Stowe, VT 19MAY2018

An image of a sprig of evergreen melting a hole in spring snow on a May ski tour at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
An image of leftover spring snow on the Liftline Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont on a ski tour in May
On today’s ski tour I was able to get to some of the snow higher up on Stowe’s Liftline trail

My time was limited for yesterday’s ski tour on Mt. Mansfield, so I only got to try out a portion of the skiing that Stowe’s Liftline trail had to offer.  Based on the intel I’d received from Jumpin’ Jimmy though, it sounded like some of the best skiing was in that big upper section of snow on the trail, suggesting that another visit was in order.  I had some time today ahead of the rain that was expected to move in during the afternoon, so off to the mountain I went.

Yesterday gave me a great sense for the available snow at the resort, so I parked right near the mountain operations building below Sepp’s Run, knowing that I’d be finishing my tour there.  I ascended Liftline yesterday through a combination of skinning and hiking, but the skinning was pretty challenging on some of the steeper, narrower pitches, so I wanted to try a different ascent route today. I took a gradual ascent toward the North Slope route via Lower Starr and Crossover, enjoying nice dry grass and easy walking.  Using various combinations of trails in the North Slope area, I was able to put on my skins around 2,800’, and had to take them off a couple more times before reaching the top of the Fourrunner Quad.

“All told you’re probably looking at around 85% snow for a trip down from the top of the Fourrunner Quad, so it’s certainly still worth it if you’re looking for some good spring turns.”

For the descent, the main breaks in the snowpack are right at the Liftline headwall, and then about halfway down the trail before you get to the terrain I skied yesterday.  Indeed the turns on the upper parts of Liftline were great – there’s a lot of snow up there on skier’s left, and plenty of terrain variety.  All told you’re probably looking at around 85% snow for a trip down from the top of the Fourrunner Quad, so it’s certainly still worth it if you’re looking for some good spring turns.

An image of spring flowers and some houses in the town of Stowe, VT in May
The sights of spring were in full force as showers approached and I made my way back through the town of Stowe.

Stowe, VT 18MAY2018

A late May image of spring slowly making its way up the slopes of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont
An image looking down at some of the snow on the Liftline trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont in late May
Looking down a steep pitch at some of the snow on Stowe’s Liftline trail today, with the Midway base area in the background.

It’s always fun each spring to see just how the snowpack finally melts out on Mt. Mansfield.  There are certainly those reliable, well-protected spots like Nosedive that hold snow well into the spring, but between the variability in natural snow deposition and snowmaking, you never quite know what areas are going to offer the best turns for your effort as we get farther into the spring.  I headed out for turns this afternoon expecting to make a traditional Nosedive run, but upon appraising the availability of continuous lines and low-elevation snow, it was actually Liftline that seemed to be the best bet.

“I only had time to head to the top of that large section of snow (~2,300’), but it offered up some nice steep turns and the corn snow was in excellent shape.”

I once again parked in the new lot by the Midway Lodge just as I’d done for my outing last week, and headed up the Crossover trail until I encountered Sepp’s Run with substantial snow right down to the bottom at ~1,700’.  I knew there was a break in the snow up toward Liftline, so I hiked until I hit the more substantial snow on there and then switched to skinning.  I only had time to head to the top of that large section of snow (~2,300’), but it offered up some nice steep turns and the corn snow was in excellent shape.  That section is one of the steepest of Liftline, so the skinning was a challenge without the ability to really spread out the switchbacks on the ascent, but it was doable with good support from my poles and ensuring that my skins were secure with each step.

An image of the Inspiration area at Stowe Mountain Resort's Spruce Peak in May
A view back toward the Inspiration area at Spruce Peak with a bit of snow left.

On my descent I ran into Scott Braaten out for an afternoon tour, and then Jumpin’ Jimmy and I believe Aaron Lavallee as well, so it was quite the SkiVT-L reunion!  We’re certainly past the point where you can easily skin up and get 2,000’ of continuous vertical feet of snow at Stowe, but we’re not too far off from continuous skiing from the top of the Fourrunner Quad from what I heard, so there’s definitely a lot of good skiing to be had.  Jim said that the snow in the next section above where I’d stopped was really good, so if I get a chance it would be nice to get up there and make some turns before the snow melts out.

Stowe, VT 10MAY2018

An image of deep snow piles in May up on Mt. Mansfield at the Cliff House after work road plowing by Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the snowy ski trails on Mountain Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont in mid May
May has been bringing some warmer temperatures for spring skiing, and there’s still lots of snow to play in on the trails of Mt. Mansfield.

