The back side snow of our current storm cycle was starting up right around 6:00 A.M. this morning when I was making my CoCoRaHS observations, and it continued at a steady, albeit light pace through the morning. Knowing that yesterday’s mixed precipitation left some variable surfaces on the slopes, I waited until around mid morning to let the accumulations get going, and then headed up for some turns. On my way up the Bolton Valley Access Road, I stopped in at the Timberline Base (1,500’) to check the depth of the new snow; I found 2” there, then roughly 3” up in the Village (2,100’). It actually wasn’t too busy at the mountain, with about three rows of the main lot filled.
“The skier’s left of Alta Vista yielded some excellent turns – it wasn’t untracked powder, but it was a good combination of new snow along with what skiers had pushed over there.”
It was basically walk-on at the Vista Quad so I headed up with the intention of checking out Alta Vista and going in the direction of Wilderness. The skier’s left of Alta Vista yielded some excellent turns – it wasn’t untracked powder, but it was a good combination of new snow along with what skiers had pushed over there. I did touch down to a firmer surface below, but you could tell that it was one of those thick, spongy sort of crust layers as opposed to an ice sheet. Checking in protected areas, it seemed like the upper mountain had picked up about 4” of new snow by that point. I boogied over to Wilderness to check out the snow conditions there, and as I dropped in elevation I could tell that the snowpack had taken more of a hit due to more warming. Underlying surfaces were a bit firmer, and of course the new powder a bit less, so the turns on chopped up powder weren’t quite as good. In addition, the westerly wind was whipping its way right up the trail, so that was taking away a lot of the snow. The sides of the trail were well protected and yielded at least some decent powder turns, even if I was typically touching down on my RT-86s. There was certainly a part of me that wanted to see how the AMPerages would float, but I figured it was good to get the RT-86s out and give the AMPerages a go in what’s expected to be a bigger powder day tomorrow.
I next explored Cobrass on the other end of the main mountain, which was open on 100% natural snow with an “Experts Only” sign. Coverage was easily sufficient, and the only detraction was encounters with that firm layer. In the higher elevations it was sufficient to support skiing in the powder on top of it, but below mid mountain you could punch through so you had to be on your guard. In many spots you could tell that the conditions were the sort where turns were great in some of the fresh powder, or in areas that had seen plenty of skier traffic that had pulverized the thick layer back to packed powder, but those in-between areas created a challenge. That run led me down onto Cobrass Run, where there were more good powder turns as long as you didn’t get on terrain that was so steep that you’d punch through the thick layer.
I decided on one more run to explore the central part of the main mountain, hitting Alta Vista again but finding it not quite as impressive as my first run because other skiers had apparently discovered that left side. Sherman’s Pass was fine, with some excellent powder turns available along the skiers left down near Hard Luck and Lower Show Off. I checked out the Enchanted Forest, and coverage was good, but that low on the mountain the new powder was only a few inches, so I was spending a lot of time on the old surface.
“We almost didn’t go to a Christmas party tonight because it was snowing so hard when we were leaving that we could only see a couple of yards in front of us.”
Before leaving I stopped in at ski patrol and picked up my powder pass from Quinn from our summer glade work. Quinn said that he was very happy that they were able to have Show Off open, because the skier traffic was just what it needed to help keep that snow in place and fend off the effects of the wind. It looked really good from above when I was riding the lift, but I was thinking I’d hit it tomorrow with a bit more snow. I stopped in at the retail shop for a bit of last minute shopping with my pass holder discount, and the place was hopping. I ran into people buying all sorts of gear like goggles, gloves, etc., so hopefully business was good.
I’d say that another inch or so had fallen by the time I left the mountain around lunchtime, but we’ve been getting blitzed with snow tonight here at the house. We almost didn’t go to a Christmas party tonight because it was snowing so hard when we were leaving that we could only see a couple of yards in front of us. Fortunately the intense snow tapered off as we headed west out of the mountains, but there was a half a foot of snow on the snowboard by the time I measured after the party, and then after the snowboard was cleared, another couple of inches fell in just that next hour. That’s another 8 inches of snow here at the house tonight, so it will be interesting to see how much the mountain reports in the morning.
The mountain snowpack has been building up all week due to storms running through the area, and with the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake approaching the two foot mark today, it was finally time to venture up to Bolton Valley and see how the western slopes of the Greens were skiing. I awoke this morning to find 2.2” of new snow at our house in the Winooski Valley, and Bolton Valley reporting 4” overnight to bring their seven-day total to 19”. Although 19” of isn’t an outrageous accumulation over the course of a week, these recent storms have put down plenty of dense snow, so there’s been ample liquid equivalent in that snow to build the base for skiing.
“The turns were naturally really fun, with all sorts of new ski terms like smeary, slarvy, and drifty dancing through my head as the rocker in the skis did its thing.”
