I got some work done at the house in the morning, and then headed up to the hill a bit after opening time. It was windy up in the village, and while booting up I could see that neither the Vista nor Mid Mountain lifts were running; I threw my skins in my fanny pack just in case it came down human-powered powder acquisition. It turned out that the skins were able to stay in the pack, as I hopped on the Snowflake Lift and found out that Timberline area, in all its beautiful wind-protected Champlain Powder™ nirvana goodness, was ready to roll.
The first skiers were already descending Spell Binder as I made my way to the Timberline base, and I couldn’t help but stop for a couple of minutes, absorb the scene, and grab a few photos. The quiet of the powder morning was disrupted only by the erupting “Woos” and “Yeeee Haaaas” of the skiers. Several people passed as they headed for another lap, and not one of them could seem to contain their vocal exuberance. It was already obvious that the snow was fantastic, but if discerning midweek Bolton skiers were this excited, the powder skiing was likely to be top notch. To check out the rest of the story, continue on to the Bolton Valley trip report from today.
Temperatures in the low double digits F and plenty of wind outside didn’t have me jumping out the door to hit the hill, but with the way it continued to snow at the house, I figured it had to be doing even better in the higher elevations. Bolton was reporting that everything but their surface lift was on wind hold, but I decided to head up to Timberline to make some turns. I’d missed the chance to check it out on Sunday when it was planned to open, so this would be a good chance to see how it was skiing.
I arrived up the Timberline base (1,500’) to a temperature of 9 F, and decent winds in probably the 20 to 30 MPH range. There were a couple of other cars in the upper lot that belonged to folks doing the same thing I was, but the whole scene was one of a desolate winter storm. Another fellow had headed up just a few minutes before me, so I followed his skin track… or at least I think I did because even in that short time it was starting to disappear in places due to the wind and falling snow. I ascended the usual Twice as Nice route, and was surprised at how nice the snow was. I was wondering if everything was going to be scoured down to something hard, but that wasn’t the case – there’s a really good base of natural snow, and an even in spots where the new snow had been blown away, the underlying surface was either packed powder or some sort of Styrofoam material. In actuality though, it was only isolated spots that were even down to that surface, most of the new powder was still there. Since the wind was from the north instead of the west, that was probably a better setup for the generally west-facing Timberline terrain. I checked the depth on my ascent and generally found between 3 and 7 inches of new snow, so the mountain had definitely picked up more snow since their morning report.
E and the boys are off from school this week, so I joined them for a day up on the mountain yesterday. Heading up to ski was pretty much a no brainer – it looked to be almost a carbon copy of Saturday, with another foot or so of upslope Champlain Powder™ overnight to finish off another three-foot storm cycle, and the clouds pulling away to leave blue skies and perfect temperatures. Bolton Valley had just finished off a run featuring six feet of snow in six days, which doesn’t happen all that often… anywhere.
We hit up many of our usual haunts in the Timberline area, but also got in a few runs in the Adam’s Solitude/Wild Woods out of bounds areas, which we’d yet to visit this season. I don’t visit those areas all that often, but I was absolutely floored by how protected the accumulated snow was over there. Amazingly delicate accumulations of Northern Vermont’s famed upslope snow had settled on everything, apparently defying gravity by even accumulating laterally and growing off the sides of trees. All it seemed to take was the slightest imperfection on a surface to catch a few crystals, and then they would apparently grab hands and just go nuts. I’m not sure if the area is always protected like that, but I’ll sure be on the lookout with future storms. My final overnight accumulation of snow down at the house for that event had come in at 2.4% H2O, which is not all that uncommon for upslope snow in our sheltered valley location, but there really were areas up near the top of Adam’s Solitude where the snow was like air. I’d be skiing along through the usual bottomless powder and I’d hit pockets where it would feel like the bottom had literally dropped out because the snow became so airy. It almost felt like I was hitting small tree wells, but it was just the settling pattern of the powder. Anyway, it was quite an experience. I’ve skied a lot of cold smoke snow between Vermont and our years out in Montana, and yesterday snow now sets the standard. I can remember a day at Smugg’s several years back that featured snow as airy as yesterday’s, but it was only about 6 to 12 inches deep and not bottomless, so the experience wasn’t quite the same.
I wanted to bring E and the boys over to explore some areas on the main mountain, but the day at Timberline was so packed full of runs that we just never had the chance to get over there. We did manage to meet up with Stephen and his kids for a final run down Adam’s Solitude. It was a first time out there for them, so it was quite an introduction to that terrain. I worked a bit with Ty and E on getting their body positioning more compact when they are in the air. They’ve still got some work to do, but it was one of those days where you didn’t mind having to try, try again on those kinds of tasks. The rest of the images from yesterday can be found below in the gallery, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.
The numbers are in, and they indicate that Bolton Valley picked up a solid three feet of snow from our latest storm cycle, with the final 12 inches of upslope fluff coming in overnight to set the table for a fantastic Saturday. The day started off a little cloudy and breezy, but by midday we were left with warm sunshine to make for one of the best ski days of the season. We arrived up at the Timberline Quad for the 8:30 A.M. opening, and in classic Bolton Valley style the powder day lineup was comprised of a whopping three chairs worth of people. The first hour or two of the morning were pretty quiet in the Timberline area, at least in terms of numbers of visitors, although generally not in the voices of those of us that were there. By 10:00 or 11:00 A.M. more visitors started to arrive.
