I was attending the BJAMS Thanksgiving lunch with Dylan on Thursday, and that gave me a chance to check out how the snow was doing in some of the local mountains. From what I saw at both Stowe and Bolton Valley, the natural snow was just a bit too thin for skiing, but it was getting close. As of Friday morning though, the mountains had picked up a few more inches, and today I had a chance to head back up to Bolton Valley to see if the slopes were ready for some turns.
“…with the snowpack I found, I just kept going right on up to 3,000’.”
I headed up for a ski tour at the mountain this morning because it seemed the best part of the day to catch some winter snow before warming temperatures affected it. At the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’) the snow depth is similar to what we’ve got here at the house – generally 1 to 2 inches. As the recent snow reports from the local ski resorts suggested, there wasn’t a massive increase in snowfall amounts with elevation from our storm earlier this week. Snow depths increased slowly as I headed up the access road, with about 2” at the Bolton Valley Welcome Sign (1,000’), 2-3” at the Timberline Base (1,500’), and then 3-4” around 2,000’ in the Bolton Valley Village.
There were a few other skiers in the Village who were coming and going on tours, so that seemed like a good sign that the snow was decent. Indeed, as I headed up Lower Turnpike, the snow depth increased to a half foot at the 2,500’ level. I had actually planned for a quick tour up to ~2,500’ if the snow wasn’t that good, but with the snowpack I found, I just kept going right on up to 3,000’.
Below I’ve got a summary of what I saw for snow depths today with respect to elevation:
There was a crust on the snow in places, and I couldn’t figure out the trend in its distribution for a while, but I eventually figured out that areas with the most northwest exposure has the most crust. The crust wasn’t actually too thick, so it was still fairly easy to ski the snow there, but there’s no doubt that the very best turns were in the crust-free zones – the snow was smooth, mid-weight powder in those areas. I had some really nice turns on parts of Sherman’s Pass, and probably the day’s best on Work Road, but Lower Turnpike offered the longest consistent lines.
As the spring semester winds down, many of our graduating biochemistry majors here at UVM have been getting out to enjoy the remaining snow in the mountains of both New Hampshire and Vermont. I’ve been hearing some fun reports, so when Rob invited me to join one of their Mt Washington adventures, I was definitely interested. His plan was for the Tuesday of senior week, weather permitting of course. My schedule looked good, so I was hopeful for the chance to commune with some of the seniors in the great outdoors before they’d begin departing after graduation.
“We could see that there had been some sloughing there due to the new snow, but the lower areas we could see looked quite settled and stable, and there had already been plenty of skier traffic in the gully.”
Mother Nature threw some rather interesting weather into the mix ahead of the planned trip, with Mt Washington picking up almost 3 feet of new snow at summit elevations over the past couple of days, and over a foot down at Hermit Lake. That was a lot of new snow, and the avalanche report suggest that northerly winds would be loading the more southerly-facing gullies and cross-loading the east-facing ones. Temperatures were expected to rise significantly today, which we knew would result in plenty of settling depending on elevation. There seemed to be enough potential to find at least some level of safe skiing, so we decided that we’d check with the staff on scene in the Hermit Lake area, and the trip was on.
Only Rob and Emily ended up being able to make the trip, but I met them at the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, and after getting our gear together, we were on our way. I’ve hiked up to the Tuckerman Ravine area many times, but with the new snow I decided to try a gear setup that I’ve never used before. Instead of brining two pairs of boots (hiking boots and ski boots), I wanted to just wear my mid-weight Telemark boots for everything, hiking and skiing. It turns out that the setup worked great; my Garmont Gara boots have got rubber Vibram soles so they were plenty comfortable and pliable on the ascent through a lot of dry, rocky terrain. Ascending from Pinkham Notch at ~2,000’, we saw our first signs of snow at 2,650’, and at around 3,400’ the snow cover was continuous enough that I was able to start skinning there and made it right up to Hermit Lake. The new foot or so of snow had certainly helped with the potential for skinning – coverage would have been somewhat less continuous on that last part of the ascent without it.
