Although we did have some reports of frozen precipitation around the area back in the beginning of the month, the bombing cyclone that’s moved through New England over the past couple of days has brought the first real snows of the season to the Green Mountains. As the system moved by yesterday, the summit areas of Killington picked up an inch or two of snow. There wasn’t much going on with respect to snowfall in the northern part of Vermont at that point, but snow levels finally dropped overnight and we started to see accumulations in the higher elevations around here. Although I wasn’t out in the mountains today, the view from my office in Burlington showed that classic look of upslope precipitation along the spine of the Northern Greens. A quick check on the local radar showed that classic signature of moisture streaming into the spine of the Greens, with snow and mixed precipitation along the peaks. Powderfreak sent in pictures to the Northern New England thread at the American Weather Forums, revealing snow accumulations down to roughly 2,400’ at the Gondola, and a couple of inches of accumulation at the top of the Fourrunner Quad. At the end of the day, Powderfreak passed along one more photo that showed accumulating snow levels at around 2,300’ at the Gondola, and commented on how snow levels were somewhat lower on that part of the mountain below The Chin. Winter’s first salvo of snow is now in the books, and we may see a bit more near the end of the month based on what the weather models are showing for that period.
One approximate measure of when the potential natural snow/off piste skiing begins each season here in Northern Vermont is the date when the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake reaches 24 inches. This is by no means an exact date, especially since it’s possible to get great turns on just a few inches of snow if the snow is dense and the underlying surface is grass instead of rocks. You can indeed get by with much less than 24 inches of snowpack if the snow is very dense, but not if it’s all Champlain Powder™ fluff. Based on empirical observations and reports from skiers in the area each season though, hitting the 24” mark is reasonable for most situations.
With that preface, let’s take a look at where last season sits with regard the start of the natural snow/off piste skiing around here. By most accounts, last season started off with bang. Even in the local mountain valleys, the winter snowpack started as early as November 10th. That’s very early for the valleys, and when the valleys are doing well, the mountains certainly are too.
The updated plot for the 60+ seasons in the Mt. Mansfield Stake database is below, with last season represented by the red star:
Before I add a bit of context to last season’s start, here are the stats for the data set:
Mean: Dec 12th
Median: Dec 9th
Mode: Dec 16th
S.D.: 18.8 days
Entry of this year’s data point had no effect on the mean, mode, or S.D. (within a tenth of a day), but it did drop the median by one day from Dec 10th to Dec 9th.
The plot would suggest a reasonably good start, but nothing outrageous: last year’s 24” date was Nov 27th, which is only 0.78 S.D. ahead of the mean, so well within 1 S.D. That puts it in roughly the top 22% of seasons, so about 1 in 5 seasons will have a similar or earlier 24” date.
While the 24” date is a nice snapshot for the start of the natural/off piste season, there are of course a number of other factors to take into account that made last November more impressive than that number alone:
1) Near miss: If you look at the raw November stake depth data (posted below), you can see that the snow depth at the stake reached 23” on Nov 21st. That’s as close of a miss as you can get to hitting 24”, so even as of the 21st of the month, the snowpack had essentially hit that two-foot level. Getting to that level by the 21st brings a season past 1 S.D. and into that top ~15% of seasons. That’s not a huge bump in this regard, but having nearly an extra week of borderline two-foot snowpack at that part of the season could easily mean an entire additional weekend of natural snow skiing potential.
2) No going back: This is a much bigger feather in last season’s cap. Even from about mid-month, the snowpack never really took a major hit, and once it did hit that 24” mark on Nov 27th, there was really no going back. It sailed past 24” and just kept climbing as you can see in the numbers at the end of the month. I haven’t added the December numbers below, but even with the lackluster December we had, the snowpack never dropped below ~40”. That can’t be said for all of the seasons on the left side of the plot (certainly not Mr. October out there in front, which was the 2006-2007 season – he was back to 0” at the stake by mid-November).