We had some great weather for skiing last weekend, but I was fighting a cold and decided to recuperate vs. pushing myself too hard with a tour.  The great weather has continued this week though, with a simply amazing stretch of sunny spring days, and this morning I had a bit of time to get out for a ski tour at Stowe.

These recent days of warm weather have been eating away at the snowpack of course, and on my trip to the mountain I didn’t encounter any snow until the resort’s main base elevations around 1,500’.  I parked by Midway, and similar to about a half dozen or so other cars I saw, I was able to use the nice new parking area the resort has added just below the Midway Lodge.  I’d never even noticed that parking lot before because it’s usually covered with snow, but it’s got some nice clean asphalt that makes it a very nice spot for changing gear and clothing well away from any spring muck.

An image of one of the Midway area parking lots at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, taken from the Cliff House at the top of the Gondola
I started my tour in the new parking lot below Midway, where the cars of a few other skiers were parked.

An image showing some snow formations formed in melting snow on the Cliff Trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in VermontNosedive still has coverage right to the bottom at the Crossover trail, so I started skinning from there at ~1,650’, and made my way up to the junction with Cliff Trail at ~2,700’.  Nosedive has continuous coverage all the way up to that point, and although I didn’t continue higher on Nosedive itself, I’d be surprised if there were any breaks in the snowpack at the higher elevations.  For my tour, I decided to continue on toward the Cliff House because I saw that Perry Merrill looked to have almost continuous coverage, and the skiing there will typically run out before Nosedive.  I had to take off my skis and walk for a couple hundred feet because that junction area of Cliff Trail with Nosedive has melted out, but after that I was able to skin all the way up to the Cliff House.  The resort’s been clearing out some of the work roads as they get ready for summer, and that really transformed the area up near the Cliff House with massive snow piles on the sides of the trail and nothing in the middle.

“The snow quality overall was excellent though, as we’ve obviously had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles by this point and the snow if very much in prime “corn” form.”

For my descent I continued on to the other side of the Cliff House and hit Upper Gondolier, then connected onto Perry Merrill lower down.  Perry Merrill has just a couple of breaks in the continuity of its snow, although one is about 100 feet long and is best navigated by taking off your skis.  The snow quality overall was excellent though, as we’ve obviously had plenty of freeze-thaw cycles by this point and the snow if very much in prime “corn” form.

Bolton Valley, VT 30APR2018

an image of the Spillway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont with ski tracks in fresh snow from a late April snowstorm
An image of Telemark powder skis at the start of a ski tour in late April at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Getting ready to set out on my tour from the Bolton Valley Village in today’s fresh snow

Our latest storm moved into the area yesterday, and it held the potential for some decent mountain snows.  Yesterday afternoon, I could see that a few inches of snow had already accumulated at the summit elevations at Sugarbush, but there was really just a trace in the mid mountain elevations, so it was unclear how low significant accumulations were going to go.  When reports started coming in from the west side of the Northern Greens, it turned out that snow levels were much lower there, with accumulations visible down to 800 feet in the Nashville area.  In line with those low snow levels, we were even getting snow here at the house, which is down at 500 feet.

I had initially contemplated heading to Stowe for some turns in the morning, thinking the terrain above 3,000’ would really be needed to get into some good snow, but those low snow levels on the western slopes definitely had me thinking about Bolton Valley as good option.  The overnight didn’t seem to bring about any substantial changes, so I stuck with that plan and headed to Bolton for a ski tour this morning. 

“I could tell right away as I began my descent that the density and consistency of the snow called for steep terrain, so I dove right down Spillway and that really hit the spot.”

Low clouds were obscuring the mountains by our house, but it seemed like the snow line this morning was down around 1,000’.  On my drive, the first signs of fresh snow accumulations were indeed right around the 1,000’ elevation on the Bolton Valley Access Road, and then the world just got whiter and whiter as I headed up. 

I started my ski tour at the Bolton Valley Village, which is a bit above 2,000’, so with the way this storm accumulated that meant decent coverage from there on up to the summits.  At the base elevations this morning the temperature was just edging above freezing in the 7:30 -8:00 A.M. timeframe, and the snow was definitely dense.  The fresh snow was wet, but not slushy or sopping at that point.  It was gradually falling of the trees on my ascent as the temperatures rose.  I headed up into cooler temperatures, but it was still warming all the way to the summit and I bet temperatures in the mid-30s F tracked with me as I ascended.

