Bolton Valley, VT 24MAR2020

An image of Jay Telemark skiing in powder from Winter Storm Quincy in the Fanny Hill area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in powder from Winter Storm Quincy at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan out today getting some much needed exercise as we enjoy the fresh powder delivered by Winter Storm Quincy

Over the past couple of weeks, a lot of us have witnessed a dramatic change in daily life here in Northern Vermont as varying levels of social distancing and self-isolation are being practiced to slow the pandemic associated with COVID-19.  Measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 have been ramping up in the form of people doing extensive telecommuting, a state of emergency declared for Vermont back on the 13th,  the closing of bars and restaurants on the 17th, and beginning tomorrow at 5:00 P.M. an executive order to stay home/stay safe.

As of last week, the ski areas in the state had ceased operations, which obviously has the potential to be a blow to many employees and ancillary businesses.  All things considered, this timing hasn’t been too bad for the resorts, since they would all be tapering down winter services and staffing in the next few weeks to some degree anyway.  From the skier’s perspective, the timing of these resorts hasn’t been horrible either – weather has been in that spring doldrums stage for the past couple of weeks.  The usual thaw-freeze cycles that we get at this time of year have taken place, and we haven’t had any big storm cycles to resurface the slopes nor beautiful warm days with copious sunshine to soften them up.  We last skied back on the 8th for the BJAMS ski program at Stowe, and regardless of the ski area closings, there hasn’t been much to entice us out since then.

“Our initial forecast called for a total of 2 to 4 inches of accumulation, but after we picked up 2.6 inches of snow in just a half hour (an impressive snowfall rate of over 5 inches per hour) yesterday evening, it was obvious that we were going to get more.”

That situation began to change yesterday though, as Winter Storm Quincy moved into the area and began dropping snow.  I was returning from a meeting at work in the late afternoon, and the roads were already taking on some fresh accumulations.  As of my 6:00 P.M. snow observations at the house we’d already picked up a couple of inches of snow.  Our initial forecast called for a total of 2 to 4 inches of accumulation, but after we picked up 2.6 inches of snow in just a half hour (an impressive snowfall rate of over 5 inches per hour) yesterday evening, it was obvious that we were going to get more.  I got a text alert around 7:30 P.M. that we’ve been put under a Winter Storm Warning here in Washington County, no doubt due to the continued heavy snowfall.  By midnight, we’d picked up over 8 inches of snow at the house, composed of 0.65 inches of liquid equivalent.  This storm was definitely entering the realm of a decent resurfacing for the slopes.

Since the resort is not posting snow reports now that they’re closed, we didn’t have a sense for how much snow Bolton Valley picked up in the storm, but Dylan and I finally had time around late morning to head up for a ski tour.  On the way up the access road we stopped in at Timberline to check on the snow depth, and found about 7 inches of settled new accumulation at the base.  We also noted that there were a couple dozen cars in the parking lot from folks that were out ski touring.

I was unsure of the base depths at Timberline, and figured they would be more substantial at the main mountain, so we continued on up to the Village.  New snow depths were similar there, and indeed fairly similar all the way up to the Vista Summit.  So overall, there really didn’t seem to be much change in accumulation with respect to elevations – from what we saw today, even up above 3,000’ the storm totals looked about the same as what we picked up in the valley at 500’

A wide-angle image of Dylan skiing in powder from Winter Storm Quincy out on a ski tour at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan floats down through some of the powder today during our ski tour at Bolton Valley.

The turns we had today were very nice.  The powder was of medium to perhaps slightly higher density, and temperatures were well below freezing even in the Village at 2,000’.  The snow had a nice surfy consistency, with enough buoyancy for bottomless turns on even steep pitches in the black diamond range.  You could certainly hit bottom on the very steepest pitches, but we focused on medium-angle terrain and it was bottomless all the way.

“Despite the number of people up at the resort, it was clear that even resort ski touring is still a great activity for social distancing. As is typically the case, we actually saw only a few people while we were out on the hill, and you still never had to go within 50 feet of anyone if you didn’t want to.”

