Third October snowfall finally reaches to the valleys in Vermont

An image of early-season October snow falling in front of Bolton Mountain in Northern Vermont, obscuring the Green Mountains from view
Today’s snow along the western slopes of the Green Mountains, blocking them from view

White tendrils of snow began to appear along the western slopes of the Green Mountains late this morning as the cold air moved into the area, and people started seeing snow all the way down into the valleys.  Although the snow from Monday and Thursday only affected the mountains, we picked up our first accumulating snow at the house today as a heavy graupel storm came through in the afternoon.  Tonight is supposed to be the coldest of the season so far, and there’s still the chance for a bit more snow before the weather warms up going into next week.  For more information about today’s snowfall, be sure to check out my post in the American Weather Forum.  For the full details on this storm, head to the detailed report at the winter weather section of our website.

Next round of October snow hits the peaks in Northern Vermont

An image showing Vermont's second October snowfall coating the summit of Mt. Mansfield, with green trees in the Champlain Valley marking the foreground
Round two of October snow revealed itself near the summit of Vermont’s Mt. Mansfield this morning.

As the sun rose Monday morning, it revealed the first accumulating snow in Vermont this season, but the next event was close on its heels, with another round of snow laid down on the peaks of the Greens today.  It was raining and 41 degrees F at the house this morning, but that translated into snow 3,000’ to 4,000’ up.  The snow line appeared to be a bit higher with this event, up around 3,000’, and less than an inch of new snow was reported at ~3,700’ on Mt. Mansfield.  Although this snowfall wasn’t as substantial as the last one, it was definitely enough to paint the peaks white.  The cold season is definitely edging closer though, as the higher elevations of Mt. Mansfield stayed below freezing all day for the first time this season, and even more snow could be on the way tonight.

September and October Snowfall Averages for Mt. Mansfield

As we head into the last few weeks of summer, some people’s thoughts turn to early snowfall in the mountains, and this topic recently popped up with respect to Mt. Mansfield in the New England Regional Forum at American Weather.  Since I have all the raw snowpack data from the Mt. Mansfield co-op station downloaded from when I created the Mt. Mansfield 24” snowpack plot, I scanned through the September numbers back to 1954 to see what they revealed.  Because the collection of actual snowfall at that station can be a bit dicey, I first checked the snowpack data that I had, and found three occurrences of September snowpack at the stake:

Date                 Snow at the stake (in.)
9/15/1959          1
9/16/1986          4
9/17/1986          2

However, assuming they have historically been using the same practice of reporting the depth of the snowpack at the end of the day (~5:00 P.M. or so) as they do now, it was likely that there was overnight September snowfall that simply didn’t make it through the entirety of many warm, September days to be reported from the stake.  Therefore, I also checked the snowfall data, and found that indeed there are a fair amount of reports of September snowfall:

Date                 Snowfall (in.)
9/15/1959          1.00
9/24/1966          0.50
9/2/1967            0.30
9/25/1967          1.50
9/22/1976          1.00
9/28/1980          0.50
9/16/1986          4.00
9/24/1989          1.00
9/21/1991          1.00
9/28/1991          0.30
9/29/1991          1.00
9/30/1992          0.30
9/23/1998          0.30
9/30/2009          0.02

There are a few years with no data, but accumulating September snow does happen on Mt. Mansfield, at a rate of roughly a couple times each decade.  I’m not quite sure what was going on with the 2009 number, since one doesn’t generally report snowfall to the hundredths of an inch; perhaps they are reporting a trace on that one.  Not surprisingly, September snowfall is more frequent on Mt. Washington with a couple thousand feet of extra vertical – the September monthly average there is 2.2” inches, and the monthly maximum is almost 8 inches, so accumulating September snow is probably fairly common.

I also scanned the Mt. Mansfield data for August, and there was even one report of accumulation there:

Date                 Snowfall (in.)
8/28/1986          0.20

Since there was also mention of October, I took a look at those data as well.  Because accumulating October snowfall is already fairly common even down here in the mountain valleys of the Northern Greens (out of the six season’s worth of snowfall data I have collected here, four Octobers have seen accumulating snowfall, and the average is right around an inch) I figured that getting October accumulation on Mt. Mansfield must be almost a lock.  Indeed that’s the case; after checking the snowpack data from 1954 – 2012, there are only a handful of seasons without reported snowpack, and one of those seasons did at least show some snowfall:

Seasons without reported October snowpack on Mt. Mansfield
1956-1957
1963-1964 – 0.1” snowfall
1971-1972
1973-1974
1985-1986
1996-1997
2007-2008

So essentially it’s about twice a decade that there is accumulating snow on Mt. Mansfield in September, and about once a decade that there isn’t accumulating snow on Mt. Mansfield in October.

2011-2012 Winter Weather Summary

Summer is moving along here in Northern Vermont, but at J&E Productions we’ve still been thinking about the winter of 2011-2012, and we’ve finally analyzed our reams of weather data and put together our 2011-2012 Winter Weather Summary.  In this post I’ve hit on some of the highlights that came out of the data, and attached our various plots and graphs, but to get to the full data set, you can use the following link:

2011-2012 WINTER WEATHER SUMMARY

The first item that I’ll highlight from the winter of 2011-2012 is the monthly snowfall plot for our location.  As meager as the snowfall was this season at our location (just 115.3” of snow, or 67.0% of our 2006-2011 average), the monthly distribution of snow did retain an aesthetically symmetrical look, peaking in January with February close behind:

A bar graph of the monthly snowfall at our location in Waterbury, Vermont for the 2011-2012 winter season
Snowfall at our house in Waterbury was relatively low during the 2011-2012 winter season, but the monthly distribution was quite symmetrical, peaking in January.

So although 2011-2012 will go down as our least snowy in the six years that we’ve been collecting snowfall here in Waterbury, the 67.0% of our 2006-2011 calculated average is relatively decent compared to the snowfall experienced at some of the first-order New England stations like Burlington (51.4%) or Boston (21.2%).  These types of seasons happen, but next season is already closing in fast, and hopefully snowfall totals will be much improved.

The next piece of information is our updated yearly snow/snowfall data table, with the 2011-2012 season now included.

A table showing some key winter weather parameters for the 2006-2007 through 2011-2012 winter seasons at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
When compared to the previous five seasons, the 2011-2012 winter season at our house in Waterbury was the lowest in snowfall, maximum snow depth attained, and snowpack on the ground as assessed by snow depth days.

The table touches on some of the highlights (or in this case lowlights) from this past winter season (top data row of the table).  The 2011-2012 winter season had the somewhat dubious honor of being the “worst” in our data set in three categories: total snowfall, maximum snow depth, and snow depth days (see the red entries in the top row).  The snowfall and max snow depth values weren’t all that far from the runner up values, but the big standout was snow depth days, which was well below the next closest season.  It’s amazing to see a number so far below the 1,000 day·inches mark, which speaks to the state of the snowpack this season.  We still had continuous snowpack at the house for about three months (vs. the typical four months) but the big factor in the low snow depth days was that the snowpack just never got that deep.  It sat around at a bit below the one foot mark for most of the season and just didn’t build beyond that except for a couple of periods in February/March:

A plot showing the snowpack depth during the winter of 2011-2012 at our house in Waterbury, Vermont
At our house in Waterbury, the 2011-2012 winter season featured a fairly meager snowpack that sat around the one-foot mark for much of the season, and topped out at just one and a half feet.

With only six seasons worth of data, the low snowfall this season did deal quite a blow to the overall calculated snowfall average, dropping it by almost 10 inches from up above 172 inches per season down to 162.7 inches per season.  That’s probably Mother Nature at work getting to her real averages after some banner years.  Even though two of the past six seasons have been up around 200 inches of snowfall, presumably that is going to happen only so often.

As for the rest of the parameters that I track in the table, they were either right around or slightly better than average this season.  An interesting note is that the number of snowstorms this season (45) was right around average, so naturally with low snowfall, the amount of snowfall per storm had to take a hit.  Indeed, while the average amount of snowfall per storm is typically up around 4 inches, this season it came out at just 2.6 inches, so there were clearly a lot of systems that were weak on snow.  This average snowfall per storm was a huge deviation from the mean (almost 2 S.D.), so that must say something about the weather pattern during the past winter, even if I’m not exactly sure what it is at this point.