An image of cars covered in fresh snow from a late April snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Bolton Valley Village today

Here’s a summary of the accumulations I found this morning for various elevations:

500’: 0”
1,000’: Trace
1,500’: 1-2”
2,000’:  3-7”
2,500’: 8-9”
3,000’: ~9”

An image of snow on evergreens during a ski tour in fresh April snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A snowy view from today’s ski tour

The larger range I’m reporting at the 2,000’ level was simply because I had time to get a sense for accumulations atop the different surfaces, with the low end being on paved or gravel surfaces, and the high end being on the existing snowpack, elevated surfaces, etc. 

In terms of what was out there on the trails for new snow, the numbers above show that there really wasn’t a huge bump in accumulations above 2,000’, so I’d say those elevations did fairly well in terms of maximizing whatever snow they were going to get out of the available moisture.  We had ~¾” of liquid in the rain gauge at the house this morning, so presumably the mountains are somewhere north of that.

“Even with 115 mm fat skis I was still touching the subsurface at times, but this snow was definitely dense enough to hold up pretty well on steep, aggressive turns.”

Although it can’t compare to the drier snow we had with last weekend’s storm, the turns were actually pretty sweet today.  I could tell right away as I began my descent that the density and consistency of the snow called for steep terrain, so I dove right down Spillway and that really hit the spot.  Even with 115 mm fat skis I was still touching the subsurface at times, but this snow was definitely dense enough to hold up pretty well on steep, aggressive turns.  I stuck with Beech Seal on the lower half of the mountain, and the pitch there was also quite sufficient for a lot of good turns.

An image of ski tracks in fresh snow on the Spillway Lane trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont after a late April snowstorm
Starting off the descent with some powder turns on Spillway Lane

Today was the last day of April, but it’s certainly been a decent one for snow.  It’s time to move on to May and see what it delivers for turns!

Bolton Valley, VT 28APR2018

An image of the Showtime trail in the Timberline area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont in late April
An image of the mid station area on the Timberline lift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A view from the Timberline Mid Station at Bolton Valley today

Today was forecast to have favorable weather for outdoor activity, with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s F, so I decided to head up to Bolton Valley for a ski tour.  Dylan is under the weather, Ty tweaked his hip at track practice, and E was planning to do some work in the yard and exercise at home, so I headed up to the mountain solo.

Heading up the Bolton Valley Access Road, first signs of snow were around 1,200’.  I was all set to head up the main base area, but a quick look at Timberline revealed that plenty of snow remained, so I decided it was a good time to catch some turns there before it melted out for the season.  Snow is essentially continuous right down to the base at 1,500’, which is pretty impressive for this time of year on relatively low elevation, western-facing terrain.

An image of signs at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road in Bolton Vermont
Down at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road

I contemplated actually skinning up Spell Binder, but the snow there wasn’t quite continuous, so I took the Showtime route.  The snow there is continuous right up to the Timberline Summit, aside from a small break at the Showtime Headwall where the rocks melted out the snow.  I saw a couple of other skiers, including a pair of snowboarders who were running snowmobile-accessed laps to the summit.

“In terms of the skiing, the consistency of the snow was very nice, with just a few sticky spots.”

In terms of the skiing, the consistency of the snow was very nice, with just a few sticky spots.  During the tour, I could see showers over the in Adirondacks, and thicker clouds were just moving in as I finished my descent.  The sun had finally faded, and showers just began to appear as I was heading home.  As this system pulls farther east, the forecast suggests that there’s a chance for some snow associated with the incoming colder air, so we’ll see what the mountains pick up for accumulations.

Stowe, VT 21APR2018

Erica, Ty, and Dylan standing around the fire pit outside the Solstice Restaurant at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty skiing some fresh snow in late April on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today we were able to get out into some of the powder from our recent upslope snowstorm on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield, topped off with a convenient stay right at the Stowe Mountain Lodge.

Since school was out of session due to vacation week, E’s been thinking about some sort of getaway for the family.  Quebec City and Maine came up as possible destinations, but with the Green Mountains having just reeled in some great powder due to our recent upslope event, doing something more local seemed like an obvious choice.  That decision was heavily reinforced after E and I skied some great powder at Bolton Valley yesterday, and after weighing a number of options we ultimately decided to head to Stowe for some earned turns and a stay at the Stowe Mountain Lodge.  They’ve got some fantastic amenities, and the rates this time of year are great because they’re in between the winter and summer seasons.

An image of Mt. Mansfield in Vermont with fresh snow on a sunny day in April
The fresh snow on Mt. Mansfield was astonishingly white today in the late April sunshine.