3) Snow-depth days: I haven’t calculated this for any November with the stake data, but it will obviously be a good integrative measure of how much snow was on the ground for the start of the season. I’m sure last November would have a solid ranking if I put those data together.
So, if we look into that left side of the plot, do we have any other recent seasons in there that we can use for comparison to last season?
Actually, that lone star (Nov 25th) just to the left of the red star for last season is for 2007-2008. We know that was a solid season around here. The snowpack began building in the first week of November, and there was really no going back there either. Unlike this past season, that solid November was followed up by a stellar December (almost 70” of snow here at the house) and the Mansfield snowpack was hitting five feet by the holidays. With a solid December, last season certainly would have given 2007-2008 a run, but instead it was languishing at around 40” at the stake during the holiday period.
With regard to some of the other stars up at that end of the plot:
The two compatriots of last season on the plot, those other two stars on Nov 27th, are 1997-1998 and 1977-1978. 1997-1998 looks pretty solid with a snowpack start in the first week of November, and snowpack at about that five-foot mark by the holiday period. There’s also a nice-looking bonus stretch of snow at the end of October, with snow at the stake for almost the last third of the month, and the depth peaking at 16”. Checking my archives, I actually went for some lift-served skiing at Sugarbush on Oct 28th, so that speaks to that period snow being a bit of something special. 1977-1978 was before my time around here, but it looks a bit tamer. There was nothing in October, then snowpack began to build around mid-November and was getting around the four-foot mark by the holidays.
The two stars right at Nov 20th are interestingly, back-to-back seasons of 1967-1968 and 1968-1969. Both had a little October snow, and then a snowpack start in the first week of November. Both had pretty steady climbs right through November and December, with 1967-1968 getting to around 40” for the holiday period, and 1968-1969 hitting a very robust 6+ feet of snowpack for the holidays. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, as that was just the start of a season that would become legend.
The star at Nov 18th is 1965-1966, and the progression looks sort of like 1967-1968. That’s quite a 4-year stretch of good early seasons from ’65-’66 to ’68-’69 with those three solid starts.
The star at Nov 16th is 1980-1981. That season is interesting in that the snowpack started building on Oct 20th and sailed right into November without ever going back to zero. Snowpack was 4+ feet for the holidays, but the rest of the season looks modest (relatively speaking) with the snowpack depth never getting above 6 feet.
The star on Nov 14th is for something more recent: 2003-2004. I was out in Montana for that one, but snowpack started building in the second week of November, it was 4+ feet at the holidays, and hit the 100” mark in March.
The star on Nov 13th is for 1976-1977. That looks like an impressive start, with snowpack taking hold in the second half of October, climbing right through November, and hitting roughly the 4-foot mark for the holidays. The stake didn’t quite top out at 100” that season, but it did pretty well topping out at 94”.
The final early star I haven’t mentioned yet is the one on Nov 11th, that’s for the 1990-1991 season. It seems like the only other boom and bust start to go with Mr. October (2006-2007). There was a little inkling of snow at the end of October and start of November, but snowpack started building at the end of the first week of the month and topped out at a very impressive 45” on Nov 14th! It was a downhill slide after that though. The snowpack never went lower than 9” but there were only 12-18” on the ground for the holiday period, and on Dec 30th it dropped from 18” to 13”, so that must have been quite a dagger in the holiday week (I guess that depends on whether it was a nice spring skiing day or a nasty rainstorm). The rest of that season seemed pretty blasé because the snowpack never even hit 5 feet. I don’t recall much about that season, but I’m assuming there was nothing too remarkable.
While the upper elevation snowpack here in Northern Vermont got a bit of a boost from the snowstorm we had earlier in the week, the snow in the lower elevations is getting rather sparse. So while there’s still plenty of snow available in the local mountains overall, it’s not easy to head out on a tour that will let you ski right back to the base elevations. At the end of my tour on Tuesday though, the gentlemen I’d met out on the trail told me that there was still an impressive amount of snow available over by the Sunrise area of the resort. The terrain in that area really isn’t visible from Stowe’s webcams, or from the valley in general for that matter, but when the clouds started to rise away from the peaks this afternoon, I decided it looked nice enough for a quick ski tour and I decided to see what the area had to offer.
