around the base of the vortex to the tune of roughly one per day over the past week, and thanks to those events, the Northern Greens have picked up almost a foot of snow since Monday.  I’d been curious about how the powder was building up off piste with all those little events, but when I saw Powderfreak’s deep pictures from Stowe yesterday, it was obvious that conditions were getting good.

“Conditions were good, with
the only thing keeping them
from being great was that
crust looming below the
powder.”

E’s sister Tina and her family arrived last night for a visit and some skiing.  With Dylan under the weather, they decided to maximize his peace and quiet and stayed at the Best Western in town last night, but stopped in this morning to get together before we headed up to Bolton Valley.  We didn’t rush too hard, since we were happy to let the temperatures warm.  They’d actually picked the perfect day for skiing with respect to temperatures, because the single digits and teens that the polar vortex has thrown this way all week were finally giving way to temperatures in the 20s F thanks to southerly winds from an approaching storm.

Tim had to rent some equipment, so we started off at the main mountain with a trip down Deer Run from the Mid Mountain Chair.  I wanted to make sure that Riley and Nikki were comfortable on the terrain, but they were ripping it up, so we moved right on to the Vista Quad.  In the overall scheme of the mountain tour, my plan was to bring them down to the slopes of Timberline, which looked quite nice from what we saw on our drive by this morning, so we hit Cobrass and took the long run all the way to the base of the Timberline Quad.  Along the way, we didn’t do a lot of exploring or traversing with Riley and Nikki being on snowboards, but I did bring Tim on one of the crossovers to Spell Binder to check out the snow.  They resort had done one pass on Spell Binder with the groomer, but the rest of the trail was powder.  The depth of the powder down at that elevation was enough to keep you off the subsurface for a good portion of the turns, but you would definitely touch down on a certain percentage as well.  The turns were definitely nice though, and having my fat skis might have made it even better.

An image of Tim skiing some powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Resort in VermontRiding the Timberline Quad, we could see plenty of untracked snow on Showtime, so we gave that a shot first.  They had a strip of grooming, which was good, because the powder was nowhere near as consistent as what was on Spell Binder.  There were areas with 4 to 5 inches of powder, and then areas that looked like powder but were actually just crust with a little snow on top.  That made the skiing very tricky there, and it just didn’t seem like it was worth another run.  Twice as Nice was a little more protected, so it had some better areas of loose snow among its bumps.  I also brought everyone for a trip down Sure Shot to get them all to the powder on Tattle Tale and Spell Binder.  It meant that the snowboards had to click out of their boards for the traversing, but the snow was definitely worth it.  We had lunch at the Timberline Base Lodge, and it was a quiet scene with a few families at some of the tables.  Nikki and Riley really enjoyed their food.  I took everyone on an adventure through Wood’s Hole with more powder on Spell Binder after that, and then we headed back to the main mountain.

An image of Ty skiing in the powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Cruising through the snow on Spell Binder

During the rest of the afternoon we finished the tour by catching the lifts we hadn’t, like Snowflake and Wilderness, with a good run that everyone enjoyed through the Wilderness Woods.  We mixed things up near the end of the day with visits to see Tina in the lodge and some runs off Mid Mountain and the Vista Quad.  Tim was amazed at how quiet the resort was for a Saturday, and it was quiet, but nothing too atypical.  Conditions were good, with the only thing keeping them from being great was that crust looming below the powder.  It wasn’t an issue where snow had been groomed, and there was indeed some nice packed powder in spots, but we’ll need a bit more snow to fully bury that crust.  We’ve got yet another system coming in tonight, so that will aid in burying that crust deeper still.

Stowe, VT 23FEB2014

An image of Dylan playing with a chunk of snow at the top of the Gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Playing out in the sun and snow today at Stowe

It was back to Stowe today for our weekly BJAMS ski program, and we were curious to see what Mother Nature was going to deliver.  The forecast called for temperatures in the mid 20s F at summit elevations, around 30 F at mid mountain elevations, and in the 30s F at base elevations.  While those temperatures certainly weren’t going to soften the snow at all elevations, it seemed like there was a good chance for the lower slopes of south-facing Spruce Peak to soften up into something very nice.