We assessed the snow/ski terrain situation from there, and while most of Hillman’s was visible with clouds just skimming the upper reaches, Tuckerman Ravine was generally socked in. After consulting with the staff at Hermit Lake, and using what we could see, we decided that Hillman’s Highway was the way to go. Most skiers we encountered seemed to be making the same decision. We could see that there had been some sloughing there due to the new snow, but the lower areas we could see looked quite settled and stable, and there had already been plenty of skier traffic in the gully.
Emily and I skinned up the first part of gully, but around halfway it was just getting too steep and we had to switch to hiking. Thankfully there was a nice boot ladder already in place on climber’s right. I stopped around mid-gully where I figured I’d still get plenty of descent, and set myself in a good position with my camera. Emily and Rob headed up to where the gully splits into a Y, and went a little farther up the climber’s right option before settling down in a sheltered area of rocks. Above that point the snow hadn’t been skied and was a little questionable, and in that regard they were on the same page as other folks skiing in the area.
The best skiing was in areas where there had been some skier traffic that got down to the older corn snow surface, and the toughest turns were in the mush that had settled down near the bottom of the gully. The Sherburne Ski Trail had actually opened back up a bit with the new snow, and we were able to ski about a third of it before we had to cut back to the hiking trail. After that the descent was quick, and we were back at the cars saying our goodbyes.
The new snow is going to get even better with a couple of freeze-thaw cycles, and it’s certainly bolstered the snowpack somewhat in the higher elevations. Although they were in and out of the clouds, the summit snowfields looked really nice, so there should eventually be some excellent skiing up there with easy access as soon as the road opens back up.
The best weather in this weekend’s forecast appeared to be this morning, so I took advantage of the window and headed off to Mt. Mansfield for some skiing. The temperatures been fairly cool this week, so the snow cover on Nosedive hasn’t actually changed a lot relative to what can happen during some warm weeks. Coverage is still essentially continuous, but there’s a point in the middle that will create a gap soon. The snow was a bit softer this time compared to my last outing on Sunday, so that made for some really smooth turns. There are some areas with moguls, and plenty with smooth, skier-groomed snow to give you quite a variety of terrain. While I had actually hoped to ski Cliff Trail as a change of pace, it’s disconnected from Nosedive now so I stuck with the continuous coverage of Nosedive.
It looks like we’ve got some warmer weather coming this week, so we’ll have to see where the snowpack at Stowe will stand by next weekend.
I was hoping to head out for a ski tour when the weather cleared up yesterday afternoon, but it happened just a bit too late to fit any skiing in among the rest of the things I had to do in the evening. Today however, we got a more substantial break in the weather around late morning, so I decided to take advantage of that window and head off to Stowe.
The forecast called for scattered rain showers today, but we know how Mother Nature works when it comes to Mt. Mansfield, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to find her scattering a lot more of the showers in that direction. Indeed as I drove the final 10 minutes to the mountain, the rain steadily picked up from sprinkles to a steady light to moderate rain by the time I was at the Mansfield Base preparing my gear.
I ascended via the North Slope route, figuring there’s less time left to explore that area vs. the long-lasting Nosedive option. I found the snow sun cupped in a lot of spots, but coverage was almost completely continuous until I got up into the areas where Toll Road crossed my route. Unfortunately, they’re plowed the road for vehicles, so that put some substantial gaps in the coverage. I had hoped to descend via something similar to my descent route, but eventually resolved to head to Nosedive because the plowing had just cut things up too much.
“The overall ascent was quite enjoyable with the variety of weather dancing around Mansfield and the surrounding peaks; there was blue sky, an occasional sprinkle or rain shower, breezes, low clouds skimming the summits, and everything in between.”
The overall ascent was quite enjoyable with the variety of weather dancing around Mansfield and the surrounding peaks; there was blue sky, an occasional sprinkle or rain shower, breezes, low clouds skimming the summits, and everything in between. It was one of those days where you really wanted to have your gear for the various conditions, and I made use of just about everything I’d brought. One minute the hood of my shell was up, the next I needed a light hat, then suddenly it was time for my sunglasses.