With many people not going to work right now as the state strives to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and a fresh dump of powder on the slopes, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how many people were out for turns.  The number of people touring seemed notable though – between Timberline and the Village, there were at least several dozen cars out there.  Where we really noticed that ski touring traffic was up was by the number of tracks on the trails.  D and I definitely had to work a bit to find trails that had only seen a few tracks, but we just poked around until we found them.  Fanny Hill delivered pretty nicely with only about four or five tracks on it and plenty of untouched snow.  Despite the number of people up at the resort, it was clear that even resort ski touring is still a great activity for social distancing.  As is typically the case, we actually saw only a few people while we were out on the hill, and you still never had to go within 50 feet of anyone if you didn’t want to.

An image of Jay from behind as he Telemark skis in powder from Winter Storm Quincy at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan was behind the lens of one of the cameras today as well, getting some shots of Dad when he had the chance.

There are a few early signs of another potential storm about a week out, but there’s nothing notable in the more immediate term, so we’ll be watching that timeframe to see if anything pops up.

Bolton Valley, VT 28FEB2020

A snowy view of the Timberline Base Lodge during Winter Storm Odell at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in powder during Winter Storm Odell at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Getting some fresh turns out in Winter Storm Odell today at Bolton Valley

We’ve had a fairly average to slightly below average ski season here in the Northern Greens thus far.  There have certainly been some decent days, but not much that has really lined up to get me out for earning early turns before work.  That changed today though with the snow that Winter Storm Odell is bringing to the area.  As of this morning we’d picked up over a half foot of snow here at the house, and the local resorts in the Northern Greens had reached accumulations of 20 inches.

I decided to go for a quick tour at Timberline, and arrived to find some fairly steady snowfall continuing.  Temperatures were pretty comfortable, although there was a bit of wind that had filled in the skin track with a few inches of new snow since it was last used.  I knew that elevation was a notable factor with this storm, and indeed that was verified with my measurements of the powder during my tour.  I found about 6 to 7 inches of powder down at the Timberline Base at 1,500’, but 8 to 12 inches up around 2,250’.

An image of the skin track on the Twice as Nice trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The Twice as Nice skin track, disappearing under the new snow of Winter Storm Odell

I headed toward Spell Binder for my descent, and the huge drifts at the top suggested that a lot of snow had fallen.  I dropped in and cut huge, bottomless arcs down the left side of the headwall.  It felt like I’d just covered a third of the trail in seconds.  The 8 to 12 inches of powder I’d found on level ground led to areas as deep as 20 inches in some spots, and there was plenty of density to ensure that I was nowhere near touching the base.  I know I let out some “Woo Hoos” during the descent, not that anyone else was around to hear it.  I spotted a couple vestiges of old tracks that had nearly been obliterated by the wind and continuing snowfall, but as far as I could see I had the only tracks on the trail.

“I dropped in and cut huge, bottomless arcs down the left side of the headwall. It felt like I’d just covered a third of the trail in seconds. The 8 to 12 inches of powder I’d found on level ground led to areas as deep as 20 inches in some spots, and there was plenty of density to ensure that I was nowhere near touching the base.”

The only notable deviation I found in snow quality was below roughly 1,800’ in elevation.  Below that level the powder was notably denser and didn’t ski quite as beautifully as it did higher up.  That’s pretty consistent with the way this storm started up though – for quite a while yesterday the snow line was around 2,000’, so below that point that snow was getting wet.  The storm is continuing today though, with snow levels all the way down to the lowest valley floors, so even that lower elevation snow should be getting covered up with lighter and drier stuff.

I learned today on the Bolton Valley website that skinning at Timberline is actually closed in the 5:00 A.M. to 9:00 A.M. period for mountain operations.  It was actually around 9:00 A.M. when I was starting my tour late today, so I was after that closed window, but it’s something to consider if you’re planning to earn turns at Timberline.  During that window when Timberline hiking is closed, visitors are supposed to hike on the Wilderness ascent route.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 22FEB2020

An image of Ty powder skiing though a glade on Backcountry Trail Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty Telemark skiing in some powder on a sunny February day on the Backcountry Trail Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty drops into a line through some of the great snow we found today on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

Dylan and E were off to a sledding party this afternoon in Morrisville, but it was such a gorgeous day that getting out for a ski tour was definitely on my mind.  Ty had to work until noon, and was heading to a friend’s house at 4 P.M., but we definitely had enough time to sneak a tour in that window.  Once Ty was back and we’d gear up, we headed right to Bolton Valley.

You almost couldn’t ask for better weather today – we had blue skies, and temperatures at Village elevation were right around 30 F.  That’s nice and comfortable for touring, but not warm enough to really start adversely affecting the powder.  Visitation at the resort looked strong, but there were still available parking spots and we were able to get one right along the trails in the upper tennis court lot.