While the detailed reports of the 45 accumulating snowstorms from the past season are available with more information at the 2011-2012 winter weather summary page, they’ve also been posted here for quick access.  If you know of a storm that interests you, you can head right to it.  The reports are comprised of text, links, graphs, photos, etc., and much of the text is derived from my posts and dialog from the Americanwx.com New England regional forum.  Thanks to the great features available on the forum, you can click on the icon associated with any quoted text in the report, and you’ll be linked right to that post its respective thread.  Hopefully this will be useful for folks that are researching/reviewing winter storms.  The list of linked winter storms observed at our house is listed below:

01. 10/29/11
02. 11/11/11
03. 11/17/11
04. 11/23/11
05. 12/02/11
06. 12/07/11
07. 12/09/11
08. 12/13/11
09. 12/17/11
10. 12/19/11
11. 12/21/11
12. 12/23/11
13. 12/25/11
14. 12/27/11
15. 12/30/11
16. 01/02/12
17. 01/05/12
18. 01/06/12
19. 01/10/12
20. 01/12/12
21. 01/17/12
22. 01/19/12
23. 01/21/12
24. 01/23/12
25. 01/26/12
26. 01/28/12
27. 01/29/12
28. 01/31/12
29. 02/03/12
30. 02/11/12
31. 02/13/12
32. 02/16/12
33. 02/21/12
34. 02/22/12
35. 02/24/12
36. 02/28/12
37. 02/29/12
38. 03/02/12
39. 03/04/12
40. 03/08/12
41. 03/09/12
42. 03/26/12
43. 03/28/12
44. 04/04/12
45. 04/26/12

Something new that we’ve also added this season is a gallery of our snow measurement devices in action, so other folks that measure snowfall may enjoy those images:

SNOWFALL MEASUREMENT PAGE

The various data charts and graphs from this season’s analysis can also be viewed in the gallery below:

Stowe, VT 27APR2012

An image of ski tracks in late April powder on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Catching some turns today in the virgin powder on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort

For this latest spring storm, the temperature dropped below freezing on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline in the wee hours this morning, and presumably any precipitation changed to snow around that point as well.  I found close to a half inch of liquid in my rain gauge at my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS report, and even if part of that was snow up in the higher elevations, it was going to mean some decent accumulation.  There were definitely some winter-like temperatures moving into the higher elevations though, and that even translated down into the valleys to keep the lower elevations in the 30s F all day.  It was pouring rain at the house when I left around 7:00 A.M., and snow was even reaching down into the lowest valleys at times.

I checked on the Bolton Valley Web Cam a couple of times during the day today, and knowing that it was snowing the whole time in the mountains, I headed off to Stowe in the afternoon to do a tour and ski some of the new powder.  Temperatures remained in that upper 30s F through the Winooski Valley and into Waterbury Center; and although it wasn’t accumulating, it snowed continuously in the mountain valleys.  It was right around 1,000’ near the Matterhorn that I first started seeing accumulations of snow on the ground, and by the time I’d reached the base of Mt. Mansfield at around 1,500’, the temperature was near freezing and the snow was accumulating easily.  I found an inch or two of new snow outside the Mansfield Base Lodge, and even down at that elevation it was quite dry.

I put on my gear and skinned up in the North Slope area, knowing that it had a decent base of snow thanks to Powderfreak’s snow reports from the past few days.  Light snowfall continued during my ascent, but the wind wasn’t bad, and temperatures just a few degrees below freezing were pleasant.  I followed the vestiges of a skin track that while presumably fairly recent, wasn’t very deep, and indeed the new snow and at least some wind erased it in many spots.  There was visible grass poking through the snow in the lowest elevations below Crossover, and even a bit above that level, but at around 2,000’ atop the bottom steep pitch of North Slope, the coverage got more consistent and things really started to look appealing.  The snow depth didn’t really increase all that rapidly with elevation; there were probably 3 to 4 inches in the middle elevations, and some areas were scoured a bit, but some areas were also a bit deeper.

I continued my skin on up on Lord and Lower Ridgeview, and the snow had reached a depth of about 5 inches at 3,500’ where I stopped my ascent just a bit below the top of the Fourrunner Quad on Lord Loop.  It was a little tough to get an accurate measurement of the snow depth due to drifting, but I’ll go with 5 inches as my best guess for up near the top of the quad.  I did find areas where accumulations were as deep as 7 inches, but those seemed to be spots where snow had collected efficiently with help from the wind.  As of 5:20 P.M., the depth of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake had gone up by 4 inches, so that certainly seems to be in the range of what I found up in the higher elevations.  I saw a couple of small groups of skiers and riders during my ascent, but there really weren’t too many people out on that North Slope route.

I descended generally in the region of my ascent, since I’d seen the state of the base coverage there, although I did make a side excursion onto Sunrise because I was presented with a huge expanse of unbroken snow that looked like it had decent base.  I touched down on firm stuff a couple of times, but it was definitely worth it.  I was unsure of the coverage lower down on that route, but I was able to make my way back toward the main North Slope route by using what I think was part of Toll Road.  Anyway, the snow was nice medium-weight powder, and although this storm hasn’t delivered as much as that last one a couple weeks ago, the powder is of much higher quality.  It’s not totally bottomless powder skiing everywhere, but in many areas it is, and with the nice base snow below, it makes for some smooth and effortless turns.  In the last few hundred vertical feet of the descent below Crossover, there are certainly areas where there’s no base, but the snow is deep enough and of enough substance that the turns are smooth all the way to the top of the stairs above the Mansfield Base Lodge.  You certainly want to be careful to watch out for rocks, but one doesn’t really need rock skis unless they really want to venture well off the beaten path into areas that don’t have any sort of base.

An image of spring powder turns on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
There were a few obstacles to navigate around today, but the rewards were some really sweet powder turns on the slopes of Mt. Mansfield.

Back at the car, I spoke with another guy who had skied in the Nosedive area, and he said it was fabulous in the upper elevations, and OK toward the bottom, but I’m not sure if there is quite as much base in the lower elevations there based on what I’ve seen from afar.  Temperatures were dropping when I left the resort around 6:30 P.M. or so, and I saw accumulating snow all the way down to The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, which is around 750’.  I met E and the boys for dinner at Frida’s, and when we were done, snow was accumulating right in the center of Stowe at around 700’ as the temperatures continued to drop.  It snowed on and off all the way back to our house in Waterbury (495’), and I found a couple of tenths of an inch of accumulation on the snowboard as of 8:00 P.M.  It’s continued to snow all evening, it’s still been light, but there’s another tenth of an inch or two on the board now.  It’s going to be quite cold the next few nights, and not really that warm during the day, so the new snow should be around for some good skiing during that time.

Jay Peak, VT 12APR2012

An image of Ty on The Jet carving through some of the recent snow that fell on Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty at Jay Peak cutting into some of the recent snow that fell during the big spring snowstorm in the Northern Green Mountains.

The spring snowstorm that’s been in the area this week has really delivered the goods to the higher elevations; when I headed up to Stowe on Tuesday morning, there was already a couple of feet of new, dense snow at 2,500’ and above.  The snowfall hasn’t been quite as vigorous since that initial barrage, but there’s still been on and off snow showers to varying degrees depending on elevation; Powderfreak reported that Mt. Mansfield was up to 27 inches of new snow accumulation at 3,200’ as of yesterday afternoon.  The new snow has put a huge dose of water into the mountain snowpack, with close to four inches of liquid equivalent falling on Mt. Mansfield.  Even down at the house we’ve had 1.68” of rain from the storm as of this morning.

E has been at a teacher’s conference in Boston for the past couple of days, and with the boys on spring break, I’ve been mostly out of the office to watch them.  With the recent snow we’ve had, today was an obvious day for us to get out for some skiing, but based on my experience with the snow quality on Mt. Mansfield on Tuesday, skinning for turns wasn’t going to cut it with the boys.  Depending on elevation, the dense Sierra Cement-style snow had been quite challenging to ski, and in order to get to the best snow, one really has to make the long trek above the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range.  That’s a big ascent to ask of the boys, only to deliver challenging snow conditions that would probably frustrate them anyway, so lift-served skiing with the potential for some groomed runs seemed to be the way to go.  Killington and Jay Peak were running lifts today, and since both were reporting about a foot and a half of new snow, deciding between them was a toss-up in that regard.  I decided on Jay Peak, being a touch closer and hopefully a touch colder; I was also hoping to check out all the expansion that has gone on at the resort since my last visit.

