An Alberta Clipper system came through the area overnight, dropping a half foot of snow at some of the local resorts by morning, so I headed up to Bolton Valley for a morning ski tour this morning. With roughly 5 inches of new snow found at the house this morning, and the resort reporting the same, it didn’t seem like there was a huge elevation dependence with this event. Plus, now that the bullwheel replacement on the Timberline Quad and associated operations are finally done, Timberline is back open for ski touring, so I figured I’d get to check out the conditions there for the first time in a while.
“…I found a very even coating of about 5 inches of new snow at the Timberline Base (1,500’) and roughly 5 to 6 inches up at the Timberline Summit (2,500’).”
Temperatures were in the mid to upper 20s F with light snow falling and zero wind, so we’re talking super friendly conditions to be out on the hill. Since wind was pretty minimal during this event, I found a very even coating of about 5 inches of new snow at the Timberline Base (1,500’) and roughly 5 to 6 inches up at the Timberline Summit (2,500’).
The new snow was excellent dry powder in the 20 to 1 range for snow to water ratio, and there’s generally plenty of base, but the consistency of the base is horrible. It’s rock hard, and in a few exposed places that had presumably seen flowing water, there was simply clear ice as the top layer of base. There was a nice established skin track in place on the Twice as Nice ascent route, but the ascent was definitely the most challenging part of the tour. Slightly steeper spots with just powder on ice provided little grip, and you could see that in those areas some people had to diverge out from the main skin track and take shallower routes due to lack of grip with their skins. Fortunately there were only a handful of spots like that, but navigating them was a definite challenge. It’s good that there wasn’t much wind with this event because scoured areas would be a nightmare.
“The new snow was excellent dry powder in the 20 to 1 range for snow to water ratio, and there’s generally plenty of base, but the consistency of the base is horrible.”
After seeing the conditions on my ascent, it was obvious that the best bet for a descent was going to be something that had previously groomed, and had a fairly shallow angle. So, I headed down Villager from the Timberline Summit, and that was an appropriate pitch. I still had to hit a couple of blue/black pitches on Sure Shot on my route, and there was no way to avoid touching the hard subsurface there, even on 115 mm boards.
The Lower Turnpike area with its nice mellow pitch would probably have offered up the most consistent bottomless turns today, but it was nice to get a chance to get out on Timberline again. I can’t imagine there was any point to skiing ungroomed terrain before this latest storm, and this snow isn’t going to be able to hold up to much traffic, but there are definitely some nice powder turns to be had on terrain of the appropriate pitch.
“There were occasional sticky spots, but in general it was just really nice corn snow that you could slice right through with each carve.”
Since yesterday was fairly gray and we didn’t expect the snow to soften the way it would with plentiful spring sun, we didn’t hit the slopes, and instead took the opportunity to get some things done around the house. After many weeks of such great snow and commitments with the BJAMS ski program, it was really nice to have a break to catch up on other things. I took the opportunity to get a bunch of low voltage media wiring done that I’ve been putting off for months, so it felt great to get that off my plate and get all the wall plates and electronics buttoned up. Today’s weather was a different story though; as the storm system cleared out, it left brilliant blue skies in its wake, and we knew that was likely a recipe for some great spring skiing. Today was also Bolton Valley’s last day of lift operations for the 2013-2014 ski season, so we didn’t want to miss out on that if Mother Nature cooperated. We waited until the afternoon before heading out, as we often do on these days, to let the west-facing terrain of Timberline soak up that sun. The mountains were definitely holding onto some chilly temperatures today though; I was a little worried that the Bolton Valley Weather Station at 2,100’ was still hovering around the 32 F mark at midday, but with sunshine and lower elevations, I was confident that Timberline would be sufficiently softened and ready to go.
“Despite the great snow coverage today, it’s interesting to note that this is the third year in a row that Bolton will be coming in well below average with respect to snowfall.”
From roughly 50 F in the Winooski Valley, we headed up to a temperature around 40 F at the 1,500’ base of Timberline. There were actually a fair number of cars parked in the lots with people taking advantage of the nice weather and final day of lift-served skiing. One thing that we found immediately impressive was the snow coverage. Although Bolton Valley has had quite the low snowfall season, and will be ending their season with just 206 inches of total snow (66% of average), there was impressive coverage with just a few bare spots starting to open up on the low-elevation trails of Timberline. With the use of snowmaking, that isn’t actually too surprising on the trails that get it, but with the way this season went, snow was never even made on Showtime. To have all those low elevation trails in play in April without the aid of snowmaking, really speaks to how well the snow was maintained this past March. The mountain was essentially 100% open, and running all the lifts going into this last day of the season, so it was indeed a nice way to go out.
For our first run, we headed to the Timberline Summit to check out Adam’s Solitude, but we found that ski patrol had already closed it off as they were preparing to shut down the lifts for the season. That left us with the option of Sure Shot, which had some great corn snow. On the lower part of the run, Ty started working on some 180s off available jumps, and seemed to be having a lot of fun landing switch. We found ourselves alternating runs between the Sure Shot option and Twice as Nice, which we also found to have good snow. There were occasional sticky spots, but in general it was just really nice corn snow that you could slice right through with each carve. On one run, Ty left his poles at the base and enjoyed carving low and getting his hands down on the snow. Dylan had a lot of fun playing in the bumps that were forming near the bottom of Timberline Run and top of Twice as Nice, continuing with his pole work and separation of the upper and lower body. In one section of moguls he had a lot of fun making exaggerated movements as he worked on his technique, creating the semblance of a dancing skier. It was classic Dylan.
It was a great day on which to end Bolton’s lift-served season; we caught up with some of those Bolton Valley employees like Cam and Josh that we often see throughout the season, and got to enjoy the weather through a number of sunny rides on the Timberline Quad. We hadn’t headed up to the main mountain at all, but when I asked Josh about how it was up there, he said that it was definitely softer down at Timberline, and that it was the place to be. One interesting topic of conversation on the lift was the ski area that appears in Ty’s dreams. Apparently it’s his own ski area, and all his ski dreams take place there – he regaled us with a detailed lift and trail layout, and I told him that he should make a map because it sounded like a great place.
Despite the great snow coverage today, it’s interesting to note that this is the third year in a row that Bolton will be coming in well below average with respect to snowfall. Fortunately, we didn’t really feel it on the slopes in March, since the temperatures were cold and the snow kept coming, but the deficiencies were definitely there in December and January, and the downside of that type pattern is that snowfall in those months is most critical for building the base. If those earlier months bring decent storms and then it doesn’t snow that much later in the season, at least the base is down, but if it’s not present at the beginning of the season, the natural terrain skiing during that period is simply lost. We’ll have to see what next season brings, but a snowy holiday period like last season would be appreciated. In any event, we’ve still got a lot of this season to go, and the snowpack in the mountains is deep, so we’ll hopefully have more opportunities to get out there and enjoy it.