With so much potential snowfall on the horizon, Dave sent us a text on Sunday inquiring about the best days to come up for some skiing in Northern Vermont this week. The forecast was still a bit up in the air at that point, but by Monday he was set to go, and just needed to decide on when to come up. He ultimately decided to make his drive on Tuesday evening, once Winter Storm Skylar was pulling away from Southern New England. He battled his way up from Boston, having a slow go of it during the first hour, but quickly found himself cruising along as the only one on the road.
“Depth checks around the mountain revealed roughly 20 inches of powder at a minimum, with many areas at 30+ inches.”
We didn’t know until this morning that E and the boys would have a snow day, but once we knew, the plan was secured for all of us to head to Stowe together. That meant that we’d want to get on the road pretty early, since when it comes to Stowe and its fast lifts and ravenous powder hounds, one definitely needs to be an early bird to get the worm. That meant we’d have to get the boys up and motivated. Dave hasn’t been up in a while, so when he saw Ty in bed this morning, the exchange went as follows:
Dave: “Do you remember me?” Ty: “Yes.” Dave: “Good… get up.” That’s classic Dave, and we LOLed about that exchange all day.
We were indeed able to get the boys motivated for an early start, and got to the mountain with no travel problems. We had a quick breakfast at the Mansfield Base Lodge, and headed right up to the Fourrunner Quad. Within a half hour of lift opening, the trails, and even the glades off the quad had been devoured. The skiing was of course still fantastic, but if you wanted untracked lines of any length, you were already having to head for those more obscure spots. We all had a tremendous time in the Tres Amigos Glades, highlighted by the boys dropping whatever ledges and cliffs they could find with powder below. And indeed it was that kind of day where you could launch just about anything you wanted. Dave really found his groove when we hit the Nosedive Glades, and had a blast.
We moved over to the Gondola so the five of us could ride the lift together as a group, and had a great couple of runs on Waterfall, Perry Merrill, and surrounding environs. Whether we were on piste or off, the conditions were simply ridiculous. On piste it was bottomless chowder and packed powder, and off piste it was waist deep powder. Ty and I took the crew to an area we’ve nicknamed “Stella”, because we discovered it during our Winter Storm Stella outing and delivered such great lines of steep and deep powder.
We had a nice lunch at the Great Room Grill, and since we were over at Spruce Peak we decided to take Dave on some runs there. What a great decision that was! Spruce Peak served up tons of untracked powder in all our favorite locales off Sunny Spruce and Sensation. Let’s just say, the skiing was so good that we spent the rest of the day there. Dylan said he really had fun skiing with today’s “crew”.
In terms of overall snow, I believe the resort was reporting a storm total of 18 inches, but it snowed throughout the day and there was already much more powder than that available from previous storms. Depth checks around the mountain revealed roughly 20 inches of powder at a minimum, with many areas at 30+ inches. We’ve still got snow falling here at the house this evening, so the resorts should be reporting additional accumulations by tomorrow morning. It’s interesting to note that we’re once again at the “S” winter storm of the alphabet with Winter Storm Skylar, just as we were last year around this time with Winter Storm Stella.
“All in all that had to be just about perfect conditions today for skiing the Bruce…”
We had a little time before our group got together, so we did a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor and his dad. As expected, the snow quality was excellent – it was packed powder on the trails and powder off piste, with just a few bare spots here and there on steeper south-facing terrain like Freddie’s Chute. One of the highlights of that run was West Slope, where we rode the ridge along the skier’s left with big swooping drops into the chowder on the left side. At one point I heard Luke screaming out behind me something like “That was so intense!” after launching a huge drop on one of his turns… intense indeed!