“The mountains have had several more inches of snow since then though, and today we really didn’t encounter any signs of that crust because it’s probably just buried deep enough.”

We toured over toward Holden’s Hollow today, and the theme was definitely efficiency.  Ty is in really great shape, so his pace is even faster than mine, and within about 25 minutes we were already in position for a descent.  Based on how fast we’d moved, I said we’d easily have time for a couple of laps, so we set up for an initial descent through a nice glade on the back side of the ridge.  Ty worked on deskinning with his skis still on, and was quite fast with it, so our transition speed only enhanced just how efficient and quick we were overall.

Ty cranking a turn in the powder on the Backcountry Trail Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe had first tracks for our descent of the glade, and the conditions were excellent.  I’d actually describe the conditions as even better than what we encountered last Saturday when I was out at Bolton with Dylan – and that already wasn’t too shabby.  The powder skiing on that outing with Dylan was decent, but there was a marginal buried crust present in some areas that knocked the overall feel down a notch.  The mountains have had several more inches of snow since then though, and today we really didn’t encounter any signs of that crust because it’s probably just buried deep enough.  Surface powder depths we found were right around 20 inches before getting down to the base, which is basically what we found last weekend.  The powder was more consistent today though with any crust buried deeper.  That 20 inches of powder is fairly settled at this point of course, so we’re not talking about sinking down 20 inches into fresh champagne, you’re more like 6 to 12 inches down in the powder, but the rest is serving as fantastic cushion above the base.  Our first run was on a fairly south-facing slope, but the trees offered a good amount of protection from the sun.  A few spots were just starting to get that first phase of the powder being affected by the sun, but those were few and far between.

An image of an untracked glade filled with powder snow on the Backcountry Skiing Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An unblemished canvas for Ty to get first tracks on our initial descent of the tour

Once we were back down at the Telemark Trail, we switched over for another ascent, and I was much more efficient at the transition, so told Ty I’d start the ascent and he could catch up.  This time, I broke trail through the powder beyond our previous lap, and headed up to the top to access the east side of the ridge.  Ty caught up to me just as I was cresting, so it worked out perfectly.

“Surface powder depths we found were right around 20 inches before getting down to the base, which is basically what we found last weekend.”

We descended in the C Bear Woods area that I’d visited back during my tour on the 1st of the month.  We had first tracks there as well, but the powder wasn’t quite as good as what we’d found on our first ascent – I think wind effects up on that part of the ridge were the main culprit.  The sun was also doing a bit more work on that snow, so in some areas it had lost a bit more of its winter fluff texture.

Back down at the bottom of that run, Ty and I skinned up for the final return to the car, and we found that we’d less than 90 minutes for the whole tour.  It was fun getting things done so efficiently, and we really weren’t even pushing ourselves, it was just overall solid pace and good transitions between skinning and skiing.

A Google Earth Map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Ski Network on February 22nd, 2020 at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
GPS Tracking data mapped onto Google Earth for today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network

We’ve got another potential winter storm coming later this week, and it looks pretty nice for the mountains around here from what I’ve seen on the models.  The initial snow might be dense since it not an especially cold storm, but unless things change dramatically it looks like another nice shot of liquid equivalent for the snowpack.  Some of the models also show extended upslope snow on the back side of the cycle, which would be great to top off the powder skiing conditions.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 01FEB2020

An image of the logo on the Bolton Valley Backcountry promotional vehicle at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the C Bear Woods area sign on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
At the top of the C Bear Woods area today in the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

I was out on the slopes Sunday at Stowe during the recent protracted snowstorm that affected our area, and I got out again for a bit of night skiing on Thursday, but today was my first chance to really see how things had unfolded in the off piste areas.  I had a feeling that the storm was just what the local backcountry needed though, so I decided to make today’s outing a tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network.

Temperatures were really in a sweet spot today – they were just a bit below freezing, which meant that they were extremely comfortable, but not warm enough to ruin any of the powder.  I think a lot of people know that today was going to be spectacular out there, because even the lots down by the Nordic Center were filling up when I arrived around 10:00 A.M.  The upper tennis court lot was already filled, so I had to head to the lower one, but I got a nice trailside parking spot that let me gear up and jump right onto Broadway.

“The depths of powder I’d found down at the ~2,000’ Village level were generally in the 10-15” range, and up there in the 2,300-2,400’ elevation range I was finding a fairly consistent 16” of powder.”