The snow was decent, although I actually would have like it a bit softer. It only gets so soft without consistent the warmth of the sun though. I did notice it softened up a bit more on the lower half of the mountain, simply due to the slightly warmer temperatures. Nosedive does provide some of the best snow on the mountain in terms of skiing though – there have been enough people skiing it that it has a level of “human grooming” to keep the sun cups at bay.
For the first time in a while, none of the family had anything else on their agenda, so we were all free to ski together today. Winter Storm Pluto wound down on Thursday night, which meant that unfortunately the resorts would have been pretty tracked up after all of Friday’s visitors. Based on my Friday morning tour at Bolton Valley though, I knew the powder from upslope portion of Pluto was really good, so that had me thinking a backcountry session was the call (not to mention it’s a holiday weekend for the resorts). But where to go? We’ve basically hit the point where lines are viable essentially all the way down into the mountain valleys, at least on the east side of the Greens, so basically everything there is on the table. The west side in general did well with Winter Storm Pluto, bit even with that boost, the base there is still lagging well behind the east side. With temperatures expected to head above freezing by midday, I was looking for a protected area with some north-facing lines, and ultimately decided on Lincoln Gap. Ty and I had visited Lincoln Gap back in February of 2015, and I was simply in awe of the massive acreage filled with steep open lines through the hardwoods. This was our chance to show the area to E and Dylan.
Knowing that we had only until around midday before temperatures might be a concern with respect to the quality of the powder, we got a relatively early morning start. We were heading out into a gorgeous day with temperatures in the mid-20s F as we passed through the Mad River Valley. One thing that stuck me during our drive was that in the bottom of the Mad River Valley there only seemed to be about half the amount of snow on the ground relative to what we’ve got at our house, so I’m guessing the valley itself didn’t make out quite as well in the recent storms as we did farther north. As usual, snowpack certainly wasn’t an issue as we headed up to closure area on Lincoln Gap Road.
When Ty and I were last at Lincoln Gap to ski, we headed to the south side of the gap road, where there are a lot of popular north-facing lines. I was hoping to try something on the north side of the road this time – the terrain looks a little bit mellower for those getting their Tele legs. With the sun out and temperatures rising though, I didn’t dare risk sticking around on those southerly-facing areas, so we ultimately decided to once again use the route to the popular north-facing terrain that Ty and I had used last time. Once we got to the base of the main terrain area, I decided to alter our ascent from what Ty and I had done. There’s a nice skin track that follows the forest road and wraps beneath some of the terrain, and while it’s got a nice gentle grade, it’s quite circuitous. With concern for the warming temperatures, my plan was to instead just break a skin track right up the main north face. It was extra work, but we were able to direct ourselves right toward areas that looked good. And boy was there a lot of terrain that looked good, really good. I’d actually forgotten what a gold mine of ski terrain the whole Lincoln Gap area is, but I was quickly reminded and spent a lot of time gawking at amazing lines as I broke trail for the skin track.
We’d covered about half the potential vertical on that north face before I decided that we’d get a good run, and we’d hopefully outrun the warming temperatures. As for the snow, my probes during the ascent generally revealed about 18 inches of powder over the subsurface. I can’t say exactly which storms the powder should be attributed to, but it was looking great. There wasn’t a single track in the various gullies and spines that we’d surveyed on our ascent, so we had the pick of whatever lines we wanted. Everyone struggled at least a bit with their Telemark turns in the deep powder, but very, or at least moderately-fat skis were certainly helping. Temperatures were pushing past the freezing mark as we finished our descent, so it was really comfortable out there. The snow wasn’t quite as outrageously deep and light as the time that Ty and I went to the area by ourselves last, but I think E and Dylan were impressed with the area, so I suspect we’ll head back at some point.