We certainly had brilliant sunshine when we headed to the mountain around midday, and temperatures in the low to mid 40s F in the mountain valleys gave way to a temperature of 38 F at the base of the mountain.  Upper 30s F with sunshine was definitely enough to get Spruce Peak to soften right up, and even at the top of Sunny Spruce, on terrain that was in the sun, the snow was beautiful.  Some of terrain not in direct sun also had good snow, but it was definitely hit or miss there.  At the top of Sunny Spruce, I took the boys aside and chopped out some of the snow to show them some the crust that had developed subsequent to the mixed precipitation storm at the end of the week.  I noted that it was why we wouldn’t be doing too much off piste skiing today, but you could see that there was indeed some very nice powder below the crust, so areas that had seen previous skier traffic would definitely hold promise.  Indeed, most of the mountain didn’t even get above freezing during the last storm, so the snow was preserved quite well below the crust.

We had our usual group of Ty, Dylan, Luc and Jack, and Ken was able to join me today as an additional coach.  I started everyone off with a look at the terrain above Meadows, and you could see that it was nicely sun softened all around, but terrain that had not been groomed or skied yet had a layer of crust on it.  It actually yielded somewhat due to softening in the sun, but the snow the groomed/skied on Nastar Hill was just so good, there was no point in busting new lines through there.  We ventured higher on the mountain via Sensation to see how high the soft snow had ventured.  It was more varied up at the top of Spruce Peak, gradually getting better and better as we descended.  They were actually just cleaning up from racing on Main Street, but we were able to ski it and found some nice smooth terrain on the side of the trail where racing hadn’t taken place.  We hit one more run on Lower Smuggler’s and West Slope, which both had excellent, sun-softened snow.

After a quick break, we decided to head over to the Gondola to see if Chin Clip had softened at all.  The most surprising conditions of the day were found on Upper Gondolier, where there was excellent midwinter snow, and large amounts of loose powder thrown about by all the people that had skied it during the day.  Chin Clip had generally winter snow, nothing as good as the top, but as one got lower you could start to feel where the warmth had gotten to it.  If it had all been as good as Upper Gondolier it would have been worth another run, bet we all decided that Spruce Peak was clearly the place to be in terms of snow consistency.

It was 3:00 P.M. when we returned to Spruce, and since Dylan was feeling a bit under the weather, I headed with him into Spruce Camp so that he could rest, and Ken took the boys out for some more runs on Spruce.  We had a good time hanging out in the lodge, and it was so peaceful that I was dozing off more than Dylan was.  Once E was back into the lodge from her coaching and could watch Dylan, I headed out to catch one more run.  I just barely missed the boys’ last run on Sunny Spruce, but took a quiet run by myself on the Adventure Triple.  I’d never really spent much time checking out the houses they have up there, and the views of the village were quite interesting from among all those buildings.  Even down at that elevation, the snow was starting to firm up, so closing time was just about right for allowing people to get in on the best conditions.  The base is in fine shape, even if it’s only around average, but we could use some rounds of snow to just soften things up and get the conditions bumped up in quality.  It looks like we’ve got several chances for small systems this week, and any one of them could run into the mountains an unload a bit more than expected, so we’ll keep our eyes peeled for how the accumulations turn out over the next few days.

Bolton Valley, VT 22FEB2014

An image of some ice-covered trees and sunny skies at the mid station of the Timberline Lift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
There was some nice weather out there today at Bolton Valley

There’s no doubt that last Saturday was one of our best ski days of the season so far; it’s just hard to go wrong with a couple feet of fresh snow.  Today wasn’t quite going to be able to hold up that level though.  After a couple smaller storms earlier this week, a mixed precipitation event came though the area on Thursday and Friday.  Although there wasn’t any dramatic warming or melting in the mountains, the temperatures did get high enough to affect the snow.

