I suspected that the most recent storm wasn’t going to be quite enough to get the backcountry into perfect shape, but the forecast called for chilly temperatures topping out in the 10-15 F range, so earning some powder turns in the new snow seemed like the way to go. Dylan joined me in my plan to head up and take a quick tour on some moderate terrain on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network.
“Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so.”
The idea for today’s tour was to head partway up the Bryant Trail, connect over to Gotham City, catch some turns in the Gun Sight area, and then finish off the run with some lower glades. Depth checks revealed about 6-12” of surface snow at Village elevations, and that increased to 12-16” in protected areas on the backcountry network where to topped out around 2,400’ or so. There were some nice powder turns in that snow, but the base depths are very inconsistent. In some spots the base snow was sufficiently deep, but in others there was little to no base, and obstacles like rocks and logs definitely needed to be avoided. Dylan’s most memorable quote of the day came after he had an altercation with some sort of obstacle under the snow and took a tumble. He was on Erica’s fat skis, and we were really hoping it wasn’t a rock. D quickly reassured me… “It was a log”.
We’ve actually got our next significant weather system, Winter Storm Jacob, starting to affect the area this afternoon. I’m not sure exactly when the snow from the storm first started to appear, but around 4:00 P.M. we were in Gotham City finishing our ascent, and I realized it was snowing. It’s kind of fun when you’re touring in the forest like that with limited views and protection from the elements, and before you know it you’re getting covered with fresh snow. The density of snow from this next storm will probably be on the high side, so it should make a solid contribution to the base to cover some of the obstacles we’ve been encountering.
Today we were at Stowe for our first BJAMS ski program day of the season. In terms of weather, this was one of those days where we probably wouldn’t have ventured out to the slopes if it weren’t for the program. We’ve been in the midst of Winter Storm Isaiah over the past couple of days, and it’s been a warm storm that has switched last week’s wintry conditions over to spring conditions. That actually wouldn’t be a deterrent for skiing, but the anticipated strong winds and temperatures dropping into the 20s F through the afternoon were concerning.
We were at the mountain early enough that I took a couple of runs with E and the boys, and we found conditions to be spring-like and decent. We had a touch of rain, which quickly changed over to snow in the higher elevations and made its way down to the base.
“It looks like the mountain picked up about an inch of snow from that back side precipitation of the storm, and we’ve got a potentially good week of additional snow coming. ”
During my instruction session today I was working with a student named Viviana, an absolute first-time, never-ever skier. We worked on the magic carpet all afternoon, with one break in the middle where we got to hang out with E and the boys, their ski groups, and a number of other people from the program while we had some good food at the Great Room Grill. Viviana spent her ski time figuring out how to pressure her wedge to slow herself down and make turns, and she had progressed quite a bit by the end of the day in having the strength to stop herself. That actually says a lot, because the soft conditions we had at midday gradually changed to very hard conditions by the end of the afternoon. The cold air moved in, the groomed surfaces became much slicker, and the ungroomed surfaces became a frozen moonscape.
Strong winds put the Over Easy Gondola on hold at the end of the day, so we had to take one of the shuttles back to our car at Mansfield, and the wait for the shuttle felt like forever because of the frigid winds. It was only about five minutes of course, but many of us had dressed for the gondola vs. being out in the open. We found our car was encased in quite a layer of refrozen material from the wet snow that had fallen, so it took a bit of time to warm it up and melt that off.
Since yesterday morning, Winter Storm Henry has been bringing snow to our area, and Bolton Valley reported several new inches as of this morning. With the passage of the system came some wind however, which was enough to keep the Vista Quad on hold. Watching the Bolton Valley Live Web Cam from home, we could see that the Vista Quad closure led to long lines for the Mid Mountain Chair and Snowflake Chair. My colleague Stephen said that he’d been skiing in the morning, but the lift lines grew to 30 minutes as more people arrived and he’d eventually decided to call it a day.
Our family had planned to head up for some lift-served runs this afternoon, but the wind hold made that impractical and I ended up heading to the mountain to skin up for some turns instead. I figured this latest storm would be just about enough to get Timberline in reasonable shape for turns, so with the crowds at the main mountain, I decided to check it out.
“In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder in protected areas along the route, which was enough for mostly bottomless turns on low and moderate angle terrain.”