We gathered up our group, which featured Claire, Ken, Julia, Luke, Ty, Dylan, and me. Along with Joana and big Luke, we were missing Joe, Sam and Ethan today, and I suspect they would have loved to make a run down the Bruce, but hopefully they’ll get to do it next time. Apparently Joe did have a great day out on the mountain on Friday with Ken though, so he’s had a good dose of all this new snow. We debated briefly about whether we should do our Bruce run at the beginning of the day or the end of the day, but with some folks having obligations preventing them from lingering at the mountain too long at the end, we decided that we’d better start with the Bruce and fill extra time in with some other runs at the end of the day. Based on my reconnaissance day, I was going with a fairly conservative estimate of two hours for us to complete the run to the base of the Bruce. I knew there wouldn’t be any problems for anyone in terms of the skiing, I was just unsure about what our pace would be through the flatter terrain in the Nordic areas. If the kids found it tiring it might take longer than what I’d experience on my own, so I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
We didn’t waste any time getting to the top of the Bruce, we crossed on the Over Easy and went right up the Fourrunner Quad. Unlike down in the base elevations, there was a brisk wind up there around 3,600’. Some of the boys dropped in the alternate entrance to the Bruce for a bit of powder and I grabbed a few pictures there and some more as they dropped below me on the trail. It was packed snow on the trail, but the quality was excellent, far better than what I’d experienced on my January trip, which was after a thaw the previous week. The skiing in the upper sections went pretty much as expected, the boys were having a blast with the bumps and jumps, and one could explore the powder off to the sides when areas opened up in the trees. A few of the steepest pitches were a little scraped down in spots, but that was pretty minimal because of the deep base and recent snow. As we got down into the hardwoods and the forest began to open up even more, I started venturing father off the trail into powder lines based on my previous knowledge. The powder was generally a foot plus in most places, and that worked well on most pitches – enough to slow you down on the steeper stuff, but not bog you down too much in the mellower areas. Down on the Nordic trails, the final, flatter part of the descent went very smoothly. Ty noticed one of those wavy green lines one of the trail signs, indicating beginner Nordic terrain, and with regard to the perceived flatness he said, “Oh no, that type of sign is never good!” I’d say he found out that it really wasn’t that bad. The kids did a nice job of keeping their pace on the flatter areas, and I’d give Ty and Dylan occasional boosts to keep their pace up. They started to play around and get tangled up with each other as they skated and poled their way down the trail, so that kept them entertained even on the flats. As a bonus we got those beautiful views of the snowy Ranch Brook, and the snow stayed quite powdery all the way down to 1,000’. All in all that had to be just about perfect conditions today for skiing the Bruce, comfortable temperatures, partly cloudy skies, and dry snow all the way to the base. I’m not sure what more one could ask for aside from getting first tracks!
From leaving the Spruce Peak Base to reaching the bottom of the Bruce at Route 108, it had taken a bit under 90 minutes, so we made it well under my two-hour conservative estimate, even with the large group. We were about 20 minutes ahead of the next Mountain Road Shuttle when we reached the end of the trail, so we popped into Notchbrook Convenience Store for some snacks, and enjoyed the early spring weather while we waited. The March sun is quite nice right now, and it’s the beautiful sort of weather that is keeping the snow dry instead of sticky, even with relatively warm air. Ty and Dylan loved the ride on the shuttle, and Ty only half jokingly insisted that “The Bruce was nice, but it’s the bus ride that’s really my favorite part of the trip.” He certainly does like to ride buses. For a representative GPS/Google Earth map or elevation profile plot of the travel circuit we used to ski the Bruce Trail, refer to my Bruce Trail trip report from January 21st.
When we arrived back at the Spruce Peak Base Area, we had another hour or so before the lifts stopped running, and we decided to use our remaining time for a trip over to the Sensation Quad. With the relatively deep March snowpack, it seemed like a good time to ski as much of Spruce Line as we could. The strengthening sun is only going to start beating on that south-facing terrain more and more. I was surprised to find that the steep terrain above Green Acres was fairly wind scoured, but we found a line through and the boys did some great steep turns and jumps off one of the rocks there. Dylan led the charge with an impressive jump turn off the rock, landing in a sea of deep powder. He was followed up by the other boys, including Luke who was totally jazzed at how high he went. That steep pitch used to intimidate him, and now he’s launching huge jump turns off boulders into powder. It’s great to see him expanding his skiing literally by leaps and bounds. Ken launched a beautiful air off the rock as well, although he had to deal with sloppy fourth or fifths in terms of the powder on the landing. The snow in Green Acres was excellent – powder of well over a foot in depth, which was plenty to slow you down in some of those tighter tree lines. We couldn’t ski all of Spruce Line because parts were closed, but we did get the middle section that was fairly lightly tracked with some beautiful snow. The group also enjoyed the chance to ski Main Street since there weren’t any races taking place – having Main Street open up for general traffic is one of those great things about approaching the spring season at Stowe.