When I left the house (495’) it was a couple degrees above freezing and we were in a precipitation lull, but by the time I hit Bolton Flats a couple miles to the west, the next wave of moisture was coming in, and I was hit with a barrage of wet snow and rain. There was no snow on the ground right at the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’), but snowpack appeared very quickly as I began the climb – just a couple hundred feet up there was a solid inch or two of snow down on the ground. The lowest part of the road is fairly protected, but as I got higher I could see that the winds were howling. With the strong winds I was keen to stay somewhat low in elevation, so my goal was to start a ski tour at the Timberline Base (1,500’) if the snow looked sufficient. The temperature at that elevation was right around the freezing mark, but snow was falling with plenty of intensity – when I had my skis out on the ground while I was getting ready, they were covered with a few tenths of an inch of snow in just a few minutes. The wind gusts were strong, certainly 20-30 MPH, and I actually had to head off into the trees a few dozen yards away when I realized that one of my glove liners had been stolen and carted off by the wind.
Aside from the driving school’s vehicles that were lined up in front of the base lodge, I only saw one other vehicle that seemed like it might belong to a skier (not surprisingly it was a Subaru). As I began my ascent, I didn’t initially find a skin track, although I followed some fairly fresh snowshoe tracks before breaking off to set my own track up the climber’s left of Twice as Nice. Snow depths at the base ranged from as little as 5 inches, to as much as 18 inches, with the average snow depth falling somewhere in the middle of that range. Breaking trail was at times a bit tough through the snow on the deeper end of the spectrum, but I enjoyed very good traction despite sporting the combination of AMPerages with RT-86 skins. This combination struggled to provide traction in established skin tracks back on November 30th and December 1st outings at Stowe, but it was very solid today. I’ve discovered that the width of the AMPerages combined with narrow skins proves to be a difficult combination in skin tracks that may have been made by narrower skis – it leaves one resting on just the outer edges of the wide ski base, where there is no skin. Today’s snow was dense with good grip, and I was able to head straight up the edge of the trail with minimal switchbacks. Snow depth increased somewhat as I ascended, and that increase seemed to be on the bottom end of the range; the deepest areas weren’t get deeper, but coverage was definitely getting better in areas that needed it. More notable than even the increase in snow depths was that after the first couple hundred feet of elevation, the snow got drier. There’s definitely not enough base yet to open terrain to lift-served traffic down at that elevation, but it’s getting close. One good dump with an inch or two of liquid equivalent would have it there. The wind actually subsided quite a bit by the time I was descending, so it was very comfortable with the temperature near freezing.
I didn’t have time for a really long run, so I headed right back down Twice as Nice, sticking to the skier’s left where the snow looked deepest. Indeed there were no issues touching down, and areas where depths were blown low by the wind were easily avoided. This was my first chance to try the AMPerages in a denser, powder (morning analysis of the snow at the house came in at a Sierra-like 11.4% H2O) and they again showed that they were in their element. After one cautious turn to see if I was going to find myself being tossed around in a Telemark stance… it was all downhill. The turns were naturally really fun, with all sorts of new ski terms like smeary, slarvy, and drifty dancing through my head as the rocker in the skis did its thing. I wouldn’t say that I ever tire of skiing powder, but these types of skis can definitely inject a new level of fun if you’re looking for something to invigorate your skiing. Boy did I want to stick around for some more turns!
I’m not sure when the mountain started opening natural snow terrain, but as of today they’ve got numerous natural snow trails in the mix, including several black diamond runs on the upper mountain. That is a very good sign that snow depths are substantial up there above 2,000’. I see from one of Powderfreak’s recent posts on the American Weather forum, that Stowe has also been opening up a bunch of natural snow terrain, and the skiing looks excellent. It appears that some upslope snow could be coming in to the area tomorrow with the back end of this system, and that might deliver another foot of powder in some areas. The skiing should be quite good with that addition, and with potentially more of these storms in the pipe, we could be looking at a very good holiday week for the local resorts.
I awoke this morning to our coldest temperatures of the season – we bottomed out at 7.2 F and there was no doubt that the snow was going to be light and dry. Since the snow had shut off by roughly midnight, there had been plenty of time to clean up the roads, and the trip over to Stowe was quick. There were a good 20+ vehicles present as I parked in the Mansfield lot, and although it was still fairly dark, I could see a few skiers making their way up the slope leading to the trails. They seemed to be heading off in the direction of Nosedive, so I opted to head that way and hopefully make use of an established skin track.
“I’ve often wondered if it was worth going the slightly narrower route on skins to reduce weight and enhance glide. After today’s experience, I can tell you to forget about it for typical alpine ascents.”
The track headed up Lower National through a few lower elevation snow guns, and the areas of firm, manmade snow quickly made me aware that my ascension setup wasn’t going to be perfect. I was using my AMPerages (139-115-123) to see how they fared in the powder, but since I don’t have skins for them yet, I was using my RT-86 skins (127-86-113). That width differential left a good deal of base exposed, and on occasion I had to use a heaping helping of arm strength with my poles to avoid slipping. Although I’ve always cut my skins to the full width of my skis, I’ve often wondered if it was worth going the slightly narrower route on skins to reduce weight and enhance glide. After today’s experience, I can tell you to forget about it for typical alpine ascents. Unless you’re going to be touring on very low angle terrain, it’s just not worth it based on what I experienced today – any benefit from the weight/glide could easily be lost by the constant slipping. Thank goodness the skin track didn’t have any post holes in it this morning or it would have been a huge pain to hold traction. Up through Lower National I was getting by reasonably well with the occasional small slip of my skins, but the challenge wasn’t quite over. After reaching the top of Lower National, the skin track shot up Midway, which has quite a steep pitch, and maintaining skin traction became a lot harder. The pitch eased a bit as the track made its way onto Nosedive, but by the time I’d reached the Liftline/National junction, time was getting short and I was more than happy avoid any more slipping. It was time for a descent.