As soon as I walked up the access road from the Mansfield Base Lodge to the bottom of the Mountain Triple Chair, the possibilities were looking promising. A nice thick blanket of snow stretched right down to the base of the Standard trail, and coverage looked to continuous as far up the slope as I could see. There was enough open ground that I decided to simply hike vs. trying to skin, so I walked up the essentially snowless Lower Gulch as it paralleled Lower Standard. I did have to walk on snow at times as I got higher up the mountain and stuck more to Standard itself, but there were plenty of dry options as well if I’d wanted to take another route. I had only a certain amount of time, so I stopped my ascent after about 1,000’ of vertical near the top of Standard. There was plenty of snow to continue upward though for those interested in a longer descent.
“A nice thick blanket of snow stretched right down to the base of the Standard trail, and coverage looked to continuous as far up the slope as I could see.”
On the lower mountain it’s really the Standard trail that has the nearly continuous snow cover. The resort clearly made a lot of snow there this season, no doubt due to supporting the terrain park that occupies the trail. The snow cover isn’t quite 100% continuous throughout the entire length of the trail, but the only gaps are a couple of rather small ones that can be safely traversed without taking off your skis as long as you’re comfortable stepping across the ground slowly. There are a couple more spots that will likely open up soon, so watch for that if you go over the course of the next week. I do enjoy how every spring is a bit different with the trails that offer the best skiing, so being over on that side of the resort was a nice change of pace from the usual Nosedive options. The snow on Nosedive is still holding out well of course, but it doesn’t offer the same level of coverage right to the base that you can get on Standard right now, so the terrain off the Mountain Triple Chair could be a good option for touring if you’d like to check it out. It worked quite well for me, so hats off to the gentlemen I met on Tuesday who gave me the advice about the solid coverage on that side of the resort.
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.”
Whatever the actual frequency is for these May snowstorms, we’ve got one going on now. We’ve been monitoring the potential of this current storm for several days in the New England forum at American Weather, and the mountain snowfall was well under way last night. That meant that this morning was time to get a sense for what happened where and decide on a good location for some turns. After checking out the accumulations on the various mountain webcams this morning, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour. I hadn’t seen any obvious differences in accumulations at the various resorts from the webcams, so I opted for Stowe because they seemed to have the most substantial existing snowpack right down to the base elevations.
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.
Over the past couple of days we’ve had a storm in the area that’s been dropping some fresh snow in the higher elevations, and my ski tour at Bolton Valley yesterday revealed 4 to 6 inches of fresh, dense powder up around the 3,000’ mark. Powderfreak reported similar accumulations in the upper elevations during his tour at Stowe yesterday, and images of the powder skiing looked quite decent, so that bode well with respect to getting in some good turns in association with our visit to the Lodge. While there was expected to be a lull in the snowfall on Saturday afternoon, the forecast suggested that it would pick back up in the evening with the chance to tack on some additional accumulations as well.
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.
Temperatures have been warming up over the past several days, and snow has just about melted out in most of the lower valleys, but there’s still feet upon feet of snow in the mountains. After a fairly dreary Saturday, today was looking warm and pleasant, so the whole family headed off to Stowe in the afternoon for some spring turns.
The tailgating scene was in full force in the Mansfield Parking Lot, and the smell of burgers cooking on portable grills seemed to be everywhere. Today was definitely the day to be out there with the glorious spring weather, and as the last official day of lift-served skiing, I’m sure the Stowe faithful were all happy to be going out on a high note.