Even with all the snow that the mountains have received over the past few days, there’s literally no snow in the lower valleys, and it wasn’t until fairly high elevations along Route 118 south of Montgomery that we saw any snow along the road during our trip to Jay Peak.  What we saw were just a couple of old north-facing snowbanks along the side of the road, but snow cover did build steadily once we got up high enough up on Route 242, and it carried through right to the base of the resort.  We parked on the tram side, and the changes in the area’s development were obvious.  The last time I’d visited Jay Peak was during the Mother’s Day snowstorm in 2010, and while the Tram Haus Lodge was there and we got to eat at Alice’s Table, the new Hotel Jay and the massive Pump House Indoor Water Park were not.  I could see that the new Hotel Jay was quite a step up in size from the old one, and while I couldn’t see any sign of the water park that everyone has been talking about, I figured we’d have some time for exploring the area after we gotten in some skiing.

The weather in the late morning was a mixture of clouds and blue sky, and we were presented with some impressive views of the snowy slopes.  I’m not sure what the slopes had looked like before the storm, but they were totally covered today.  I’d told the boys about the tram, and let them know that while it was closed for the season for skiing, they’d at least get to have a look at it.  The tram was in action though, apparently running in association with some maintenance, and the boys just had to watch it dock at the Tramside Base Lodge.  We booted up inside the lodge, and there was literally nobody there but employees.  We could see that there were about a dozen ski bags hung in various spots along the walls, but it was obvious that we weren’t going to see too many others out on the slopes.  It’s easy to see how dicey the prospects for making a profit must be on these midweek days in April, but we were thankful that the mountain was open and they were definitely getting our business.  Tickets were reasonable at $45 for me and $25 apiece for the boys, and from what I’d heard, they had about two thirds of their terrain open.  The resort now employs an RFID ticket system like we’re used to using at Stowe.  In fact, when we bought our tickets, the associate recommended removing our Stowe RFID passes just in case they interfered with the signal on our Jay Peak tickets.

An image of blue skies and fresh snow viewed while riding the Flyer Express Quad at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
On and off blue skies and plenty of fresh snow were found at Jay Peak today.

We kicked things off with a ride on the Flyer Express Quad, which whisked us right up toward the peak.  We did see some skiers down below us on Exhibition, and the snow looked fantastic.  Coverage was deep and soft thanks to the storm, so the only concern was whether or not the snow was sticky; unfortunately it’s not easy to tell that from just watching a skier make turns, since you can’t see the subtle corrections being made by their muscles as they adjust their balance, but the folks we saw sure seemed to be enjoying themselves as they silently cut arcs into the groomed snow.  The air temperature was definitely cooler when we reached the summit of the Flyer, and we found that the snow itself was actually pretty cold and wintry.  It was very dense like one would expect, and in untracked areas you only sunk into the snow an inch or two, so it certainly wasn’t mush.  In fact, the mountain had a sign up about how the off piste snow was going to be difficult for the first part of the day until the temperatures warmed up a bit, since areas that had seen skier traffic were going to have relatively stiff, uneven snow surfaces.

On our first decent we set off alongside the lift on Northway, and the snow was indeed in good shape – it was somewhere between winter and spring in consistency, but stickiness wasn’t an issue.  We worked our way back toward the lift line of the quad on Upper Goat Run, which was our first taste of something steeper.  The snow was holding up well in consistency, even as we descended in elevation.  As we merged back toward the lift line, Dylan seemed hesitant for us to drop into the steepest terrain because ski patrol had placed some poles at the top of the “slow skiing area”, but it was just serving as the warning about speed control, and there were no coverage issues.  You could just sink your edges in and let the skis ride.  We’d soon reached the top pitch of Upper Exhibition, something we’d seen from the lift that was steep, groomed, and looked like it was a lot of fun for the skiers that were on it.  We opted to save it for after a little more warming up, and instead veered to the right down Upper Goat Run and over toward Lower River Quai.  Lower River Quai is actually a bit steep, and while there, we met a family that was picking their way down it.  The snow was starting to get a little tricky at that elevation, and by the time we hit the Interstate trail below, the snow had indeed taken on that stickiness that made it a challenge.  I was excited about the conditions though, our sampling of the terrain suggested that we’d only have to deal with sticky snow in the low elevation runout trails, and if that was the case then we were in for some great runs.

An image of Ty and Dylan trying out the covered magic carpet lift at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty and Dylan test out the Jay Peak’s covered Magic Carpet-style lift.

The boys had been quite intrigued by the resort’s covered magic carpet lift, and since it was running, they just had to check it out.  It feels a bit like one of those informational rides at a theme park, or maybe like the Light Tunnel in the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit Metro Airport, without the lights.  Stowe has a small cover that they place over their magic carpet at night to keep off the snow; it’s only a couple feet high and the boys got a kick out of imagining what it would be like to ride with that in place.  Having a full cover probably means less hassle dealing with snowfall during storms.  We immediately headed to the Flyer again, and took a similar descent route with the change to Upper Exhibition this time.  Exhibition delivered some nice steep turns, and was above the elevation of the sticky snow issues, but of course the flats of Harmony Lane were a slow return to the base.

With all the new snow, the mountain did indeed have quite a bit of its terrain open, so I definitely wanted to get the boys out for some farther-reaching explorations over toward the Stateside area.  From the top of the Flyer we followed the usual Northway Route, and on the way noticed a skier come down from one of the untracked trails above us.  He was skiing some of the dense powder up there, and although he only sunk into the snow a few inches, it looked pretty fun.  We’d been playing around in the powder off to the sides of the trails a bit, but with it still being somewhat dense and stiff, you really wanted some reasonably large untracked areas to have the best experience.  We were eventually lured off Northway to our right, into some terrain in the Catwalk area that hadn’t been groomed; the snow was decent, so we just sort of kept going.  We found ourselves above some steep tree lines there, and I was leery of the snow conditions, but Ty really wanted to jump in… so we did.  The lines were generally tracked, and we were low enough in elevation that the compaction of the snow was probably for the best, as the untracked snow was getting wet and difficult to ski.  Ty and Dylan ripped up the lines though, and we found ourselves continuing on non-groomed terrain all the way to Stateside.  There seemed to be just enough snow to cover the natural terrain down to the base with a couple of careful water bar navigations.  That last part was a lot of fun, as I knew our general location, but had no clue of exact where we were until we popped out at the base of the Jet Triple Chair.  I’ve got a reasonably good knowledge of Jay Peak, and there was definitely enough semi-obscure terrain open to keep us exploring.

An image of snow falling in a localized squall off to the east of Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
When it wasn’t falling on us, snow was crashing out of the clouds all around us while we skied today at Jay Peak.

The weather had continued to be a mix of clouds and sun through midday, and all around us we’d continually see these huge billowing cumulus clouds that made if feel like spring or summer.  At times, we’d be able to watch snow crash out of these clouds atop various surrounding peaks.  This was going on all over the place, but we had some gorgeous views of it from the summit of the Jet Triple Chair, and of course being Jay Peak, we knew that it was only a matter of time before we were going to get blasted with snow.  The Jet trail itself looked really enticing, so we hit that up, and indeed the carving was fantastic.  We watched a really accomplished Telemark skier crank some amazing turns down The Jet, and he seemed to be doing lap after lap.  He really liked the boys’ alpine skiing though, and made a comment to me about them.  If they can get their Telemark turns to be half as graceful as that guy, they’ll be well on their way to some great Telemark skiing.  They had a lot of fun with the turns on The Jet, but probably just as much fun with the snowballs they were carrying and tossing at each other.  Because the snow was so good, I wasn’t sure that we wanted to pull away after just one run on The Jet, but I knew the boys were soon going to request a mid afternoon snack, so we started to work our way back toward the tram side.  We found ourselves in the same Catwalk trees that we’d hit on the way over, so we skied those again.  After a few more pitches, the rest of the trip back was rather flat and sticky though, so I’d often help Dylan along with some pushes to keep him up at Ty’s pace.

An image of Ty pausing for a moment on The Jet trail at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty pausing after ripping some turns in the great snow we found on The Jet
An image of Ty and Dylan having a mid afternoon snack near the fire in the Tramside Base Lodge at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Mid afternoon snack time

I’d hoped to introduce the boys to some poutine in the lodge, but the cafeteria had already closed; apparently they were only keeping it open for the immediate lunchtime period on weekdays.  Fortunately we’d brought a collection of our own food, and it was enough to hold us until dinner.  It was still quite quiet in the lodge, but a few skiers were around, those that had apparently skied the morning and were calling it a day.