We kicked things off this morning with a start at the Midway Lot, which had dozens of vehicles in it from folks with similar ideas.  It was approaching mid-morning when we arrived, so I was surprised at how many people were heading right up Gondolier in the sun.  With that morning sun and warming temperatures, I was leery of how well the winter snow would hold on the Gondola side.  E and the boys and I opted to head toward Nosedive, which generally has much more protected snow when sun and warmth are a concern.  The Nosedive area had certainly seen some skier and rider traffic already, and there was a nice double skin track in place that made for easy conversation and passing options during the ascent.  Ty was feeling really good on the climb and cruised ahead of the rest of us, eventually waiting for us up around the 3,000’ mark.  We joined up and topped out at the 3,300’ plateau just below the Nosedive switchbacks.

An image of the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after a late April snowfall
Nosedive today

We stopped below the switchbacks because the snow quality was good, and the narrow width of the trail above that elevation meant that the snow was pretty much tracked out.  The consistency of the snow had definitely changed substantially over the course of the ascent.  At base elevations it was already getting rather wet with the rising temperatures, and by the time we finished our ascent it was fairly dry, dense powder.  There wasn’t any sharp transition zone for the snow consistency, it had just changed ever so gradually with each step we’d ascended.

“The broad upper slopes of Nosedive definitely held the best snow we found today. The powder was dense, but dry, and there were plenty of areas of untracked snow to crank out some nice turns.”

The broad upper slopes of Nosedive definitely held the best snow we found today.  The powder was dense, but dry, and there were plenty of areas of untracked snow to crank out some nice turns.  The whole descent was definitely fun, although the last few hundred vertical feet, where we’d actually switched over to Lower National to get to some snow that had seen less traffic, held snow that had gotten pretty wet in the warming temperatures.  The best snow could be found on the shady side of the trails, and I even jumped into the trees in several spots on the lower half of the run and found some excellent turns.

An image of Erica skiing some fresh snow on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont with Ty and Dylan looking on
E and the boys out in some of the fresh snow on Nosedive today

When the skiing was done, we checked in at the Stowe Mountain Lodge and had some appetizers at the Hourglass Lounge.  E and the boys did some swimming, and we had dinner at Solstice, which was a real treat.  They were taking part in Vermont Restaurant Week, and my first course was an amazing smoky tomato soup.  The boys and I headed out later in the evening for some night swimming, which was definitely a bit thrilling in the chill of a cold clear evening.  Naturally we spent a good amount of time in one of the hot tubs, although the pool was also a nice temperature for cooling back down a bit after that heat.

I think everyone would be up for doing a similar trip again in the future, especially if we can order up some of these late season April snowstorms atop such a deep snowpack!

Bolton Valley, VT 20APR2018

An image of Erica skiing the Alta Vista trail in fresh April powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Alta Vista trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Our latest April storm brought another heaping helping of midwinter powder to the slopes of Bolton Valley.

April temperatures have been running several degrees below average here in Northern Vermont, and for those awaiting warmth, the winter weather must feel simply interminable.  Some of us don’t have a whisper of complaint though, since we know when we’ve got a good thing going.  While average April temperatures around here can bring snow, below average temperatures typically bring more snow, drier snow, and preserve the snowpack.  With the approach of the current storm, the National Weather Service in Burlington was already talking about the potential for the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake to get back up to 100 inches, and as of this evening’s co-op report, indeed it’s there.  The snowpack is essentially wall-to-wall everywhere in the local mountains here, so topping that off with fresh powder is a recipe for some awesome skiing and riding.

“Well let’s just say, the turns were fantastic – we had medium to moderately dense midwinter powder covering everything, temperatures near 30 F, and an almost fully untracked resort to ski.”

It’s spring vacation week for E and the boys, so E was able to join me this morning for a tour in the new snow up at Bolton Valley.  We’ve had substantial accumulations of snow all the way to the valley floors with this latest storm, so I knew the potential was there for some dry, winter-style snow up at elevation.  We headed out this morning amidst light snow at the house, and arrived in the Bolton Valley Village to steady snow and temperatures in the upper 20s F.  A quick check on the new snow in the parking lot around 2,000’ revealed accumulations of 5 to 6 inches.

We started skinning right from the car up the Lower Turnpike ascent route, and found a decent skin track in place with just a couple inches of additional snow in it.  We eventually worked our way over toward Vista and the depth of the new snow continued to steadily increase with elevation.  By the time we topped out above 3,000’ on Alta Vista, my depth checks on the powder were revealing 10 to 11 inches.  We de-skinned by the trees out of the wind, and E was pretty slick with her ski-on skin removal.