The main skin route on Twice as Nice was well established, but I could see that in general the west-facing trails had seen just a bit too much wind to provide really nice turns. Having seen that, I ended up descending by the more protected Wood’s Hole and Brandywine route, and that worked out well. In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder in protected areas along the route, which was enough for mostly bottomless turns on low and moderate angle terrain.
We’ve got yet another modest system coming through the area tomorrow, so that should bring conditions up another notch.
With the addition of snow from Winter Storm Gage Sunday through Tuesday, ski conditions have seen substantial improvement over the past few days. I was already pleased in general with the conditions I found at Bolton Valley yesterday, and I expected them to easily move up another notch with the follow up system that came into the area last night. As of this morning in the valley we’d already picked up over a half foot of snow (with a solid shot of liquid equivalent) between the two storms, and yet another round of snowfall was building in as we headed up to the mountain around noon.
“I’d say you could typically find 6 inches or more of powder above the first thick layer in the snowpack.”
Today was actually the first day of the season that the whole family had a chance to ski together, or at least the first day where both schedules and snow conditions made it happen. Unlike yesterday, the mountain was really busy today, and we parked in the lowest tier of the main lots down by the Sports Center. We even had to wait for a couple minutes to get on the Vista Quad, but that wasn’t bad considering the other mains lifts aren’t running yet. Temperatures were still relatively nice in the 20s F, but there was some wind in the higher elevations. D was having fun buttoning up with his magnetic Anon MFI Tech Balaclava and his helmet-compatible hood on his Arc’teryx Sidewinder Jacket just to see how everything came together. I have the same combo and think it’s fantastic for keeping out the wind.
From the Vista Summit we skied Alta Vista, and in discussions about the conditions, E and D said it was definitely better than the last time they’d been on it back on the 24th. All the snow from these past couple of storms has really put some quality coverage above the old base, so the trail edges were quite nice with hardly a sound from hard snow. We also had some time to visit Wilderness, which is still seeing just a modest amount of traffic from people using the uphill route. Conditions over there were very good, building on what I found yesterday. I’d say you could typically find 6 inches or more of powder above the first thick layer in the snowpack. D was actually trying out Ty’s Telemark skis today for the first time, and he was really taking to them. His Tele turns looked strong on both the groomed slopes and in the powder, so I see him using those skis a lot until he gets his own new Tele setup.
Looking ahead, we’ve got the chance for another modest system this coming weekend, so conditions could get another shot in the arm if that system delivers something similar to what we’ve just received.
Last weekend, Winter Storm Ezekiel brought some hefty snowfall to the Northeastern U.S., with totals exceeding two feet in areas around Albany, NY and Southern Vermont. Up here in the northern part of the state we only picked up a few inches of snow from the storm, with totals falling off to almost nothing near the international border in a total reversal of the usual trend.
“My analyses at the house were revealing snow to water ratios of 50 to 1, and even as high as 85 to 1, so that’s incredibly dry powder with just 1 to 2% H2O content.”
The upslope snowfall on the back side of the Clipper looked like it would continue all day today, so I decided it was time for a quick trip up to the mountain to check out the new powder. Thanks to our cold November temperatures, Bolton Valley has actually been open for a couple of weeks now, and I hadn’t even picked up my season’s pass yet because I’ve been so busy. E and D were both a bit under the weather, and T was at work, so unfortunately they’ll have to wait until another trip to get themselves set up with their passes.
I was worried about a long wait to get my season’s pass, but once up at the mountain it turned out that picking it up was very quick. While I was walking toward the lodge from my car, I ran into a member of the resort staff who was checking in with everyone about picking up their passes. For pick up, he said to head right toward the Village Café, and they’d take care of everything. Indeed, there was only one person ahead of me picking up their pass, and it was very quick. The process of pick up and filling out the waiver was all done very efficiently on a handheld, wireless iPad-type device, and there was plenty of nice seating on couches in the lobby area so you could have a seat while you finished off the process.
Of course the greatest part of picking up my pass this year was the fact that Bolton has gone RFID!!! Dylan and I suspected it when we saw electronic gates by the lifts during a ski tour last month, but I can definitely say it’s for real. It’s so nice to be able to just stick the pass in my pocked (my Arc’teryx Sidewinder Jacket has a pocket on the sleeve that works perfectly) and I never have to mess with getting it out at the lifts. I tested out my pass at the Mid Mountain Chair and the process was perfectly smooth.