When we headed back out onto the slopes, we gave Dylan the choice of lift and descent route, and he decided on the Metro Quad.  Both Ty and I told him that it only serviced the bottom flat area of the mountain (which had the stickiest snow) but he was keen on giving it a try, and it would mean we’d ridden every open lift on the mountain.  The partly sunny conditions of the morning had been gradually giving way to a few more clouds, and this was actually cooling the air down enough to let the stickier snow tighten up a bit.  It was a subtle change, but definitely there, and much appreciated when we were in the lower elevations.

Clouds continued to build as we made another lap on Exhibition and enjoyed the good snow, and meanwhile, the skies began to darken around us with the promise of snowfall.  During the day we’d already encountered various snow showers on the mountain; we’d seen rounds of regular snow, graupel, and even these pyramidal-shaped (or miniature Hershey’s kisses as Dylan described them) flakes falling from the sky.  Our next ride on the Flyer was when things really started to get exciting though.  On our previous ascent we’ seen heavy precipitation in the peaks just off to our north like Jay Peak West, Middle Jay and North Jay Peak.  Those peaks had soon disappeared in a maelstrom of white, and that snow clearly seemed to be building in our direction.  A few minutes later it moved in on us, and it meant business.  The snowfall was so intense that at a couple of points we could see a wall of flakes in front of us, and we had only a few moments to batten down the hatches (i.e. hoods and parka collars) before the lift carried us right into it.  We got hit with some very heavy snowfall comprised of huge, wet snowflakes .  The gargantuan flakes were at times falling so intensely that they rapidly accumulated on our goggles to the point that we could barely see, and we had to keep wiping them off almost continuously during the height of the squall; I’d say we picked up about a half inch of snow in just 10-15 minutes in that episode.  The clouds and precipitation associated with that blast of snow even gave an additional shot of cooling to the air.  The huge flakes also put down a fresh, stippled coating of snow on everything that was very picturesque.  That whole squall cycle was a fun experience, and the same thing appeared to be going on throughout the high peaks of the Northern Greens, because Powderfreak sent in a very cool report to the American Weather Forum entitled “Photos of the passing of a convective snow squall”, in which he documented the whole progression of one of these convective snowstorms today from Stowe.  He photographed the scene on Mt. Mansfield from blue skies with white, billowy cumulous clouds, to dark clouds building in, to getting hit hard with massive snowflakes, just like us.  The report was very nicely done with the usual quality pictures that Powderfreak produces, and folks on the weather board seemed to enjoy it a lot.

An image of snowfall at the end of an April snow squall at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
A mid afternoon snow squall winds down at the top of the Flyer

The boys started picking areas of the mountain that they wanted to explore, and one area that we’d not yet visited was the slot between Exhibition and Northway.  We eventually found ourselves approaching to top of Upper Can Am, and I was definitely concerned about what we’d find down there.  I was expecting deep snow that hadn’t seen any grooming, and indeed that’s just what we found.  Dylan definitely had some trepidation about dropping in, but Ty was so eager that his enthusiasm won out.  There had been some skier traffic since the storm, so we found 16” of partially tracked, dense snow.  Ty was flying down like a madman, but Dylan was struggling, and started to get upset because he seemed to be falling every time he made a few turns.  We gave him some reassurance, and I let him know that I was battling the slope on Telemark gear, so he could definitely do it on alpine gear.  As before, the fact that there had been some skier traffic was good, because the bottomless cement was the most difficult part to ski, and the partially compacted areas were better.  Dylan eventually got himself into a better rhythm, and soon I found that both boys has already descended through the steepest terrain and were waiting for me.  As difficult as the turns were on my Teles, the challenge was worth it.  We had all this steep terrain to ourselves that had just seen a major resurfacing with 2+ inches of liquid equivalent.  Coverage wasn’t an issue, and if you got your groove going you could just let the turns fall away.  There was definitely a part of me that wanted to have my alpine fat skis to really crank things up, but it was a heck of a lot of fun convincing the Teles to do their job.

The traverse back to the tram base was still somewhat slow and sticky, so any cooling of the air hadn’t helped out down that low.  The boys amused themselves with another ride on the magic carpet, and then we thought about finishing out the day.  The snow up top was so good that we couldn’t pull away without at least one more run, even though the boys were getting anxious for some après ski food (which they knew was going to be pizza).  I convinced them that we needed to do at least one more run, and said that we’d check out something new.

Ty and Dylan point to one of the trail signs for the "Green Mountain Boys" trail at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Those Green Mountain Boys

I wasn’t sure exactly what that something new was going to be, but we got ourselves to the big intersection below Upper Goat Run and had to make a choice.  The top of Green Mountain Boys was in view, and it was only then that I realized just how good it looked.  It had been groomed, and then it had seen some traffic, but it looked smooth, soft, and fast.  I had the boys read the trail sign at the top of the stack… “Green… Mountain… Boys”, Ty said at a reading pace.  The boys were excited to try it out, and I got a picture of them pointing to the sign with their poles.  The different generations of intermediate trail signs left Dylan intrigued by the fact that Green Mountain Boys seemed to be not a blue square trail, but a purple square trail.  He started to discuss what that might mean before I eventually suggested that it was likely just a different shade of blue from a different batch of signs.  The boys didn’t want to wait around long though; they wanted to get at it, and quickly dropped in.  Within moments they both moved into big, fast, swooping arcs down the trail, because they immediately felt how perfect the surface conditions were, and they knew that their edges were going to hold whatever g-forces were thrown at them.  It was deep snow that had been freshly groomed and softened to perfection for carving, and matched with the fairly steep terrain, it was just beautiful.  Dylan was especially invigorated by how fast he could go – when he’d make his big, fast arcs, he said it was his “gliding” technique.  The end result was that they flew down the trail in a state at high speed, somewhere shy of reckless abandon, and I had my work cut out for me keeping up.  Indeed they skied it like you’d expect from a couple of Green Mountain Boys, and I suspect Ethan and Ira Allen would have agreed.

I hadn’t held out much hope for interest another run, since the boys had already had pizza on their minds before the last one, but something about the experience that Green Mountain Boys had offered them lit a fire under their ski enthusiasm.  When I said that we had time for another, and that we could do Green Mountain Boys again, they jumped at the opportunity.  If the skiing can pull Dylan back to the slopes and away from potential pizza, you know it’s got to be good.  The descent was just like the previous run, and whether it was the extra round of cooling from our earlier snow squall, or just the correct timing of the day, something had left the trail in a state that really impressed the boys.  Had the lifts still been running, I think I could have kept them going, and at that stage of the day that’s not easy to do.  To say that they finished the day on the highest of notes would still be an understatement.

An image of the sign for Mountain Dick's Pizza in the Hotel Jay at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Mountain Dick’s Pizza in the Hotel Jay

The boys’ transcendent vibe continued as we headed into the lodge and changed out of our gear.  The lodge was essentially deserted at that point, so they had the run of the place.  Once they’d taken off their ski boots, they played hide and seek upstairs and downstairs in the various nooks and crannies of the Tramside Base Lodge, while I packed up the rest of the gear.  We dropped everything off at the car and then went to check out Mountain Dick’s Pizza on the ground level of the new Hotel Jay.  It’s got one of those modern, part wood, part metallic decors, along with some funky accessories like coat racks made of wooden spoons, and it seats about 30 to 40 people.  I ordered a pie for each of us (to ensure that there would be plenty of leftovers of course, since Mom was out of town) and the boys picked out some funky looking drinks from the cooler.  The pizza is good; I wouldn’t put it up quite at the level of Jimmz Pizza in Waterbury Center, but we all liked it and everyone ate their fill.

An image of coat racks made from spoons at Mountain Dick's Pizza in the Hotel Jay at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Food-themed coat racks

While we’d waited for our pizza to come out, I searched around and discovered that Mountain Dick’s is connected right to the interior of the hotel; eventually I realized that some of the people we’d seen picking up pizza had called from their hotel rooms.  When we’d finished up our meal and boxed up our extra slices, we decided to head right through the hotel so that the boys could show me the water park.  We wound our way through some halls, headed up an elevator, and came out at an elevated area at the water park entrance, overlooking all the features.  It was even bigger than what I’d surmised based on all the pictures I’d seen, and the boys gave me a quick visual tour from the overlook, and they were quickly spotted by their schoolmate Connor, who was there with his family.  We all got to chat a bit and catch up on the day as we headed back to our cars.  While E and the boys have already been to the Pump House, it’s definitely on my list to join them next time as I’m sure we’ll have a blast.

