Today we were at Stowe for our first BJAMS ski program day of the season. In terms of weather, this was one of those days where we probably wouldn’t have ventured out to the slopes if it weren’t for the program. We’ve been in the midst of Winter Storm Isaiah over the past couple of days, and it’s been a warm storm that has switched last week’s wintry conditions over to spring conditions. That actually wouldn’t be a deterrent for skiing, but the anticipated strong winds and temperatures dropping into the 20s F through the afternoon were concerning.
We were at the mountain early enough that I took a couple of runs with E and the boys, and we found conditions to be spring-like and decent. We had a touch of rain, which quickly changed over to snow in the higher elevations and made its way down to the base.
“It looks like the mountain picked up about an inch of snow from that back side precipitation of the storm, and we’ve got a potentially good week of additional snow coming. ”
During my instruction session today I was working with a student named Viviana, an absolute first-time, never-ever skier. We worked on the magic carpet all afternoon, with one break in the middle where we got to hang out with E and the boys, their ski groups, and a number of other people from the program while we had some good food at the Great Room Grill. Viviana spent her ski time figuring out how to pressure her wedge to slow herself down and make turns, and she had progressed quite a bit by the end of the day in having the strength to stop herself. That actually says a lot, because the soft conditions we had at midday gradually changed to very hard conditions by the end of the afternoon. The cold air moved in, the groomed surfaces became much slicker, and the ungroomed surfaces became a frozen moonscape.
Strong winds put the Over Easy Gondola on hold at the end of the day, so we had to take one of the shuttles back to our car at Mansfield, and the wait for the shuttle felt like forever because of the frigid winds. It was only about five minutes of course, but many of us had dressed for the gondola vs. being out in the open. We found our car was encased in quite a layer of refrozen material from the wet snow that had fallen, so it took a bit of time to warm it up and melt that off.
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.
With the addition of snow from Winter Storm Gage Sunday through Tuesday, ski conditions have seen substantial improvement over the past few days. I was already pleased in general with the conditions I found at Bolton Valley yesterday, and I expected them to easily move up another notch with the follow up system that came into the area last night. As of this morning in the valley we’d already picked up over a half foot of snow (with a solid shot of liquid equivalent) between the two storms, and yet another round of snowfall was building in as we headed up to the mountain around noon.
“I’d say you could typically find 6 inches or more of powder above the first thick layer in the snowpack.”
Today was actually the first day of the season that the whole family had a chance to ski together, or at least the first day where both schedules and snow conditions made it happen. Unlike yesterday, the mountain was really busy today, and we parked in the lowest tier of the main lots down by the Sports Center. We even had to wait for a couple minutes to get on the Vista Quad, but that wasn’t bad considering the other mains lifts aren’t running yet. Temperatures were still relatively nice in the 20s F, but there was some wind in the higher elevations. D was having fun buttoning up with his magnetic Anon MFI Tech Balaclava and his helmet-compatible hood on his Arc’teryx Sidewinder Jacket just to see how everything came together. I have the same combo and think it’s fantastic for keeping out the wind.
From the Vista Summit we skied Alta Vista, and in discussions about the conditions, E and D said it was definitely better than the last time they’d been on it back on the 24th. All the snow from these past couple of storms has really put some quality coverage above the old base, so the trail edges were quite nice with hardly a sound from hard snow. We also had some time to visit Wilderness, which is still seeing just a modest amount of traffic from people using the uphill route. Conditions over there were very good, building on what I found yesterday. I’d say you could typically find 6 inches or more of powder above the first thick layer in the snowpack. D was actually trying out Ty’s Telemark skis today for the first time, and he was really taking to them. His Tele turns looked strong on both the groomed slopes and in the powder, so I see him using those skis a lot until he gets his own new Tele setup.
Looking ahead, we’ve got the chance for another modest system this coming weekend, so conditions could get another shot in the arm if that system delivers something similar to what we’ve just received.
Over the past couple of days, Winter Storm Gage brought several inches of snow to the area, so I headed up to the mountain today to sample the goods. We picked up close to an inch of liquid equivalent from the storm down at the house, so the mountains should have had at least that much as well. Bolton Valley was noting 5 inches in their official report, which was likely a fairly dense 5 inches. There was some mixed precipitation in the middle of the storm cycle, but it seemed like the slopes should have gotten a decent resurfacing with the mixed components sandwiched between a decent amount of snow.
