This was really a good day not to ski, since our recent warm spell came to an end last night and tightened up all the snow on the slopes. Many families are actually out of town because of winter break, but our BJAMS ski program was still on, so we headed to Stowe in the afternoon. We weren’t in any rush based on the anticipated conditions, so the boys and I had a good lunch up at the Great Room Grill before our session began.
The only redeeming aspect of the conditions that we found today was the couple of inches of dense new snow that fell on the back side of Winter Storm Quid. Areas with the new snow were actually pretty nice as Powderfreak showed in his pictures from this morning. I actually found some areas with even deeper accumulations than just a couple of inches, and turns were actually quite good with the density of the snow, but we didn’t spend too much time hunting down those areas with the best conditions. We joined up with another group today and just did some runs off Sunny Spruce to at least see what the main runs had to offer.
With the general conditions the way there were, the guys in my group were pretty much done after about an hour or so, and we headed to the s’mores area for a while, then up to the Great Room to hang out. Dylan brought his playing cards, and we got in a good session with various games, and of course some card tricks thrown in by Norris. The guys definitely enjoyed the indoor session, so we’ll keep it in mind the next time conditions are somewhat lackluster on the slopes.
We’ve got Winter Storm Orson underway in the area this evening, and for this afternoon’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe we were able to enjoy the storm’s front end snow as it started to unload on Mt. Mansfield. Snowfall began around midday, and ramped up throughout the afternoon, so it was one of those days where the snow quality just got better and better with each run. There were already a few inches of powder down ahead of the storm, consistent with what I’d seen at Bolton Valley yesterday, but it really wasn’t enough to keep you off the crusty subsurface snow in all cases. By the end of the afternoon though, there was a good half foot of powder or more above the crust depending on elevation, and that firm subsurface was starting to become a memory. Coming into the afternoon, the snow quality was already quite good in spots where skier traffic had pulverized the thick layer underneath, so that terrain was getting really fun.
For our tour of the mountain today we headed right over to Mt. Mansfield and kicked things off with a trip down Ravine. Some of the ice falls are hardly noticeable right now, which says a lot about the snowpack in mid-February. We headed to the Kitchen Wall, and then down through the Nosedive Glades to Nosedive, where we discovered that the microburst zone was actually open! No doubt that the deep snowpack is allowing that, but it’s the first time I’ve skied there extensively since it was closed. It’s really fun in there though, naturally it’s a bit more open than it was before, but it offers up some novel lines. One of my initial plans for today was to visit the Sunrise Glades, Chapel Glades, and Birch Glades in case lower-angle terrain was going to allow us to stay off the crusty subsurface snow. Even with conditions much better than I’d expected, that was still on the hit list, so we had an excellent trip through all those zones. We’d caught up with Nolan just before that during an Octagon break, and he joined us on his Telemark gear. We finished off the day back at Spruce Peak with some Sensation Quad runs, and had Spruce Line all to ourselves. The wind and snow were ripping up at the Spruce Peak Summit area, but down out of the wind in places like Green Acres, there was some excellent powder.
“…it was one of those days where the snow quality just got better and better with each run.”
As of this evening, we’ve picked up at least 8 to 9 inches down here at the house from Winter Storm Orson, and I expect tomorrow’s turns to be excellent. We’ve actually got the potential for another storm in just a couple of days, so we’ll be watching that one to see what it might deliver. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake was already at roughly 80 inches today, and it should continue to climb this week.
It’s been two days since Stowe’s “Big Friday” powder extravaganza, but we were definitely excited for the BJAMS ski program this afternoon knowing that the snow quality would be great and there would be plenty of untracked lines left in the lesser-used areas. The overall setup for the day looked quite comfortable, with temperatures around 30 F depending on elevation, and some snow from our next Alberta Clipper coming in near the end of the day.
We were with Nolan, Evan and Sophie again today, and with the snowpack now up to 76 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, I knew I could continue to introduce them to more of Stowe’s many off piste areas with no constraints. With that in mind, two areas that I had on my hit list were Angel Food and the Hazelton Zone. I started everyone off with Angel Food just in case folks were interested in going all the way down to Route 108, but the general consensus was to head back via the main traverse, so that’s as low as we went. We followed that up with a run on Chin Clip where Nolan and I worked on bump technique with all the kids. Chin Clip is in classic top-to-bottom bump mode right now and serves as a great spot for bump practice. After a Midway Lodge break we hit a combination of Nosedive Glades and Hazelton Zone. The streams down in the Hazelton Zone are generally well covered, but perhaps a bit less filled in than some seasons due to some stronger melt flows back in December and January.