An image of the interior of the Pump House indoor water park at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking in the expanse of the Pump House Indoor Water Park that was added to the resort this season

I’ve got to say it was really nice being back at Jay Peak, having not been to the mountain for a couple of seasons.  With so many great ski areas like Bolton Valley, Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch, Sugarbush, and Mad River Glen notably closer to our location in Waterbury, we don’t frequent Jay Peak all that much right now.  Along with the slightly longer distance though, there are also some aspects of Jay Peak that knock it down on my list: the cold, the wind, some of the long flat areas on the Tram Side, and the way the glades and trees can get tracked out (and indeed even bumped up) so quickly (relative to what I’ve experienced at places like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush where lines can sit untracked for days after a storm).  Jay Peak has always touted its glades, so of course people go there for that type of skiing and those areas get a lot of traffic.  I love Jay Peak’s snowfall of course, but after scrutinizing and documenting the snowfall patterns in Northern Vermont’s mountains very carefully over the past several seasons since we’ve been back from Montana, I’ve noticed how marginal the difference is between the snowfall at Jay Peak and that at Mt. Mansfield.  I think the weather patterns over the past few seasons have exacerbated that, as they really haven’t favored Jay Peak as much as they have traditionally, but I’ve paid more attention to just how much snow Mt. Mansfield gets, and it’s impressive.

The above is really just nitpicking for the sake of comparison though, because Jay Peak is a fantastic resort that offers some excellent terrain and amazing powder – there are numerous resorts even out in the Western U.S. that would probably love to receive the amount of snowfall that Jay Peak gets.  And, the whole Jay Peak experience seems to be getting better with the developments going on around the resort, at least based on what we saw on this trip.  While the host of resort enhancements that have been added at Jay Peak over the past few seasons may be a turn off to some hard core skiers, they are definitely a plus in my book; not from just the family perspective, but a personal perspective as well.  The developments are things that if anything will lure us up there more.  One aspect is simply knowing that the resort will be active year-round, and that whenever we go we can anticipate that some dining options will be available.  In the days leading up to our trip, I knew about the upcoming spring snowstorm and was very close to getting a package of a room along with ski and water park tickets.  I didn’t quite find the level of discount I was looking for this time, especially since the pricing per person wasn’t as efficient without Mom along, but it was absolutely a factor luring us toward the resort.  They had a really good ski and stay package going at the Tram Haus Lodge a couple of seasons back, and I’m sure that there will be some similar April deals out there in the future, since it can be a slow time of year for skiing.  We’re certainly excited to check out all the new terrain when the resort expands into the West Bowl area with lift service; the feel of the mountain is really going to be different when that happens, and I’m eager to see what it’s like.  Perhaps it will spread out the visitors and keep the glades and trees from getting tracked out so quickly.  The sidecountry, backcountry, and in-bounds opportunities that would be provided by the new trails and lifts look really impressive.  Now that the boys are older and day-ticket style skiing is becoming more practical, Jay Peak will certainly be high on our list for visits, especially if they keep staying open longer than other resorts in the state.

Stowe, VT 10APR2012

An image of a well-established skin track and some old ski tracks on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after a two foot dump of April snow
The beautiful skin track on Nosedive today that delivered folks to the goods

A cutoff low pressure system backed into the region yesterday, and it began to dump a mixture of heavy snow in the mountains and pouring rain in the lower mountain valleys of Northern Vermont.  Meanwhile, in the Champlain Valley it was just dry and cloudy, so it made from an impressive scene; at the American Weather Forum I sent in a post with a mid afternoon picture from Burlington showing the wall of snow in front of the mountains.  Powderfreak headed up to Mt. Mansfield yesterday afternoon and sent in a nice collection of snowy pictures from his trip.  He reported that the mountain had already received a foot of snow by that point, and the radar showed that moisture continued to pour into the area.  When the precipitation data from the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in, it indicated that the mountain had already received roughly two inches of liquid equivalent by the late afternoon.  The snow and rain just kept pouring down all evening and right through to this morning, and we’d picked up over an inch of liquid at the house as of 6:00 A.M.

I had some time earlier today, so I headed off to Stowe to check out the new snow and make some turns.  The temperature was in the upper 30s F through the valleys, so the precipitation was all rain, and it was literally pouring at times.  Snow started to mix in with the rain up around 1,200’ as I ascended toward the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center, and it quickly changed over to all snow by the time I’d reached the Inn at the Mountain a few moments later.  The precipitation was wet snow as I parked at the Midway lot (~1,600’) and the accumulation was a couple of inches.  The snowflakes were small, in the 1-3 mm range, but it was coming down fairly heavily and I quickly had to put on my ski jacket to avoid getting soaked.

An image of my ski measurement pole showing a depth of roughly two feet at the 2,500' elevation on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Two feet of new snow at 2,500'

There were a few cars in the lot, and to begin my ascent I followed the collection of boot prints and skin tracks that led toward Nosedive; I definitely wanted to find an established skin track, because it sounded like the couple of inches in the parking lot was quickly going to turn into a lot more in the higher elevations.  And indeed it did – within just a couple of minutes after leaving the lot, I was walking through several inches of fresh snow, so I put on my skis and hopped in the skin track.  I was immediately thankful for the skin track, which felt like a superhighway since it was made by some pretty fat skis.  With that great skin track in place, the ascent was smooth and fast, and as I continued to check the depth of the new snow with my measurement pole, I was astonished at how quickly it increased.  By 2,000’ the depth of the snow was already 11”, and by 2,500’ it was 24 inches.  That meant that it was essentially increasing by a couple of inches every 100 vertical feet, and if that level of increase kept up, there was going to be four feet of new snow at the top.  However, the depth of the snow stopped increasing at 2,500’, and remained right around two feet from there on up.

I saw a couple of other guys on the skin track during my ascent, and talked to one of them when we both stopped near the top of Nosedive.  He said that he was one of the guys that set the skin track this morning, and I thanked him a lot for that because it was fantastic.  He said it was tough, but that the second person in line really had it easy because the dense snow compacted so well, so he and the guy he worked with switched off pretty frequently because the back person was rested so quickly.  He had just done a lap down to the 2,500’ level, and said that he felt that was a bit low to go to stay in the best snow; ending a few hundred feet higher would be better.

The wet snow that had been falling heavily throughout the ascent was giving my Gore Tex quite a workout, but there was no wind and temperatures were very comfortable in the 30s F, so various vents and flaps on my gear were open to keep cool.  As I crested the last part of Nosedive though, winter came roaring in, with the wind picking up a bit, the temperature dropping below freezing, and all the moisture that had accumulated on my gear during the ascent freezing into crustiness.  These are the days when you really appreciate those high-tech waterproof breathable fabrics though, because things were nice and dry on the inside.

An image of two skiers ascending through deep snow via a skin track on the Nosedive trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A pair of skiers ascending Nosedive this morning amidst the continued snowfall

I stopped at the top for a few minutes, and there were several folks using the new ski patrol building at the top of the Fourrunner Quad for a quick break.  Overall the snow was still just a couple feet deep, but there were a few drifts, and at one point while I was out of my skis, I stepped down and sank up to my waist in powder.  The snow was still fairly dense even up around 3,700’, but bigger flakes were falling and it was overall a notably drier environment than the lower elevations.

An image of snow and snowfall on the Lookout Double Chair at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
It was still snowing all the way down at the base elevations when I'd finished my ski tour this morning.