From the initial snow report I saw from Bolton Valley this morning, it didn’t seem like it was going to be worth heading up to the mountain for skiing – it sounded like groomed runs were going to be the call since they’d seen some freezing rain that glazed up the terrain.  As the afternoon wore on though, it was sunny and warm enough that it seemed like the slopes might soften, especially the lower-elevation, west-facing terrain at Timberline.  Also, the non-groomed terrain must have been acceptable, because virtually everything was open.  We decided to head up for a couple of runs and check it out.

Although initial reports had indicated that the Timberline mid station was not going to be open, but the time we got up to the mountain, it was.  We took a run off Twice as Nice, and found that the conditions up top were somewhere between winter and spring.  I’m not sure if the freezing level was higher earlier, but it was only on the lowest quarter of the trail where we found soft, spring-like snow.  The high elevations were cold and windy, but we decided to take one more run from the top of Timberline to see what other options presented themselves.  We skied Sure Shot, and in general the snow was hard up there, not softening until we got down toward the bottom of Timberline Run into the more directly south-facing terrain.

The base looked fine when we were at Timberline today, and in fact the most recent storm probably substantiated it more with at least a half inch of liquid equivalent.  We’ll just need to get some new snow on it to get the skiing back to soft conditions, but whatever storm comes next could make for some really good skiing atop the current base.

Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry, VT 16FEB2014

An image of the "Breakfast Bowl" sign and glades at  Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting ready to drop in for some first tracks in Breakfast Bowl this afternoon

We had a great day of lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley yesterday thanks to almost two feet of new snow from Winter Storm “Pax”, but today looked to be colder and windier, so some backcountry touring seemed like a good fit. It was such a gorgeous midwinter day today in the valley, with lots of sunshine, and highs around 20 F. The boys were more interested in sledding than skiing, but at least they were getting out enjoying the day. E stayed home with them and ended up doing some snowshoeing, but I headed up to the mountain for a tour. There had actually been a few more inches of fluff overnight in association with upslope flow from Winter Storm “Quintus”, so that new snow simply topped off what came from the larger storm.

“The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.”

Since I was solo, I decided on an interesting tour that would hit some common spots as well as some new areas that would let me check out some additional glades. I began with a standard skin up to Bryant Cabin via the Bryant Trail, which went quite quickly without any real stops. I actually had my pass checked by one of the resort employees out on the trail, so the resort is keeping up on that. The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.

An image of prayer flags at the top of the Prayer Flag trail in the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontFrom Bryant Cabin I headed out on Gardiner’s Lane and descended via JJ’s. There had been some skier traffic in the area, but there were various lines with fresh snow, and everything was simply bottomless and soft. I cut across to Possum, merged onto Cliff Hanger, and then skinned up to reach the top of Prayer Flag. Although I’ve explored that area before, I didn’t really know the name of the run until I saw it on the new Bolton Valley Backcountry Map. There was only one track on Prayer Flag, and it seemed to be an ascent track. The turns were good, and it was trench city with respect to the track I left. It was actually a bit much in the way of new snow for shallower grades, but for the steeper pitches it was excellent.

An image of ski trakcs in deep powder in the Breakfast Bowl area of the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The powder was so deep today that ski tracks were often trenches.

From the bottom of Prayer Flag I headed out toward “Breakfast Bowl”, a glade I’ve never skied before, and noted that the tracks looked really good coming down out of Holden’s Hollow. I found Breakfast Bowl totally untracked, and those were some of the best turns of the day – there is plenty of pitch there for whatever amount of powder you’ve got. At the bottom of Breakfast Bowl, instead of heading back up toward Broadway, I decided to cut across Joiner Brook, head up to the plateau on the other side, and take the Valley Loop Nordic trail back to the car. On my way up out of the streambed, I really got a feel for the instability of the snowpack. With the upside down snowpack having dense snow on top of lighter, drier stuff, “whumphing” sounds were being made with every step. It felt like a snowpack that would be ready to rip in appropriate terrain, and no sooner had I been thinking about it, than a room-sized slab shifted under me on a fairly steep slope. It only moved a couple of inches since it was stabilized by some trees, but it sure let me know that the snowpack meant business. Finishing my tour on Valley Loop was somewhat slow on my fat skis, but it was relaxing, and I cut a few corners to speed up the process on the very winding trail.