I needed to pick up Ty from work at noon, so my plan was a quick tour out to the Holden’s Hollow area to get in some powder turns.  Consistent with the parking lots, there were people all over the Nordic trails, and a number heading out onto the backcountry trails as well.  Once I got up onto the Telemark Trail I didn’t see anyone else around however, and based on the skin track it looked like only about 3 or 4 people had even been out on that part of the network recently.

I had to break trail on the final stretch up to the ridgeline above Holden’s Hollow, and once I’d crested I found myself with a vast area of untracked snow below me.  The depths of powder I’d found down at the ~2,000’ Village level were generally in the 10-15” range, and up there in the 2,300-2,400’ elevation range I was finding a fairly consistent 16” of powder.

An image of the C Bear Wood area in the backcountry at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Getting ready for some untracked turns through the C Bear Woods area today.

As I switched over for the descent, I noticed a trail sign just down the ridgeline from me, and figured it was one of the markers for some of the Holden’s Hollow Glades.  Once I headed over to it though, I saw that it read “C Bear Woods”, and I realized it was a sign I’d never seen before.  The sign looks new, so it’s either an area that was recently updated for skiing, or perhaps folks just got around to putting up a sign.  Whatever the case, the glade below me was entirely untracked, and the powder was excellent.  As I encountered on Thursday, there was a bit of a crust buried within the pack in some spots, but in this case it was either absent or buried deep enough that it was inconsequential.

I was surprised to find that the run actually brought me down on the back side of the ridge, which would have been great for doing another lap, but unfortunately I didn’t have time.  I cut eastward through the trees and got myself over to the east side of the ridge where I was able to descend back to the Telemark Trail and Broadway with more untracked powder turns.

From the pump house/bridge area, I re-skinned my skis for my return to the Village – I’ve learned the investment of a couple minutes into putting on your skins is well worth it for that return trip with its slight uphill inclines.

A map with GPS tracking data on Google Earth for a ski tour on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth Map with GPS Tracking data of today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

When I got back to my car a bit before noon, even the lower tennis court lot had filled, and the parking lots in general looked packed to the gills.  The mountain was definitely doing a booming business, and I guess that shouldn’t be surprising on a midwinter Saturday with a recent resurfacing of the slopes, full operation, and perfect temperatures.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 18JAN2020

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in some January powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan below the Gotham City sign in the backcountry ski trail network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan in Gotham City during today’s ski tour as snow begins in association with Winter Storm Jacob

So far, this week has done a nice job of rejuvenating the local ski conditions, with a total of four storms expected to affect the area.  We had a couple of very minor storms earlier in the week that dropped a few inches in total for the mountains, and then a larger storm that hit the area on ThursdayThat one actually wound up being our largest storm of the season to date here at the house, dropping almost a foot of snow.

I suspected that the most recent storm wasn’t going to be quite enough to get the backcountry into perfect shape, but the forecast called for chilly temperatures topping out in the 10-15 F range, so earning some powder turns in the new snow seemed like the way to go.  Dylan joined me in my plan to head up and take a quick tour on some moderate terrain on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network.

A copy of the 2018-2019 Nordic and Backcountry trail map from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
This season’s update of Bolton Valley’s Nordic & Backcountry trail map is once again listing a lot of the glades.

“Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so.”

The idea for today’s tour was to head partway up the Bryant Trail, connect over to Gotham City, catch some turns in the Gun Sight area, and then finish off the run with some lower glades.  Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so.  There were some nice powder turns in that snow, but the base depths are very inconsistent.  In some spots the base snow was sufficiently deep, but in others there was little to no base, and obstacles like rocks and logs definitely needed to be avoided.  Dylan’s most memorable quote of the day came after he had an altercation with some sort of obstacle under the snow and took a tumble.  He was on Erica’s fat skis, and we were really hoping it wasn’t a rock.   D quickly reassured me… “It was a log”.