For my descent, I headed down in the direction of Hayride; I was unsure how this dense snow was going to ski, but I figured Hayride was a reasonable, steep piece of terrain to keep me moving if necessary.  After my first few turns I could tell that this snow was going to be challenging on my midfat Telemark skis.  It was bottomless Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete, and it definitely required a certain level of finesse on the Teles.  I’ve been used to skiing fairly dry Vermont powder all season, so it took a couple of impressive flops before I dialed in my technique and started to cruise through the dense snow.  I was reminded of a day in December 2001 that E and I skied similar snow at Schweitzer Ski Resort in Idaho – they’d just received four feet of Cascade Concrete, and people were flopping all over the place on the trails, sometimes taking several minutes to extricate themselves each time.  We were on alpine skis at the time, so things were a bit easier, but there’s no question that bottomless dense snow can be a challenge to ski.  A group of three snowboarders passed by me on their descent, and watching them, I thought about how nice it would be to have my snowboard, but it would have been a pain on the ascent.  I was happy to find that my turns were smooth for a while, but between the 2,500’ and 3,000’ level the snow began to get wetter, and I had to work harder and harder to keep my stance dialed in.  Below the 2,500’ mark the skiing was a bit “survival style”, with the focus on just on keeping that perfect balance on each turn.  There was actually another change in the snow that made things a bit easier below that point (perhaps dense enough that one didn’t sink in much at all) but as I approached the Crossover trail, the snow began to change once more as it really got slushy and difficult to do much more than straight line it.  I rode Crossover back over to the Gondola base – it continued to snow even down that low in elevation, but I could tell that it was wetter than it had been at the base in the morning.  Back at the car I chatted with Powderfreak, who had just arrived for some turns.  I let him know about the nice skin track on Nosedive, and at one point he mentioned that there could be more snow coming into the area tonight.

I’m going to be home with the boys over the next few days, so I’ll have to decide what skiing to do with them.  If the texture of the snow doesn’t tighten up a bit, Telemark skiing will be very challenging for them, so we may have to think about getting in some lift-served turns on their alpine skis.  Jay Peak is running their lifts, and they’re reporting 15 inches in the past 48 hours.  Killington is also offering lift-served skiing, and they’re reporting 19” in the past 48 hours.  With Stowe already at 24 inches as of this morning, and precipitation continuing to fall, it will be very interesting to see where the storm totals end up over the next couple of days.  There’s been a nice recovery of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, as of this evening there’s been about 3.5 inches of liquid equivalent from this storm, and the snowpack at the stake is back up to almost 50 inches.  This storm system has really felt like a classic Pacific Northwest-style dump though, with heavy valley rains, and lower elevation wet snow gradually morphing into dry, but still dense snow at elevation.  I can certainly say that when I got back to the house this morning, my ski clothes felt like they’d taken a trip to the Pacific Northwest, and a good period of drying was definitely in order.  They’re ready to go out into the storm again though, and so am I.

Bolton Valley, VT 10MAR2012

An image of Jay skiing the fresh powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Today kicked off another weekend of March powder at Bolton Valley.

Earlier this week the Northeast experienced its warmest weather of 2012 to date, with the feel of spring in the air as temperatures reached well into the 50s F in the valleys of Northern Vermont.  Seasonable temperatures resumed on Thursday night however, with a strong cold front passage that produced winds as high as 96 MPH on Mt. Mansfield and brought along a few inches of snow to the mountains.  This frontal passage was followed by a small upper level disturbance that brought more snow as it came through the area last night.  Snowfall totals weren’t expected to be more than an inch or two, but many of the Vermont resorts picked up several additional inches of snow, with some of the Central Vermont Ski Areas topping the accumulations list at around a foot; Sugarbush reported 11 inches of new snow overnight to bring their 48-hour total to 15 inches.

An image of the snowfall map from the National Weather Service in Burlington for March 10, 2012
The additional snowfall that hit the area last night brought roughly a foot of snow to the Green Mountains on the east side of Addison County - the areas receiving the most snow can be seen in the magenta coloring near the center of the map.

Unsure about how much snow was coming, we didn’t have any hard and fast ski plans for today, but when 4.4 inches of snow had fallen at the house by this morning, and Bolton had tacked on another several inches to their Thursday night totals, it called for hitting the slopes.  The Vista Quad was loading at 8:30 A.M., and the new powder got the boys motivated enough that we made it up to the Village only 5 to 10 minutes after that.  I dropped E and the boys off in the Village Circle, and easily got parking in the top tier of the Village lot – we’re into March now, so many people are thinking warm weather activities, and today wasn’t really forecast to be a significant powder day either.  With that combination I wouldn’t expect it to be a very busy day at the mountain.

An image of ski tracks in the powder below the Vista Quad Chairlift at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking out some of the tracks in the new powder as we make our first trip up the Vista Quad

The base area was indeed very quiet as we loaded on the Vista Quad for our first ride – Jason and the other instructors were out for their early training/clinic runs, and let us know that conditions were great.  It was cloudy, with the cloud ceiling dipping down just low enough to skim the peaks up above 3,000’.  Temperatures were in the mid 20s F, and there was no wind.  The midweek warmth and return to cold had hardened up all the subsurfaces, and with only modest amounts of snow since then, we knew that moderate and low angle terrain was the best way to go for bottomless powder turns.  We were encouraged by what we saw beneath our feet as we cruised along on the quad though – the morning’s initial tracks had the look of a respectable powder day.  With moderate terrain and fresh tracks in mind, we set our sights on a trip over to Wilderness, since the lift hadn’t been fired up since last weekend.

Right from the Vista Summit, we had a chance to check out the float in the fresh powder as we ventured skiers left on Spillway Lane.  The snow was very nice, with no effects from any sort of wind; we actually found ourselves in some quality Champlain Powder™.  That first pitch was a perfect spot to see how all our skis performed in the snow at hand.  I found myself touching down occasionally on my RT 86s, which have only an 86 mm waist, but that shovel up near 130 mm really helps with the float.  E’s Telemark skis are pretty skinny, with 10 mm less width all around, so she may have touched down a bit more.  For the boys though, who were on their twin tip/fat skis that have the equivalent of a ~130 mm waist at adult length, floating was a piece of cake.  They boys don’t weigh very much of course, so combine that with wide skis and they’ve got it easy, but E and I are definitely keen on getting some fatter Telemark skis because we continue to see the benefits even on these small to moderate powder days.

An image of Ty and Dylan jump off a rock into the powder in the Wilderness Woods at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty & Dylan having a ball in the Wilderness Woods today

We continued on Sherman’s Pass, carving some turns in the new powder off the edges off the trail, and then turned onto Swing around the 2,800’ elevation where I used the sheltered area to check the depth of the powder.  The depth came in right around 7 inches, presumably representing the accumulation from the past couple of days.  Work Road was pleasant with the usual areas of powder, and then once over at Wilderness we headed down part of the Wilderness Lift Line and into Wilderness Woods.  Turns were very nice in there, as the pitch fit the amount of new snow nicely, and I could see that E was enjoying the Telemark turns.  We exited out onto Lower Turnpike and finished the run through the powder along the edges.

An image of Dylan skiing fresh powder in the Villager Trees at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan tests the waters in the Villager Trees and finds that that indeed things are quite fine.

Upon checking in at the base of the Wilderness Chair, the lift operator informed us that it would be opening at 10:00 A.M.  We made a mental note, and traversed over to the Vista Quad for another run.  I was planning on another run in that moderate pitch category, and we opted for Cobrass to get us down to Five Corners or enable us to check out some of the trees in the area if the snow was good enough.  The skiing in the Villager Trees turned out to be very nice on all but the steepest pitches, so we really enjoyed that.  By the time we’d finished there we noticed that the rope had been dropped signifying that Timberline had opened, and we had to make a decision between heading there or to Wilderness.  It didn’t take long… we were right there at the access point for Timberline and the whole area was going to be essentially untracked.  It turned out to be the perfect choice.

On our way down to the Timberline Base we ventured through Lower Tattle Tale and were the first ones at the top, so fresh tracks were had all the way down.  I’d been concerned about how deep the powder was going to be around the 2,000’ elevation range and below, but there were a good 5 inches of fluff in which to float, so there were plenty of bottomless turns.  Once we’d experienced that, we knew we’d be spending a good amount of time at Timberline.  As we were finishing off the run I cut over onto Lower Spell Binder, and was the first one on there for the day.  For fun I took a line right down the middle, and the turns were stupendous; I showed Ty the tracks when I met everyone at the bottom and he agreed that we should do more of that.  It was already starting to feel like one of those semi-private Timberline powder days.

An image of E, Ty, and Dylan on Lower Tattle Tale with tracks in the powder at Bolton Valley Ski resort in Vermont
The late morning was starting out as one of those semi-private Timberline powder sessions.