“I checked the total snowpack depth in that area and measured a healthy 27 inches, with about 20 inches of that being powder from recent storms, and the rest being base snow. Clearly Bolton has gotten clobbered from some these smaller systems we’ve had.”
In terms of skiing, my plan was to use an assist from the Mid Mountain Chair and head over to Wilderness to ski some of the fresh powder in that area. I figured there would be no one on the upper mountain without the Vista Quad running, but when I was traversing over on Fanny Hill, I ran into a patroller who was prepping the trail for opening because they were going to open Vista. He reminded me that I wasn’t on the designated uphill route, but thankfully let me continue on over since I was just about onto the Wilderness terrain. I checked the total snowpack depth in that area and measured a healthy 27 inches, with about 20 inches of that being powder from recent storms, and the rest being base snow. Clearly Bolton has gotten clobbered from some these smaller systems we’ve had.
Once connecting to the standard skinning route, I finished my ascent on Peggy Dow’s to the Wilderness ridgeline and got ready for some turns. Light snow with breaks of sun that had been with me on the last part of my ascent were replaced with a sudden change to a maelstrom of huge flakes coming down as I began to descend. I really didn’t have to venture far afield from Peggy Dow’s and Turnpike to find powder – there was plenty of it throughout the route because skier traffic had been low enough. Powder depths ranged from as much as 15 to 20 inches on the upper mountain, to typically 12 to 15 inches on the lower mountain, so even with the incredibly dry powder there was plenty of it to keep you floating. I’d brought my 115 mm fat skis and they were definitely the right tool for the job. I was surprised at how quickly my legs got cooked from making Telemark turns – they’d often be fried after just a dozen or so turns! I guess it has been roughly three weeks since I last skied, so my legs are clearly telling me they need to get back into ski shape. Today should get the process started though, and hopefully ski days will become more frequent as we move into December and we continue to get snow.
On the weather side, it looks like we’ve got a warm system to start off this next week, which will consolidate the snowpack somewhat, and then temperatures should cool down for midweek with potential for some moisture from the Great Lakes affecting the area. Then there’s the potential for another large system next weekend, but it will be a bit before we can figure out how much snow we might get from that one.
The local ski resorts hadn’t picked up too much more than we had, but totals in the 6 to 10” range seemed typical, and that was certainly enough to entice me out for some early season turns. With that in mind, this morning I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to get in a ski tour and check out the new snow. With the fairly fluffy nature of the snow and based on what we’ve seen at the house over the past couple of days, I’m sure there had been some settling since it fell, but here’s the snow depth/elevation profile of what I found from the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road up to the local summit areas:
I started my ski tour around midday, when temperatures were just edging a bit above freezing at our house down in the valley, but above 1,500’, and certainly above 2,000’, temperatures never got above freezing so the snow was all winter consistency.
In terms of the skiing, it was undoubtedly early season, and rock skis would be your best bet if you’re going on anything with substantial pitch. I actually found the skiing better on the lower half of the mountain because there was a bit of a base there – I think more of the snow down in those elevations was melting on contact with the ground to create that dense layer. Up higher, the consistency of the snow was more straight fluff from top to bottom. As is often the case, most water bars had reasonable crossings at least at one point, but a few were dicey and took some extra navigation. There’s still running water in plenty of spots, and ponding in some flat areas. On my descent it was obvious that my skis got in contact with at least traces of that moisture, because about halfway down I had to pull out a credit card and spend probably 10 minutes doing a scrape down on the ski bases to really get things back in shape for gliding.
That effort was worth it though, because for the bottom half of my run I was on Lower Turnpike, and that offered what was unquestionably the best skiing of the tour. The combination of that bit of dense snow that accumulated as some base down in those elevations, plus some skier traffic packing down areas of the new snow as well, clearly created the best subsurfaces I encountered. On top of that you’ve got the fact that Lower Turnpike is essentially all grassy terrain, and it has a pitch that isn’t really overbearing for the amount of snowpack we’ve got, and it comes together for real winning combination. Even with some skier traffic, there was still plenty of powder to play around in throughout the trail, so that was a great way to finish off my run.
For anyone heading up, you may still want to hit the summit areas to check things out and get the exercise from a more substantial tour, but if you’re just looking to get out from some quality turns, Lower Turnpike is probably going to get you the most bang for your buck. It’s one of the designated ascent routes anyway, so there’s a nice skin track and it’s an efficient way to in some nice turns on the new snow.
