The middle of Winter Storm Dylan at the end of last week had some mixed precipitation that put a thick layer into the snowpack, but since then we’ve had the backside snow from that storm, the snow from Winter Storm Ethan, and some additional snow from a localized streamer that was affecting the area yesterday. It was certainly enough new powder to entice me out to the mountain for a quick tour today, especially with some very cold air coming into the area later this week.
I arrived at Timberline in the mid-afternoon period, just as a some snow was moving into the valley. The snow was steady during my whole tour, although visibility was generally in the 1 to 2-mile range, so it wasn’t especially heavy. In terms of the powder, I found roughly 4 to 6 inches at the 1,500’ level, and probably 5 to 7 inches at the 2,500’ level.
Although I did ascend all the way to the Timberline Summit, my main goal was a trip down Brandywine, which had some great snow and just a couple of previous ski tracks. The powder was deep enough for plenty of good turns on Brandywine, although I think it would have been better with some wider skis vs. just my midfats. I also think some slightly lower angle would be good to really stay away from that crust.
At the end of my tour I spoke with one of the crew that was working on grooming Timberline Run, and it sounds like they’re planning to open the Timberline area tomorrow for lift-served skiing.
We’re currently under the influence of Winter Storm Dylan, which started dropping snow on the area early this morning. The snow started out slowly for the first couple of hours, but by 10:00 A.M. or so it had ramped up to very heavy intensity – at one point it was coming down at a rate of roughly 4 inches per hour. It continued at a steady pace, and by midafternoon we’d already picked up 6 to 8 inches of snow at the house. By that point it was obvious that there was going to be enough fresh snow for a ski tour, so I headed up to Bolton Valley while I still had light.
I pulled into the Timberline lot amidst heavy snow, and chatted with another gentleman who was just skinning up his skis for an ascent. Within a couple of minutes, Quinn appeared out of his truck, and we sort of laughed amongst ourselves how everyone sort of had the same idea. Well, great minds think alike, and know to get to the powder while the getting’s good.
As I began my tour, my checks near the Timberline Base Lodge revealed that roughly 8 inches of new snow had fallen. That number was growing by the minute though, and the snowfall during my ascent was quite heavy. At times, visibility was down to a tenth of a mile, which equates to very heavy snowfall. Up at the Timberline Mid Station I was finding anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of new snow.
“Up at the Timberline Mid Station I was finding anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of new snow.”
There were few if any tracks on Twice as Nice, so I decided to make use of its fairly consistent pitch and make my descent there. I was on my 115 mm Black Diamond AMPerages, even with accumulations only topping out around a foot, the snow was mostly bottomless. My legs got cooked pretty quickly from making Tele turns, but it gave me time to stop and soak in the scene with the storm, the snowfall, and the solitude. It was a great outing, and there’s nothing like getting some of these productive winter storms during the holiday period when one’s schedule is a bit more relaxed.
Winter Storm Dylan is supposed to continue through tomorrow, but we’re going to have to watch out for some mixed precipitation and see how that plays out before everything changes back to snow.
Due to the winter storm coming through the area today, school was cancelled for Ty, and since I had contemplated working from home due to the weather, Ty being home for the day sealed the deal. The storm had only started up in the morning, so it would take some time before there was much new snow down for skiing. So, I got a bunch of work done, and finally in the midafternoon, we headed up to Bolton Valley for a quick ski tour in the new snow.
“We toured in the Wilderness area from 2,100’ up to around 2,800’, and we measured depths of the new snow in the 6” to 9” range, with some spots approaching 10” near the top of our ascent.”
On the way up to the Village, we noted the state of the snow at the Timberline Base (1,500’) and one could certainly have made some turns there if they wanted to, but some of the taller brush was still showing so I’d say it wasn’t quite ready for prime time at that point. We toured in the Wilderness area from 2,100’ up to around 2,800’, and we measured depths of the new snow in the 6” to 9” range, with some spots approaching 10” near the top of our ascent. I’d say the accumulations up there at that point weren’t all that different than what we had down at the house, although the flakes were pretty small, and the powder a reasonable middle-weight variety, so I’d say they’d picked up more liquid equivalent.