The four of us had our ski packs with us as we boarded the Fourrunner Quad, since one goal I’d had today was to check out the Rock Garden. With the ample snowfall and overall pattern of storm cycles the Northern Greens have seen this season, it just seemed to fill in even better than usual, so this was certainly a spring to pay the area a visit. As we’ve done before on other tours, the plan was to use the Fourrunner Quad for lift access, ski across through the Nosedive Glades, and then hike up Cliff Trail to get to the Gondola/Chin area. We’d initially been excited to see that the Gondola was running when we arrived, which would make for even easier access to the alpine terrain near The Chin, but we soon saw that they were just clearing off the cabins from the Easter sunrise service. As we took in the views of the Rock Garden from the Fourrunner Quad, I could see that it was no longer the large continuous snowfield that it had been just a few of weeks ago. There were still plenty of skiable lines, but I wasn’t sure if the effort was going to be worth it for E and the boys. So after an initial run all together, I split off to check it out on my own while they skied the Fourrunner terrain together.
My trip over toward the Gondola/Cliff House went smoothly, and I caught a good traverse through the Nosedive Glades over to Cliff Trail, even if the snow was a bit sticky in there at times. I’d initially planned to hike up the Cliff Trail Gully and take the Mansfield ridgeline across to the top of the Rock Garden, but as I approached the last pitch of Perry Merrill, I could see that the Rock Garden was right above me after just a short jaunt through some trees. It seemed silly to head up another route with such easy access.
The toughest part of ascending the Rock Garden was catching the occasional post hole in the snow. For the most part, the snow was consolidated, but every so often I’d hit that spot where my foot would punch through and I’d be up to my thigh. Thankfully, once I got into the open areas of the Rock Garden, I found a boot pack that someone had made, and that made things substantially easier. There was still the occasional post hole, but having pre-made, consolidated footholds really took care of most of it.
Gaining the Mansfield ridgeline at the top of the Rock Garden, I found three other skiers who were just getting ready for their descent. As they headed down, I recharged myself with a snack, and took in the views. Although it’s not as obvious as some of the others, the Rock Garden really is a lot like the various other southeastern-facing gullies on this part of Mt. Mansfield. Similar to those, it gets filled by the prevailing northwesterly winds, and it’s protected from the late day sun, so it preserves snow well. The west face of the gully isn’t quite as sheer as some of the others though, so it’s able to hold snow and take on that snowfield appearance that’s different that the narrower gullies.
“The lines were certainly more limited than they were a few weeks ago, but there were still a variety of choices through the buried and emerging trees… and of course rocks as well.”
For my descent through the Rock Garden, I started out in the main throat of the gully, and then cut right as the snowpack would allow, to take in some steeper turns along the headwall below the Mansfield ridgeline. The lines were certainly more limited than they were a few weeks ago, but there were still a variety of choices through the buried and emerging trees… and of course rocks as well. The snow was definitely corn, and I didn’t have to worry about any post-holing on my skis, but the surface was irregular due to the natural melting patterns up there. The best snow surfaces and smoothest turns of my descent were actually once I got down into the upper parts of Perry Merrill. The snow was evenly packed and there’s been little skier traffic of late. I was able to open it up and use the entire trail to arc some big wide turns as I often like to do in those wide sections of Perry Merrill when I have it to myself.
I’d kept in touch with E and the boys by updating them on my progress with a few text messages indicating my tour mileage and location. And, just as I was reaching Perry Merrill on my descent they let me know that they were at the car, so I gave them an update and told them that I’d be down soon.
The tailgating was rolling right along as I got back to the car, and I took in more of the sights while packing up my gear. That’s a wrap on the lift-served ski season at Stowe, but there’s still a ton of snow left, so now it’s time to move on to 100% human-powered ascents of Mt. Mansfield. There even appear to be some snow chances coming up over the next week or so, and we’ll be watching to see if Mother Nature decides to send along any more April powder for us.
It’s March, and the snowpack is deep here in Northern Vermont, so we planned to take a trip down the Bruce Trail today during our BJAMS ski session. E had recently been chatting with Brian and Joe in the program, and they were both interested in taking their kids on the Bruce, so we all joined together as a group for the run.