An image of a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on February 16th, 2014 at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The GPS data from today’s backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley mapped onto Google Earth

Bolton Valley, VT 15FEB2014

An image of Dylan skiing powder on Dynamite at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan bounding down through some of the powder from our recent big storm cycle at Bolton Valley today

Winter storm “Pax” affected Northern Vermont on Thursday and Friday this week, dropping up to 29 inches of snow on the ski resorts along the spine of the Green Mountains.  We haven’t had much in the way of large storm cycles up in the Northern Greens this season, so this was our largest to date, and it showed some interesting distributions with respect to snowfall density.  Some areas received extensive periods of large, fluffy flakes, and other locales had some very fine flakes that fell as very dense snow.  For instance, the first round of the storm at our location on Thursday night delivered some very dense, 13% H2O snow.  That’s actually just what the snowpack needed for building.  Whether the snow was dense or not, in the end, the mountains received well over an inch of liquid, and that liquid equivalent was really what was necessary to bolster the natural snowpack.  It was enough snow that Bolton Valley had finally opened all the terrain at Timberline, and we were psyched because that had been an inordinately long time coming this season.

“Winter storm “Pax” affected
Northern Vermont on Thursday
and Friday this week, dropping
up to 29 inches of snow on the
ski resorts along the spine of the
Green Mountains.”

We decided to get a relatively early start on the mountain today, and even though we weren’t expecting the Timberline Quad to open until 10:00 A.M., when we drove by at 9:30 A.M. it was already running, so we pulled right in and parked.  There were a couple of dozen cars in the lot, but it was still fairly quiet.  That was good, because being a holiday weekend, having the biggest storm of the season just hit, and then having great weather to enjoy it, we were worried about how many people were going to be out.  It was business as usual though at Timberline, with no lift queue and just a small group of people out to hit the terrain.

During our first lift ride we could see that the snow looked quite good, and there had definitely been a major resurfacing of the slopes.  People had skied the area yesterday, so it wasn’t entirely fresh snow, but there were plenty of untracked areas, and a few more inches had fallen last night to cover even areas that had seen traffic.  With almost two feet of new snow having fallen at Bolton Valley, we planned on hitting a lot of the steep off piste terrain that we’d yet to ski this season, so E decided to go with her fat alpine skis instead of Telemark skis.  The boys had their powder skis, and I had my fat Teles, so we were ready to tackle whatever Pax had delivered.  We had really great weather to enjoy the snow too – the temperatures were in the upper 20s F, there was no wind, and a little snow associated with our next storm system was floating through the air and adding a fresh coating to the slopes.

“The only complaint I’d
add about the snow is
that it was bit upside
down, with some dry
stuff underneath a
layer of denser snow
on top.”

Everyone took turns choosing trails, and E kicked things off with Twice as Nice.  That turned out be a great idea for a warm up.  The trail was generally tracked, with some untracked snow off to the sides, but there had been such a thorough resurfacing with all the dense snow that it hardly mattered where you went.  I was really feeling my AMPerages bust through the heavy snow with gusto, yet at the same time they were light and quick – I was really happy with the combination of skis and snow because everything just seemed to flow.  On our next ride up the quad, E commented on how we’d had the entire trail to ourselves for the whole run, except for a ski patroller who seemed to enjoy watching us from the side and generally surveilling the lay of the land in a very casual way.  Next up was Dylan’s choice, which was Adam’s Solitude.  I’m glad Dylan chose that early, because while the snow was quite good, a few bare spots were already starting to make their presence known.  It was easy to see that once the trail received a bunch of traffic, the skiing wasn’t going to be quite as free and easy as what we were experiencing.  With the rugged terrain present on Adam’s Solitude, it’s going to take another couple synoptic storms to really get it in shape for lots of skier traffic.  The roller coaster section that the boys love at the bottom is already in great shape though, and they had a blast.  I really enjoyed mixing in Telemark and alpine turns as the terrain dictated, and today was one of those days where mixing both techniques on the fly just came rather easily.