“The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09.”
While the trails only contained about a foot of powder in areas that had seen skier traffic over the past couple of days, many off piste locations that hadn’t seen visitors on Thursday or Friday held the entirety of the storm in and undisturbed stack. Before heading up to the mountain this morning we joked about losing Dylan in the deep snow, but fortunately that didn’t happen. The good thing about the snow was that it was quite dry (my analysis on the overnight accumulation at the house was 3.7% H2O); even the boys could get down in it and really have a fun time experiencing the depth. We met up with Dave and his friend Jo at 10:00 A.M., and my colleague Stephen and his son Johannes early in the afternoon, and all eight of us managed to do a couple of great runs on Twice as Nice together.
For Ty it was a day of notable improvements in his skiing. With the fantastic depths of powder in the off piste, he was able to start charging steep slopes more aggressively than I’ve seen up to this point. E and I had indicated to both boys that they would want to ski steeper terrain than usual today because the deep powder would be slowing them down. They weren’t very receptive to this idea at first. However, by the end of the day Ty had really changed his tune and was actually seeking out some of the steepest lines so he could tackle them. Dylan had quickly picked up on the idea as well.
The deep powder also let Ty engage in his own personal huck fest ’09. I’d been saving up a nice 5 to 10 foot drop with a sloped landing that Dave and I had discovered in the Villager Trees a couple weeks back, and with feet of new powder it was ready to be plundered again. Ty likes to do jumps on his skis, but this type of a drop was in a league he’d never really tackled before, so I was curious to see his reaction. When we arrived at the top of the drop, he was certainly intimidated by the height and confirmed that he didn’t want to hit it. We didn’t want to force him, but we had Mom drop it and demonstrate how easy it was with such deep powder. After seeing that, he didn’t immediately change his tune, but we could see that the wheels were turning. Later in the day we were in the Wood’s Hole Glades and Ty somehow found himself atop a rather big rock. He dropped a pretty rugged looking line, and with that his confidence was building. I asked him if he’d be interested in joining Dave and I in dropping another small cliff on the next run and he said yes. We gave him first shot at the drop in the freshest powder, while E shot pictures from below. He wasn’t willing to carry a lot speed going into it, but he dropped right off and did an awesome job. At the end of the day when we were in the lodge, he indicated that he wanted to go out for one more run. He insisted that we hit the first drop that we’d shown him earlier in the day, the one that Mom had done. He said he was now ready for it. He had no trepidation this time around, and dropped it as soon as I was in position with the camera and gave him the go ahead. When we got back to the lodge he even told E that he’d done a better job on it than she had.
Dylan also had quite a day, blasting lots of powder lines with the most consistency that I’ve seen from him all year. He plowed through every mellow or steep nook and cranny that we dragged him into, and his powder skiing is now becoming reliable enough that we don’t have to worry much about bringing him into any of the typical areas that we’d ski as a family. It appears as though a mounting topic with Dylan is the use of ski poles. Ty didn’t start using poles until his 4/5-year old season (last year), but it looks like Dylan is about ready. After I broke a wayward stick off of a tree today in the Wood’s Hole Glades, Dylan proceeded to bring it with him for the rest of the run and use as a pole. Back on the trail, E told Dylan how he should be using the stick in terms of planting, and he easily coordinated the timing of planting and turning. We may have to start phasing in poles for him the way we did with Ty. Dylan also skied what was perhaps his biggest day to date, racking up over 8,000’ of vertical. He was clearly on his last legs when we came down through the Twice as Nice Glades near the end of the day though; he just couldn’t handle the steepest pitches anymore and I had to help him down the final one.
When I finally downloaded the images from my camera this evening, I discovered that I’d taken 479 shots throughout the day, but I managed to whittle it down to 21 that made the final cut. In some cases, the culling process involved skipping over some really nice waist-deep powder shots in favor of some even better chest and neck-deep ones, but sometimes that the way it goes! Images from the day are in the gallery below, and full size versions are also available in our report to SkiVT-L.
By the time I’d left the house (495’) at 7:30 A.M. this morning, we’d picked up 0.6 additional inches of snow since the 6:00 A.M. snowboard clearing, bringing the event total to 4.1 inches. It had been snowing lightly at the house when I left, but when I arrived up at the Bolton Valley Village area (2,100’) it was snowing moderately and still accumulating. The mountain had reported 7 inches of new snow as of their 6:45 A.M. update, but I suspected I’d find a bit more based on the way it was coming down. The lifts weren’t going to start loading until 9:00 A.M., so I kicked off the morning off by skinning for some turns, taking the route straight up Beech Seal. I first checked the consistency of the snow near the base area; I couldn’t quite make a snowball out of it in my hand, so I guess I’d describe it as medium weight powder. Beech Seal had been groomed at some point earlier, but I found about 2 to 4 inches of additional new snow on top of the groomed base.