We headed back to Spruce as the end of the day approached, and folks generally got on their way a bit early with the Super Bowl coming up in the evening, but Dylan and I decided to head off together and catch another powder run. We explored from the Spruce side down to Route 108 and found some really fun lines. We didn’t run into any other skiers, but we did find a group of ice climbers working on a small section of ice not far from the resort. We made our way back on one of the access roads to the houses they’re building right along Route 108, and got to see an up-close view of one of the huge ones that’s got some massive retaining walls built to accommodate the steep slopes down to the road. It can’t really have much of a yard with the way the terrain is so steep, but it’s got some amazing landscaping, architecture, and fantastic views of Mansfield.
Light snow began to hit the resort in the last hour or two of the day, and we’ve got snow accumulating here at the house this evening, so I’m sure they’ll have a bit of fresh to report from the resort in the morning.
Ty and I had an appointment in Burlington this morning, which mean that we’d be arriving a bit late to our BJAMS ski program at Stowe in the afternoon. We were arriving just in time for the afternoon snows however. The first encounter was when we driving to the resort during the noontime hour. We could see snow moving in to our north as we headed through Waterbury, and it finally hit us as were rising up to the Waterbury/Stowe line near Chutesville Hill. Some fairly intense graupel was a big feature of the precipitation at that point.
There were on and off periods of snow throughout the afternoon at the mountain, and Ty and I worked our way over from the Gondola to the Fourrunner Quad trails around Tyro with a dip into the Chapel Glades. The snow surfaces were excellent in there, and there were plenty of spots with fresh tracks to be had. We continued all the way down into the Toll House terrain because we were looking for something mellow, and I’d say there has certainly been plenty of visitation to the mountain over the past couple of days based on some of the areas I saw with tracks in them. You typically don’t find too many people spending much time in the trees around the Toll House Lift, since the terrain is very low angle and the return to the rest of the resort exceedingly long on the slow double. I’ve never seen as many tracks in there as I did today though, and we’re not talking a week after a storm, we’re talking a day or two after a storm. It was unusual, but hopefully a lot of beginners got their chance to check out the awesome powder in the trees!
We made our way back to Spruce Peak for a final couple of runs of visiting some of our favorite powder stashes, and that last hour before closing definitely featured some of the heaviest snowfall of the day. I’m sure rates were an inch per hour or more at that point, and the photography was difficult during the heavy stuff, but we still fired away. Images captured successfully during intense snowfall are always fun anyway. In general I’d say we found about a foot of powder around the mountain in untracked areas, and the skiing was great. The quality of the powder was definitely very high, and it looks like it will stay that way with the upcoming forecast for the next week or so.
On our drive to the mountain we noticed that there’s not actually a ton of snow down in the center of Stowe Village, but the snowpack builds as one heads up the mountain road, and it’s quite hearty once you get up to The Matterhorn around the 1,000’ elevation. The snow depths simply skyrocket after that, and Mansfield’s snowpack is quite impressive. This shouldn’t be too surprising with 52” at the Mt. Mansfield Stake, but it’s still great to get out there and experience it firsthand.
Today in our group we had many of the usual crew, like Jack, Dylan, Jonah, and Norris. Ken is still taking it easy due to his injury, so our new additions were Nolan and his kids Sophie and Evan. They fit right in with the group, so I suspect we’ll have a lot of fun whenever we’re together. After an initial run on Sunny Spruce, we quickly headed over to Mansfield to check out some steeper terrain. We skied the Bypass Chutes, as well as Goat and Starr from the top. While coverage isn’t yet perfect on those routes, it’s pretty darned good, and that says a lot if those steep pitches are reasonably covered. I was concerned about what the snow surfaces were going to be like with the cloudy conditions today, but the snow was beautifully soft at all elevations with temperatures in the 30s F. The Nosedive Glades were fantastic – and they’ve definitely done some additional clearing in there to enhance some of the lines. Overall, today was actually like being out there on one of those awesome soft days in April with the hefty snowpack. I’d say the main drawback on the hill today was the visibility, since we were in the clouds the whole time. In some elevation bands it was pea soup, but it was more reasonable than at many elevations.
We’ve actually got a storm coming into the area tomorrow evening that should bolster the snow pack even more. The storm is expected to have some mixed precipitation with it, but plenty of liquid equivalent, so it should really be a good shot to add to the season’s base.