As we drove back down the Lincoln Gap Road, it suddenly felt like the calendar had flipped to March. The gravel/dirt portion of the road was already starting to have some mud on it! For lunch we went to The Mad Taco, and low and behold, Chris was right at the bar and spotted us. We caught up on lots of stuff (including his ski trip to Idaho to see friends) and being quite the regular at The Mad Taco, he gave us the lowdown on everything. They make tons of different hot sauces all the time, and list them on various blackboards in the establishment. They’re even numbered on a 1 to 10 scale based on how hot they are, but Chris said watch out because the numbers aren’t always right. For sauces I tried “It Tingles” (2) and “Bad Hombre” (1) and both had a decent amount of spice. The food was fantastic, and so was the atmosphere. I suspected I was going to like the scene when I jump in line to place my order and Joy Division is coming through the speakers. We’ll definitely be back, and Chris said he’d be happy to grab take-out for us anytime he’s heading toward our place.
On a final note, today was my third time using my iPhone to plot my GPS data from a ski tour in place of my old handheld GPS unit. I’ve been using the MotionX-GPS app, and I’m totally sold. It only costs a few bucks, it does basically everything my old GPS unit did, and it makes it all 10 times easier. It’s so much more sensitive to picking up GPS signals as well – I can basically store it anywhere on my person or in my pack and the signal is fine. I really enjoy the feature of announcing your speed, distance and tour time at various intervals. Since it’s on my phone, which I’m carrying anyway, that means one less item I have to carry. Anyway, I’m sold, so if you’re looking for a GPS app for your phone that acts like a real GPS, check out MotionX-GPS.
“I dove in and encountered the kind of snow that makes you feel like the bottom of the world is falling out, and you’re dropping down an elevator shaft into infinitely deep feathers.”
Snow from Winter Storm Pluto was still pounding away when I arrived up at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area this morning. It was quiet, with just a couple other cars in the lot. The skin track up Twice as Nice wasn’t even in place yet, and I feared that I’d have to break trail, but fortunately Showtime had recently been groomed. It held about an inch of new snow over the packed base, and I was really thankful for the efforts of the groomers on that one.
I had time for a quick run down Spell Binder, and a probe on the skier’s right of the headwall revealed close to two feet of ridiculously fluffy Champlain Powder™. I dove in and encountered the kind of snow that makes you feel like the bottom of the world is falling out, and you’re dropping down an elevator shaft into infinitely deep feathers. So, yeah, last night’s snow analysis told the story, and the snow out there today was indeed incredibly dry.
Today’s ski session was great, but it really wasn’t the one I was expecting. Since E and the boys were off from school for a snow day, and I had some time in the morning, it seemed like a great chance to all get in some skiing together. My first inclination was to visit Bolton Valley, which is right on my way into Burlington and very convenient, but lifts weren’t opening until 10:00 A.M., which on the late side based on the time I had. So, we decided on Stowe, which opened at 8:00 A.M. However, what we found on the Mountain Road was traffic backed up all the way to Harvest Market. That’s miles away from the resort. I figured it had to be because of an accident, but people in touch with E indicated that it was just bumper to bumper all the way down from the resort. I’m not sure how long it would have taken to travel all those miles, but we didn’t really have the time to find out. We switched our plans to Bolton Valley, figuring we’d take at least a few runs, but winds were keeping the Vista Quad on hold, so the available terrain would be quite minimal. It was just one of those crazy days where getting us all together to ski was going to be a challenge.
So in the end, I wound up stopping at Bolton for some earned turns on my way into Burlington, just like I often do. It simply took me a lot longer than usual to get to that point. Fortunately, just as one would expect thanks to the recent visit from Winter Storm Orson, the snow is simply spectacular. I skinned up the usual Timberline route, and while there were some tracks on Twice as Nice from skiers who had visited earlier, it was still snowing big, fat, fluffy flakes, and their tracks were rapidly disappearing. Today seemed like a great day to make a run on Twice as Nice, and it delivered bottomless turns all the way. The depth of the powder I found there today was generally 8 to 10 inches at the Timberline Base elevation, with nearly a foot in may spots higher up. The density gradient of the powder was fantastic, since we’ve been getting some really light fluff on the back side of the storm. It was funny to come full circle back to what I probably would have done if E and the boys hadn’t had the day off, and while it was a crazy path getting me there, the quality of the turns was definitely worth it.