“…today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder.”
When I reached mid mountain (2,500’) I checked the depth of the powder in an undisturbed location and it came in right at 12 inches. That should represent the combination of powder from last week’s midweek system (~6 inches) as well as whatever had come down up to that point with this new event, so that seemed reasonable. Wind doesn’t appear to have been much a factor with this system, so getting measurements was easy. I was thinking of skinning up in the Cobrass area, but there was enough powder to keep me following one of the snowmobile tracks for my ascent. At about 9:00 A.M. I’d reached the top of Vermont 200 (~3,000’), and when I checked the depth of the new snow there I found that it was at 9 inches.
“It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.”
I enjoyed first tracks down Vermont 200, and this new round of snow had settled in nicely. The medium-density powder was just what the doctor had ordered in terms of getting the windswept steeps back into shape. I was on my Telemark skis, and found that the consistency of the snow made for really easy turns. After my initial descent I stayed around for some rides on the lift, and unquestionably the trail pick of the day for me was Spillway. Usually I avoid it like the plague between its man-made snow, exposure to the wind, and traffic, but today Spillway offered up some gorgeous steep powder. The fact that it has seen grooming in the past made the subsurface the most consistent and provided lots of nice bottomless turns, and since there didn’t appear to be much wind with this event, there were no issues on that front. I had to hit it twice because it was so good, and I’d say it was better than even Hard Luck or Vermont 200. The Wilderness Lift opened right around 10:00 A.M., and I was fortunate to catch one of the first few chairs. The way the steeper trails had been skiing so nicely, I opted for Bolton Outlaw from the Wilderness Summit, and it was in great shape. After that descent I traversed back toward the main mountain. I followed a random set of tracks off New Sherman’s Pass and found a nice region of glades that I’d never explored before.
The mountain definitely had more than its usual midweek handful of people this morning. A lot of the extra folks I saw were children, and I think some of the schools in the Northeast have vacation right now because I heard what sounded like a Boston-style accent on a couple of occasions. It was really nice to see all the visitors getting rewarded with such a splendid day on the slopes.
The moderate snowfall had gradually tapered off through the morning, and when I left the mountain around 10:40 A.M. there was just light snow and the temperature at my car (~2,100’) was 34 F. The temperature stayed fairly stable through most of the descent down the Bolton Valley Access Road, but at the bottom (340’) it was up to 35 F. The precipitation was light snow as I drove westward through the Winooski Valley to the center of Richmond. The temperature there was up to 36 F however, and I was surprised to see that Richmond appeared to have picked up little if any snow from this event. When I’d reached the I-89 rest area in Williston, the temperature was up to 37 F and the precipitation was over to rain, which was coming down at moderate intensity for a while. In the South Burlington area the temperature was up to 38 F, and when I finally arrived at the UVM campus it had hit 39 F.
Well, our 7th valley snowfall of the season delivered nicely, at both the low and high elevations. When I did my first snow measurement this morning at around 9:00 A.M., we already had 2.6 inches of new snow at our place in Waterbury (elevation 495 feet), and the snowfall showed no signs of letting up. We headed up to Bolton Valley for some skiing and they already had 4 inches of fresh powder to start the day. It continued to snow all day up at Bolton and they’re now reporting 7-10 inches of new snow. It was a full on powder day, and the ski patrol was opening natural snow trails all over the place. We only got a chance to ski one of the natural snow trails (the “Glades” trail off the Mid-Mountain Lift) since we were with the boys, but it was more than ready to be opened. There was easily a foot of powder on top of denser base-layer snow below, so you didn’t really have to worry much about rocks. I’m sure most trails could be opened at this point if the mountain wanted to do it. The Northern Vermont resorts seem to be reporting new snowfall totals in the 6 to 12-inch range from this event so far, so I’m sure more natural snow trails will be opening soon. We arrived home to 4 more inches of snow at the house and it was still snowing. I’m estimating the water content of the snow in the 6-8% H2O range here at our place. With this event (6.6 inches so far), we’re up to 21.6 inches of snowfall on the season here. There were also 8 new inches of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, and the snow depth there is now up to 22 inches. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, and with all this fresh powder the backcountry/sidecountry is certainly open for business. I’m definitely planning to earn some turns and get some photos.
It’s interesting that all the new snow didn’t really come from a very official “storm”, but the local meteorologists gave us a good heads up so we were able to plan our day accordingly. We knew we were heading up to Bolton for some turns, but we wanted to pick the time of day to go with the boys and make the best use of the new snow. Initially, we thought it might be best to let the snow accumulate and head up to the slopes in the afternoon, but when we woke up to almost three inches at the house in the morning, we decided to get skiing as soon as possible.