Knowing the round trip would take most of the afternoon, we started right off heading over to Mansfield and up the Fourrunner Quad. I brought everyone up for the requisite visit to Old Nosedive to enjoy the views and add a bit of bonus vertical to the run. Old Nosedive was packed with snow from our recent storm. It was dense powder similar to what we experienced yesterday at Bolton, but it skied quite nicely.
“The Bruce is in simply fantastic shape. That’s not surprising with over 10 feet of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, so even the Bruce’s steep, south-facing slopes that lose coverage first are covered with literally feet of snow.”
The Bruce is in simply fantastic shape. That’s not surprising with over 10 feet of snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, so even the Bruce’s steep, south-facing slopes that lose coverage first are covered with literally feet of snow. The snow consistency varied from dense powder and skier-packed powder up high, to thick creamy snow in the middle elevation trees, to more spring-like snow in the lower elevations. The powder in the lower-elevation hardwoods was definitely getting a bit sticky with sun and warming temperatures, but it still skied quite well in all but the very sunniest spots. Even in the lowest elevations down near 1,000’ on the Nordic area terrain, the snowpack is substantial. Crossing over the bridges along the Nordic trails we found the snowpack to be at or above the level of the bridges’ railings – which are four to five feet tall! You can literally stand on the railings simply by moving to the edges of the snowpack.
The spring snow made the final part of the Bruce descent through the Nordic areas a bit slower than when the snow is more winter-like, but we all simply took our time and enjoyed the casual pace along the meanderings of the Ranch Brook on such a glorious late winter/early spring day. We had plenty of time for snacks while we waited for the Mountain Road Shuttle, so we made ourselves some seats in the snowbanks near the Notchbrook General Store and soaked in some rays as we waited for the bus and discussed our day’s adventure.
With the deep spring snowpack we’ve currently got around here, the possibilities for skiing in Mansfield’s alpine terrain above the resort are essentially limitless, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to check out some of those options in the coming weeks.
Spring made some inroads around here at the end of the week, with temperatures reaching well up into the 40s F to finally prompt some melting/softening of the snowpack. In typical spring fashion, when the temperature dropped back down yesterday, it apparently made for some tough conditions on the slopes.
Those sort of temperature swings are a normal part of the cycle as we get into spring, but I wasn’t really looking forward to having to get out on that snow for today’s BJAMS ski program session – especially due to the fact that I was going to be on a snowboard. Snowboards have plenty of issues, but dealing with them on icy surfaces is one of the worst. Thankfully, Mother Nature had one of those “Northern Greens surprise refreshers” in her pocket. It wasn’t entirely a surprise that we were going to get a bit of snow overnight last night, but it came in more robustly that we were expecting. I looked outside last night around 10:00 P.M. to find that we’d already picked up over an inch of snow, and in the Northern New England thread at the American Weather Discussion Forum, Powderfreak indicated that it had been snowing for about 30 to 45 minutes. We’d picked up 1.6 inches of new snow at the house by 11:00 P.M., and a similar amount had fallen by the time I headed off to bed a bit later.
“I found several inches of new snow and bottomless turns along the trees to the skier’s right of Upper Meadows on my snowboard, so things were definitely looking up.”
This morning revealed a storm total of 3.3 inches of snow at the house, and 4 to 5 inches at the local resorts of the Northern Greens. We were eager to find out how well the new snow had covered up the old base as we headed off to out afternoon session at Stowe, so as soon as I’d grouped up with Molly and Dylan, we took a quick run off the Meadows Quad to get a sense for the conditions. I found several inches of new snow and bottomless turns along the trees to the skier’s right of Upper Meadows on my snowboard, so things were definitely looking up. I could see that snow options must have been pretty nice in the morning when the trails were relatively untracked, but there was definitely enough snow for use to head over to the Toll House terrain and surf some of the new powder on the boards.
