Tag Archives: Spring Snow

Stowe, VT 16MAY2016

An image of ski tracks in powder from a mid May snowstorm on the slopes of Mt Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
It may be May… but the powder turns on the upper slopes of Mt. Mansfield today would be considered fantastic in any month!

It’s not every May that we get great powder to ski, but this May will certainly go down as one in which we did.  The potential for snow from this current storm cycle has been on people’s minds since last week, so it certainly wasn’t a surprise, but of course you never know exactly how things will play out until they actually get going.  For me, it was pretty obvious that things were going OK when we were picking up frozen precipitation all the way down in the valley during the day yesterday.  Reports of accumulating snow were already coming in from the mountains as well.   Then, late last night we began to get some legitimate snow at our house, and it was obvious that the local mountains were going to continue with accumulations.

An image showing an antique truck with some May snow on it in Waterbury Center, VermontSnow was still falling at the house this morning, and if anything it was becoming drier as time went on, so that was encouraging.  I decided to head out to Stowe as planned, and I brought along a bunch of camera gear because I expected there would be some fun photo ops along the way.  As I traveled to Mt. Mansfield, it was clear that the lower mountain valleys in the 500’ to 1,000’ elevation range were right around the snow line, and that produced a fantastic amalgam of snow accumulations and touches of spring greenery.  Aspect wasn’t too critical in determining accumulations since it was quite cloudy, but the type of surface and whether or not it was elevated really played a big role.  Also, you could travel just a few hundred yards and see quite a variety of accumulations depending on which areas had been hit with heavier snow showers.  Some yards had snow on the grass, some had accumulations only on elevated surfaces, and some had neither.  In some spots only the rooves, or just sections of the rooves, held accumulations.  The precipitation I encountered was all snow, but temperatures were generally in the mid 30s F, so that contributed to the variable accumulations.

An image showing tracks from various methods of snow travel on one of the slopes at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Choose your highway!

Fairly continuous coverage on the ground really started once you got above 1,000’ in elevation, and up around 1,600’ at the Midway Lodge I found roughly an inch of accumulation.  My initial plans were to skin up Nosedive, since it’s always a good late-season bet, but from what I could see, the snow depth really didn’t jump up that quickly with respect to elevation.  With that in mind, I headed along Crossover toward the main North Slope route to hopefully find solid base coverage down to lower elevations.  The coverage on Crossover wasn’t quite enough to make skinning worth it, so I hiked along until I caught North Slope at around 1,800’ or so, where I was able to start skinning.  Indeed the snow depth was building slowly, as even at roughly the 2,000’ mark there was still only 1”-2” of new snow.

I was starting to think that I was going to be out for more of a hike than a real quality powder skiing session, when suddenly I got up around 2,500’ and the snow depth really began to jump up.  Here’s my best estimates of new snow depth based on measurement pole probing along my route:

1,600’: 1”
2,000’: 1”-2”
2,500’: 4”-6”
3,000’: 7”-8”
3,600’: 8”?

I didn’t really detect any notable gains in snow depth between 3,000’ and 3,600’, and the stronger winds made the measurements more challenging anyway, but my best guess was around 8” up at the Octagon.

An image showing the depth of snow just outside the Octagon at Stowe Mountain Resort after a May snowstormI stuck my pole right in the snow by the main Octagon doorway and found 14” – this was clearly due to some drifting, but that’s a decent idea of what you could find if you were hitting the deeper spots along the trails in the upper elevations.  The winds were nice in some respects though – they had erased most tracks from previous skiers without really hammering the powder.  For the most part it was a gentle sifting in of new snow without any formation of wind crust.  You could certainly see signs of old tracks in various locations, but in many cases the trails had been wiped clean, wall to wall.

“…those turns above 2,500’ would have held up as high quality in any season.”

Anyway, that top ~1,000’ of vertical offered up simply fabulous turns – the powder was mid to heavy weight, but not sticky at all and it had plenty of buoyancy to keep things bottomless right down to 2,500’ as long as you followed the deposition patterns along the trails appropriately.  I had decent turns back down to 1,800’ at Crossover, but they generally weren’t bottomless down there – laps above 2,500’ were the way to go depending on one’s time and how they set up their tour.  You’d have consistently very high quality turns with that approach.  The turns for me were clearly some of the highest quality I encountered this season, and certainly some of the most consistent at such a high level.  Granted, we know how this season went with regard to blowing away the record books on the low end, but those turns above 2,500’ would have held up as high quality in any season.  I had debated bringing my mid-fats today since I was unsure of how the accumulations were going to play out, but there was no question after my run – the fat skis were totally in their element and delivering just like they should.

Bolton Valley, VT 24MAR2012

An image of Ty Telemark skiing in spring snow on Sherman's Pass at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty dialing in some Telemark turns today at Bolton Valley - although terrain options were limited due to the recent warm weather, the snow on Sherman's Pass was quite nice today.