It’s been a relatively slow week for snowfall in the Northern Greens, but Stowe did manage to pick up roughly a foot of snow between Wednesday and Thursday. Since the Mt. Mansfield area seemed to be a sweet spot with respect to snowfall, I decided to head out for a backcountry tour in the Ranch Valley, which sits just to the south of the resort’s alpine trail network and is the location for Stowe’s Cross Country Center. I’ve been through the area numerous times when coming down the Bruce Trail, and I’ve sampled some of the natural glades that populate the middle elevations in that area. I could see that there was much more skiable terrain to explore though, so I decided to check out what the areas around the Burt Trail had to offer.
Temperatures were in the low to mid 20s F in the local mountain valleys as I headed up to the Stowe Cross Country Center to start my tour. It turns out that Mrs. Blanck was behind the counter when I was buying my trail pass, so we were able to catch up a bit and she gave me an overview of some nice glades that she’d heard of as we reviewed the backcountry portion of the trail map.
My ascent route consisted of starting on the Timberlane Trail and using Cross Cut 2 to get to the Burt Trail. The recent snows were certainly elevation dependent, so there was only about an inch of fresh snow atop the snowpack down near the base of the Cross Country Center at ~1,000’. It did increase as I ascended, reaching a couple of inches by the time I hit the Burt Trail, and nearly 4 inches at the top of my ascent at the junction with the Underhill Trail. Here’s the general depths of surface powder I found on my tour with respect to elevation:
The backcountry portion of the Burt Trail starts right around 1,500’ elevation, and getting to that point represents a pretty hefty approach of over two miles, so that’s about the minimum distance one will have to go on this route to get into terrain for potential descents. The Burt Trail really starts to steepen above 2,000’, which one hits at close to three miles in. At that point it’s comprised of switchbacks to accommodate the steeper terrain. That area is still mostly hardwoods, with scattered evergreens, so tree density isn’t too bad and one can easily cut the switchbacks and ski through the forest. That terrain is pretty steep though, so one would want a decent amount of powder for it to be optimal. Based on darkness and trying to ensure that I made it back to the Cross Country Center by 5:00 P.M. since a sign that the parking lot gate would close at that point, I only ascended to the junction with the Underhill Trail, but I could see that there was plenty of similar terrain right up above me.
As for the skiing and conditions, one would definitely want more powder above the base than what I found today, but I was still able to get in some decent turns. I had my midfat Tele skis, which were certainly not all that light in the overall spectrum of Nordic equipment, but I was thankful to have something that could handle the descent well. I cut the Burt Trail switchbacks and skied the fairly open forest in some spots, but I could actually stay on the trail itself for the most part where it mattered. Only one person had gone up ahead of me above 2,000’ on the trail and they must have descended another way, because there was no descent track. So the Burt Trail itself was relatively untracked and I got some of my best turns of the afternoon simply by staying on it. The terrain in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range offers some options off the trail depending on the pitch of the terrain, but I just ran my descent out the trail itself based on the snow conditions and my time. The whole runout back to the Cross Country Center is actually pretty fun, and you can really cruise along at times, but you will have to do some skating and deal with a couple of small uphill sections. It’s quite similar to running out the Bruce Trail though, and indeed the route is identical in some spots, so if you’ve done that you’ll have a good sense for what this is like.
It looks like we’ll be in a fairly active weather pattern in the foreseeable future with some clipper-type events and larger synoptic systems with potential mixed precipitation, so we’ll see how these play out in terms of bolstering the snowpack.
Dylan and I headed up to Bolton Valley this afternoon for a quick New Year’s Eve ski tour. Based on my observations from yesterday’s outing, I knew that despite exposed areas being wind-scoured, many trails at Timberline were holding some great powder. There were still resort visitors parking down at the Timberline lots, and while most had left by the time we arrived, there were still a few folks trickling down either by bus or via the trails.
“In a bit of a reversal of the usual setup, the powder actually improved the farther we descended, simply due to better protection from the winds.”