In terms of the powder skiing, although it certainly wasn’t champagne dry snow, the moderate heft to it was decent for keeping you up off the base. At this stage of the season we can of course use some snow with plenty of liquid in it to build the snowpack, and if what’s up there gets topped with fluff form the back side of the storm, it should produce some excellent powder skiing.
“There’s something special about these deep dark December storm days though, the low light just gives them a unique feel that it’s hard to replicate at other times of the year.”
We’re into some of the shortest days of the year now, so light it as a premium, especially during a snowstorm. I brought my brightest lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, and it was definitely sufficient, but there was still a lot of snow in the air making action shots a challenge. There’s something special about these deep dark December storm days though, the low light just gives them a unique feel that it’s hard to replicate at other times of the year.
“The turns were definitely the best I’ve had this season.”
While I didn’t have time to head out for any turns yesterday, I was able to find a little time for a ski tour at Bolton Valley this morning. Overnight low temperatures were down in the teens F, pretty chilly by November standards, but the air was calm so it was quite comfortable, especially while skinning. I headed up the Lower Turnpike ascent route, which had a well-established skin track. There had been a decent amount of traffic on Turnpike itself, so when I got up to the final corner of Peggy Dow’s, I headed toward the Wilderness Lift Line where skier traffic had been rather light.
As usual, I made an effort to monitor snow depths throughout the ascent, and what I found should represent the state of the snow with yesterday’s additional snowfall, plus settling through this morning. It was a bit tough to discriminate between the newest snow and what was below, so the numbers I’m reporting below represent what I found for total snowpack depth starting at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road.
Although it was hard to get an idea of where the base snow stopped and where the surface snow began, I do have some info. Down at 1,500’ it seemed like there was maybe an inch or so of base, so most of that was new. Up at 2,100’ there were a couple of inches down, and probably around four inches at 2,500’. I’d guess six inches of base at the 3,000’ level. The wind in the higher elevations made for a larger range of depths, but I didn’t find a huge increase relative to 2,500’. Now that the resort has reported in with 10 inches, that seems like it makes reasonable sense. There may have been a bit of settling, but I’d say snowfall of 10-12” was probably what they picked up.
With respect to the descent, the skiing was great! The turns were definitely the best I’ve had this season. The upper mountain had that substantial base with close to a foot of powder on it, and while overall depths were a bit less on the lower mountain, it was fine on the lower angle terrain there. The snow was definitely on the dry side, so the fat skis were certainly in order for maximizing floatation, minimizing contact with the base, and planing on the lower-angle terrain.
“Even with fat skis, it can be a challenge to float in snow that dry unless you’ve got a lot of it.”
I wanted to see how the storm played out on the slopes, so I stopped for a quick ski tour at Bolton Valley this morning. My calculations had revealed that the snow was very dry, down around 2% H2O, so fat skis seemed to be in order this time around. Arriving up at the Bolton Valley Village, I’d describe the weather as having a very Colorado-esque vibe. The ground was covered with desert-dry, champagne powder and temperatures were in the mid-20s F. Even before the sunshine hit you, the air just had that comfortable feel, and with the clear skies, the day just held that promise of being sunny, dry, and warm. I guess it also reminded me of a March ski day to some degree.
I haven’t seen an official report on snow accumulations from the resort, which is not too surprising since they’re still in pre-season, but based on settled depths of the new powder and the rate of settling I’d seen at the house, I’d guess the Village elevations around 2,000’ picked up a half foot of snow. That’s similar to what we picked up down at the house. I’d tack on another couple of inches higher in the mountain, which would put accumulations there similar to the 7” reported at elevation for Stowe. With the 7-8” of fluff, the total snowpack depth I was finding on the upper half of the mountain was in the 10-12” range. I see that the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 11” as of tonight’s reading. The high temperature up there was only 32 F, so that snow probably didn’t undergo much melting and is likely comparable to what I found at Bolton this morning.
The skiing was good, although the powder certainly wasn’t bottomless on every turn. Even with fat skis, it can be a challenge to float in snow that dry unless you’ve got a lot of it.
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.