Record warmth occupied the region over the past week, with temperatures that topped out in the 70s and 80s F, forcing the closure of many trails at the local ski areas.  Fortunately, Bolton was able to keep things rolling by managing their available snow, and they were open for skiing today.  Although the warmth of the past couple of weeks has meant a lack of powder, altering terrain choices from the trees to more on piste alternatives, it’s been a boon for Ty and Dylan’s Telemark skiing.  They worked hard on their turns last Saturday at Bolton, E brought them to Stowe yesterday where they worked some more, and the plan was for them to keep at it again today.  They don’t often get back to back days of Telemark skiing, so we were excited to get out there today to really put in a reinforcing shot in their progression.

After the warmth of the week, temperatures cooled and clouds came in today, so we were concerned about the snow surfaces stiffening up.  When Powderfreak mentioned that the mountain temperatures were cool enough to firm up the snow at Stowe, it didn’t instill a lot of optimism, but we decided to head up to Bolton anyway and check things out.  We got up to the Village around 10:00 A.M. for the opening of the Vista Quad, and the temperature was 41 F at the base.  Plenty of parking was available in the top tier lot because so few skiers had come out, and the base area was pretty quiet aside from a large group of what looked like kids and ski instructors.  It didn’t appear as though they were going to ski; it just seemed like they were going to have some sort of end of the season gathering.

An image of the main base lodge at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont on a quiet morning in March
After an initial gathering of what looked like kids and ski instructors, the main base area at Bolton Valley was very quiet today.

The elevation at which natural snow begins to appear has risen quite high, and we didn’t see any until around 2,000’.  Even above that though, it remained very patchy all the way up to the Vista Summit above 3,000’.  With such intense heat over the past week, it was a different melting pattern than what I’m used to seeing on the mountain.  Options for skiing were the Spillway and Sherman’s Pass routes up top, which combined into Beech Seal on the lower mountain.  Sherman’s was the plan for the boys on their Teles, and the snow turned out to have an excellent consistency.  Thanks to grooming and/or skier traffic, it had softened to great corn snow.  The snow actually turned out to be even better than what we had last Saturday, which was a little on the soft side and pushed the boys around in spots during their turns.  In areas without the skier traffic or grooming though, today’s snow was a bit firm, so there’s clearly plenty of thermal mass left in the snowpack to keep it cool.  We had wondered what it was going to be like in terms of crowding today with just a couple of routes open, but there were so few people skiing that it wasn’t an issue – E and I estimate that we saw about 30 to 40 people out there on the slopes, and that includes quite a few ski patrollers.

An image of Ty arcing through a Telemark turn in spring snow on Sherman's Pass at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Sherman's Pass offered up some great spring snow today to let both boys arc through plenty of nice Telemark turns.

Since E skied with the boys at Stowe yesterday, she got to watch the progression in their Telemark turns, but this morning was the first time I’d seen them in action since last weekend.  I quickly got to witness the improvement that the additional session and back-to-back days had made.  Both boys were holding stronger Telemark turns on steeper pitches.  Dylan still has an obvious “vanilla” side (and I guess therefore a “chocolate” side), but Ty seemed to be pretty consistent to the right and left.  We therefore had him working on transitions between turns, because we could see that that was an area of weakness.  Right now he’s completing many good turns, but not flowing into the next one, and E and I can both recall from our learning that dialing in that transition represents a big leap in one’s ability to link smooth, quick Telemark turns on various pitches.  In any event, both boys really put out a lot of great turns, and since Bear Run was closed, they were nailing them on the steeper top section of Beech Seal.  Both boys were holding long Telemark stances even in the flats to work on their balance, and Dylan commented on how it was really working his legs.  Telemark skiing will do that… apparently even to a six year old.

An image of Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Checking out the snow coverage over at Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks

The snow was definitely good enough for some additional runs, especially with the way the snow surfaces and terrain were working out well for the boys, but we finished up early because we had to be home by noon.  We were meeting my mom to head off to my cousins sugarhouse in Barton for his annual get together.  It’s interesting that Bolton was only planning to stay open until 2:00 P.M. though, and they are making this their last day.  With the cooler forecast and potential for more snow in the coming weeks, there’s no question that they could stay open if they wanted to, but I’m sure it’s a financial decision with so few people skiing.  The warmth of the past week no doubt shifted many people’s thoughts away from skiing, and folks aren’t going to be too interested in paying for a lot of days on limited terrain.  Bolton’s normal closing is next weekend anyway, and with the extra weekend that they stayed open last season due to the prodigious spring snowpack, closing a week early this season basically averages things out.  It is great that there is still plenty of base down for earned turns in the coming week if we get more powder, or even if the weather warms up for more corn snow.

Stowe, VT 18MAR2012

An image of skis poking out over the steep edge of the headwall of the National trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, with the steep, snowy, mogul-filled trail below
Perched atop National today

It’s been too warm for any additional snow recently, even in the mountains, but according to my records this is the first weekend/holiday period without powder since way back in the middle of December.  That’s actually pretty surprising in this season of warm temperatures and low snowfall, but despite the bouts of inhospitable ski weather, the Northern Greens have managed to continuously catch timely snow to revitalize the snow surfaces and provide powder skiing.  Yesterday the boys had a good session of Telemark training at Bolton Valley, but today they were back on the alpines for our weekly ski program session at Stowe.

