Initial reports from Spruce Peak as we began our ski program in the afternoon suggested that indeed the snow was getting quite sticky in the sun, so we took our group over to Mt. Mansfield to get to higher elevations and find north-facing terrain that would see the best protection from the warming temperatures. From our experience on trails like Nosedive and even Cliff Trail, we found that snow quality was quite nice on roughly the top half of the mountain, but the bottom half was certainly sticky enough to be a nuisance. It was one of those days where you wish Stowe had some upper mountain lifts.
With the sticky snow, the group was happy to take an extended break for some s’mores and a visit to the Great Room Grill before we went out for a few more runs on Spruce Peak to close out the day. A highlight of those last runs was hitting the ruts of the race course on Competition Hill. They had been well traveled, so the snow was plenty fast and lots of fun. Ty and I raced for the gold on our final run, and I won, but it was because he let me choose the track and I opted for the faster one on the left. While that’s it for official ski program days this season, there’s still lots of snow left in the mountains, so we’ll see what the rest of April brings us for skiing.
A number of students were unable to attend ski program today, so there were some small groups, and any of them that were interested in a trip down the Bruce joined up with us. From the top of the Fourrunner Quad, those that wanted to ascend joined me for a trip up Old Nosedive, which I find is a nice way to get in a bit of hiking and extra turns before diving into the Bruce. The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour. It was quite wintry up top, but even in the lowest elevations the snow was dense enough to hold up well for fresh turns, just like Dylan and I had experienced yesterday at Bolton Valley. There was still ample untracked powder available off the sides of the Bruce, and as usual once we were down into the open hardwood areas there were lots of great lines to explore in the trees.
“The condition of the snow was really excellent today – all the way from around 4,000’ to down at roughly 1,000’ at the bottom of the tour.”
This morning, Dylan said that we should go with Telemark skis for today’s session if our focus was going to be the Bruce Trail, and while I’d planned to go alpine, I agreed and ended up going Tele. It was totally the right choice, especially since the coverage and snow conditions were so optimal. I was happy because I felt really dialed in and my transitions felt incredibly quick, and Dylan was also really psyched because he skied so well today. He says that he always wants to run the Bruce on Telemark gear now. Of course he got to experience it on a great day. I’d put today in the top 25% of conditions for the Bruce – there was so much soft snow and powder around, and even those most difficult to cover, south-facing shots were virtually blemish free.
We capped off the run with a trip to the Notchbrook General Store for snacks, and a ride on the Mountain Road Shuttle back to the Spruce Peak Village. Greg said that the last time he skied the Bruce Trail was about 35 years ago, so it was really neat that he got the chance to do it again after such a long hiatus. We had time for a few more runs on Spruce once we got back, and found that the quality of the snow was still really nice. This was just the way a March ski day should be!
With the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake back around the 100-inch mark, it was finally time to bring my BJAMS ski group up into the Mansfield alpine for our weekly Sunday session. My initial plan was a run down Profanity Chute with a return toward Chin Clip, followed by a trip to the Outer Planets. Nolan wasn’t going to be with me since he was still in the process of returning from Montreal, but fortunately Rick was going to join us and that gave me a second adult. With Rick’s added knowledge of the area, I felt comfortable enough to kick things up a notch and bring the boys to the Hell Brook Trail for the bottom part of the run.
The weather forecast was also a big part of opting for the alpine today – highs up around 4,000’ were expected to be in the 20s F and wind was supposed to be minimal. The Climbing Gully was in great shape, with lots of snow and one of the best boot ladders I’ve seen. The March sun had done some work on slopes with southern aspects, but up high the effects seemed to be pretty minimal – the packed snow in Profanity Chute was quite wintry, and there was some nice powder still available in the open area on the right side of the chute. I wish I’d had the camera out for when Rick skied that because the powdery turns looked fantastic.
We cut left following the normal Profanity route, and then traversed below the east face of The Chin containing the Hourglass Chute and connected to the Hell Brook Trail. The north-facing aspects in the Hell Brook area held some fantastic snow, but surface conditions deteriorated the more southerly the aspect. At times we had to ski some of those more southerly-oriented aspects, so that made for some very challenging turns on either crusty snow or powder with a sun crust on it. But the boys all did quite well on what is a very challenging run that simply goes on, and on, and on. By the time we traversed back to Gondola and headed over to Spruce Camp we’d covered over 5.5 miles and 2,900’ of vertical.