I’d been checking on snow depth during my ascent, but due to all the snow this week, there was a lot of unconsolidated stuff under the current storm’s bounty and it was difficult to assess just what came down overnight. I’d been getting measurements of roughly a foot or more since I’d started at the base area (~1,500’), but when I stuck my measurement pole into the snow at that ~2,800’ mark, I got an overall depth of 18 inches. Combined with what I was seeing around me from other skiers (check out the pictures from adk and from Powderfreak at the American Weather Forum), who were having little if any issues touching down on obstacles below the snow, the potential turns were looking really good. National is quite steep and while it wouldn’t typically be my first choice for early season skiing, Mother Nature has really been dishing out the snow on Stowe this week. It looked ready and I was about to test it out.
“These new fat, rockered skis are absolutely the real deal. I continued to bound my way down the steep slope, just amazed at how easy the turns were.”
I switched to descent mode and decided to see what the AMPerages could do. I dropped in for the first few turns, tentatively, still wondering in the back of my mind if I was going to hit something below, but it was immediately obvious that there was plenty of snow. The powder was light and dry, and I quickly found myself just giddy with how well the AMPerages performed. This was my first time on such fat, rockered skis, and although I figured that there might be some modest, incremental increase in ease of powder skiing over my regular Telemark setup, it was far more than that. These new fat, rockered skis are absolutely the real deal. I continued to bound my way down the steep slope, just amazed at how easy the turns were. At the bottom of National I decided to avoid heading back down toward the snow guns where I’d ascended, and instead took Houghton’s over toward the Lookout Double. It was very quiet over there, since it was well away from any snow guns, and I finished off my run turning my way through fluffy silence. It’s not even December 1st and there’s not just passable, but really good natural snow skiing from top to bottom on Mt. Mansfield, so indeed that’s a great end to November on the slopes.
Sure today featured the best snow I’ve encountered this season, but I can already tell that the powder skiing is going to be just that much more fun this season with the new boards in the quiver. I’ve now tested the AMPerages in some legitimate Champlain Powder™ – they handled the fluff with aplomb and they are clearly NVT worthy in that regard. Presumably the whole season won’t be just a fluff fest, so I’m also eager to see how they handle thicker snow and crud, but we’ll have time for that.
On our way toward Burlington to run some errands today, we headed up to Bolton Valley in the mid afternoon to get our season’s passes. Temperatures were in the low 40s F at the house, but started to drop pretty quickly as we ascended the Bolton Valley Access Road. The first signs of snow on the ground along the road were just above the Timberline Base in the 1,700’ elevation range, but I also noticed that slushy snow was still present on vehicles in the parking lot of the Timberline Base Lodge (1,500’) even though there was nothing left on the ground there. I suspect that the snow line was a bit lower last night, but I’m not sure quite had far down it reached. Up in the village at 2,100’ it was snowing with temperatures in the low to mid 30s F, and we found about an inch and a half of accumulated snow on the ground/elevated surfaces. It was quite a contrast descending the road and spending the afternoon in the Burlington area, where the temperatures were in the mid 40s F and it was hard to imagine that it was snowing even below 2,000’, the lapse rate actually seemed steeper than usual today. In the Champlain Valley it was often just cloudy with the feeling that precipitation had wound down, but as the afternoon wore on, spits of precipitation and bouts of light rain became more common. At times we’d have bursts of more moderate precipitation and it was nice to know that moisture was still heading to the mountains and falling as snow. Leaving Burlington later in the evening we went from 42 F in Williston to ~37-38 F at the house. There no accumulating snow to report down here as the temperature is sitting around the 37 F mark, but we’ve got light to moderate rain right now and 0.18” of liquid in the rain gauge since it was emptied this morning, so it’s probably still accumulating at elevation. A few pictures are available from our visit to the higher elevations of Vermont today.
Date Snow at the stake (in.)
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:
I also scanned the Mt. Mansfield data for August, and there was even one report of accumulation there:
Date Snowfall (in.)
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
1963-1964 – 0.1” snowfall
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.
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:
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.
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:
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. Nonetheless, snow of any size will cause extremely cold temperatures. As a result, make sure your heating is working properly. If not a repair kc team will be able to ensure everything is in working order. However, if you are unable to use these services you must look around for ones that are in your vicinity and can get to you in the proper amount of time. You may want to check here to see who may be available to you. Now back to the science that can help us determine the measurement of snowfall.
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:
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.
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.
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 StoweRFID passes just in case they interfered with the signal on our Jay Peak tickets.
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. It was the kind of snow you’d want to see at a ski resort club, to be honest. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.