“according to my records
this is the first weekend/
holiday period without
powder since way back
in the middle of December.”

The resort didn’t seem to be too busy when we arrived today, as I managed a midday parking spot right in the first row near the Stowe Mountain Lodge.  The boys and I met up with Connor and did an early run on Easy Street; its fairly mellow slope was still somewhat challenging for Connor as he’s just switched over to snowboarding this season.  Snow on those low elevations, south-facing slopes near the Spruce Peak Base Area was quite soft and slushy, but at least it wasn’t overly sticky since it had long ago taken on that corn snow consistency.  When our coaching group for the day finally assembled, it was just Luke, Ty, and Dylan for students, with Luke’s Dad joining us as well since he was out on the mountain today.  As the spring temperatures continued to surge into the afternoon, with 50s and 60s F on the mountain and even some 70s F at the base area elevations, the layers of ski clothing seemed to be flying off faster than people could do laps.  We certainly weren’t immune to the warm temperatures, so as we headed toward the Over Easy we stopped in Spruce Camp and dropped some layers.  The process took a few minutes because we also had to switch our ski passes out of our parkas as we converted over to vests.

“the layers of ski
clothing seemed to be
flying off faster than
people could do laps.”

We kicked off our Mansfield turns with a trip down Cliff Trail, which we were happy to find full of bumps on its upper half.  The skiing seems much better there with some contour, and naturally the bumps were loads of fun with the spring snow.  We continued down onto Nosedive, and proceeded on our way to the Fourrunner Quad area – we’ve spent a huge amount of time on the Mansfield Gondola this season, so this was a chance to mix things up and get some time in the Front Four area.  The quad actually wasn’t running because work was being done on it, but the Lookout Double was running as the alternative.  We were happy that it was such a nice day though, because just as we were approaching to top of the lift, there was a five minute lift stoppage.  Dylan was with me, and Ty was actually with a stranger, but he said he managed a fun discussion.  Not surprisingly, the discussion included skiing.

“I straddled up to the
precipitous edge, stuck
my skis out into the air,
and enjoyed the view
beneath my feet.”

With the Front Four on our Minds, we headed right over to National, and the presence of soft spring snow meant that it was definitely time to hit the formidable headwall.  The National Headwall is so steep that it often just turns into an icy mess that’s not worth skiing if the weather isn’t good, but that was not the case today.  I was indeed excited to be atop National on a day like today.  I straddled up to the precipitous edge, stuck my skis out into the air, and enjoyed the view beneath my feet.  The pitch of the National Headwall doesn’t look like it’s quite 40 degrees, but with the way the catwalk above it is groomed, I’d say from experience that the first pitch is pretty darned close to hitting that mark.  After eschewing the headwall under nasty conditions earlier in the season, I assured the boys that they could handle the slope easily with the good snow, and indeed they did.  It was just pure fun letting the soft, steep turns just fall away with gravity on the upper headwall.  As we approached the junction with Liftline, we got an acrobatic demonstration of sorts – were able to watch a couple of lift mechanics transfer from a chair onto one of the lift towers.  It was very cool looking down at them as they were perched precariously on the chair, accented by the image behind them, which was a view of the valley far below.

An image of two lift mechanics with safety harnesses moving from a chair on Stowe's Fourrunner Quad to one of the towers to perform maintenance.
Mechanics high in the sky today on the Fourrunner Quad

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the Mountain Triple, making sure to catch a trip on Hayride, but also putting in a good dose of terrain park action at the request of the boys.  We even managed a terrain park trifecta at one point, coupling the small park on Lord to the larger parks on Tyro and North Slope in one long run.  The only downside we found to our “freestyle” terrain selection was that the resort didn’t build their huge half pipe this season, so we didn’t get to mix that in.  With the adhesive properties of the soft corn snow, we were able to really load up the tops of our skis with heaping helpings of it before getting on the lift.  Ty, Dylan and I we were able to stockpile it that allowed us to throw a lot of snowballs during our ascents, as we worked on hitting the chairs that were descending on the other side of the lift.  Hitting the skeleton-like chairlift frame, which is of course a moving target, while in a seated position on another moving object, is a fun challenge.  Although Ty had the pole position on that one, putting him closest to the target, he throws lefty, so that raised the bar for him.  We skied almost until the lifts closed, winding up at Spruce around 3:45 P.M. where we called it a day.  It was good ol’ Subway at the Alpine Mart today on the way home as the warmer season of après ski kicks into gear, and that closed the books on another fine day of Vermont spring skiing.

An image of Dylan carrying Erica's snowboard on his shoulders as he walks through the parking lot in front of the Stowe Mountain Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Top notch porter service for Mom at the end of the day