The drive was a little sketchy with the continued heavy snowfall, and we even had to stop a couple of times on the way up the Bolton Valley Access Road. The first occasion was to let a rafter of wild turkeys cross the road. E counted at least 18 of them, but said some had already disappeared into the trees before she had a chance to count them. The second stop was for a car that was slipping its way up the last steep section of the road. Perhaps they hadn’t put on their snow tires yet, but they eventually gained enough traction and let everyone make it up to the Village. Once again, there was a huge crew of Bolton Valley associates ready to help us with our ski gear in the Village unloading area. We were doing well in our unloading process and didn’t want to take them away from helping other guests, but we thanked them anyway. I’m not sure if this is just something they do over the holidays, or if is standard customer service now, but it’s a nice touch. It’s as if they’ve infused a touch of Deer Valley into Bolton Valley. I had a chance to chat with the Bolton Valley associates and they commented on how great it was to have all this snowfall with virtually no wind. I guess that’s what you can get from a “non storm” type of snowstorm. They were also hyping the fact that Sunday was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day. In the back of my mind, I appreciated the fact that such a day would make for fantastic skiing in all the new powder, and even better photography, but at the moment I was more concerned with the fact that it was dumping in the here and now.
With four new inches of snow in the Village already, we wasted no time suiting up and getting right on the Snowflake Lift. The snow surface was cut up powder in the center of the trails with plenty of untracked along the edges. We skied with Dylan between our legs again, and boy was it a lot tougher in chowder and powder than on a nicely manicured slope. His skis would submarine in the powder and pull him down, so I basically had to hold him high and keep him floating on top of the snow in the more powdery areas. It was even more work than usual, but he seemed to be pretty happy with the whole experience so it was worth it. Dylan was even keeping his mittens on, which was nice to see on such a snowy day. On one of our early runs, Ty and I showed Mom the terrain in the Sprig O’ Pine/Deer Run area where we like to scout for powder, but this terrain was just too mellow for the accumulating snow. The slow progress in this area did give us a chance to get a picture of Dylan standing in the powder and all suited up in a combination of his new gear and some of Ty’s old stuff.
We did a couple of runs in our usual haunts off the Snowflake and Mid-Mountain lifts, and got to show Mom our little powder stash under the Vista Quad. Then, circumstances arose that led us to try something new. While riding the Mid-Mountain lift, I began noticing skiers filtering out of the trails to the skier’s right of the lift (terrain over in the “Glades” area). I initially thought these folks might be poaching, but there were just a few too many of them for that to be the case. The patrol must have actually opened some of these trails. I’ve skied the terrain in that area before, and some of it rather steep and contoured. So, I was really skeptical that it could be opened on the snow we had at this point. In a somewhat half serious way, I pointed the area out to Ty and asked if he wanted to try something new. I thought he would be a bit tentative about trying something new, since he liked his usual trails and jumps so much, but by the time we’d neared the top of the lift he had convinced me that we should head that way. I was still somewhat unsure if we’d be limping our way down a rock filled minefield of early season conditions, but I was willing to give it a go since Ty was so enthusiastic. The terrain was actually open, and the patrol had simply stuck an “Experts Only” sign at the entrance to keep people aware of what the terrain was potentially like. E was a little worried by the sign, but I assured her that the hardest parts of the trail were basically in the range of a single black run with some scattered trees on it, and that Ty could certainly manage. The tougher part would be skiing with Dylan, but I knew I could always carry him in my arms on the couple of steepest pitches.
So, with a level of uncertainty still remaining, the family shuffled past the “Experts Only” sign and ventured into the unknown of the “Glades” trail. What we found was far better than I could have imagined. There was no minefield rocks and roots, just a steep powdery playground full of terrain features. After the first pitch, the extent of the coverage and new snow was obvious. You really had to seek out rocks or other underlying debris if you were actually going to hit something with your skis. You could actually ski the trail without concern, and you didn’t need “rock skis” at all. I was flabbergasted that natural coverage could be this good down at this low an elevation. Obviously the ski patrol knew how good the conditions were. Any concern we had for Ty dissolved away as he charged down through the powder on the first steep pitch. The conditions were just too fluffy to care about anything.
I spied an especially deep untouched line on the skier’s right of the trail, that required ducking under some thin branches, and decided to go for it with Dylan. However, I overestimated the height of the branches and how low I would have to bend. Dylan ended up having to go through the branches with me. I felt really bad about what I’d gotten us into, but once it was too late and I realized where we were heading, I kept him as low as possible without causing us to crash (which would have probably been a worse result because Dylan would have gotten all snowy and mad). In the end, we did wind up tumbling over into the powder, but we were well clear of the branches and Dylan was none the worse for wear. E, who agreed to take a picture of us skiing the line, said that she never thought I would take the line I did. To her, it looked like I used Dylan as a battering ram for the tree branches. That was totally not the case of course. In any event, Dylan is almost two years old now and should probably get used to toppling into the powder like his brother.