It’s been a relatively slow week for snowfall in the Northern Greens, but Stowe did manage to pick up roughly a foot of snow between Wednesday and Thursday. Since the Mt. Mansfield area seemed to be a sweet spot with respect to snowfall, I decided to head out for a backcountry tour in the Ranch Valley, which sits just to the south of the resort’s alpine trail network and is the location for Stowe’s Cross Country Center. I’ve been through the area numerous times when coming down the Bruce Trail, and I’ve sampled some of the natural glades that populate the middle elevations in that area. I could see that there was much more skiable terrain to explore though, so I decided to check out what the areas around the Burt Trail had to offer.
Temperatures were in the low to mid 20s F in the local mountain valleys as I headed up to the Stowe Cross Country Center to start my tour. It turns out that Mrs. Blanck was behind the counter when I was buying my trail pass, so we were able to catch up a bit and she gave me an overview of some nice glades that she’d heard of as we reviewed the backcountry portion of the trail map.
My ascent route consisted of starting on the Timberlane Trail and using Cross Cut 2 to get to the Burt Trail. The recent snows were certainly elevation dependent, so there was only about an inch of fresh snow atop the snowpack down near the base of the Cross Country Center at ~1,000’. It did increase as I ascended, reaching a couple of inches by the time I hit the Burt Trail, and nearly 4 inches at the top of my ascent at the junction with the Underhill Trail. Here’s the general depths of surface powder I found on my tour with respect to elevation:
The backcountry portion of the Burt Trail starts right around 1,500’ elevation, and getting to that point represents a pretty hefty approach of over two miles, so that’s about the minimum distance one will have to go on this route to get into terrain for potential descents. The Burt Trail really starts to steepen above 2,000’, which one hits at close to three miles in. At that point it’s comprised of switchbacks to accommodate the steeper terrain. That area is still mostly hardwoods, with scattered evergreens, so tree density isn’t too bad and one can easily cut the switchbacks and ski through the forest. That terrain is pretty steep though, so one would want a decent amount of powder for it to be optimal. Based on darkness and trying to ensure that I made it back to the Cross Country Center by 5:00 P.M. since a sign that the parking lot gate would close at that point, I only ascended to the junction with the Underhill Trail, but I could see that there was plenty of similar terrain right up above me.
As for the skiing and conditions, one would definitely want more powder above the base than what I found today, but I was still able to get in some decent turns. I had my midfat Tele skis, which were certainly not all that light in the overall spectrum of Nordic equipment, but I was thankful to have something that could handle the descent well. I cut the Burt Trail switchbacks and skied the fairly open forest in some spots, but I could actually stay on the trail itself for the most part where it mattered. Only one person had gone up ahead of me above 2,000’ on the trail and they must have descended another way, because there was no descent track. So the Burt Trail itself was relatively untracked and I got some of my best turns of the afternoon simply by staying on it. The terrain in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range offers some options off the trail depending on the pitch of the terrain, but I just ran my descent out the trail itself based on the snow conditions and my time. The whole runout back to the Cross Country Center is actually pretty fun, and you can really cruise along at times, but you will have to do some skating and deal with a couple of small uphill sections. It’s quite similar to running out the Bruce Trail though, and indeed the route is identical in some spots, so if you’ve done that you’ll have a good sense for what this is like.
It looks like we’ll be in a fairly active weather pattern in the foreseeable future with some clipper-type events and larger synoptic systems with potential mixed precipitation, so we’ll see how these play out in terms of bolstering the snowpack.
Each year in December we head to Stowe for the training day that gets us ready for our school’s ski program. E is the director for the BJAMS program and typically takes care of the logistics on one of the weekend days, while a co-director would manage the other. In the past, when the boys were younger and couldn’t stay home alone, we’d either set up to have someone watch them, or split the two training days between us and each go alone. On those occasions, even though selecting the days was done well in advance, I always seemed to luck out and get the great conditions – comfortable temperatures, fresh powder, soft surfaces, etc., while E on the other hand would get refrozen crud, frigid temperatures, or whatever else you can think of that would make the ski experience less than stellar.
This year though, we were going to the training day together, and it looked like E was going to go for a ride on the luck train with me. Winter Storm Decima was marching across the country, and the timing looked just about perfect for a great powder day on Saturday. In fact, the National Weather Service Office in Burlington even felt strongly enough about it to incorporate a statement in their forecast discussion on Thursday:
“Should be a glorious powder day with mean snow ratios around 18-20:1 and temps gradually warming into the lower 20s valleys and upper teens mountains by early afternoon.”
By this morning, Winter Storm Decima had already begun to deliver snow as we headed off to the resort. The snowfall rates weren’t outrageous, but it was a good steady snow and you could see that little bit of extra spring in everyone’s step knowing that training day was going to feature fresh snow. As we gathered outside the Midway Lodge for the morning’s announcements, you could just see the snow piling up on the anxious skiers ready to get underway.