An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Dylan enjoying the shelter of the trees and nice powder on today’s backcountry ski tour

We’ve actually got our next significant weather system, Winter Storm Jacob, starting to affect the area this afternoon.  I’m not sure exactly when the snow from the storm first started to appear, but around 4:00 P.M. we were in Gotham City finishing our ascent, and I realized it was snowing.  It’s kind of fun when you’re touring in the forest like that with limited views and protection from the elements, and before you know it you’re getting covered with fresh snow.  The density of snow from this next storm will probably be on the high side, so it should make a solid contribution to the base to cover some of the obstacles we’ve been encountering.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of today’s tour on the Bolton Valley backcountry network

Bolton Valley, VT 05JAN2020

An image of a snowcat and the base area of Timberline at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the Wood's Hole area with fresh snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The beautiful snowy scene at Wood’s Hole today

Since yesterday morning, Winter Storm Henry has been bringing snow to our area, and Bolton Valley reported several new inches as of this morning.  With the passage of the system came some wind however, which was enough to keep the Vista Quad on hold.  Watching the Bolton Valley Live Web Cam from home, we could see that the Vista Quad closure led to long lines for the Mid Mountain Chair and Snowflake Chair.  My colleague Stephen said that he’d been skiing in the morning, but the lift lines grew to 30 minutes as more people arrived and he’d eventually decided to call it a day.

Our family had planned to head up for some lift-served runs this afternoon, but the wind hold made that impractical and I ended up heading to the mountain to skin up for some turns instead.  I figured this latest storm would be just about enough to get Timberline in reasonable shape for turns, so with the crowds at the main mountain, I decided to check it out.

“In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder in protected areas along the route, which was enough for mostly bottomless turns on low and moderate angle terrain.”

The main skin route on Twice as Nice was well established, but I could see that in general the west-facing trails had seen just a bit too much wind to provide really nice turns.  Having seen that, I ended up descending by the more protected Wood’s Hole and Brandywine route, and that worked out well.  In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder in protected areas along the route, which was enough for mostly bottomless turns on low and moderate angle terrain.

We’ve got yet another modest system coming through the area tomorrow, so that should bring conditions up another notch.

Bolton Valley, VT 07DEC2019

An image of fluffy upslope snow from an early December Alberta Clipper system at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image showing the snowpack depth around mid mountain in early December at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking the depth of the snowpack today at around 2,600′ near Mid Mountain. Total depth was around 27″, with about 20″ of it being powder from recent storms.

Last weekend, Winter Storm Ezekiel brought some hefty snowfall to the Northeastern U.S., with totals exceeding two feet in areas around Albany, NY and Southern Vermont.  Up here in the northern part of the state we only picked up a few inches of snow from the storm, with totals falling off to almost nothing near the international border in a total reversal of the usual trend.

A couple of smaller, Alberta Clipper-style systems came through the area this week though, with the second one being especially potent as it interacted with the Northern GreensBy this morning we’d already picked up 5 to 6 inches of pristine powder at the house, and Bolton Valley was reporting 9 inches in the past 24 hours.  We’re known for getting plenty of dry, “Champlain Powder™” here in the Northern Greens, but this snow was way up there on the quality scale.  My analyses at the house were revealing snow to water ratios of 50 to 1, and even as high as 85 to 1, so that’s incredibly dry powder with just 1 to 2% H2O content.

“My analyses at the house were revealing snow to water ratios of 50 to 1, and even as high as 85 to 1, so that’s incredibly dry powder with just 1 to 2% H2O content.”

The upslope snowfall on the back side of the Clipper looked like it would continue all day today, so I decided it was time for a quick trip up to the mountain to check out the new powder.  Thanks to our cold November temperatures, Bolton Valley has actually been open for a couple of weeks now, and I hadn’t even picked up my season’s pass yet because I’ve been so busy.  E and D were both a bit under the weather, and T was at work, so unfortunately they’ll have to wait until another trip to get themselves set up with their passes.

An image from outside the Village Cafe area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontI was worried about a long wait to get my season’s pass, but once up at the mountain it turned out that picking it up was very quick.  While I was walking toward the lodge from my car, I ran into a member of the resort staff who was checking in with everyone about picking up their passes.  For pick up, he said to head right toward the Village Café, and they’d take care of everything.  Indeed, there was only one person ahead of me picking up their pass, and it was very quick.  The process of pick up and filling out the waiver was all done very efficiently on a handheld, wireless iPad-type device, and there was plenty of nice seating on couches in the lobby area so you could have a seat while you finished off the process.

Of course the greatest part of picking up my pass this year was the fact that Bolton has gone RFID!!!  Dylan and I suspected it when we saw electronic gates by the lifts during a ski tour last month, but I can definitely say it’s for real.  It’s so nice to be able to just stick the pass in my pocked (my Arc’teryx Sidewinder Jacket has a pocket on the sleeve that works perfectly) and I never have to mess with getting it out at the lifts.  I tested out my pass at the Mid Mountain Chair and the process was perfectly smooth.