I just got an alert on my phone this morning that we’re under a Winter Storm Watch in association with the next system. This one looks more substantial than this past one, but we’re still a day or two out so we’ll need to watch for any final refinements to the forecast.
It turns out that we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average. It probably feels like May snowstorms are rarer than that, maybe because, well… it’s May. By this point in the season it typically hasn’t snowed in a few weeks, we’ve had some warm weather, Memorial Day is approaching, and people are well along into thinking about spring and summer. But I felt as though I’d been out on fresh snow several times in May since we’ve been back in Vermont over the past decade or so, and being curious about the actual numbers during the lead up to our current storm, I checked my ski report archives to see. Indeed, with today’s storm that makes at least five significant May snowstorms in the past decade. Here in the Northern Greens we also don’t catch the brunt of every May snowstorm that hits the Northeast, especially with the Presidentials in the mix, so I suspect that for the region as a whole the frequency of May snowstorms averages out to somewhere around a storm each season.
“…we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.”
As expected, it was a cool, borderline wintry morning as I made my way to the mountain. Temperatures were in the upper-30s F in the mountain valleys, and mid-30s F at the resort base. I’d seen on Stowe’s web cams that the North Slope area had its typical late season residual snowpack, so I chose that for my ascent route. By the time I got out on my tour, the snow level was certainly rising relative to its lowest point overnight or this morning when there were more optimal temperatures and snowfall rates. New snow accumulations varied considerably depending on the underlying surface, with the best accumulations and retention found atop the existing snowpack.
“The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.”
Continuing up from the North Slope area, I headed through the Fourrunner Quad Summit and up the Toll Road past the Mt. Mansfield Stake to the Mansfield Summit Station at around 3,850’. Precipitation was snow at all elevations on my ascent, and it was fairly light for the most part until I got to the Summit Station along the Mansfield ridgeline. While I was hanging out there refueling and changing over for the descent, the intensity of the snowfall ramped up somewhat, with lots of tiny flakes at first. Eventually though, the snowfall picked up to a pounding of much larger flakes. There was definitely a lot of liquid coming out of the sky at that point, and my Gore-Tex® was getting a workout.
Observing the new snow accumulations along my ascent, the big jump in depths really seemed to happen between 2,000’ and 3,000’. Above 3,000’ I didn’t really see too much with respect to additional accumulation, so presumably temperatures were sufficient down to 3,000’ to maximize the snow from the available moisture right from the get go yesterday.
Here’s the elevation profile for the accumulations I found this morning:
The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns. Of course, the density also meant that the snow was Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete and you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns. I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a lot of work. It is mid-May though, so even dense powder turns this time of year are always a treat, and getting the workout is a big part of the experience anyway.
“…you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns. I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a LOT of work.”
In some cases it wasn’t just the descent that added an extra challenge due to the dense snow. I followed a pair of skin tracks on my ascent and noticed that in some spots the new snow had stuck to their skins. I wasn’t having that issue with my skins, but I eventually caught up to the gentlemen who were making the skin tracks, and they said for them it was an issue when they traveled over areas without an existing snowpack. I was able to pay them back for their helpful skin track by setting the track for the second half of the ascent, and while I didn’t see them on the descent, I saw them back at my car and at Edelweiss Deli where I grabbed a sub for lunch (great minds think alike) and it sounds like they had a great tour.
Wintry conditions in May are typically quite ephemeral, so I guess we’ll be back to spring skiing soon, but these late season powder days are always a treat. There’s a certain mystique with these late season elevation snow event because it feels like you were in another world when you get back to the strong sun, spring warmth, and rapidly emerging greenery in the valleys.
This weekend we took advantage of the great off-season rates and stayed slope side at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which I learned has now been renamed “The Lodge at Spruce Peak”. My sister and her family were in the area and staying at the Lodge for a couple of days, so this gave us a chance to catch up with them as well stay right by the slopes for some easy access to skiing on Mt. Mansfield.