“There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day.”
We had Steve for our group leader, similar to some previous seasons, and he regaled us with his usual assortment of giving lessons to celebrities and assorted well-heeled folks. We did a quick first run off the Meadows Quad, and that was our first chance to experience the snow. Oh was it glorious! There are only so many superlatives one can use, but you’re basically talking about the snow of a fresh storm on top of two weeks’ where it snowed every day. Stowe’s already hit 110 inches on the season, and we’re only about three weeks or so into it.
We had several runs on Spruce Peak before we broke for some lunch, then got a couple more runs in over on Mansfield. Even after a day of weekend ski traffic, conditions were still amazing in the afternoon even on the most heavily-used areas. The snow is deep-down good. The only downside today was the chill in the morning at elevation with the wind, but it was still a small price to pay for such consistently awesome conditions.
There really wasn’t much lead up discussion on the American Weather Forum about the winter storm we’ve been having in the Northern Greens the past couple of days. That’s because, while it looked like the mountains would muster up some snow accumulation, the models hadn’t really suggested that we’d be getting TWO FEET of accumulation. But, once the snow levels dropped into the mountains, Mother Nature just continued to drive that moisture into the spine of the Greens, and it kept snowing. It’s been snowing continuously now for two straight days.
Temperatures were a degree or two above the freezing mark around in the lower mountain valleys at mid-morning when I was heading out today, and the precipitation was all snow, but accumulations were quite variable with the borderline freezing temperatures. We had about an inch on the ground here at the house on the Waterbury/Bolton line, and that tapered off to much more patchy accumulations in Waterbury and Waterbury Center. The accumulations picked back up again once I was into the Stowe Village area, fairly similar to what we had at the house. At The Matterhorn around the 1,000’ mark I’d say the snow depth was roughly 2 inches.
“…and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing.”
Just making that jump up to ~1,500’ at the base of the resort resulted in a huge increase in accumulations. My depth checks revealed ~10” of new snow at the base of the Gondola, and that measurement was fairly easy, since the old base had generally melted out down at that elevation. I skinned up Chin Clip Runout, since I like the grade, seclusion, and protection from any wind more than heading right up Gondolier. Actually though, winds today were pretty minimal in the lower mountain elevations, and with the temperature just a bit below freezing, it was really pleasant.
Above mid mountain I started to get into the snow guns, and I meandered here and there from Switchback to Gondolier to Perry Merrill following various skin tracks to see if there were any quiet areas. But aside from Chin Clip, they had guns running all over the place. It’s noisy and ruins the natural snow in spots, but of course the resort has to blow snow when it’s time. I actually only headed above the 3,000’ mark for the exercise and to see what was up at that elevation, because I knew the skiing was going to be much better below that point. The winds were howling on that last section of Upper Gondolier, and pounding snow from the storm combined with snow guns every 50 feet or so blasting out their little ice particles made it a virtual whiteout. It was absolutely miserable. If you’ve ever wondered why people are willing to pay a premium for really high quality alpine/backcountry/ski outerwear, there’s an example. It’s not as if it was even midwinter cold (somewhere in the 20s F), but with the snow guns added in, there was just so much liquid being blasted at you on the strong winds. Gear was thoroughly put to the test today. The skin track from the guy who was just a few minutes in front of me had absolutely vanished in that short amount of time. All I could think as I struggled up that final pitch was that if I was ever going to Tweet something at that point it would have been #itsbrutaloutthere. It was a major relief to be able to get out of the wind, snow, and the roar of the guns under the deck of the Cliff House.
Above the base elevations where the old snowpack had melted out, I did my best to try to measure on top of the old base snow/crust, and here’s the summary of my best estimates for settled accumulations from this event from the valley and up into the Gondi area below The Chin:
That last number there from the Cliff House is just an estimate because as is often the case, the wind made it really tough to find a representative spot for measurement.
“The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great.”
Anyway, as much as that last, wind-exposed stretch of Upper Gondolier was brutal on the ascent, the skiing was actually fine. But, just below that on Chin Clip was heavenly. The air was calm, the noise of the snow guns was gone, the plentiful flakes falling form the sky were friendly… and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing. I actually felt bad on the ascent for anyone that wasn’t skinning up because if you were trying to boot pack through this storm’s bounty, you were doing a lot of work. There’s no walking though airy dendrites out there right now, this is hard-workin’, blue-collar stuff that’s just been put down. Powderfreak is estimating this storm’s likely going to leave a couple inches of liquid equivalent all together. That’s a season starter right there. On my ascent I’d chatted with another guy near the bottom on Chin Clip Runout who was just coming down, and he said he never touched a thing below the snow… and he wasn’t kidding. On 115 mm boards I’d say I was sinking in about 8 to 10 inches on hard pressured turns on steep terrain. So you can imagine up high where there’s 20 inches of new stuff plus an old base below that, you aren’t touching anything. Even back down near the base elevations though, where the snowpack was dropping below a foot, there were no issues. The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great. I actually found a bit of upside-down snow at times on my descent, no doubt due to some changing densities throughout the storm, but even for Tele turns it wasn’t too notable within the scope of the overall snow that was available.