Temperatures were really nice up at the mountain – they were right around 30 F, and with essentially no wind, it was very comfortable and calm. I was up in the late afternoon heading into twilight, so it was a relatively quiet period of the day and I walked right on the Vista Quad when I arrived. Although there was still plenty of light when I first got up to the mountain, light snow was in the air and we’re in late December, so I knew it wouldn’t be long before it would be dark enough for the slope lights to come on. I put a clear lens in my goggles, and that was really perfect for my twilight session.
The new snow was certainly a boon to the conditions. There were still slick areas, but there was a lot of loose snow throughout the trails as well. A check on the ungroomed areas from roughly mid mountain up revealed about 4 inches of powder, then a thick/crustier layer below that, then another 4 inches of snow above the base. Even the uppermost layer of snow was reasonably dense, so moderate angle terrain skied quite nicely. Finding the natural snow in decent shape, I ventured over toward Lower Turnpike and got some excellent powder turns. I would occasionally touch down to the harder layers below, so the turns were just a notch below what we experienced back on the 21st of the month.
“It’s a bit strange continuing to ski as 4:00 P.M. hits because it feels like everything should be closing up, but you just get to keep going – almost as if the resort forgot you were there.”
I really enjoy these twilight sessions that you can get at Bolton Valley – it can be a very peaceful time of the day as many people have finished up their skiing and folks planning on the evening may not yet have arrived. It’s a bit strange continuing to ski as 4:00 P.M. hits because it feels like everything should be closing up, but you just get to keep going – almost as if the resort forgot you were there. The night skiing lights come on at some point, and the scenery around you changes by the minute as the daylight fades. It’s definitely a unique experience, which is certainly enhanced when you’ve got some new snow.
There’s another small system coming into the area tonight, with the potential for another few inches on top of what we’ve had. We’re hoping it makes for some nice New Year’s conditions!
“Lower Turnpike has a nice skier packed base with 4 to 6 inches of medium weight powder on it, and the areas of untracked snow offered fantastic turns.”
Although Ty was at work today, E and Dylan and I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to check out the new accumulations and overall conditions. Temperatures have been quite chilly over the past couple of days, with highs only around 10 F or so, but today they were getting nicely up into the 20s F in the afternoon.
Lift-served trail options are fairly limited right now since natural snow trails off Vista don’t have nearly enough snow to support those levels of skier traffic, but we rode the Vista Quad and eventually made our way over to Wilderness to see what the terrain over there offered With mostly skinning traffic on that part of the mountain, many areas on the lower slopes of Wilderness are in great shape. Lower Turnpike has a nice skier packed base with 4 to 6 inches of medium weight powder on it, and the areas of untracked snow offered fantastic turns. We only saw three folks skinning up during the course of our descent, so skier traffic seemed light, in line with the conditions we found.
We stopped in for some slices at Fireside Flatbread before leaving, and there was modest midafternoon crowd enjoying the atmosphere. The pizza was fantastic as always!
The forecast actually looks fairly benign over the course of the next week, but the weather models due hint at a couple of possibilities for snow. We’ll be watching to see if anything develops.
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.
“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.
I 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
One approximate measure of when the potential natural snow/off piste skiing begins each season here in Northern Vermont is the date when the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaches 24 inches. This is by no means an exact date, especially since it’s possible to get great turns on just a few inches of snow if the snow is dense and the underlying surface is grass instead of rocks. You can indeed get by with much less than 24 inches of snowpack if the snow is very dense, but not if it’s all Champlain Powder™ fluff. Based on empirical observations and reports from skiers in the area each season though, hitting the 24” mark is reasonable for most situations.
With that preface, let’s take a look at where last season sits with regard the start of the natural snow/off piste skiing around here. By most accounts, last season started off with bang. Even in the local mountain valleys, the winter snowpack started as early as November 10th. That’s very early for the valleys, and when the valleys are doing well, the mountains certainly are too.
The updated plot for the 60+ seasons in the Mt. Mansfield Stake database is below, with last season represented by the red star:
Before I add a bit of context to last season’s start, here are the stats for the data set:
Mean: Dec 12th
Median: Dec 9th
Mode: Dec 16th
S.D.: 18.8 days
Entry of this year’s data point had no effect on the mean, mode, or S.D. (within a tenth of a day), but it did drop the median by one day from Dec 10th to Dec 9th.
The plot would suggest a reasonably good start, but nothing outrageous: last year’s 24” date was Nov 27th, which is only 0.78 S.D. ahead of the mean, so well within 1 S.D. That puts it in roughly the top 22% of seasons, so about 1 in 5 seasons will have a similar or earlier 24” date.