An image of snow falling in the Village Circle area during an early December snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the snowy Bolton Valley Village today after picking up my season’s pass

“I checked the total snowpack depth in that area and measured a healthy 27 inches, with about 20 inches of that being powder from recent storms, and the rest being base snow.  Clearly Bolton has gotten clobbered from some these smaller systems we’ve had.”

In terms of skiing, my plan was to use an assist from the Mid Mountain Chair and head over to Wilderness to ski some of the fresh powder in that area.  I figured there would be no one on the upper mountain without the Vista Quad running, but when I was traversing over on Fanny Hill, I ran into a patroller who was prepping the trail for opening because they were going to open Vista.  He reminded me that I wasn’t on the designated uphill route, but thankfully let me continue on over since I was just about onto the Wilderness terrain.  I checked the total snowpack depth in that area and measured a healthy 27 inches, with about 20 inches of that being powder from recent storms, and the rest being base snow.  Clearly Bolton has gotten clobbered from some these smaller systems we’ve had.

An image of snowy trees and a skin track after an early December snowfall at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Enjoying the snowy views along my skin track in the Fanny Hill area.

Once connecting to the standard skinning route, I finished my ascent on Peggy Dow’s to the Wilderness ridgeline and got ready for some turns.  Light snow with breaks of sun that had been with me on the last part of my ascent were replaced with a sudden change to a maelstrom of huge flakes coming down as I began to descend.  I really didn’t have to venture far afield from Peggy Dow’s and Turnpike to find powder – there was plenty of it throughout the route because skier traffic had been low enough.  Powder depths ranged from as much as 15 to 20 inches on the upper mountain, to typically 12 to 15 inches on the lower mountain, so even with the incredibly dry powder there was plenty of it to keep you floating.  I’d brought my 115 mm fat skis and they were definitely the right tool for the job.  I was surprised at how quickly my legs got cooked from making Telemark turns – they’d often be fried after just a dozen or so turns!  I guess it has been roughly three weeks since I last skied, so my legs are clearly telling me they need to get back into ski shape.  Today should get the process started though, and hopefully ski days will become more frequent as we move into December and we continue to get snow.

On the weather side, it looks like we’ve got a warm system to start off this next week, which will consolidate the snowpack somewhat, and then temperatures should cool down for midweek with potential for some moisture from the Great Lakes affecting the area.  Then there’s the potential for another large system next weekend, but it will be a bit before we can figure out how much snow we might get from that one.

Bolton Valley, VT 16NOV2019

An image of ski tracks in some November powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Dylan Telemark skiing in some November powder on the Turnpike trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont.
Getting Dylan out for his first turns of the season today, we found up to a foot of powder in some areas thanks to the three storms we had this past week.

Since last week’s ski outing up at Bolton Valley, we’ve had three additional rounds of snow.  The first one at the beginning of the week was the most significant, with roughly an inch of liquid equivalent going into the snowpack in the form of some dense snow.  The next two systems later in the week were smaller, but featured drier snow that topped off the denser base snow with some nice powder.

Temperatures continued to run below average today, but were expected to top out around 20 F in the midafternoon, so Dylan and I headed back up to the mountain to check out the new snow and get in a ski tour.  Not surprisingly, we found snow that was much improved over last week.  At base elevations around 2,000’ we were finding 5 to 7 inches of powder atop the base, and up around 2,700’-2,800 where we topped out, depths were right around a foot.

Dylan is in the process of getting new equipment and gear since he’s outgrown so much of his stuff, so he was using E’s powder Telemark skis and Ty’s outwear.  It all seemed to work really well for him though, and he was ripping up the powder when we found it.  I’d say that was actually the main issue on the day; since the big storm was back on Monday and Tuesday, people have skiing that snow all week and large areas of untracked snow were at a premium on the lower slopes of Wilderness.  We definitely got in some nice turns, but we had to really stick to the edges and seek out those spots that people has missed.

We’ve got yet another winter storm coming into the area tomorrow into Tuesday.  This one’s expected to be a bit messy on the front end with some freezing rain, but it’s supposed to change over to snow as the system pulls off to the east.  Whatever the case, it should all represent more material for building the base.  It looks like there’s another storm expected toward the end of the week as well, so we’ll be watching to see how that will set things up atop the current base of snow.