Knowing that I was planning to head out for a backcountry day on Sunday, I offered to take Dylan inside for a break so Mom and Ty could hang out together and enjoy the powder. For some reason however, Ty wanted to ski with me instead of Mom, so E conceded and headed in with Dylan for lunch, while I “reluctantly” hung for another run with Ty. Well, Ty must have had fun on our first powdery romp through the Glades trail because all he could talk about was going back to ski the “new one” again. I actually got to have even more fun on our second run through the Glades, because I wasn’t skiing with Dylan and could really shred some powder. I also had free hands to take pictures of Ty as well. Come to think of it, I now realize that E and I did all our powder skiing that day without poles (we typically don’t use our ski poles on days with the boys due to loading them on the lift, carrying them, and whatever else has to be done). I must be getting used to it because I didn’t even think of it until I wrote this. I do like the way that having no poles leaves my hands free for taking pictures; that’s a definite added bonus. Without Dylan, I was also free to explore the terrain a bit more, and I realized that there were no ropes up anywhere in the area. I spied a connection into a more thickly gladed/wooded trail to the skier’s right (this may have been part of the “Upper Glades” trail), and it seemed devoid of any recent tracks. It was very tempting to dive in there and catch a fresh line, but Ty had already started down the run we were on and I didn’t want to lose him. I’m hopeful others got the chance to expand the skiing into that area and ski all the fresh lines. I was still blown away that all that terrain was open with such great coverage.
Ty and I skied more great untracked snow down the skier’s right of Glades, and Ty even took the same line under the branches that I had skied with Dylan. I think Ty wanted to try it because he saw us do it, and he ended up as a heap in the powder, just like us. Actually, Ty followed me through some pretty steep and deep lines. Even though we were only in about a foot of powder, that’s fairly deep for a guy his size and he handled it well. He really ripped it up in some sections and he seems to be getting the powder bug. I guess there are worse diseases or addictions to have. We were both pretty giddy after that run and couldn’t wait to tell Mom about our turns. Ty was getting a little goofy as we glided through the flats back to the lodge, and he wound up laying down on the trail watching the snowflakes fall on his goggles. He asked me to join him and I did just that. It had been a while since I’d simply lain down and watched the snow fall on top of me, and it was as fun as ever. As much as Ty can really be annoying when he dilly dallies and we need to get something done, sometimes he has exactly the right idea. We headed in for lunch and told E all about our run.
After lunch we all headed back out and took a run off the Snowflake Lift. Dylan dropped a glove near the start of the lift, and I hiked up to get it on the next run. I carried my skis up with me so I could ski down, but they had been making snow in the Village/Terrain Park area so my ride was a little crunchy. By the next run, Dylan had fallen asleep just like on Wednesday, so Mom took him into the lodge for a nap. I tried to convince Ty that we should take a run on the Vista Quad to find more powder. I could see that people were skiing down trails like Spillway etc., and figured the patrol had opened a bunch of terrain up there. But, Ty was not enthusiastic about riding the quad, since he remembered there were snow guns up there on his last trip, so we stuck to the Snowflake Lift. Ty continued hitting his favorite jumps on Sprig O’ Pine (although not with as much air as usual because the powder was slowing him down), while I worked the untracked snow on the skier’s left of the trail. After a few more runs, we called it a day and headed into the lodge.
It had continued to snow all day, although the snowfall began to slow down a bit in the afternoon. When I went to get the car, there were probably 2-3 new inches on it. For a “storm” day, it had been pretty nice with temperatures in the 20s F, and little if any wind. Despite the holiday/weekend crowds, there weren’t really any lift lines to wait in and all the extra terrain they had opened meant that you could find plenty of solitude if you wanted it. The Avocet recorded 9 runs for 2,865 feet of vertical, and the Suunto recorded 9 runs for 2,730 feet of vertical, a difference of 4.8%
I thought Ty would pass out in the car on the way home, or certainly need a nap at the house, but once we actually got out of the car, the sight of all the new snow got him way to excited to sleep. I asked him if he wanted to go snowshoeing, and of course he did, so we took a tour around the property and made the afternoon’s measurement on the snowboard. Ty just wouldn’t quit, so after snowshoeing, he helped me shovel some snow from the driveway to make a launching pad and jump for sledding. After sledding for a while, he actually put his alpine skis back on and started doing laps in the yard! The snow was a little deeper than he was used to skiing in the yard, so he would actually use his previous tracks to pick up speed, and then venture off into the fresh snow to make some powder turns. It was sort of nice to see him figure out a technique that I know many of us have used before on low angle terrain with deeper snow. Ty kept going even after he was done skiing, and played around in the snow with Dylan while E and I finished up shoveling the driveway. He’d really had quite a multisport day and I can’t believe how long he kept going. Ahh, the power of fresh snow is pretty awesome. E headed off in the evening to get some work done at school, and I had it real easy since both boys were pooped. I put Dylan to bed around 7:00 P.M., and Ty had already passed out on the floor while trying to watch T.V. It was an easy end to a great family powder day.
Unfortunately, Warren Miller’s new movie “Cold Fusion” wasn’t playing in Missoula this year. Although it was showing in a number of places in Montana and Idaho, all of them were at least three hours away, which meant a substantial road trip. With this in mind, we decided that it would be great to combine a trip to see the movie with some actual skiing. In order to give the snowpack a chance to build up (or even exist as the case was), we decided on the latest showing in the area, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on December 1st.