While the 24” date is a nice snapshot for the start of the natural/off piste season, there are of course a number of other factors to take into account that made last November more impressive than that number alone:
1) Near miss: If you look at the raw November stake depth data (posted below), you can see that the snow depth at the stake reached 23” on Nov 21st. That’s as close of a miss as you can get to hitting 24”, so even as of the 21st of the month, the snowpack had essentially hit that two-foot level. Getting to that level by the 21st brings a season past 1 S.D. and into that top ~15% of seasons. That’s not a huge bump in this regard, but having nearly an extra week of borderline two-foot snowpack at that part of the season could easily mean an entire additional weekend of natural snow skiing potential.
2) No going back: This is a much bigger feather in last season’s cap. Even from about mid-month, the snowpack never really took a major hit, and once it did hit that 24” mark on Nov 27th, there was really no going back. It sailed past 24” and just kept climbing as you can see in the numbers at the end of the month. I haven’t added the December numbers below, but even with the lackluster December we had, the snowpack never dropped below ~40”. That can’t be said for all of the seasons on the left side of the plot (certainly not Mr. October out there in front, which was the 2006-2007 season – he was back to 0” at the stake by mid-November).
3) Snow-depth days: I haven’t calculated this for any November with the stake data, but it will obviously be a good integrative measure of how much snow was on the ground for the start of the season. I’m sure last November would have a solid ranking if I put those data together.
So, if we look into that left side of the plot, do we have any other recent seasons in there that we can use for comparison to last season?
Actually, that lone star (Nov 25th) just to the left of the red star for last season is for 2007-2008. We know that was a solid season around here. The snowpack began building in the first week of November, and there was really no going back there either. Unlike this past season, that solid November was followed up by a stellar December (almost 70” of snow here at the house) and the Mansfield snowpack was hitting five feet by the holidays. With a solid December, last season certainly would have given 2007-2008 a run, but instead it was languishing at around 40” at the stake during the holiday period.
With regard to some of the other stars up at that end of the plot:
The two compatriots of last season on the plot, those other two stars on Nov 27th, are 1997-1998 and 1977-1978. 1997-1998 looks pretty solid with a snowpack start in the first week of November, and snowpack at about that five-foot mark by the holiday period. There’s also a nice-looking bonus stretch of snow at the end of October, with snow at the stake for almost the last third of the month, and the depth peaking at 16”. Checking my archives, I actually went for some lift-served skiing at Sugarbush on Oct 28th, so that speaks to that period snow being a bit of something special. 1977-1978 was before my time around here, but it looks a bit tamer. There was nothing in October, then snowpack began to build around mid-November and was getting around the four-foot mark by the holidays.
The two stars right at Nov 20th are interestingly, back-to-back seasons of 1967-1968 and 1968-1969. Both had a little October snow, and then a snowpack start in the first week of November. Both had pretty steady climbs right through November and December, with 1967-1968 getting to around 40” for the holiday period, and 1968-1969 hitting a very robust 6+ feet of snowpack for the holidays. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, as that was just the start of a season that would become legend.
The star at Nov 18th is 1965-1966, and the progression looks sort of like 1967-1968. That’s quite a 4-year stretch of good early seasons from ’65-’66 to ’68-’69 with those three solid starts.
The star at Nov 16th is 1980-1981. That season is interesting in that the snowpack started building on Oct 20th and sailed right into November without ever going back to zero. Snowpack was 4+ feet for the holidays, but the rest of the season looks modest (relatively speaking) with the snowpack depth never getting above 6 feet.
The star on Nov 14th is for something more recent: 2003-2004. I was out in Montana for that one, but snowpack started building in the second week of November, it was 4+ feet at the holidays, and hit the 100” mark in March.
The star on Nov 13th is for 1976-1977. That looks like an impressive start, with snowpack taking hold in the second half of October, climbing right through November, and hitting roughly the 4-foot mark for the holidays. The stake didn’t quite top out at 100” that season, but it did pretty well topping out at 94”.
The final early star I haven’t mentioned yet is the one on Nov 11th, that’s for the 1990-1991 season. It seems like the only other boom and bust start to go with Mr. October (2006-2007). There was a little inkling of snow at the end of October and start of November, but snowpack started building at the end of the first week of the month and topped out at a very impressive 45” on Nov 14th! It was a downhill slide after that though. The snowpack never went lower than 9” but there were only 12-18” on the ground for the holiday period, and on Dec 30th it dropped from 18” to 13”, so that must have been quite a dagger in the holiday week (I guess that depends on whether it was a nice spring skiing day or a nasty rainstorm). The rest of that season seemed pretty blasé because the snowpack never even hit 5 feet. I don’t recall much about that season, but I’m assuming there was nothing too remarkable.