We arrived at the Lodge yesterday afternoon, dropped off the car, and then got settled into our room while we caught up with my sister’s family. This time we tried out one of the one bedroom suites, similar to what we’ve had in the past at places like the Tram Haus Lodge. It’s definitely nice to have a bit more space and the multiple rooms, especially now that the boys are older (and bigger). The additional space was also convenient for when my sister’s family came over to visit. During the evening we generally relaxed, the kids headed to the pool/hot tub area for a bit, and we all had a great dinner at the Hourglass Lounge. There was snowfall all the way down to the base elevations in the evening, and as we had dinner we’d occasionally see windy whiteouts from all the blowing snow. It looked quite wintry, but temperatures were fairly marginal at the base elevations, so there was really only a trace of accumulation visible by morning.
I was the only one planning to ski today, so after we checked out of our room and had breakfast at Solstice, E and the boys dropped me off at the Midway Lodge. There were probably two to three dozen cars in the Midway parking lots, and people were heading out from there for ski tours along various routes. Chin Clip Runout looked pretty quiet, and it, along with Switchback is one of my favorite ascent routes, so I headed that way and started skinning.
On my ascent, I observed that additional snow accumulations seemed rather minimal below about 2,500’ – there was a windswept inch or two that was really scattered around atop the old base, and much of that was probably there from Saturday’s snow. The new snow had collected in pockets here and there, but I didn’t really see any substantial consistency until I started getting into the upper half of the terrain. Around the 3,000’ mark I started getting some solid 6 to 7 inch depths of reasonably dense, dry snow along the climber’s right of Perry Merrill. I saw some folks continue their ascents up above the Gondola into the alpine via Cliff Trail Gully, but I was a bit leery of what coverage would be like with the new snow over previous melting among the rocks. If the new snow depths continued to increase above the 3,600’ range then it could have been quite nice up there.
“The deepest accumulations I found were up around 3,500’ along the skier’s right of Perry Merrill, where 7 to 9 inches was pretty typical in undisturbed areas.”
Being underwhelmed by the accumulations I’d seen on my ascent of the main Gondi terrain, I headed toward Cliff Trail for my descent. The deepest accumulations I found were up around 3,500’ along the skier’s right of Perry Merrill, where 7 to 9 inches was pretty typical in undisturbed areas. That was really nice, and while the depth gradually decreased as I headed down Cliff Trail, the skiing there was quite good throughout. There were a few tracks on the trail, but only a handful of skiers had been down at that point. I’d say that the junction with Nosedive at around 2,700’ was right about where the best snow petered out. The elevation was part of it, but the change to Nosedive with its more open nature and higher levels of skier traffic made for a very obvious break in the availability of the new snow. That would have been an excellent spot to stop a descent if one was looking to lap the best snow up high.
We’ve got some fairly cool days coming over the next week, so the new snow should stick around for a while up high, although the quality may deteriorate somewhat from the typical spring temperature cycling.
After watching it snow all morning on the Bolton Valley Web cam, I decided to head up for a ski tour around midday to see how the new snow was settling in over the old snowpack. Similar to our house, the precipitation was rain and there was no snow at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road, but driving up I encountered residual winter snowpack starting at ~1,400’. The rain changed over to snowfall right after that, around the Timberline Base at 1,500’.
I found a couple inches of new snow as I parked the car in the Bolton Valley Village around 2,000’, and that depth only increased slowly to roughly 3 inches at the 2,500’ level. I noticed a bit of a jump in depths when I hit the 2,600’ to 2,700’ range though, so that seemed to be a threshold of sorts for accumulations during this storm. .
Here’s the new snow depth profile with respect to elevation based on my observations from today’s tour:
“…with the dense snow there were actually plenty of nice bottomless turns available out there.”
On the ascent I was a bit worried that the snow was going to be sticky with respect to turns, but the temperature up top around 3,000’ was roughly 30 to 31 F. So it was certainly below freezing up there, and the new snow was dense, but definitely dry enough for some nice powder turns. I only found sticky snow to be an issue during the final couple hundred feet of descent to the main base area at 2,100’. I made my initial descent down Alta Vista, then worked my way over toward Wilderness, and with the dense snow there were actually plenty of nice bottomless turns available out there. Powderfreak reported some nice turns today at Stowe as well, and he found similar accumulations to what I encountered on my Bolton Valley tour.
The models and forecasts suggest that after a lull this afternoon, there’s a chance for more snow tonight into tomorrow as the back side of the system comes through. We’re planning to stay at the Lodge at Spruce Peak tonight, so hopefully I’ll have a chance to head out for some turns on Mansfield tomorrow.