As the day approached, it looked as though there wouldn’t be any skiing on our trip, but once we hit Thanksgiving, the snow started to fall. Things still weren’t certain however, as even just two days before our designated date, none of the areas had opened for skiing. Finally however, the base depths piled up to over 40 inches, and all three areas set opening dates, Schweitzer and Lookout on Friday (Nov 30th), and Silver on Saturday (Dec 1st). Silver had already been our frontrunner due to its location, but the chance to hit it on opening day and score some untracked powder sealed the deal.
We left at 5:00 A.M. in the dark, and found good road conditions through most of Montana. Once we approached Idaho however, the weather began to deteriorate (or actually get better if you’re a skier) due to an approaching storm. We crossed over the first pass on I-90 (Lookout Pass – elevation 4,725′) and the snow was really coming down. The road was snow covered and we had to go a bit slowly. Some trucks appeared to be using chains as well. Although it was snowing at a good clip and conditions were cloudy, I was amazed at how long it was taking for the sun to come up (it was already after 7:30 A.M.). I was thinking about how this wasn’t actually all that unusual since we are at the very western edge of the Mountain time zone, when something occurred to me… Lookout Pass marks the boundary between the states of Idaho and Montana, but it also marks the boundary between the Mountain and Pacific time zones! We had forgotten to calculate this fact into our plans, which meant that our timing was now an hour off. Fortunately it meant that we were an hour early, and as you’ll see, we were going to need it.
Once we dropped down from Lookout Pass (also the location of the Lookout Pass Ski Area), the snow began to lighten up, and eventually changed over to mix/rain as we approached the town of Kellogg, Idaho (elevation 2,305′). Silver Mountain Resort is located just outside of Kellogg, and the bottom lift of Silver is literally just off the interstate. Silver Mountain has an interesting lift setup. A gondola ascends from Kellogg, and brings you up to the base of the ski area (Silver Mountain Base is 4,100′). As a bit of trivia, Silver reports that this gondola is the longest single-stage people carrier in the world at 3.1 miles.
The gondola was slated to open at 8:00 A.M., with the other lifts opening at 9:00 A.M., so with our extra hour (it was now 7:30 A.M. Pacific) we were styling for some fresh tracks. We wandered over to the gondola base terminal to get a look around and check on tickets, when we were slapped with some horrible news. Due to high winds up on the mountain (>50 mph) the mountain was not opening today! Noooo! It was almost like a nightmare. We met one of the employees as we walked back to our car, and he said that he was heading over to Lookout Pass to ski, they WOULD be open today. It seemed like a great idea, with Lookout being on 20-30 minutes away. We headed over to the Super 8 motel where we intended to spend the evening. It’s located literally right below the Silver Mountain gondola, and seems like a great place to stay if you are doing an overnighter at Silver. It was obvious that the motel catered to skiers, as they had the local snow report plastered right on the front desk. In addition to the three areas that we had considered for skiing, it also contained snow reports for two other local ski areas in Washington State, Mt. Spokane, and 49 Degrees North. All the areas had received about a foot of snow in the past 24 hours, with 10-20 inches in the past 48 hours. It wouldn’t be hard to find a place with fresh snow.
We finished checking in and considered our skiing options. I could only imagine the number of people that were going to arrive at Silver for opening day, and get turned away. It seemed like poor little Lookout Pass would get swamped. Since we had our extra hour, we decided to go the extra distance to Schweitzer. The locals said it took about an hour or so to get there. Schweitzer was also in the general direction of Coeur d’Alene, so it would work out with regards to seeing the “Cold Fusion” ski movie.
Soon we were on our way again, heading west on I-90. The next pass we had to go over was Fourth of July Pass (elevation 3,019′). Even with this small increase in elevation, the rain changed back to snow and picked up in intensity. The snow stayed with us all the way down into Coeur d’Alene (elevation 2,157′) and kept up as we headed north to Sandpoint, the major town near Schweitzer. Numerous cars were off the road due to the heavy snow, and our going was again quite slow. Even when we finally reached the access road for Schweitzer, our journey was nowhere near done.
The access road for Schweitzer seems like enough of a challenge on a fair weather day, rising almost 2000 feet and containing some interesting hairpin turns, but in the middle of a storm it was a big obstacle. The new snow had brought down a bunch of trees, some of which fell onto the road. Although the major ones had been removed, a lot of debris remained and slowed the going up the hill. This combined with the slippery conditions, and some cars that couldn’t quite make it, slowed the flow of traffic even more. When we finally reached the Schweitzer village (3,910′) the traffic ground to a halt as the attendants attempted to park everyone. As we wound our way up and down around the village in the middle of the snowstorm, the frustration of crawling along in traffic was fortunately augmented by the thrill of exploring a new ski area. By the time we finally parked, in some crazy little parking zone of the village, we had no idea where we were. All told, I bet we spent more than an hour from the base of the access road until we actually parked. We were clueless, but there was tons of new snow, it was still puking more, and we were going to ski some powder as we explored an entirely new resort to us. Who can complain about that?