At the Timberline Mid Station we saw that the headwall of Spell Binder was closed, so we did a run in the Wood’s Hole Glades.  The glades had seen just a little traffic, and it was a delight to watch Dylan silently and fluidly navigate his way down the entry line.  Soon after, E got her timing banjaxed from the get go, and struggled her way down the same line.  We laughed about how that one misstep at the start can leave you out of synch for the whole segment.  The snow in the trees was good, but even better was the untracked expanse of Spell Binder that we eventually caught below; that was just the pitch for the snowfall we’d received, and the powder turns seemed endless.  We agreed that it had to be done again, but the boys were calling for a snack break, so we popped into the Timberline Lodge for a few minutes.  It was very quiet in there, with just a couple dozen ski bags and a few people; I’m sure most folks were out enjoying all the powder.

An image of Dylan skiing an expanse of powder on the Spell Binder Trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Dylan roaming the expanse of Spell Binder

Once back out on the slopes, my plan was to check out the Corner Pocket Glades, which I expected to have an excellent pitch for the amount of powder that was around.  Unfortunately, the surface in there was somewhat irregular for whatever reason, and it would have taken a few more inches of snow to really get the glades into prime form.  E had trouble getting into a rhythm on her Telemark skis, and had a pretty good crash near a tree.  Although the boys had no issues at all on their short, fat, alpine skis, I could feel the difficulty in the snow as well on my Teles, so once E had crashed we decided to clear out and head for open terrain.  We worked our way over to Spell Binder, and in terms of snow it was like night and day.  The skiing out there was so effortless and sweet, it was hard to imagine what had gone on in the trees to make things so difficult.  Perhaps the more even distribution of melting/freezing on the open slopes made everything that much smoother.  In any event, at least we discovered that quickly and got to enjoy a long run of turns out in the open.

The boys were getting antsy, so we headed back toward the main base area at that point, catching some turns off the sides of Villager.  E was a keen powderhound and caught some nice looking turns off to the skier’s left.  Ty and I made some extra powder turns in what has become an almost perfunctory little line from Timberline Run down to Villager – I warned Ty about the drainage swale at the exit, and he fluidly found a nice little snow bridge back to the trail.  Although the boys were anxious to get home, it was easy to entice them with a Snowflake run, so we cut down Lower Foxy and were able to glide through the powder in all the untracked areas.  Ty and Dylan even headed off into some of the trees that they like to explore along the lift line.  Lower Foxy had delivered as usual, with not a single track in its powder stashes even though it was almost noontime.

The powder was skiing so well that I decided to keep the party going and take E and the boys through the Bonus Woods.  That area has always had some decent lines, but we’ve helped to spruce them up over the past couple of seasons with patroller Quinn and the rest of the Bolton Valley Glade Enhancement team, so turns were pretty facile and E cruised through smoothly even on her Telemark skis.  That run meant more first tracks and everyone seemed to be pleased with the run as we popped out near the Vista Quad.  E and Dylan headed back on piste, while Ty and I headed toward Butterscotch – for me it was a chance to ski more powder along the edge of the park, but Ty sought out some box sliding on the features.

Snow-covered cars midday on a March powder day in the Wentworth Condominium area in the Bolton Valley Village
Powder day views

Another round of snow had started to fall as we approached midday, and as the family regrouped in the space between the bases of the Mid Mountain and Vista lifts, we had to make a decision.  The conditions were too good to easily pull ourselves away, but the boys were ready to go and were making that quite apparent.  We debated for a couple of minutes, with E and I certainly willing to stay and enjoy a few more runs, but having a birthday party to go to at my parent’s place in the evening and some associated food shopping to do was enough to tip the balance.  We skied down to the Wentworth Condos and took our time strapping together the skis as we soaked in the midday scene on this wonderful powder day.  An occasional car would come or go, many were covered with a fresh blanket of white, and a light snow was falling composed of exquisite flakes.  I even had time to take a few photographs while the boys played around on some of the snowbanks.

Finishing up with the skiing on a powder day is always a little bittersweet; it’s hard to pull away knowing that there are more great turns available out there, but there’s also that physically and mentally relaxing/exhausting feeling of completing such an enjoyable activity.  We were definitely efficient this morning, skiing miles and miles of untracked powder, hitting the right terrain, and getting over 600 photos in the process.  All of that came from what was a bit of a surprise powder morning, and even if it wasn’t the deepest powder on record, with the whole family together it will go down as one of our favorite days of the season.  It was still in the mid 20s F with the clouds hanging around on the mountain, but when we got back to the house down in the valley, a beautiful spring afternoon was underway with full sun and a temperature that had already risen to 40 F.  Indeed it was a pretty classic Vermont spring powder day.

Bolton Valley, VT 03MAR2012

An image of sun lighting up powder that is caked on evergreens near the Vista Summit at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Evergreens near Bolton's Vista Summit being lit up as the sun begins to appear in the afternoon

Our past couple of ski sessions have been at Stowe, but today I was back at Bolton Valley to make some turns and catch up on conditions.  After our midweek storm that dropped a general 9 to 10 inches of snow in the local mountains, we had another small storm that began last night that delivered less than an inch at the house, with a general 1 to 3 inches at elevation.  E and the boys weren’t heading to the mountain with me today, but I knew Stephen and his kids would probably be there, so I’d be able to catch up with them.  Checking the snow report, I found out that the Wilderness, Timberline, and Snowflake Lifts were all on wind hold for some reason, so I packed my skins and some water in my fanny pack in case I wanted to take advantage of that setup to earn some fresh tracks.  There has been the threat of mixed precipitation with this storm, but thus far it’s been pretty minimal and not an issue for ski surfaces.  The big weather question for the day involved temperatures, since even some of the mountain elevations were expected to go above freezing, and if it got warm enough it could turn the recent powder to mush.

I headed up to the mountain around 9:30 A.M., at which point the temperature was mid 30s F in the valley (300’ – 500’) and up at the Village (~2,100’) it was right around the freezing mark.  It was spitting a little mixed precipitation when I arrived, but consistent with what had happened with the storm overnight, there wasn’t really much of significance that would appear to affect the snow surfaces.  For the most part we were in the dry slot of the storm by this morning, so good or bad, it didn’t look like we were going to get much more precipitation.

As I arrived at the base, I saw Stephen, Helena and Thomas going up on the Vista Quad, so I called Stephen on the phone and met them at top.  I convinced everyone that we should check out Hard Luck, and indeed it was well worth a visit; off to the skier’s left in the untracked areas we found about a foot of moderately dense powder, which skied so beautifully that you didn’t want it to end.  Generally cloudy skies and temperatures below freezing were keeping the snow dry, and the logical choice was to enjoy it as long as possible, because we knew that quality could easily head south if the sun came out.  We cut over to Show Off near the bottom of the upper mountain, and got some nice fresh tracks in the powder there, but Helena was just not in the mood for powder, and by Mid Mountain she was fuming mad and wanted to call it a day.  She headed down on her own on groomed terrain, while I joined Stephen for a trip down GladesGlades had seen plenty of skier traffic and was mostly packed down, but it was a very nice surface.

A view to the south from the Vista Peak area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort showing blue skies mixed with fluffy cumulus clouds
Eventually, the clouds lifted off the mountain to reveal some stupendous views, but the sunshine also accelerated the warming of the snow.

Stephen headed into the lodge to see what Helena wanted to do with the rest of her day, while I stayed out and did a couple of runs with Thomas, one of which was a combination of Alta Vista to Sherman’s to Schuss, to Bull Run, to Glades.  All throughout we had great snow, but the freezing level seemed to be rising, so we didn’t know how long we’d have before stickiness set in.  I checked in with Stephen, and it turned out that Helena had gotten her groove back; they had already reached the Vista Summit and were making their descent.  The sun came out and began to accelerate the warming process, but the four of us got together to ski Cobrass and the snow quality was still fine on the upper mountain.  I took a side diversion into the Cobrass Woods and the snow was excellent, even down to Mid Mountain and below; we skied the lift line right under the Vista Quad on the lower mountain and still had no complaints.  We got together for one more run down Cobrass, and I split off right at the top to get some pictures now that the sun had emerged.  I also took a solo jaunt into the Villager Trees; the snow was definitely getting sticky by that point, and it was obvious that the window had just about closed for easy off piste skiing at that elevation.