On the way back down into the valley on my drive home, I’d say that in general a bit more snow had accumulated during the morning/midday, but you could tell that the snow was struggling to accumulate too quickly with temperatures right around or slightly above the freezing mark. Surprisingly, back in Waterbury Center and Waterbury, there were very sparse accumulations if any, but then accumulations picked back up again once I head toward the house and into the mountains.
The weather pattern is actually looking active and potentially snowy going forward, so we’ll see what Mother Nature wants to give us. It would be really nice to get in even an average December after the past three running in the range of 50% of normal snowfall. Even normal would feel quite snowy with the way things have been the past few seasons.
Snow was still falling at the house this morning, and if anything it was becoming drier as time went on, so that was encouraging. I decided to head out to Stowe as planned, and I brought along a bunch of camera gear because I expected there would be some fun photo ops along the way. As I traveled to Mt. Mansfield, it was clear that the lower mountain valleys in the 500’ to 1,000’ elevation range were right around the snow line, and that produced a fantastic amalgam of snow accumulations and touches of spring greenery. Aspect wasn’t too critical in determining accumulations since it was quite cloudy, but the type of surface and whether or not it was elevated really played a big role. Also, you could travel just a few hundred yards and see quite a variety of accumulations depending on which areas had been hit with heavier snow showers. Some yards had snow on the grass, some had accumulations only on elevated surfaces, and some had neither. In some spots only the rooves, or just sections of the rooves, held accumulations. The precipitation I encountered was all snow, but temperatures were generally in the mid 30s F, so that contributed to the variable accumulations.
Fairly continuous coverage on the ground really started once you got above 1,000’ in elevation, and up around 1,600’ at the Midway Lodge I found roughly an inch of accumulation. My initial plans were to skin up Nosedive, since it’s always a good late-season bet, but from what I could see, the snow depth really didn’t jump up that quickly with respect to elevation. With that in mind, I headed along Crossover toward the main North Slope route to hopefully find solid base coverage down to lower elevations. The coverage on Crossover wasn’t quite enough to make skinning worth it, so I hiked along until I caught North Slope at around 1,800’ or so, where I was able to start skinning. Indeed the snow depth was building slowly, as even at roughly the 2,000’ mark there was still only 1”-2” of new snow.
I was starting to think that I was going to be out for more of a hike than a real quality powder skiing session, when suddenly I got up around 2,500’ and the snow depth really began to jump up. Here’s my best estimates of new snow depth based on measurement pole probing along my route:
I didn’t really detect any notable gains in snow depth between 3,000’ and 3,600’, and the stronger winds made the measurements more challenging anyway, but my best guess was around 8” up at the Octagon.
I stuck my pole right in the snow by the main Octagon doorway and found 14” – this was clearly due to some drifting, but that’s a decent idea of what you could find if you were hitting the deeper spots along the trails in the upper elevations. The winds were nice in some respects though – they had erased most tracks from previous skiers without really hammering the powder. For the most part it was a gentle sifting in of new snow without any formation of wind crust. You could certainly see signs of old tracks in various locations, but in many cases the trails had been wiped clean, wall to wall.
“…those turns above 2,500’ would have held up as high quality in any season.”
Anyway, that top ~1,000’ of vertical offered up simply fabulous turns – the powder was mid to heavy weight, but not sticky at all and it had plenty of buoyancy to keep things bottomless right down to 2,500’ as long as you followed the deposition patterns along the trails appropriately. I had decent turns back down to 1,800’ at Crossover, but they generally weren’t bottomless down there – laps above 2,500’ were the way to go depending on one’s time and how they set up their tour. You’d have consistently very high quality turns with that approach. The turns for me were clearly some of the highest quality I encountered this season, and certainly some of the most consistent at such a high level. Granted, we know how this season went with regard to blowing away the record books on the low end, but those turns above 2,500’ would have held up as high quality in any season. I had debated bringing my mid-fats today since I was unsure of how the accumulations were going to play out, but there was no question after my run – the fat skis were totally in their element and delivering just like they should.