We were lucky enough to catch a shuttle from our parking area towards the direction of the base lodge, but even the shuttle couldn’t get all the way there due to the slippery roads. We eventually got off and followed the line of people walking towards what we hoped was the base lodge, but we could hardly see a thing in the heavy snowfall. There was a line for tickets, which worried me about crowds, but as it turned out, crowds wouldn’t be an issue at all. I looked up at some of the slopes that were close enough to be seen, and saw that they were deserted. As it turned out, there was all the untracked powder you could want and more… if you could ski it.
We caught one of the main lifts from the base, and headed up. We decided to take an easy cruiser to warm up, and that worked great until we passed a sparse area of trees on our left. All I could see were acres of untracked snow, not even a hint of a track anywhere. Who could resist it? Jumping into the glade, everything suddenly became clear, the skiing was unlike anything I had experienced before. We were essentially skiing on virgin snow, most of which had fallen in the past couple of weeks, with absolutely NO base. We’re talking four feet or so of unpacked powder, and this wasn’t the champagne that you’d find in Utah or Colorado, or Vermont in midwinter, this was 10% H2O+ Pacific Northwest material. Happily, this meant that there was no concern about hitting the ground below, but boy was it hard to ski. If you didn’t keep up your speed and plane on top, you bogged down in the mire, and had to extract yourself and start again. The blue pitch that we were on was nowhere near steep enough to keep us going (and as I found out later, even a pitch of 35 degrees wasn’t enough), so it was time for a reassessment. Off to the left, the trees dropped away at a pitch that looked like 40 degrees, nice and steep. However, the slope only got steeper and simply seemed to disappear. Although I wanted to see if the slope was steep enough to keep moving, it didn’t seem too wise to dive into unknown steeps, especially with this crazy snow. Instead, we traversed our way back to the trail, a very slow process indeed. Even just traversing it was difficult to keep your balance, and you didn’t dare fall over because getting out meant a Lot of work. E fell once at the end of the traverse, just fell to the side slightly. I took her 10-15 minutes to dig herself out. We now understood why the powder was so untracked.
Making our way back to the trails, we decided to figure out this snow in a slightly more forgiving setting. The powder on the groomed runs was at least chopped up, and made things a bit easier, but not entirely. As we worked our way down a black trail with a pitch of around 25-30 degrees, I looked around and noticed that every other single person on the trail was buried in the snow searching for their skis, in the process of falling, or getting up from a fall. Any yearning I’d had for my snowboard was removed after I’d seen enough snowboarders floundering in the powder unable to extract themselves, and then struggle to even get moving again. This was obviously challenging snow. Fortunately, the option of skiing the chopped up areas, then diving into the untracked to experiment, really paid off, and we were soon figuring some things out. Planing on top worked the best, which meant that you had to maintain speed. If you tried to turn too aggressively, it meant the pressure would push you down in the mire. Keeping a uniform platform of two skis was imperative. If you weighted one ski even slightly more than the other, down it would go into the deep and you were in trouble. If you did break the plane of the surface few inches and start to dive, shifting your weight rearward seemed to be the best defense. It was like walking a tightrope of powder-skiing technique. The tolerances were so tight, that normal lapses in technique that one could get away with meant the difference between powder skiing bliss and stuck in the deep (or worse). Anyway, it’s not easy to describe the conditions in words, but they were weird enough to be worth of a couple of paragraphs of effort.
As the day wore on, we explored more of the mountain and found some fun places to work out technique for the snow. The mountain is composed of two main areas, the front side, called Schweitzer Bowl, and the back side, called Outback Bowl. Most of the mountain was open, except for a few steep places that seemed to require avalanche control, and a couple of upper lift sections where the wind was just howling too fiercely to allow people to go up (it was easy to see at this point why Silver Mountain was closed). Thus, we unloaded at the mid station. We actually found some of our best turns on a blue trail called Midway on the front side of the mountain. The wind seemed to have hit it just right so that the snow was a little more compacted, allowing you to sink in only a foot or so and maintain speed. We found a nice area of untracked and worked it for a few laps. We explored the Outback Bowl area, and ate our lunches at a lodge there called the Outback Inn. It was a nice quiet place, but they didn’t have fries, only baked potatoes or “Spuds” as they called them. Seems like an Idaho thing.
By 2:30 P.M. (Pacific Time) it was already starting to get dark (due to a combination of the snowy sky, location in the time zone, and latitude) and we knew we didn’t have many runs left. We enjoyed a couple more on Midway and then decided that we’d better find our car that was buried somewhere in the midst of the village. We put our heads together and gave it our best shot, which turned out to be right on the mark. We skied onto the lower green trails on the front side of the mountain, then hopped onto the street and skied some more. Eventually things started to look familiar and we found the car, in much less time than we had feared.
The snow had lightened up a bit, and the drive out was much easier than the one getting in. As we dropped back down towards Sandpoint, the sky had even cleared a bit in the valley, although a huge mass of clouds still hung over the mountain. We stopped in Coeur d’Alene for a bite to eat and then headed to the Warren Miller movie at the local college (Northern Idaho College I believe). The movie was classic Warren Miller, although the second half seemed to end very quickly. A quick trip down I-90 brought us back to Kellogg where we spent the night.