An image of Dylan smiling at the top of the Glades Right trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontIt was off to the main mountain next, where in order to add some fun in getting over to the base of Wilderness, we did a run off the Mid Mountain Chair.  I treated E and the boys to a run through Glades Right and Nixon’s; both areas had great snow and coverage, and the boys were impressed.  Wilderness was finally running today, and I led E and the boys on an attempted run through Super Snow Hole, but it was tough to find the entrance and we had to settle for regular Snow Hole.  There had been very little traffic on Snow Hole, and it could actually use a bit more people venturing in to pack it down a bit with the generous depths of the recent snows.  Ty called for a run on Turnpike, with an entry via Cougar, which the boys said they always seem to ski during the Olympics.  They made sure to practice their Olympic victory “raising of the arms” at the bottom.

An image of Erica and Dylan skiing Glades Right at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after nearly two feet of snow from winter storm "Pax"
E and Dylan enjoying the great snow out in the glades today

Since the boys had really earned some lunch after the morning’s adventures, especially the off piste venturing around in the deep powder in the Snow Hole area, we got a pie from Fireside Flatbread and some appetizers from the downstairs cafeteria.  The lodge was definitely packed, and that’s not surprising on a Saturday of a holiday weekend.

An image of Ty skiing Dynamite run at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
The fat skis were out today, doing their thing in the almost two feet of new snow at Bolton Valley.

The afternoon started with a run through the “trifecta” of Buena Vista, Dynamite, and Sleepy Hollow.  The snow was excellent, and traffic had been fairly light.  Dylan requested a run through the Progression Park, and then we headed back toward Timberline to finish off the day.  I was amazed that we’d seen Upper Tattle Tale open, and from below it looked somewhat scoured, but Lower Tattle Tale was really good.  The Twice as Nice Glades were OK, but still a bit bony, and I’d actually say that they are due for a round of brush clearing.  I took everyone down Quintessential, but it definitely needs a couple more storms to really be ready.

You really couldn’t ask for a much better day today, with such great fresh snow and weather.  The only complaint I’d add about the snow is that it was bit upside down, with some dry stuff underneath a layer of denser snow on top.  At some point there was some dry fluff in there, and then some snow with smaller flake fell on top.  You’d sometimes find areas of untracked powder where you could drop right through that middle layer.  The fat skis were definitely the tools to help with that though, doing a great job of keeping you floating vs. sinking under the topmost layers of dense snow.  In terms of base, essentially everything is skiable, but I’d like to see a couple more synoptic storms to get the base wall to wall on all the steepest and most rugged natural terrain.  Being mid February, that should really be expected by this point, but when snowfall is somewhere south of 80% relative to average, and January has multiple warm storms, that steep, natural terrain in the lower elevations just isn’t going to be flawless yet.  We’ve actually got some nice fluffy upslope snow falling tonight in association with the next winter storm called “Quintus”; we’ll have to see how much the mountains can pull of the sky to top off what’s out there.

Stowe, VT 09FEB2014

An image of Dylan between two pillows of powder snow on trees below the Kitchen Wall area at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Dylan exploring Mansfield’s deep deposits of powder today

We had a storm last weekend that produced a powder day on Sunday, so we headed out early and spent the entire day at Stowe, but with no fresh snow today, it was back to our more typical afternoon session spent with the BJAMS ski program.  We actually arrived a bit earlier than usual so that E could have a special ski instruction session with one of the students on the carpet surface lift, so parking at the base of Spruce Peak was somewhat less hectic than usual.  Skies were gray with clouds ahead of a storm coming in tonight, and temperatures were reasonable at around 20 F.