An image looking up the Alta Vista trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont with a fresh coating of April powder
Looking up Alta Vista with a fresh blanket of white
An image of Erica skiing powder near the Vista Summit at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E throwing around some of today’s powder at Bolton Valley.

On the entire ascent the snow quality was looking really good, but you never quite know how things are going to ski until you drop.  Well let’s just say, the turns were fantastic – we had medium to moderately dense midwinter powder covering everything, temperatures near 30 F, and an almost fully untracked resort to ski.  Wind effects were pretty minimal on much of the mountain so it really was a dense, velvety resurfacing that skied like a dream.  It’s definitely a good time to get out there and enjoy those uncrowded slopes with all this new snow.

An image of a Sonar Blue lens for Anon M2 GoglesWith the continuing snowfall during today’s tour, I went with our Sonar Blue lenses for my Anon M2 Goggles.  They’ve got 46% visible light transmission and are recommended for graybird days and tree skiing, but they were definitely a good fit for today even with snowfall since we’re talking late-April light.

In an update from this afternoon, eyewall noted that he encountered about 7 inches of new snow at the Bolton Valley Village elevation, so it sounds like they’d picked up another inch or two with the additional snow since E and I had left.  That would put accumulations near the summits around a foot, so it’s definitely been a nice April event for the mountains around here.

An image of a tractor with snow in Richmond Vermont after an April snowstorm
Enjoying the snowy April views from the valley – cool temperatures have brought snow accumulations all the way to the valley bottoms with this latest storm.

Woodward Mountain Trail, VT 18MAR2018

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail in the Bolton Valley backcountry
An image of ski turns in powder snow along the Woodward Mountain Trail in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Powder turns today during explorations in the lower elevations of the Woodward Mountain Trail

Wind chills were forecast to approach -30 F today on the upper elevations of Mt. Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort, so E did a “soft cancel” of our BJAMS ski program.  The program was still on, and families could go if they wanted to, but no coaches were required to go, and students wouldn’t have to deal with those potentially frigid temperatures.

Although I was glad to not have to battle the nasty wind chills up in the higher elevations, it was still a gorgeous late-winter day out there, so I thought about heading out for a ski tour on something local, relatively low elevation, and sheltered from the wind.  Eventually, an exploration of the lower elevations of the Woodward Mountain Trail came to mind.  The base of the trail is just a couple miles from our house in Waterbury, and with the healthy snowpack that extends all the way to the bottom of the local mountain valleys, the ski conditions there should be outstanding.

The Woodward Mountain Trail is quite a route, running six miles and dropping over 2,500 vertical feet in elevation.  The traditional way to ski the trail is to spot a car at the VAST parking area (450’) at the bottom on Little River Road near the Waterbury Reservoir, then drive up to Bolton Valley Resort and use the Vista Quad to get to the top of Vista Peak (3,150’).  From there, you ski southward along the ridge between Vista Peak and Woodward Mountain, before descending eastward off the flanks of Woodward Mountain itself down to Little River Road in the Waterbury Reservoir and Little River State Park area.  I’ve skied the upper elevations of the trail before, but I’ve heard route finding for the ending (and middle for that matter) portions of the trail can get a bit tricky.  At some point it would be great to get family and friends together for a full run of the trail, so my goal with today’s outing was to orient myself to the twists and turns at the bottom of the trail to hopefully make that experience a bit more efficient.  And with the great snowpack and plenty of powder out there, I hoped to get in some good turns in the process.

“…my goal with today’s outing was to orient myself to the twists and turns at the bottom of the trail to hopefully make that experience a bit more efficient.”

I used my copy of David Goodman’s classing backcountry guidebook “Backcountry Skiing Adventures:  Vermont and New York” to get myself oriented with respect to the lower regions of the route.  His book has a nice description of where to park, as well as a topographic map with the route outlined.  The guide is excellent, with just one problem in my case – the guide is built for following the trail down, so it’s not perfect for guiding you up from the base of the trail if you want to try that approach.  In any event, with the map from the guidebook and my GPS in hand, I knew I’d be able to orient myself reasonably well to what the bottom of the trail held in store, and I’d always be able to come back again if necessary on a future trip with my own first experience in hand.

