Some of the Northern Vermont ski areas have picked up close to (or in the case of Jay Peak, substantially more than) a foot of snow in the past seven days, and while that’s actually a fairly modest pace for snow accrual in the mountains this time of year, it’s helped to get surfaces back to packed powder since they hardened up last week. The snow has generally been dry and fluffy, so even with all that accumulation it hasn’t been a thorough resurfacing for all slopes. However, my explorations Saturday on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network revealed that the powder is building and there are some nice turns to be had. Temperatures were expected to be in the single digits in the highest elevations today, so it seemed like a good opportunity for some sidecountry exploration instead of riding lifts. And, since Claire and I have been talking about bringing our Stowe ski group for a trip on the Bruce Trail one of these days, this seemed like an excellent opportunity for some reconnaissance. There’s no doubt that everyone in the group is ready for the skiing on the Bruce, but I still wanted to familiarize myself with the route to ensure that the trip would go smoothly with all the boys in tow.
“In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range.”
Temperatures hovered right around 10 F all the way to the base of the resort, and there was sun and no wind, so it wasn’t feeling too frigid at the point. The resort had snow guns going on various trails, no doubt taking advantage of the temperatures to bolster base depths that were probably brought down a bit by the warmth earlier in the month. I rode the Fourrunner Quad with a guy who had already been out for some runs, and he said the conditions were quite good. Listening to the turns of the skiers below us, it did sound pretty quiet. I could see the occasional icy spot, but the surface seemed to be mostly packed powder just as the snow report had indicated. The snow over the past week has definitely been having an effect in terms of softening up surfaces.
“While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest.”
From the quad summit I headed over to the top of the Bruce Trail – a few tracks indicated that some skiers had already skied it today, but I dropped in via an alternate entrance to get an untracked line. The line was pretty steep and I was definitely touching down on the subsurface, but I could tell that I’d be able to get in some good powder turns on some lower angle terrain. The top part of the Bruce wasn’t really all that inspiring today – it’s pretty steep, a lot of pitches face southward, and it’s narrower than I’d thought it would be. I’d say it’s only 10 to 12 feet wide on average in the upper sections, which means that in reality it’s going to be tracked out and packed down after just a few skiers hit it. With its somewhat southern aspect making for spots of poor coverage here and there, it skied even narrower today. The snow was generally skier packed, so my fat Telemark skis were indeed feeling slow edge to edge, and I had to throw in a good number of alpine turns to fit in some of those small spaces dictated by the trail width and coverage.
While I’m sure the steeper top sections of the Bruce are great with a good dump of snow, the skiing today was far superior once I got down out of the evergreens and into the hardwood forest. The trail is notably wider in that area, and there are a lot more glade options for venturing off the sides of the main route. In general, I found 6 to 7 inches of powder down to the 2,000’ elevation, and at some point below there it dropped down more toward the 5-inch range. All those depths were definitely enough for some nice powder turns on moderate angle terrain though. With the narrow nature of the Bruce Trail in the top sections, it’s really not a trail that’s going to offer up much in terms of fresh powder, so those looking for a sidecountry experience with real untracked snow would probably be best served by using the Bruce as a jumping off point for explorations of the Ranch Valley. The snowpack isn’t even especially deep right now (right around the 40” mark), but I could see a multitude of ski options all around during my descent. I noted a couple of potential areas for exploration up in the evergreen areas, but choices really exploded once down in the hardwoods. It would be easy to make a day of it out there, or, ski the resort in the morning and then tour out in the Ranch Valley in the afternoon and finish off the day by skiing out to Route 108.
At around the 1,500’ elevation, I entered the trails of the Stowe Mountain Resort Cross Country Ski Center. This is the part I’d been concerned about in terms of making the correct choices to get out to Route 108 and the Matterhorn. It turns out that it’s much easier than I’d thought; you simply stay on the Bruce, and Burt Trails, following the signs that say “Ski Lift”. Even though you may not be planning to head back to the Toll House Lift, those “Ski Lift” signs are the way to go. Eventually you’ll get to a junction where following the “Ski Lift” route is a very obvious (and somewhat arduous looking) uphill, so you won’t want to go that way. By that point there are signs that indicate “Route 108”, and those will get you right out to the Matterhorn area. At every intersection you essentially go straight through, so in a worst case scenario, go with that. The trek through Stowe’s Nordic trails, and a small portion of the trails that belong to the Trapp Family Lodge Cross Country Ski Center, is slightly downhill, but there’s plenty of poling and skating to be done. I was happy to have my Telemark gear, even if I looked funny with my skis being three times the width of the other Nordic skiers ambling around on the trails. I generally took it slow and enjoyed the scenery, which included some marvelous views of the Ranch Brook. The brook had that winter look with some flowing water, but also lots of ice, and snow pillows covering the rocks.
The final leg of the descent on Ranch Brook Road brings your right out on the “Ski Inn” driveway, next door to the Matterhorn, and across the street from The Notchbrook Convenience Store. I had time before the next uphill Mountain Road Shuttle arrived, so I stopped into the Matterhorn to get some sushi… only to discover that they don’t have sushi on Mondays. Clearly I’m going to have to hit the Bruce again with the boys on a different day so that we can finish that part of the adventure. So instead, I popped across the street to the store and got a snack before catching the shuttle back up to my car in the Mt. Mansfield lot. One thing I should note about the shuttle – the ski slots on the outside are still fairly old school, so if you’ve got fat and/or twin tip skis, you might have to bring them on the bus with you. Apparently that happens a lot, because the driver immediately knew what my issue was when I inquired. Missing out on the sushi, I did stop off at Harvest Market for a couple of samosas on the way home, and that definitely filled the void. So, today’s outing offered up some good turns in the powder, and was certainly a successful reconnaissance. The route down to the Matterhorn is easy, and I can tell that the biggest hurdle is going to be getting the boys through the flatter terrain at the end of the run. If that’s the toughest part we have to deal with though, it should be a lot of fun.
Weather-wise, the day turned out much warmer than the forecast seemed to suggest – it was 20 F once I was back down in the valley, and before I’d realized that, I couldn’t figure out why it felt so comfortable. The sunny skies from earlier in the day had clouded over ahead of another small snowfall event that’s supposed to hit us tonight into tomorrow – these are the sorts of storms we’ve got for now until something bigger comes along, but at least we’re getting something.