An image of Ty skiing powder in the trees near the West Run trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Out and about in the powder today

Luc and Jack were away at a martial arts event, so it looked like it would just be Ty, Dylan, and Kenny with me for our session.  Kenny still had to eat lunch when we first arrived, so Ty, Dylan, and I headed up Sunny Spruce for an early run.  We decided to do a bit of exploring in the trees off West Run, and found the powder there to be right around a foot, just like we’d encountered in many areas at Bolton Valley yesterday.  Although the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is still around the 40-inch mark, we didn’t find any serious issues with coverage in that area of mixed hardwoods and evergreens.

We hooked up with Kenny and stuck to Spruce Peak for our next run – E wanted us to check in with everyone gathering for the program at 1:00 P.M. to see if anyone else would be joining our group.  Kenny was interested in West Smugglers because of the moguls, and he took them on with no problems.  I was initially worried about the coverage on West Smugglers due to the fact that it’s all natural snow, somewhat south facing, and relatively low in elevation, but the coverage really was decent.  If West Smugglers is doing OK, I had to think that Stowe was close to 100% open, and indeed I see that that’s the case when I check the snow report.

We found out that Ethan was going to join our group for the day, as I was told that he jumped at the chance when offered, so that brought us to four and we headed over to the Gondola for some runs.  Dylan’s request was for some “Mac and Cheese” so we headed right there.  I filled Ethan in on some of the usual off piste tips that I gave Kenny last week, stay together, get up and out of the way when you stop in choke points, etc.  I also let him know how things would go with me as the only coach – we’d have Ty lead since he’s confident enough in his abilities and knowledge of the terrain to do so, and I’d take up the rear.  The run was great, and Kenny exorcised some of the demons from last week by conquering some of those tricky spots in the main line we’d been working.  Ethan had no problems, and I hadn’t suspected that he would based on his previous trips with our group.  Once out onto Nosedive, I worked with the boys on short-radius turns and holding tight, controlled lines along the edge of the trail where there was some quality snow.  For the most part, Nosedive was its usually icy self due to manmade snow and skier traffic, so there wasn’t anything different to note there.

An image of Kenny, Ethan, Ty, and Dylan out among powdery trees below the Kitchen Wall at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
The boys pose for a shot out in the powder below the Kitchen Wall

Kenny’s request was also for Mac and Cheese, so we took it again, but this time with a variation.  I’d seen lots of untracked powder above our usual main route, so I took the boys on an exploratory session with a higher traverse through the area.  I set the track, which turned out to be through a lot of powder.  Depth checks typically revealed 20+ inches around there, and if our feet hadn’t been able to inform us of the depth, our eyes could have.  Massive balls of fluffy powder sat on all the evergreens, and it was really starting to look like Mt. Mansfield in winter.  Even with me setting the traverse track through the forest and multiple people behind me packing it down, Kenny struggled at times getting through the powder.  I can see that we’ll have to work with him on that – there are certainly things that you learn about traversing through deep powder in the forest, and ultimately it makes your travel so much more efficient.  I can remember when Luc struggled with that at times as well, but after a couple of seasons of exposure, he’s really starting to get it down.  We did manage to find some nice untracked and lightly tracked lines with our added traverse, but I could see that we’d be able to get much more if we went farther.  We’d worked Kenny hard enough by the time of our descent though, so that was enough deep powder practice for the time being.

Kenny was getting hungry after that excursion, not that he needs any special reason to get hungry to begin with, but we stopped in for some waffles at the Cliff House to take the edge off.  Ty’s trail selection was next, and in the same vein as what we’d been doing, he chose straight up Cliff Trail because he loves all the little chutes along the skier’s right.  What we’d ended up doing to finish off our runs was to skip past Lower Nosedive and head over to Lower National to work on the bumps.  The boys worked on slowing down and staying in control, and I showed them how to avoid any icy patches between the bumps by making tighter, earlier turns that let you stay on the back side of the bump in the good snow.