Temperatures were probably around 20 F when I parked at the VAST lot on the west side of Little River Road.  There were a few cars there, most with snowmobile trailers of course, although one car looked like it might be backcountry skiers waiting to pick someone up.  Starting from the parking lot, you’re immediately on the VAST trail, and it climbs a steep pitch before leveling out and going through some fields along the power line leading up to the dam.  It was easy to see from the map in the guidebook that this part of the trail is a bit circuitous – you’re doing a big loop that doesn’t immediately bring you toward the rest of the Woodward Mountain Trail.  This is due to the layout of the VAST trails, but with the topography of the ridges, valleys and streams down there, you’d probably just waste a ton of time trying to break trail through the snow if you wanted to follow more direct route from the parking area anyway.  It’s hard to put a price on having a packed, well-marked trail to get you through the backcountry, even if the route is a bit indirect.  The energy-saving and route-finding efficiency of having an established packed trail are simply huge.   I was a bit dismayed to find that there was one fairly substantial downhill section (which of course means uphill on the way out) on the route in.  I’m talking about a substantial enough slope that you’re likely going to have to take off your skis and walk, or put your skins on to deal with it.

After 0.9 miles on the well-packed VAST trail, I came to a T junction.  The trail I was intersecting was part of the VAST system, but it was also a road, Woodard Hill Road.  It had actually been groomed (and apparently even plowed) down in that area, so the snow cover was a bit thin in spots.  I headed upward and to the right on Woodard Hill Road, which was the obvious route to take based on the guidebook map.  I passed a couple of hunting camps on the left, and eventually at 1.75 miles into the route I came to a gate that seems to be the one indicated on David Goodman’s route.  This is where the utility of the map in his guidebook broke down a bit for the ascent.  His route appears to be shown passing through the gate, but it’s also shown staying to the south of the main drainage in that area.  If you go through that gate, you’re crossing a bridge to the northerly side of that drainage, so those two pieces of information don’t line up.  On the south side of the drainage there is a clearing that had seen some snowmobile activity, but I didn’t see any obvious ski tracks coming down from there to suggest it was near the Woodward Mountain Trail.

An image of a hunting camp along Woodard Hill Road along the route for the Woodward Mountain backcountry ski trail near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
One of the hunting camps seen during my ski tour along Woodard Hill Road

I decided to play it safe on my first look and simply follow the VAST trail through the gate to see if any obvious trails branched off from it.  The “safe” aspect of this choice was that I could continue to follow a well-packed, well-marked trail for a while, wherever it was going to take me.  At 2.65 miles and an elevation of ~1,750’, I hit the local peak of that VAST trail and hadn’t seen any obvious trails converging on it, so it was time to see what potential the clearing on the other side of the drainage held.  I de-skinned and switched to descent mode, and actually had some fun turns in the terrain off the sides of the VAST trail. 

“At the very start of my tour down around 450’, the powder was generally 8 to 12 inches deep, but up in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range where I topped out it was in excess of 20 inches deep. So there were a lot of good turns today at all elevations.”

Coming back down to the gate and bridge area, I headed up into the clearing and could see what had to be the outlet of the Woodward Mountain Trail.  The clearing was full of powder, and the reason I hadn’t seen any ski tracks coming out among the snowmobile tracks was simply due to the fact that the last person to use the trail had done so before our recent bout of snowfall had stopped.  Once I looked up the trail, I could see that there was an obvious ski/skin track.  I put my skins back on and started up the trail.  Fortunately, only about 6 to 7 inches of light fluffy snow had accumulated since the last person’s track, so breaking trail wasn’t really too much of a chore.  I ascended for a bit within what my schedule allowed, and then had a nice ski back down that section of the trail with some smooth powder turns.

Back at the VAST trails, I descended until I hit the VAST stop sign at the junction of the final leg back to the parking lot.  I was reading Ski Maven’s report of her trip on the Woodward Mountain Trail, and it sounds like her group went right through this junction, which left them at the base of Woodard Hill Road about a mile from the parking lot where they had spotted their car.  This meant that they had to walk that distance back on Little River Road to get to where they’d parked.  Froom that VAST trail junction though, it’s really a short downhill jaunt (just a couple tenths of a mile) to get to the base of Woodard Hill Road.  This would actually be a much better place to park a car for finishing the Woodward Mountain Trail.  Unfortunately, there’s not the expansive VAST parking area that you get following the other route, but I’ve seen cars parked down at the base of Woodard Hill Road, and I’m sure that’s why.  I can tell you, having returned the 0.9 miles to the main parking lot on my tour today via the standard route in the guidebook, with its one substantial uphill and extensive flat sections, that continuing down on Woodard Hill Road would be tremendously more fun and efficient.  It shortens the travel at the end of the route by almost a mile, and it’s all downhill.  Even if parking isn’t available at the bottom of Woodard Hill Road, and you had to park at the VAST lot, you could still have everyone in your party continue that way and have one strong member follow the regular route and pick the rest of the party up at the road.  It would honestly give people a much more enjoyable finish to their tour.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail in the Bolton Valley backcountry
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data showing today’s tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail

At the very start of my tour down around 450’, the powder was generally 8 to 12 inches deep, but up in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range where I topped out it was in excess of 20 inches deep.  So there were a lot of good turns today at all elevations.  At some point I’d like to get to the middle portions of the Woodward Mountain Trail, but I’ve now learned a lot about the layout of the upper and lower sections, and would definitely feel comfortable guiding people in those areas.  The middle portion of the route is supposed to have a lot of fun glades though, so I can’t wait to check those out.