It was a cloudy afternoon, but temperatures were very comfortable in the upper 20s F as we ascended the Twice as Nice skin track. We contoured across below the elevation of the Timberline Mid Station to avoid the wind scoured areas and descended via most of Spell Binder. In a bit of a reversal of the usual setup, the powder actually improved the farther we descended, simply due to better protection from the winds. We were typically skiing in depths of 5 to 10 inches, with the deeper are being those that were most protected. Dylan had a great time and made some excellent turns – even on his bad side, which is getting better all the time.
We’ve actually got an Alberta Clipper coming through the area right now, but the current wind flow seems to be sending most of the snow off to the east of us. We’ll see if that changes to bring any accumulations to the mountains for tomorrow.
I haven’t been up to the mountain for turns since last week, but today when I arrived at Bolton Valley I was reminded just how popular skiing can be over the holidays. I pulled into the Timberline lot expecting to find a few cars from folks earning turns there, but found it nearly full of vehicles. The main lots had presumably filled up, and I could see that the shuttle was ferrying people to and from the Timberline lots.
Although the Timberline Quad isn’t running yet, I was starting at Timberline today as part of a combination sidecountry and lift-served tour that I’d planned. The resort had picked up 4-6” of snow yesterday from Winter Storm Fortis, and an additional 4-5” the previous day from a weak cold front, but I didn’t expect that to be enough snow for a thorough resurfacing that would hold up to holiday skier traffic on all terrain. The Wilderness Lift is running though, so my plan today was to skin up from Timberline to the main mountain, catch a lift-served run through White Rabbit and Snow Hole, and then return via some Timberline skiing.
The skin up Timberline was very pleasant, and I saw a few skiers and riders skiing the trails to make their way back to their vehicles at the Timberline Base. I could see why Timberline isn’t open for lift-served skiing yet though – exposed areas were really windswept and wouldn’t be able to support lift-served levels of skier traffic. Sheltered areas like most of Spell Binder, Brandywine, and Tattle Tale looked really nice though with all the new powder, and I suspected I’d find some great turns at the end of my tour. When I reached the main base I found that there were plenty of visitors, but fortunately lift queues were almost nonexistent. There was generally light snow coming down, with some hefty wind at times that was enough to cause a short stoppage of the Wilderness Lift when I was on it. By the time I reached the top of Wilderness it was definitely cold – it had to be in the teens F, and feeling much lower than that with that wind.
“I caught first tracks down White Rabbit, which was in great shape. The base is really deep up there, with another 5 to 10 inches of powder atop the older layers.”
I caught first tracks down White Rabbit, which was in great shape. The base is really deep up there, with another 5 to 10 inches of powder atop the older layers. Snow Hole had seen a good deal of traffic, but there were still plenty of routes available with powder, and the traffic actually helped to compact the snow at the water crossings. Lower Turnpike was its usual smooth self and offered a nice groomed surface on which to carve some Telemark turns.
Back at the main base I had a little time to stop in for a slice at Fireside Flatbread, and it was sort of that transition time between day and night skiing with lots of visitors coming and going. One of today’s holiday week activities was balloon art, and you could see people around with their colorful balloon headgear.
“I didn’t linger too long in the lodge, but by the time I came out the snowfall had really picked up – it was falling heavily and dramatically reduced the available light as we approached dusk.”
I didn’t linger too long in the lodge, but by the time I came out the snowfall had really picked up – it was falling heavily and dramatically reduced the available light as we approached dusk. I quickly headed over to the Snowflake Chair and made my way toward Timberline. I ran into a family on Timberline Lane trying to make their way back to the Bear Run condominiums where they were staying, and their younger son on a snowboard struggled to move along in the flats, and then struggled more on the ungroomed steep pitch of Timberline Run below. I headed to Lower Tattle Tale to catch some fresh tracks in the powder there (which I’d say were actually the best of the day) but waited at the intersection of Timberline Run to make sure everybody in the family was getting along OK. I actually had already pulled out my headlamp for the last bit of skiing since it had gotten so dark, and that was helpful in making sure the family found their way to their lodging.
It was a great tour today with plenty of powder, and it looks like we’ve got another storm coming into the area tomorrow. Just as I was arriving at the resort today I got an alert that we’ve got a Winter Weather Advisory starting up tomorrow at 10:00 A.M.