Bolton Valley, VT 09NOV2019

An image of the Vista Peak area of Bolton Valley taken from near the Wilderness midstation after an early November snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image showing some snowmaking taking place in early November at the main base of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A bit of early season snowmaking going on at the main base area today

The end of the week brought our first significant snowfall to lower elevations here in Northern Vermont, with a couple inches accumulating in most valleys by Friday morning from the initial passing of the cold front.  Friday continued to bring additional snow however, with another 5 inches coming down at our house during the morning in the span of just a few hours.  By the time the system had wrapped up on Saturday morning, we’d accumulated over 7 inches at the house and the yard had been transformed from stick season into winter.

The local ski resorts hadn’t picked up too much more than we had, but totals in the 6 to 10” range seemed typical, and that was certainly enough to entice me out for some early season turns.  With that in mind, this morning I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to get in a ski tour and check out the new snow.  With the fairly fluffy nature of the snow and based on what we’ve seen at the house over the past couple of days, I’m sure there had been some settling since it fell, but here’s the snow depth/elevation profile of what I found from the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road up to the local summit areas:

340’:  1-2”
1,000’:  2-3”
1,500’:  3-4”
2,000’:  4-6”
2,500’:  6-7”
3,000’:  7-9”

I started my ski tour around midday, when temperatures were just edging a bit above freezing at our house down in the valley, but above 1,500’, and certainly above 2,000’, temperatures never got above freezing so the snow was all winter consistency.

In terms of the skiing, it was undoubtedly early season, and rock skis would be your best bet if you’re going on anything with substantial pitch.  I actually found the skiing better on the lower half of the mountain because there was a bit of a base there – I think more of the snow down in those elevations was melting on contact with the ground to create that dense layer.  Up higher, the consistency of the snow was more straight fluff from top to bottom.  As is often the case, most water bars had reasonable crossings at least at one point, but a few were dicey and took some extra navigation.  There’s still running water in plenty of spots, and ponding in some flat areas.  On my descent it was obvious that my skis got in contact with at least traces of that moisture, because about halfway down I had to pull out a credit card and spend probably 10 minutes doing a scrape down on the ski bases to really get things back in shape for gliding.

That effort was worth it though, because for the bottom half of my run I was on Lower Turnpike, and that offered what was unquestionably the best skiing of the tour.  The combination of that bit of dense snow that accumulated as some base down in those elevations, plus some skier traffic packing down areas of the new snow as well, clearly created the best subsurfaces I encountered.  On top of that you’ve got the fact that Lower Turnpike is essentially all grassy terrain, and it has a pitch that isn’t really overbearing for the amount of snowpack we’ve got, and it comes together for real winning combination.  Even with some skier traffic, there was still plenty of powder to play around in throughout the trail, so that was a great way to finish off my run.

An image of drifted snow atop some of the condominiums near the base of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont after an early November snowstorm
Enjoying the wintry views at the end of my tour as drifted snow adorns some of the condos by the base of the Wilderness Lift

For anyone heading up, you may still want to hit the summit areas to check things out and get the exercise from a more substantial tour, but if you’re just looking to get out from some quality turns, Lower Turnpike is probably going to get you the most bang for your buck.  It’s one of the designated ascent routes anyway, so there’s a nice skin track and it’s an efficient way to in some nice turns on the new snow.

I just got an alert on my phone this morning that we’re under a Winter Storm Watch in association with the next system.  This one looks more substantial than this past one, but we’re still a day or two out so we’ll need to watch for any final refinements to the forecast.

Stowe, VT 14MAY2019

An image showing the snow line on Mt. Mansfield at the start of a ski tour in mid-May at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
An image of some ski trails signs in the Nosedive area with fresh snow during a May ski tour at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today was quite the snowy day in the local mountains as I got out for a ski tour in the fresh May powder on Mt. Mansfield.

It turns out that we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.  It probably feels like May snowstorms are rarer than that, maybe because, well… it’s May.  By this point in the season it typically hasn’t snowed in a few weeks, we’ve had some warm weather, Memorial Day is approaching, and people are well along into thinking about spring and summer.  But I felt as though I’d been out on fresh snow several times in May since we’ve been back in Vermont over the past decade or so, and being curious about the actual numbers during the lead up to our current storm, I checked my ski report archives to see.  Indeed, with today’s storm that makes at least five significant May snowstorms in the past decade.  Here in the Northern Greens we also don’t catch the brunt of every May snowstorm that hits the Northeast, especially with the Presidentials in the mix, so I suspect that for the region as a whole the frequency of May snowstorms averages out to somewhere around a storm each season.