Ethan called for a run to the Spruce Village fire pit for s’mores and hot chocolate, so we ended our Mansfield day after that run.  After some fire pit time and some good snacks, we got a couple more runs on Sunny Spruce, including last chair.  Ty and Kenny raced to the bottom by different routes in an exciting finish to the day.  Snowfall was actually just starting to appear as we were leaving the mountain, and we’ve had light snow here at the house this evening, so it looks like the mountains will have a light refresher for tomorrow.

Bolton Valley, VT 08FEB2014

An image of E skiing some powder among ski tracks in the Wilderness are at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Conditions are still below average for this time of year around here, but Wilderness delivered great snow today as it often does.

With over half an inch of liquid equivalent delivered, our midweek winter storm, “Nika”, was certainly a mini boon for the local slopes.  I checked out the fresh snow on Wednesday and Thursday, but today was our chance to see how conditions fared now that things have settled a bit, and traffic and grooming have worked the new snow into the base.  There’s no question that the recent shot of moisture from Nika provided a bump in snowpack for Bolton Valley – many additional trails have come on line, and as of this morning, the only areas that patrol haven’t opened are upper Wilderness and the natural snow trails of Timberline.

Of course the fact that we’re approaching mid February and even having to talk about those areas not being open speaks to just how poor a January the area had to endure.  The snowfall data that I monitor at our house parallels the local mountains quite nicely, especially in mid winter, so my numbers provide a very good sense of how it went for the ski areas of the Northern Greens.  With just 15.8 inches of snow, this past January was the lowest in my records by a notable margin.  Granted, I only have eight seasons worth of data, but this past January wasn’t just lower than any January in my records, it was lower than any December, January, or February in my records.  Looking at all those months puts a lot more into the data set, so for January to come in well below all of the other months is quite notable.  And, the statistics back that up, with this January being a whopping 1.86 standard deviations below the midwinter monthly mean of 39.4 inches, putting this January in THE BOTTOM 3% OF ALL MIDWINTER MONTHS according to my data set.  So if you felt that January was horrendously low with respect to snowfall in the Northern Greens, you were correct.

Fortunately we’re on to February now and the past week was at least somewhat average with respect to snowfall.  E took a look at the Bolton Valley Web Cam and noted that there wasn’t much of a line at the Vista Quad, so after a quick lunch, we headed up to the mountain.  Timberline had a good number of cars, and the Village lots were near capacity, so clearly the resort had a lot of visitors – I dropped E and the boys off at the Village Circle and had to park in the bottom tier of parking down near the recreation center.

After they’d taken a couple runs on Snowflake, in which Ty really seemed to be getting some nice air in the terrain park, I met up with E and the boys and we headed up the Vista Quad for a run on Spillway.  That was Dylan’s choice, and I was optimistic that the ridge on the skier’s right would yield some good snow, but it was definitely underwhelming.  I found soft snow in a few spots, but in general there wasn’t much of it and the hard, manmade snow predominated on the left side of the ridge and even made its presence known on the right side of the ridge.  It wasn’t until we neared the connection onto Sherman’s Pass that we were able to get into some good powder on the edges, and then the Vista Quad Liftline below held soft natural snow as well.  The snow we’d experienced up on Spillway had him calling for some trees, which was timely, because that was the plan.