E was potentially going to join us on her snowboard once she’d taken care of ensuring everyone was in their ski groups, so our group picked up Molly’s friend Julia on her skis and did a quick run off the Adventure Triple to take in some of the powder that remained below the lift. We all got together with E, and immediately made our way over to the Mountain Triple Chair on Mansfield to take in what we hoped to be a nice long run full of surfy powder turns down to the base of the Toll House Lift. I was a little leery of brining everyone into the Sunrise Glades because I wasn’t sure about their comfort level in the trees on their boards, but once we got past the Stowe Mountain Chapel and could see all the untracked powder in the various Toll House trees, everyone just dove right into the woods. There were a good 3 to 5 inches of powder with few if any tracks, and with that amount of cushion, I had no concerns about people’s ability to make turns or experience the tumbles we would all inevitable take. We rode the usual assortment of trees down much of the length of Toll House, and everyone had a great time surfing their way along. The moderate pitches there were just what the doctor ordered for the amount of powder we had available, and the exploration and practice riding in the trees made the experience a huge hit. We wouldn’t have been in there riding that fresh powder if it hadn’t been for the overnight snow.
We worked our way back to the Spruce Peak Village to end the day with a food break, and another one of my old straps on my snowboard broke, so that made for an adventurous return trip. I really do need to invest in some new bindings since mine are 20+ years old and the plastic is obviously getting brittle. Perhaps I’ll find an end of the season deal on something. I wouldn’t mind some of those Burton Step On® bindings – I’m so sick of dealing with those snowboard binding buckles, especially my broken ones!
We’ve known about the potential upslope snow on the back side of Winter Storm Taylor for several days, and today looked like the optimal time period to get some of those Northern Greens powder turns. But, you never know quite how much powder you’re going to get until it happens. Scott Braaten laid out his thoughts yesterday at Braatencast, but I’d say Mother Nature delivered even better than expected. The first thing we heard from Scott this morning in the Northern New England thread at American Weather Forums was: “The orographic lift came through last night. That’s for sure.” We knew it was game on, and we sure love it when the Northern Greens do their thing.
I was planning to head to Bolton Valley for a bit of touring this morning, but when I saw they were reporting about 4 inches overnight, whereas Stowe had early reports of 8 or 9 inches, I switched up my plans and decided to do a few lift-served runs at Stowe instead. My snow analyses from the morning indicated that the new snow had come in around 5% H2O, which was a setup for some great powder turns.
I had a bit of interesting serendipity on this morning’s outing. I parked in the upper Gondi lot, planning to do most of my skiing there, but I had a pass issue that required me to head over to Spruce. Once I’d gotten things straightened out with my pass, I decided to just roll with it and catch some runs while I was over there. I headed out to the lifts and noticed something surprising – the Sensation Quad was running, but the Sunny Spruce Quad was down. The reverse is common if there are wind issues, but certainly not the combination they had today (it turns out it wasn’t a wind issue, it was mechanical I guess). Anyway, with Sunny Spruce down, it was pretty much country club powder skiing on that terrain for the few folks that felt like accessing it. I did an initial run on Sensation, which was pretty quiet aside from the NorAm races, and got some of the first tracks down Spruce Line. After that I did a couple of laps on the vacant Sunny Spruce terrain, running a circuit with the Meadows Quad and Sensation Quad, and of course including a hike to the top of Spruce Peak each time to get in that extra powder and make up for the fact that I was riding lifts instead of skinning.
“It was skiing much deeper than a foot at times, and doing some checks I was getting powder depths of 22 to 24 inches.”
It was snowing nice fat flakes all morning, and the increases in snowfall intensity were often quite notable as you headed up in elevation. It typically wasn’t an intense pounding snow, but often nice and steady, and sometimes you’d have that fairly decent snowfall with sunshine at the same time. There were a couple of times with the perfect simultaneous combinations of flakes and sun that I had to stand there in awe and soak in the mountain scene. And it was all gorgeous upslope flakes – the 5% H2O I’d found in my morning snow analyses was probably about what we had where the snow wasn’t affected by any wind. It was simply great snow quality with some good right-side-up nature to it thanks to some dense snow that had fallen at the beginning of the storm cycle.