“…we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.”

Whatever the actual frequency is for these May snowstorms, we’ve got one going on now.  We’ve been monitoring the potential of this current storm for several days in the New England forum at American Weather, and the mountain snowfall was well under way last night.  That meant that this morning was time to get a sense for what happened where and decide on a good location for some turns.  After checking out the accumulations on the various mountain webcams this morning, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour.  I hadn’t seen any obvious differences in accumulations at the various resorts from the webcams, so I opted for Stowe because they seemed to have the most substantial existing snowpack right down to the base elevations.

An image showing a dusting of May snow at an elevation of 1,300 feet near the base of the Toll House chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
As I approached the mountain today, the first signs of fresh snow were at around 1,300′ just above the base of the Toll House Lift.

As expected, it was a cool, borderline wintry morning as I made my way to the mountain.  Temperatures were in the upper-30s F in the mountain valleys, and mid-30s F at the resort base.  I’d seen on Stowe’s web cams that the North Slope area had its typical late season residual snowpack, so I chose that for my ascent route.  By the time I got out on my tour, the snow level was certainly rising relative to its lowest point overnight or this morning when there were more optimal temperatures and snowfall rates.  New snow accumulations varied considerably depending on the underlying surface, with the best accumulations and retention found atop the existing snowpack.

“The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.”

Continuing up from the North Slope area, I headed through the Fourrunner Quad Summit and up the Toll Road past the Mt. Mansfield Stake to the Mansfield Summit Station at around 3,850’.  Precipitation was snow at all elevations on my ascent, and it was fairly light for the most part until I got to the Summit Station along the Mansfield ridgeline.  While I was hanging out there refueling and changing over for the descent, the intensity of the snowfall ramped up somewhat, with lots of tiny flakes at first.  Eventually though, the snowfall picked up to a pounding of much larger flakes.  There was definitely a lot of liquid coming out of the sky at that point, and my Gore-Tex® was getting a workout.

An image showing the Mt. Mansfield snow stake area during a May snowstorm near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Stopping for a look at the healthy snowpack still present at the Mt. Mansfield stake as I pass by during today’s ski tour

Observing the new snow accumulations along my ascent, the big jump in depths really seemed to happen between 2,000’ and 3,000’.  Above 3,000’ I didn’t really see too much with respect to additional accumulation, so presumably temperatures were sufficient down to 3,000’ to maximize the snow from the available moisture right from the get go yesterday.

Here’s the elevation profile for the accumulations I found this morning:

500’:  0”
1,000’:  0”
1,300’:  T
1,500’: ½”
2,000’:  1”
2,300’:  3-4”
2,500’:  5”
2,700’:  6”
3,000’:  7-8”
3,500’:  8”
3,850’:  8”

An image showing the Summit Station/Visitor Center atop Mt. Mansfield in Vermont during a May snowstorm
Snowfall picked up when I was on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline by the Visitor Center today, with huge flakes and reduced visibility for a time.

The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.  Of course, the density also meant that the snow was Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete and you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns.  I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a lot of work.  It is mid-May though, so even dense powder turns this time of year are always a treat, and getting the workout is a big part of the experience anyway.

“…you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns. I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a LOT of work.”

In some cases it wasn’t just the descent that added an extra challenge due to the dense snow.  I followed a pair of skin tracks on my ascent and noticed that in some spots the new snow had stuck to their skins.  I wasn’t having that issue with my skins, but I eventually caught up to the gentlemen who were making the skin tracks, and they said for them it was an issue when they traveled over areas without an existing snowpack.  I was able to pay them back for their helpful skin track by setting the track for the second half of the ascent, and while I didn’t see them on the descent, I saw them back at my car and at Edelweiss Deli where I grabbed a sub for lunch (great minds think alike) and it sounds like they had a great tour.

Wintry conditions in May are typically quite ephemeral, so I guess we’ll be back to spring skiing soon, but these late season powder days are always a treat.  There’s a certain mystique with these late season elevation snow event because it feels like you were in another world when you get back to the strong sun, spring warmth, and rapidly emerging greenery in the valleys.