As with most ski areas in Northern Vermont, I’ve always found Bolton Valley to be very accommodating of skiers and riders hiking, skinning, or snowshoeing up their slopes under their own power in order to ski down. Although there wasn’t necessary a formal policy in place, the practice was at least tolerated as long as the individuals were respectful of operating hours, mountain operations, and other factors involving skier safety. So, as a Bolton Valley season’s pass holder who frequently visits the resort for both lift-served and self-powered ascents, I was very intrigued last month when I found out that they had initiated an official uphill travel policy. There are two designated uphill routes: one on Wilderness, and one on Timberline, and although I haven’t seen them yet, Stephen and one of my students told me the resort even has signs marking the uphill route on Wilderness.
“In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches.”
I headed out the door early this morning, and decided to go with an efficient Timberline outing to leave me plenty of time to get to work. Temperatures were in the middle single digits F at the house, and low single digits at the Timberline Base. So indeed it was cold, no doubt about that, but the air was fairly calm and that helped keep it manageable. There were about a half dozen cars parked in the usual spot off to the right in the main lot, and I could see a couple people either prepping their skins for a run, or packing up their gear as they got ready to depart. There were just a few flurries in the air, but there was a healthy coating of snow all around, and I was able to start my skinning ascent right from the car.
I was a little surprised that the skin track started on the hiker’s right of Twice as Nice, since it’s typically on the left in line with the uphill travel policy, but I wasn’t going to eschew a track that was already there. I was measuring surface snow depths in the 4″ range, and it was medium-weight powder. As is often the case with big storms, there had been some wind, so some of the powder was pushed around in spots. But, it really hadn’t been hammered or packed too hard, and it looked like turns would be nice. Up ahead of me on the skin track I saw a snowboarder, and behind him a skier. After a few minutes I noticed that the skier was struggling to get up one of those short steep pitches that roll over – he finally managed to get past it with a little herring boning and/or side-stepping. When a similar pitch came up a little while later, he was struggling again and eventually let me pass. He said that it was actually his first time ever trying out skins, and he’d come to Bolton Valley after reading online about the uphill travel policy. As I seemed to have no trouble with those slick spots, he said that wanted to watch how I managed them. After we were both past that spot, I first asked if he had full-width skins, since I know that not having full width has given me trouble in those types of areas in the past, and he said he did. We then chatted about the balance between getting up on your ski edges or staying the skins, and finding out what worked best when you began to slip. He said that what I seemed to do was just keep my momentum really going through those tough spots. I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I do. I also let him know that I keep a lot of pressure on my poles, and ensure that I’ve got a very good plant so that if I do slip, my arms can help pull me through. After a couple of pitches, the skin track switched to the more typical left side, and there were actually a couple of skin tracks there, so we were able to skin alongside each other and chat for a bit. Eventually I stopped to get a few pictures, and he headed on ahead. Like me, he said his goal was the Timberline Mid Station, and he thought that he might like to do that instead of the Timberline Summit and do a couple of laps.
“As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns…”
When I reached the Timberline Mid Station, the skier I’d ascended with was just taking off his skins. We chatted for a few moments, I wished him well on his first descent, and then I headed across toward the top of Spell Binder. I switched over for the descent, did a quick survey of the snow on the headwall, and opted for the skier’s right. There were a couple of old tracks in there that looked like they’d been made yesterday, and the snow had been pushed around a bit by the wind, but the overall conditions were quite good. I worked my way toward the middle of the headwall and found even smoother snow, although the powder was perhaps a bit shallower there. On the steep pitch of the headwall, the new powder certainly wasn’t bottomless, even on my 115 mm AMPerages; I was touching down to the base at least a bit on most turns, but I’d say the snow delivered a pretty smooth ride. As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns, and if the wind had played with the snow a little up on the headwall, it definitely hadn’t done much to the powder lower down. In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches. The skiing did feel a bit slow with temperatures around zero F, but I didn’t find any issues with movement, even on the shallowest pitches. When I got to the bottom of Spell Binder, I made a few turns on the corduroy, and boy, that was some sweet groomed snow. The snow from this storm is really just topping off what are already fantastic conditions, so folks who were coming out for a day at the resort were really going to be in for a treat.
On the way into Burlington, I stopped off at the Williston rest area, and one of my former students was there. He said he thought he’d seen me up at the mountain, and now he was sure of it. After hearing about the uphill travel policy, he’d actually been up skinning on the main mountain using the Wilderness route this morning, and he’d had a great time. He said that he and a friend often went out ice climbing in the early morning, but they think they’ll be mixing in some ski touring as well. I had first heard about Bolton’suphill travel policy in a post on the Vermont Backcountry Alliance Facebook Page, and it wasn’t too surprising based on Bolton’s history in that area. What was surprising though was finding out that Sugarbush now has a hiking/skinning policy in place. That’s exciting news, because they have not generally allowed uphill travel in recent years. I also just saw that Bolton Valley will be having an uphill ski demo day on February 7th, where people can try out alpine touring, Telemark, and split boarding equipment. Hopefully that will serve for a great introduction for people that have been curious about trying ascents on their own power on that type of equipment.
It looks like our next winter storm could be coming into the area tomorrow night; it’s expected to be an Alberta Clipper type of system with the potential for 6 to 8 inches in the local mountains.
I’d been tossing around different ideas about when to ski among other weekend chores and activities, but once I got the word that Sugarbush wasn’t going to be opening on Sunday, that sealed the deal on today’s trip. Ty was away at a friend’s house and E was busy with other things, but Dylan definitely needed to get out of the house, so I grabbed him in the early afternoon and we headed off to Sugarbush to make some turns. Dylan actually protested about today’s trip at first, and you could tell that there was a big activation energy required to get him moving, but even he realized that he needed to get his butt off the couch. We hadn’t been in the car long before his disposition started to change. With him and Ty, it’s often about that activation energy.