Brandon Gap, VT 16MAR2018

An image of the map at the Bear Brook Bowl trailhead at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
An image of one of the backcountry glades in the No Name area at Brandon Gap in Vermont
Today at Brandon Gap I was greeted by more than 30 inches of feather weight powder, and fantastic ski terrain and access that have been meticulously crafted thanks to the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance.

At Brandon Gap, about an hour or so south of our house in Waterbury, the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance (a.k.a. RASTA) has done something very special.  They’ve created the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area, a network of trails for backcountry skiing and riding in the Green Mountain National Forest just south of Vermont Route 73 at Brandon Gap.  The area has over 16,000 vertical feet of skiing and riding on numerous glades spread out along three miles of the Long Trail.  What makes the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area so special is that unlike the typical clandestine backcountry areas that skiers have created throughout Vermont, the area at Brandon Gap was actually created in partnership with the United States Forest Service,  It truly is a pioneering project showing that the development of backcountry ski terrain can be done in a legal, legitimate, and sustainable way.  The only other area for backcountry skiing that I know of around here that would be somewhat comparable would be the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network, which is associated with Bolton Valley Resort.

An image of the Brandon Gap backcountry ski map from the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance
A copy of RASTA’s detailed map for the Brandon Gap backcountry area. Please visit RASTA’s website for a full-size version of the map

“Imagine more than 30 inches of feather-light champagne powder, and enough pitch to do it justice, and that’s what was going on at Brandon Gap today.”

The RASTA backcountry ski trails at Brandon Gap have been in the news for a while, and as soon as I first heard about them, I was eager to go on a tour and check them out.  It’s not always easy to find an appropriate hole in one’s schedule that coincides with great snowpack and conditions though, so it’s taken a while to get me down there.  I had time in the afternoon today though, and even though I was busy at work longer than I’d expected, I was still able to make it down to Brandon Gap.

An image of a Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance trail marker at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
One of the plentiful RASTA trail markers along the skin track

Although I didn’t know exactly how much snow the Brandon Gap area had picked up relative to the rest of the state, everyone has been getting substantial snows due to the remnants of Winter Storm Skylar.  Ski resorts in the northern part of the state have picked up as much as six feet of snow in the past week or so.  I could see that there wasn’t much to worry about at Brandon Gap when I caught sight of the massive stack of snow atop the map sign at the trailhead.  The snow situation was looking very good.

I was somewhat short on time, so I opted to tour in the No Name Backcountry Area today.  You really can’t ask for much easier access to great backcountry skiing.  For the No Name area you literally hit the trailhead, and within moments you start going right up on your ascent.  The skin track is nicely interwoven among the various glades in the area, so you can get a look at a lot of the potential ski options.  The skin track is well established, beautifully laid out, and extremely well marked with RASTA blazes and directional arrows.  I’ve never seen a skin track so clearly marked, it’s just one of those things about the area that make it so efficient and professional looking.

“We’re talking “hold onto your head as you descend because this is going to blow your mind” type of conditions.”

The ascent was extremely pleasant with such a beautiful skin track underfoot, and before I knew it I’d reached the top of the area where I found a nice packed out area for de-skinning, and another copy of the map displayed.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect on the descent, but my depth checks on the way up had revealed that there was more than 30 inches of absolutely feather-weight powder covering the base snow.  In many cases that would simply be too much snow, since you need some rather steep pitches to accommodate it, but that wasn’t a problem in the No Name area – the pitches there are generally at least black diamond.

An image showing the depth of the new powder for skiing at Brandon Gap in VermontWith my gear set for the descent, I headed off to skiers left where I’d seen a glade that was essentially untracked.  I dove in, and the powder skiing was simply insane.  Imagine more than 30 inches of feather-light champagne powder, and enough pitch to do it justice, and that’s what was going on at Brandon Gap today.  We’re talking “hold onto your head as you descend because this is going to blow your mind” type of conditions.  Wow, just… wow!  One of the more fun aspects of the descent was simply adjusting the pitch of my front leg in my Telemark stance to determine how much of my body was under the snow and adjust my speed.  You know the snow is deep when that’s your main mechanism for controlling your speed.  Got fat skis?  Good, you’ll want ‘em. 