Most off piste (and even some on piste) terrain I encountered was definitely delivering that 48-hour total of 13” that I’d seen in Stowe’s snow report. My first depth check of the day was in the Meadows East Glades, and my measurement came right in at 12 inches. I checked in spots off Upper Sterling and was typically getting 12-14”. I eventually got back over to the Gondola terrain and was really impressed with the skiing in the Bench Woods. It was skiing much deeper than a foot at times, and doing some checks I was getting powder depths of 22-24”. I did push through some sort of slightly thicker layer in those measurements, but it must not have been too sturdy because I was definitely skiing a lot of lines where the snow had that “up to the thighs” feeling. That’s typically in the two-foot realm vs. the one-foot realm. I found a sign I’d never seen in that area that said “Bob’s Rash”, and I have no idea how much of the terrain that sign was meant to cover, but the lines below it were beautifully steep and loaded with the kind of powder that billows up above your waist.
Today’s temperatures were cold enough to keep things light and dry, but certainly not January frigid, so it was an all-around great morning. It was another world once I got back down into the valley – it was mostly sunny down low while it was still snowing away at the mountain. We’ve had some nice storms over the past couple of Marches, with Winter Storm Skylar last March, and Winter Stowe Stella the March before that. This year’s Winter Storm Taylor wasn’t quite as big as those, but it was an awesome sleeper storm that brought the goods without as much hype. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is now sitting at around 120 inches, and the skiing is great at all elevations. Who knows how many other big storms we’ll be getting this season, but we’ve got the rest of March and April to find out!
We’ve got Winter Storm Taylor currently affecting the area, and this morning it brought a burst of snow that delivered a few inches to ski resorts around the state. The snow is expected to continue on and off through Tuesday, and I’d on and off is what we experienced today at our BJAMS ski program at Stowe. Around midday when we were arriving we had some nice flakes coming down in the Spruce Peak Village to help freshen the snow surfaces, and there were also some winds keeping the upper mountain lifts on wind hold.
My ski group today was exactly the same as I had at last Sunday’s session: Adrian, Sienna, and Sienna’s mom Jessica. To get a sense for how the new snow had settled in, we warmed up with a run on the Meadows Quad. There were at least a couple fresh inches of dense snow around on the lower traffic areas of the trails, and there was an especially deep area along the Meadows Catwalk as it wrapped back around below the lift. It almost seemed as if half the trail there hadn’t been groomed, because there were several inches of dense snow there. I urged everyone to check out that snow, especially since I know Jessica had been looking to get a feel for what it was like to ski in powder. She took quite well to the soft snow, and enjoyed the fact that turns were easy without worrying about firm spots, so I continued to search out the powder for her throughout the afternoon. Eventually I didn’t have to find the snow for her though, she was really seeking it out herself.
We’ve got Winter Storm Taylor currently affecting the area, and this morning it brought a burst of snow that delivered a few inches to ski resorts around the state.
Conditions were overall much improved from last weekend, and with Adrian’s persistent inquiries I eventually decided that the group could try the steep face of West Slope. It’s marked as intermediate, but it could easily pass for a modest black diamond as well. We listened to the sounds of skiers making turns down West Slope while we rode the Sunny Spruce Quad, and hearing no noise from their skis, I knew conditions would be amenable to a run for the group. I also knew that even with the nice snow, it was going to be quite a challenge for everyone. Ultimately it was a very good push for Sienna, who needed to figure out how to engage her edges to hold her skis in place. Getting on that steeper slope was just what she needed though. Everyone had a successful run, and I’d say that was the most challenging slope that any of them had faced up to that point. One great aspect of tackling West Slope is that they now get to easily view their accomplishment right from the Spruce Peak Base Area and every time they ride the Sunny Spruce Quad.