The main paved parking lot right below the Clay Brook Complex had a decent amount of cars in it, but it wasn’t chock full and there were plenty of available spaces right up front from people who had already left for the day. The mountain was requiring that everyone have free tickets, even with the free skiing, but the process was easy – we just stopped in the ticket building and they handed them over to us. You could make your donation to the Bragg Farm preservation project right there as well if you wanted. As we were walking over to the base of the lifts, my fired Chris spotted us from his seat outside at the Castlerock Pub, and he said to stop back after we’d done our skiing. The scene was lively outside at the pub, with live music from a guitarist going strong.
I was initially surprised when we walked up the steps and found that the Super Bravo Chair wasn’t running, and quickly realized that skiing was off the Valley House Double today. That’s a much slower and lower capacity lift setup, and meant that there was a decent queue of about 10 minutes or so to be able to load. The upside was that it probably helped to keep traffic down on the minimal terrain they had open – essentially Stein’s Run with the Coffee Run runout below that to get you back to the base of the lift. I wasn’t too excited when I’d initially heard that the skiing was only off Stein’s, since it never really seems to have any decent bump lines, just big, widely-spaced things, but at least it was warm enough out that its traditionally hard, manmade snow would likely soften. As we stood in the queue, Dylan was still a rather reluctant participant. He said, “Dad, I’ve got three things to tell you that I don’t like… one, it’s too hot out; two, this line is too long; and three, the snow is going to be sticky. Apparently his glass was well empty, but I did assure him that the snow wasn’t going to be sticky; it was definitely well-ripened corn snow and you could tell that even as we stood there at the base elevation.
The skiing turned out to be much better than I’d expected, not so much due to the snow, which I expected to be decently softened with temperatures in the 70s F, but the terrain setup. In this case, Stein’s tendency for those wide, spread out bump lines meant that there was actually some pretty smooth snow off to the sides where fewer people were skiing. It wasn’t totally flat, but the bumps were fairly scattered, so you could enjoy that area for smooth turns, and then move toward the middle of the trail for more bumps. Amazingly, even on such a warm day, Stein’s still found a way to have firm snow between some of the bumps. It’s almost hard to imagine that on such a day, but Stein’s is steep and it really faces north. Dylan worked on his pole technique and we both had some fun turns. I’d gone with alpine equipment, not wanting to deal with Telemark turns on the typical crazy assortment of bumps that can sometimes be found on Stein’s, but it turned out to be so much better than I’d expected; Telemark skiing would certainly have been fun as well.
The lift queue at Valley House had gone down somewhat by the time we finished our run, but I still couldn’t convince Dylan to do any more skiing. He did say that the skiing was better than he’d though it would be, so that was at least a bit of a positive note in his rather sour disposition. We met up with Chris down at the Castlerock Pub, where we had some nachos and root beers. We’d checked over at Timbers first, but they weren’t opening until 4:00 P.M., so it seemed like a perfect time to introduce ourselves to what to the pub had to offer. On such a gorgeous day, you could either sit inside and be just out of the sun but catching the cool breeze, or hang out on the patio and absorb some rays. We haven’t seen Chris since the Warren Miller movie in the fall, so we caught up with his latest exploits; he’ll be up in the area for some work in the next couple of weeks, so hopefully we’ll see him again.
I’m really glad that Sugarbush offered the free day today, because in our case, it needed to be something pretty economical to make it worth it for the minimal terrain. Simply skinning for turns at a place like Stowe is pretty high on our list, but today’s skiing was definitely worth it for a nice change of pace. It’s been a couple of seasons since we’ve had the occasion to visit the ‘bush, so I’m glad that we snuck a visit in under the wire today.
The forecast called for sun and spring temperatures today, and Mother Nature delivered just that, so I headed to Sugarbush with the boys for some spring turns. It was our first day of skiing away from Stowe and Bolton this season, and thus our first day actually buying real lift tickets. Fortunately, spring ticket specials are in effect throughout the area, making things more affordable; Sugarbush has a two for one offer on their already reduced spring rate if you bring your season’s pass from another ski area, so the boys and I skied for $59 total, which was pretty economical. It was an excellent afternoon on the slopes with the boys, with lots of snow and sun, and then we stopped in at Timbers for some après ski snacks. For the full details and pictures, click through to my April 22nd Sugarbush report.
Sometime around Monday or Tuesday of last week, I began hearing about a proposed nor’easter for the New Year’s weekend. The weather gurus on the ne.weather newsgroup were going nuts, as this could be the first big storm for the coastal cities in a number of years. A clipper type low along the northern tier of the U.S. might merge with a storm coming out of the south, and Boom!, bomb out as a nor’easter off the coast. Although the southern storm pretty much went off the coast down south, the situation was set so that the northern low transferred its energy and made a low off the coast anyway. Two friends, Dave and Chris, came up from southern New England, and as Saturday progressed, we watched the storm dump plentiful snows across New Jersey, Philly, New York City and many points down south of us. Some areas of New Jersey were in the bull’s eye with over two feet of snow. The latest report I saw for Mountain Creek ski area in NJ was 29 inches. The Catskills also got some heavy bands of snow, I saw Hunter Mountain reporting 30 inches. Overnight Saturday, the storm worked its way up into northern New England, and by early Sunday morning, Sugarbush was reporting 10 inches. This number would swell to 16 inches by the end of the day, and 24 inches by Monday. Click through to see the full Sugarbush report with images.