Although there are roughly 100 inches of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake right now, I don’t think coverage on Profanity was quite where it was on our last visit with the kids a couple of seasons ago. With Winter Storm Stella we really just made back the snow that had settled or melted during the previous couple of weeks, so the snowpack doesn’t seem to have quite the coverage of a 100-inch pack that grew throughout the full season. In any event, there’s a lot of snow up in the high elevations and things look good for the slopes heading into spring.
“As one would expect, the skiing was simply fantastic – surface powder depths we found were typically 18 to 24 inches, with sheltered spots hitting 30 inches.”
Some of the biggest nor’easters are actually picked up fairly early on the weather models. These very large storms are associated with an alignment of such prominent weather features that they produce a signal that the models can really key in on. That was the case with Winter Storm Stella. The buildup was impressive on the weather boards and in the national media, and although it didn’t deliver massive amounts of snow to the big coastal cities in the Northeastern U.S., areas farther inland (such as Northern Vermont and Upstate New York) made out like gangbusters. Reports were coming in of over 40 inches of snow in Upstate New York, and the Vermont resorts.
Unfortunately Dylan was a bit under the weather today with a cold, and while he was bummed to miss out on some great powder, he probably made the right decision to stay home and rest up with the way he felt. Although he could stay home alone, E felt that if she was home with him he’d do a much better job of taking care of himself. So, Ty and I headed off alone to Stowe for some turns this morning.
“We’re talking white vest-wearing, powder cascading over the shoulders deep.”
It was still snowing steadily at the house when we left, but the roads weren’t bad because the plows were out working hard. In terms of snow accumulations and snowfall rates around the area, they tapered off somewhat as we headed from the house to Waterbury and Waterbury Center, and surprisingly, snowfall rates dropped to just flurries along the Stowe/Waterbury line. That was the nadir in terms of snowfall intensity, and then it gradually ramped back up as we headed through Stowe Village and up to the mountain.
We decided to focus on the Gondola terrain today, so we parked in the Midway area, and got suited up in the Midway Lodge. There were very few people in the lodge at that point, which was probably a good sign with respect to crowds. At the Gondi, the lift queue was a few minutes long, but that’s really not bad for such a storm day.
As one would expect, the skiing was simply fantastic – surface powder depths we found were typically 18 to 24 inches, with sheltered spots hitting 30 inches. This storm gave the whole resort quite an impressive resurfacing. We started off with Waterfall, and then headed to Gondolier and eventually we found ourselves on Ravine. That’s where we started getting into the untracked powder, and boy was it deep. We’re talking white vest-wearing, powder cascading over the shoulders deep. It was actually pretty easy to get buried in the snow if you fell, so we were definitely watching out for each other.
We’d skipped breakfast to save time, with the intention of getting it at the Midway Lodge. So, we stopped in quickly for a couple of really good breakfast sandwiches, and then got right back into some additional Gondola runs. We actually spent a lot of time over by Perry Merrill skiing the powder along the sides of the trail and exploring new terrain along the edge of the Hazelton Zone. We found a lot of untracked shots, and I pulled out the camera for some of our favorites. On our last run Ty blasted me with a massive wall of powder and covered everything, my clothes, my camera, my open bag, all of it. He described what I looked like all covered in white with my mouth agape.
We stopped to grab some sandwiches for lunch on the way home at Edelweiss Mountain Deli, one of Ty’s favorite options. I could tell that it continued to snow at home because I’d check on our web cam while riding the Gondola, and watched it as the snow got so deep that all the camera could see was white. The settled snow on the deck is now deeper than the level of my web cam, but I pulled away some snow and adjusted the angle so the settled height of the snow is once again visible.
As of this evening, we’re approaching 40 inches of accumulation at the house, and earlier, Jay Peak was already reporting 72 inches of accumulation, so Winter Storm Stella has been quite the event around here.
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.