I was alone at that point, so to finish off the day I decided to skin up to the top of Wilderness to make some turns.  I descended on Alta Vista from the Vista Summit, then skinned up Upper Crossover to top of Bolton Outlaw, where I had a snack and got to watch a batch of clouds move in on the mountain.  The clouds were pushed along by strong winds, so it was quite an experience to see them come in while I was situated near the top of the Wilderness Lift.  I descended Bolton Outlaw; it was getting a bit sticky, but nothing like I’d dealt with in the lower elevations.  I continued on down to the Wilderness Lift Line, with the snow gradually getting heaver as I descended, but I had the whole area to myself and made some sweet turns.  I think the lift line had been groomed at some point, because the powder was only an inch or two deep.  It was quite smooth and fun though, as I tossed each turn’s worth of snow spray off to my sides, a neat pattern was left on the trail.  All in all though, the quality of the turns had dropped a lot once the sun had emerged, so I was ready to call it a day once I got back to the base.

An image of ski tracks in a couple inches of powder on the Wilderness Lift Line trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Leaving behind a track after spraying around a couple inches of powder on the Wilderness Lift Line

I called to check in with Stephen, and he was just coming down from a run, so we were able to meet up before I left.  His knee was bothering him, so he was heading into the lodge, while Thomas and Helena kept going on their own.  With the temperatures warming and the snow becoming stickier by the minute, I was definitely happy to head home to save up some energy for tomorrow’s skiing at Stowe.  There’s the chance for some additional snow tomorrow, so that’s great news for the slopes.  And, knowing Mt. Mansfield, it may not have warmed up there quite as much as it did at Bolton today, so the quality of the skiing could be even higher.  The really impressive spring-like temperatures were in the valley today though; when I got home, it was sunny, with temperatures in the 40s F, and Kenny and the boys were having a blast with snowballs in the yard.  Spring is definitely starting to make inroads in the valley.

Stowe, VT 02MAR2012

An image shot from above of Ty slashing a ski turn in the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Looking down on Ty in the Chin Clip Streambed today as he slashes a turn in the snow

Since midweek, a moderate winter storm has been affecting the state of VermontSnow began to fall Wednesday evening and accumulated slowly through to this morning, at which point we’d received 4.8 inches of snow at the house.  The ski resorts in the northern half of the state picked up a general 9 to 10 inches from the storm, with the Southern Vermont Resorts faring a bit better and topping out with accumulations around a foot and a half.

I went in to work to take care of some things in the morning, then met up with E and the boys back at the house and we headed off to Stowe.  Although only a Friday, the resort was certainly hopping with visitors today; the main Spruce Peak lots were pretty full, so we ended up parking a bit farther down at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.  By happenstance, we parked right next to Marlene, who like me had done some work in the morning and was coming to the resort for some afternoon turns with the family.  Jeff and the kids had been out on the slopes early, and we were all hoping to get together for some fun runs in the new snow.  Although it’s a bit farther away from the Spruce Camp Base Lodge, parking out where we did is a nice option, since the route to the lodge is fairly flat and takes you on easy, paved walkways past the Performing Arts Center itself and the various wings of the Stowe Mountain Lodge.

After getting everyone into their ski gear and gathering outside the lodge, we split up into two parties.  Marlene, Liana, and Isabella stuck around on Spruce Peak, and the rest of us headed over to Mt. Mansfield.  After Sunday’s successful visit to the Chin Clip Streambed, we were eager to get back in there again.  Being a veteran of many snowboard-bumming seasons at Stowe, Jeff is quite familiar with the streambed, but Kenny had never skied it before, and he was going to be the big question mark.  Kenny only started skiing last season, and advanced intermediate runs (or as E describes them, “intermediate runs with an edge”) are really the terrain in his wheelhouse.  Skiing powder isn’t an issue for him; he just skis it like he skis groomed snow, so he’s probably going to be another one of those kids like Ty and Dylan that never spends a lot of time “learning” to ski powder, they just ski it.  So with his ability to handle unconsolidated snow, and his impressive natural athletic ability, we figured he’d be able to rise to today’s challenge.  The streambed is easily handled by an intermediate in some areas, which are wide and of modest pitch, but the 5 to 10 foot waterfalls and steep, narrow sections really elevate it to the level of an expert run.  It was also going to be E’s first time ever in the streambed, and since she was on her Telemark gear, it wasn’t a given that she’d just be able to stroll her way down through the terrain.  We were about to find out how both Kenny and E handled the challenge.

An image shot from above of Kenny skiing the Chin Clip Streambed at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Kenny takes on the Chin Clip Streambed

One thing that everyone had going for them was the quality of the snow; it’s been fantastic since last weekend’s big storm, and we generally found the trails loaded with plenty of soft, medium weight snow that had been packed from skier traffic.  Upper Gondolier had some scoured areas, but those faded once we got down out of the exposed upper section, and then it was quickly into the bumps of Switchback and Chin Clip.  E worked on her Telemark turns in the steep bumps, and semi-jokingly lamented that fact that her legs were already cooked by the time we’d reached the entrance to the streambed.  We all gave Kenny some encouragement that he’d be able to handle it, and then dove in.  After the steep entrance, we were into some of the intermediate-style terrain, but it wasn’t too long before we began to run into frozen waterfalls and steep, half pipe-style environments.  Ty and Dylan were having a blast as usual on the steep walls of the streambed, finding powder pockets and jumps that provided lots of fun.  There was so much snow that I was even able to slip down through the big roped off cliff area, which was steep, but well covered and quite skiable.  Kenny took his time throughout the whole descent, and really did a nice job negotiating some of the waterfall drops.  The Chin Clip Streambed is relentless though, and since Kenny had to work so hard, we could see him tiring on the bottom half of the run.  E had to work hard on her Telemark skis as well, but years and years of experience on skis allowed her to descend efficiently and conserve energy when needed.  She did a great job of coaching Kenny down through the last steep drop where the terrain fans out away from the streambed into steep trees.  Kenny was just about tapped out at that point, but he made it – his first run down the famous Chin Clip Streambed.

An image of Dylan, Ty, and Jeff standing in the Chin Clip Streambed during a run at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Boys 'n the Streambed - Dylan, Ty, and Jeff

We stayed at the gondola for a couple more runs, hitting Perry Merrill and working in a run down through the Tombo Waterfall.  Ty, Dylan, and I joined Jeff for the waterfall run, while the others looped around on Upper Perry Merrill to watch.  Coverage was great, and it’s getting to the point where enough snow has sloughed down the chute that the waterfall is getting smaller.  Ty sliced and diced the whole chute and waterfall jump with ease; Dylan struggled a bit and opted to take the cut around the skier’s left of the waterfall, but he had some nice turns in there.  Ty’s got a couple years of skiing experience on Dylan of course, but when Dylan is on, he’s pretty fearless, so it’s going to be fun to work on that line with him in the future.

An image of Jeff jumping off the Tombo Waterfall on his snowboard at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Jeff launching the Tombo Waterfall today at Stowe

For the last part of the day, we were back over at Spruce, where we met up with the girls for some big runs as a group.  We took the traditional Sunny Spruce to Side Street route to get us over to the Sensation Quad, and it was fun having everyone together.  From the summit, most of us took Whirlaway, although Liana took it a bit easier and E brought her down Sterling.  That was probably a good idea, because everyone was pretty cooked by that point.  Even though we’d only been out for the afternoon, long Telemark runs with Stowe’s high speed lifts definitely work me, and E said that she was feeling it.  She headed in with most of the kids, but it was too hard to pull away from all the great snow, so I ended up staying out with Jeff and Liana for another run down Main Street.  My legs were quite cooked after that one, but it was very satisfying.

A winter image of the snow-covered exterior of Piecasso restaurant in Stowe, Vermont
Apres ski today was at Piecasso

Not surprisingly, everyone was famished from a fun day of battling Stowe’s terrain, so we all headed to Piecasso for dinner.  Things can get pretty crazy having all five kids together, but they were pretty well behaved and did a decent job of replenishing their fuel reserves with pizza, salad, and even some calamari.  It does look like we’re going to need plenty of energy in our legs though, since there’s more snow on the way and we’ve still got the rest of the weekend to ski.  The next storm is already on our doorstep (flakes were flying here as of ~10:15 P.M. or so), and Winter Weather Advisories are up for most of the state.  Snow possibilities will be around through the rest of the weekend, so we’ll be on the lookout for more fresh turns.