An image of Ty skiing powder in Maria's Woods at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Although the trees are still a bit lean for this time of year, there are lots of good areas to be found

The next run was my choice, and with the recent opening of the Cobrass suite of trails, I decided we should check out Cobrass and head to Maria’s for some soft snow in the trees.  The snow on Cobrass was just horribly icy, and we couldn’t get down it fast enough.  Even the skier’s right, where soft snow often holds, was meager like we’d found on Spillway.  Either the trails with snowmaking have seen too many skiers or not enough natural snow, or perhaps a combination of both.  Fortunately, the snow off piste was blissfully soft, with generally about a foot of powder on Maria’s.  The only problem is that the base is still lean – we need another big synoptic storm, this time with an inch or two of liquid equivalent to really get the off piste terrain into prime, midwinter form.  The snow depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake is just above that 40” mark, so as one might expect, the off piste skiing is in play, but you can’t rely on everything to be covered yet.  You still need to take it cautiously in general.  Maria’s did offer up some nice shots of powder, and we found some nice deep shots, but until we get another storm or two you just won’t be able to go top to bottom with full confidence.

With the snowmaking terrain generally too firm, and the off piste terrain passable but not ready for prime time in all areas, our next course of action was obvious.  It was time for a run over at Wilderness.  Before we could do that though, Dylan needed to warm up his toes, so we took a break for a bit in the lodge.  The boys got some snacks, and everyone warmed up for what we planned to be our last run.  From the top of the Vista Quad we took Alta Vista, and I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot more soft snow available on the side there than what we’d experienced on Spillway or Cobrass.  I’d say it was simply due to lower skier traffic, because it seemed like very few people had skied there.  We connected over to Wilderness and got some nice powder on the Wilderness Lift Line, which was followed up with an excellent run down Turnpike.  Boy that Turnpike just always seems to deliver.

So, there’s certainly some decent skiing out there thanks to the recent storm “Nika”, but overall things are certainly subpar for February in Northern Vermont.  We’re definitely keeping our eyes peeled for that next big synoptic storm that could get things closer to average – based on the current depth at the stake we need about a foot to a foot and a half of base depth increase to get there.

Bolton Valley, VT 06FEB2014

An image of ski tracks in powder on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley
Some of the great powder out there today at Bolton Valley

Yesterday’s snowstorm finished up with a few more inches overnight, bringing the local ski area storm totals to the 9-12” range.  Just as important though, was the amount of liquid that the snow held, and based on the fact that we received 0.56” of liquid equivalent at our house, and Mt. Mansfield picked up at least 0.60”, Bolton Valley should have been well above the half inch mark.  An inch or two of liquid equivalent would have been even better, but even a half inch is more than we’ve had in recent storms.

The amount of liquid in the snow seemed substantial enough that I decided to see how Timberline was skiing this morning.  The last time I’d looked, it wasn’t quite there, but after our past couple of storms, plus somewhere near 9 inches of additional snow from this latest one, it was worth a look.  As I parked at the Timberline Base, I met another couple of skiers who had just come down from a run, and were preparing to go back up for another one after a quick break.  When I asked about the snow, one of them said, “It’s @#$%(#$%^ awesome!”  I took that as a good sign.

I followed an excellent skin track up Twice as Nice, and generally found 9 to 10 inches of settled powder.  However, in the lowest elevations there was often little to no base below that snow.  I hate to say it, but rolling the trail with a snow cat would probably be the best thing to do in terms of preserving the snow, turning it into a base, and getting it ready to support lift-served skiing.  The tracks of previous skiers definitely spoke to the quality of the powder though – it was classing Timberline fluff that had settled nicely with no wind.

I ended up making my descent on Spell Binder, and indeed the snow was awesome, just as that skier had indicated.  The main detractor from the experience was that there just isn’t enough base snow yet to take the steep terrain with reckless abandon.  I found 15 inches of snow atop the Spell Binder headwall, but I had to play it safe on that steep terrain since there are rocks lurking.  So, even with the great snow, that offered champagne on top and a very nice “right side up” density gradient, I have to give the skiing a middle of the road sort of score because of the base.  One more big storm and some settling of what’s out there now, and Timberline will probably be ready for some lift served skiing.  Actually, the resort was planning to open at least the main snowmaking routes over there today, so a lot of the area should be ready to go if more snow comes.