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour at Brandon Gap in Vermont
A Google Earth Map with GPS tracking data showing the path of today’s tour in the No Name area at Brandon Gap

It’s so funny how different the snow was today compared to the dense snow yesterday at Bolton Valley, but that’s the way storms go.  Sometimes you have the right conditions in the dendritic grown zone to produce those massive, fluffy crystal, and sometimes you get small, baking powder flakes.  Brandon Gap definitely got the goods over the past few days.  It looks like we’ve got cold, midwinter conditions going into the weekend however, so the current state of the snow should be maintained for everyone getting out to enjoy the bounty of the recent big storms.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 13MAR2018

An image of Stephen dropping off Heavenly Highway into some powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Stephen skiing powder in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen enjoying some of the great snow out there in the Bolton Valley backcountry today

Today was a big ski day for Stephen.  He’s been working hard, for what seems like years, to put together an appropriate alpine touring setup for backcountry skiing at a reasonable price.  Over the past few months, the final pieces have finally been coming together.  Despite his son Johannes “stealing” critical pieces of what appeared to be his final setup, the gear swapping, shop visits, adjustments, readjustments, and everything else that tried to get in the way, was eventually settled.  All that remained was finding a day in his busy schedule to actually use his fancy gear.  Today was that day, and the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network was the place.

An image out the window of the Bryant Cabin showing icicles in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe got a fairly early start to give us plenty of time for a tour of whatever length we chose, I figured I’d give Stephen a good introduction to some of my favorite parts of the network that he’d never visited.  We’d be able to adapt the length of the tour as needed to fit energy levels and any equipment issues.  Snowfall from Winter Storm Skylar was just getting started as we began our tour from the sports center, and it intensified on our ascent of the Bryant Trail.  We saw only one other person on our ascent, and with the Bryant Cabin vacant, we were able to check out the upgrades that had been done as we took a quick break.  Clearly the cabin has seen some recent use, because the icicles draped down from the roof were some of the largest I’ve ever seen.

The next leg of our journey took us up to “The Glades” above the Catamount Trail, where we stopped our ascent around 3,100’.  Although the storm occasionally brought us some slightly larger flakes, they were for the most part small, with diameters in the 1 to 2 mm range.  This meant that the new snow was fairly dense, and it was covering everything underneath it quite well.  We continued down into the Cotton Brook Glades on Randy’s and Great White Way, and found some impressive untracked lines.  Stephen had a few good explosions in the powder, but he seemed thankful for most of them as they helped cool him down after the long ascent.  Those steep, tight sections on Randy’s were certainly the most challenging, but Stephen had some of his best turns down in the mellower pitches of Great White Way.  I find that those lower angle areas are some of my favorites as well unless you’ve just picked up two feet of fluff and really need the steeper pitch.

The ascent up from the back side was quite a labor at times.  It’s always tough skinning out in a few spots of that Cotton Brook ascent.  It’s just steep and narrow near the bottom of Randy’s, and there’s no way around it, so you have to try your best to set in switchbacks.  We were fortunate to have use of the old skin track that’s in place, but we were slipping on the steepest pitches.  Stephen was definitely feeling it as he’d take one step forward and what felt like 10 steps back, especially as he was getting used his very first day on his skins, but we made it through that struggle and the pitch of the ascent improved dramatically.  When we cut Stephen’s skins for his skis at full width, I was telling him how I considered that approach a “no brainer” vs. going with anything narrower, and after today’s ascent up from the Cotton Brook area I know he agrees 100%.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a tour in the backcountry at Bolton  Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS tracking data for today’s tour into the Bolton Valley backcountry

We finished off the tour with a line below Heavenly Highway down to Bryant Cabin, then on to Gardiner’s Lane and JJ’s, which delivered one of the best runs I’ve had there.  We’d certainly accumulated a few fresh inches of snow from the storm by that point, which helped make the skiing extra soft.  The Telemark Practice Slope was also aided by all the new snow, and made a nice end to the tour.  Actually, the tour wasn’t quite over at that point because we added on one of the most important parts:  sandwiches at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery.  We even got to chat with Ralph Deslauriers while we were there, and naturally one of the topics of conversation was the very snowy week we’ve got to look forward to.  It sounds like Winter Storm Skylar is going to move up into Northern Maine and wrap some of that abundant Atlantic moisture into the Northern Greens, just like the way things happened last week after Winter Storm Quinn!