The next morning was a true test of priorities, as we awoke to clear blue skies, and a gondola outside our door heading up to a newly opened ski area with gobs of bottomless fresh powder. I knew better than to put off the stuff we had to do, but if E had caved I would have done it. I could tell she was tempted as well, but we finally agreed that Silver Mountain would have to wait until another day. As we drove away, I tried not to look up at the pristine slopes (and fortunately they are hidden from view much of the time).
Sometime around Monday or Tuesday of last week, I began hearing about a proposed nor’easter for the New Year’s weekend. The weather gurus on the ne.weather newsgroup were going nuts, as this could be the first big storm for the coastal cities in a number of years. A clipper type low along the northern tier of the U.S. might merge with a storm coming out of the south, and Boom!, bomb out as a nor’easter off the coast. Although the southern storm pretty much went off the coast down south, the situation was set so that the northern low transferred its energy and made a low off the coast anyway. Two friends, Dave and Chris, came up from southern New England, and as Saturday progressed, we watched the storm dump plentiful snows across New Jersey, Philly, New York City and many points down south of us. Some areas of New Jersey were in the bull’s eye with over two feet of snow. The latest report I saw for Mountain Creek ski area in NJ was 29 inches. The Catskills also got some heavy bands of snow, I saw Hunter Mountain reporting 30 inches. Overnight Saturday, the storm worked its way up into northern New England, and by early Sunday morning, Sugarbush was reporting 10 inches. This number would swell to 16 inches by the end of the day, and 24 inches by Monday. Click through to see the full Sugarbush report with images.
Today I went up to Mt. Mansfield to get some turns in the snow before it started to disappear. A nice cold snap has dropped over a foot of new snow on some of the mountains, with snowfall reaching even down to Burlington. Traveling on I-89, I first saw snow on the Robbins Mountain Power Line, up around 2,000′. It was very patchy and hardly noticeable, so I was worried about how the lower elevations would be on Mt. Mansfield. Things looked up as I entered Waterbury (~520′) and found traces of snow on the ground. At the base of Mt. Mansfield (~1,600′) there was an inch or two of snow on the grassy surfaces. I hiked up in the region of the triple, looking for slopes that had nicely mowed grass for the trip down – a map of my route is pictured along with this text. At around 2,500′, the snow was over 6 inches deep so I threw on my snowshoes to make the going easier. I stopped my hike at around 2,920′ (see map) since it was time to head to work, but the snow depth had increased to about 8-10 inches. The snow was fairly heavy (~11% H2O or so), but light enough to make powder turns. I’m sure it was even better up at 4,000′ and above. The first half of the run had the best snow, with much stickier stuff lower down, but I was still able to ski right back to the base of the triple and make a quick departure for Burlington.
With the unknown element of mixed precipitation, we decided to head for Jay Peak on Saturday. Along with Bennett, we even pulled Mr. Mango Madness out for his first day of the season. In anticipation of bad roads, we loaded ourselves into Bennett’s big rig and headed north. Burlington had accumulated about 4 inches at this point, and although it was temporarily coming down only lightly, it picked up as we headed toward Jay Peak.
We were proud of ourselves for arriving on time (not easy), and took a run on the double before the tram opened. We headed down Green Mountain Boys (I think) and found about 4-6″ blown around by the wind; best on the sides. The powder was not super light, but not bad (and it was still snowing’ like crazy). By the time we got down, the tram was ready and we hopped aboard. We headed out on Vermonter, finding about 12″ of chowder, a tough ski, especially with the humidity and our goggles going crazy from the moist tram ride. I think I heard the term “skiing by Braille”, or some such out of somebody in the group. On a personal note, of course my goggles fogged up right in the middle, but if I turned my head sideways, I could look out the edge and see, really messed with the balance, but oh what fun.
After another run on the tram, we headed over to the triple, and headed for Timbuktu (one of our favorites). We hung to the right to catch fresh snow, but found plenty of ice storm damage in that area, and with the snow that had fallen so far, only very short lines were available, and even then it wasn’t a secure feeling with the fallen trees around. As we headed back left, we found that clearing had been much better, but this area was already getting pretty tracked.
We boarded the quad and found our best run of the day by far. North Glade must have just recently been opened because there were few tracks, and 8+ inches of powder; we left there wanting more (and trying to figure out where we were and how we got there.) We finished off the day with a couple of tram rides (amazingly, you could always get right on the tram with no line) and hit some areas that may not have been officially open, but didn’t exactly have ropes either. Oh well, there were three of us, and sometimes ignorance is bliss; in the form of untracked snow.
One of the highlight’s of the day was Mango simply exploding on a very flat section of Deer Run. It looked like a snow snake just jumped out and bit him; and the look of “what the…!” as he went down into a crumbled heap of man and equipment, was priceless. During one of our traverses that I was leading, I got ridiculed for my choice of line, something about “What rabbit made this!” as Bennett found himself stuck between a tree and a hard place.
During one of our tram rides, the ticket checker said that it was raining just about everywhere south of Jay. I was initially skeptical, then happy that we were at Jay Peak of course, then worried about what would happen at places like Sugarbush. Stay tuned for our Sunday installment in which the truth will be revealed!