“The Bruce was nice,
but it’s the bus ride
that’s really my
favorite part of
While most of the group had to leave a bit early, Ty, Dylan, and I found time to squeeze in one more run on Sunny Spruce. We dropped into Freddie’s Chute, and Dylan worked his way to the woods on the skier’s right for some powder. He ended making an impressive drop off a log, which had to be 8 to 10 feet high. He did manage to hit his chin with his knee on the landing, and it wasn’t of any consequence, but I did stress the point of being aware that that can happen and making sure that your tongue is not anywhere near your teeth. That was really an aggressive drop that he made, and between Bolton yesterday and Stowe today, he’s really been on fire with the airs this weekend. With deep bases and deep powder though, ‘tis the season for such things. We followed that up with some exploration of the trees off to the skier’s left of Lower Smuggler’s – a section that none of us have ever explored before. We found some good lines, with just a bit of a slow exit on flat terrain. We finished off with a final descent down West Slope, making use of that ridge and flying off the edge into the powder.
I just checked the forecast, and we’ve apparent got more snow on the way this week. Nothing too big is expected, but the mountains often seem to do a lot with just a little moisture in the forecast. Indeed this is turning out to be quite a March for skiing in the Northern Greens as we make up for the rather paltry snowfall of January and February.
“Every week we seem to
get one of those mixed
storms to make a mess
out of the slopes, and
Mansfield pulls another
7, 8 , 9, 10 inches or
whatever out of the sky
to bring back the powder
The day was set up as a nice comfortable one with temperatures in the 30s F for the mountain valleys, and a high of around 25 F on Mt. Mansfield. Naturally, the combination of nice temperatures and fresh snow had us excited to hit the slopes, so with some extra time before our coaching session began, I grabbed Ty and Dylan and we rode the Alpine Double for a run in the terrain above Meadows. Consistent with the latest temperature fluctuations above and below freezing over the past week (which seems to be a theme this month) there was certainly a crusty layer under the powder, but the turns were very good with all the new snow, even down at the low elevations near the Spruce Peak Village (~1,500’). In fact the snow was nice enough that when we met up with our group for the day, which consisted of Jack, Luke, and Greg Pause as a second coach, we headed right back up to do the same run.
Seeing how nice the skiing was down low with the new snow, we didn’t want to wait too long to get higher up on the mountain, so we caught Sunny Spruce to make our way over to Sensation. While on the lift, we saw a few tracks on Spruce Line, but loads of untracked snow, so we worked our way through the trees to get there. The boys were challenged by some difficult routes through the trees, but Ty encouraged everyone, letting them know that they could really handle it, and they did. Indeed the powder skiing was excellent up at that elevation with the additional depth of new snow afforded by 1,500’ of increased elevation. One aspect of the run that had everyone grinning was the fact that nobody else was skiing the area, so we had it all to ourselves. We continued on down to Whirlaway, where the snow remained quite good, and then decided that it would be a shame if all the untracked snow on Spruce Line went to waste, so we did the exact same run again. We concluded our Spruce Peak session with one more Sensation run, hitting the steep terrain of Upper Smuggler’s down to Side Street, then back to the Spruce Peak Base Area to catch the Over Easy to Mt. Mansfield.
“It was a bit of a surprise
to see all the snow in the
air and the cars covered,
in white, since all we’d
seen at the house were a
few flurries, but that’s
Mansfield being Mansfield.”
The second half of the afternoon was spent over on Mt. Mansfield exploring areas serviced by the gondola. Waterfall continues to have good snow, so we enjoyed its somewhat steep terrain as a good variation down to Gondolier. We played around a lot in the Switchback trees, and a quick check on the powder there revealed 7 inches of depth for the mid to lower mountain elevations. We did a run on Perry Merrill as well, and worked our way back to Switchback for a variation on the trees we’d skied before. The snowfall had slackened during the middle of the afternoon, but it resumed for the end of the ski day, and gave everyone a renewed sense of excitement. The boys finished off their last run as they do with most gondola runs, the requisite trip through the small terrain park below Midway. We headed back to Spruce as the light began to fade and the snowfall ramped up.
We headed to the Great Room Grill for après ski, and the snow continued to fall; the forecast calls for up to another 6 to 8 inches tonight on top of what fell today, so I suspect that conditions are going to be even better tomorrow. It certainly makes me want to hit the slopes instead of heading in to Burlington. I’ve got to say, Stowe really continues to impress this season in terms of conditions. Sometimes the heavy traffic at the mountain can really wear things down, but in this season of low snowfall, big temperature swings, and mixed precipitation, Mansfield just keeps coming through. Every week we seem to get one of those mixed storms to make a mess out of the slopes, and Mansfield pulls another 7, 8 , 9, 10 inches or whatever out of the sky to bring back the powder skiing. I really thought this was going to be the weekend in which the conditions wouldn’t make it back in time, with this week’s mixed precipitation storm coming so late in the week, but damn if there wasn’t some fine skiing out there today.