With Winter Storm Quiana brining the potential for mixed precipitation into the area today, we were a bit concerned about conditions for this afternoon’s BJAMS ski program at Stowe. Fortunately, we arrived at the resort around midday to find it snowing, and the overall conditions looked pretty sweet with the trails being topped off with some new dense snow. Ty and Dylan took an early run on Sunny Spruce, and came back with very positive comments about the conditions.
Today was a snowboarding day for me, and since it was the start of school vacation week, our number of participants in the program was lower than usual. My snowboard group was small to begin with, but when all was said and done it ended up being just me, Ty, and Dylan left. That was actually pretty convenient, so the three of us were excited for a fairly casual afternoon of riding.
We took an initial run off the Meadows Chair, and indeed the snow was quite good as the boys had said. The groomed slopes had plentiful packed powder, as well as some new loose snow on top from the snow that’s been falling today. We were a little worried about the winds, but we took a run on the Gondola and had some great turns on Switchback. Off piste we found plenty of deep snow, although it was pretty dense with a thick layer a few inches down in some spots.
We headed back to Spruce Peak for another run, and it turned out to be quite eventful. We were coming down from Sunny Spruce where West Run joins into East Run, and Ty caught the front edge of his snowboard and went down pretty hard. He hurt his shoulder bad enough that he took a ride down to first aid in a ski patrol sled, and after an X-ray at Copley Hospital we discovered that he’d broken his clavicle. It was a fairly gentle slope where it happened, but it was one of those cases where the collision was just right to cause the injury. Ty will certainly have a few weeks of healing to go through, but at least he’s got a positive attitude about it!
With this new snow on top of the already decent snow I saw on my trip to the mountain Thursday, it sounded like ski conditions were going to be even better than what I’d experienced. E and Dylan and I headed north to BJAMS in Morrisville to help with the moving of some school library books and to pick up Ty from an overnighter at Kenny’s, so we got to see the changes in snowpack throughout the local mountain valleys. These last couple of storms that have targeted Mt. Mansfield have also targeted Stowe Village and points north, so from snow depths of an inch or two in Waterbury, the snowpack more than doubles in the Stowe/Morrisville area. After helping move some bins of books into the school’s new library area, we got Ty suited up, and he joined me and Dylan for a trip to Mt. Mansfield. Unfortunately E’s back has been a bit sore the past few days, so she decided not to stress it with skiing and stayed at school to work. Thus, it was just us boys for today’s ski tour.
Temperatures were a bit below freezing as we approached the Midway Lot at ~1,600′ near the base of the Gondola, and we could see plenty of activity over at the main Mansfield Base Area since it was Stowe’s opening day for lift-served skiing. The snow we found on the ground was definitely deeper than what I’d found at Midway on Thursday – a general 3 to 4 inches had turned into 5 to 6 inches. For today, I outfitted the boys with their alpine powder skis and Alpine Trekkers for skinning. We’ve still got to get skins for Ty’s new Telemark setup, but I’d prefer that they get a chance to ski on their alpines to get their season going anyway. The early season powder can be tricky, and I’d rather they just get the chance to have fun and not take on the added challenge of working on Telemark turns. I went with my fat Tele skis; they had worked quite well on Thursday, and the conditions were even more optimized for them today.
We followed a similar ascent route to the one I’d taken on Thursday – up Chin Clip Runout, onto Switchback and Gondolier, with some Perry Merrill thrown in as well. We finally stopped at around 3,500′ on Switchback because it didn’t look like there was much above that in the way of great snow. But, the boys had made the entire ascent, perhaps incentivized a bit by the fact that I told them they’d earn some sushi from Sushi Yoshi if they could manage it. That prize is sort of a win-win for everyone in the family, and they’re definitely at the stage that they can easily make that ascent now, but having that incentive there sure does keep everyone’s spirits high! While the snow surface contained a lot of wind slab where we stopped, just below that, the snow was deep and soft. The depth of the powder had increased by about an inch for every 500′ of vertical during most of our ascent, getting up to around the 8 to 9 inch range by 3,000′ or so, but above that it really jumped up. In areas out of the wind on the upper part of Switchback, we were finding 14 to 15 inches of settled snow, with pockets over two feet in depth. We knew that was the kind of snow where we’d really be able to lay into those powder turns and not worry about touching down on anything.
After a break at the top of our ascent, in which the boys took part in their nearly requisite play in the snow (this time in some deep stuff off in some nearby trees), we started down. That deep snow we’d seen up there on Switchback offered up some great powder turns as expected, and below that we just worked our way down the mountain choosing the best covered and least tracked routes we could find. We hit some nice powder on the skier’s left of Gondolier, and found a lot of good turns even lower down on Switchback. Coverage was indeed improved over what I’d seen Thursday, and the powder was staying fairly fluffy even though it was a day old. On the lift-served side of things, Stowe was offering 20 trails today, and it sounds like conditions were pretty decent due to the recent cold and snow. We’ve had some nice November conditions so far, and it looks like there may be some continued storminess this month – hopefully the snowpack can continue to grow.
Today’s tour gave us the first chance to out the Canon EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera that we’d brought along. The 7D Mark II is Canon’s new APS-C sports shooter, and it’s weather sealed extremely well, has a 65-point autofocus system that is among the best in the world, and is built like a tank… just the way you’d want a camera to be made for dealing with the elements. It’s got twice the frame rate, two and a half times the number of pixels, and usable ISO values roughly ten times higher than what my Canon EOS 30D has, which is not surprising considering it’s about five generations newer and a step up in Canon’s performance lineup. It really is built for just the type of shooting we do, and it certainly seemed to live up to its reputation today. Late afternoon light on a cloudy Vermont day in November will give the light sensitivity of any camera a challenge, but I was still able to shoot the boys at 1/1,600 of a second due to the high useable range of the ISO. And, the ability of that focusing system in the low light conditions was very impressive. I also got to test out the video with a short clip of the boys playing in the snow, and my Canon EOS 30D doesn’t even have the option of video. We’ll hopefully have many more chance to put the camera to use this season as we learn all of its nuances and find the settings that fit our needs.
I didn’t have time to check out the snow yesterday, so this morning I headed out for an early ski tour on Mansfield, and found 3 to 4 inches of snow at the Midway Lot near the base of the Gondola. I followed a well established skin track that headed up Chin Clip Runout, and then diverged to follow Switchback for the next part of the ascent. When I reached Gondolier I decided to just finish out the ascent to the base of the big Gondola waterfall on the skin track I saw there. I didn’t have time to travel any higher, but up at that ~3,200′ elevation there was roughly 6 to 7 inches of powder, which sat atop a few inches of dense base snow.
The snow depths I observed for the powder above the base today were as follows with respect to elevation:
I dropped in for the descent on Perry Merrill, and there were just a couple of additional tracks there, so plenty of fresh powder was available. I’d pulled out the fat skis, and they were the perfect tool for the occasion – they kept me floating and gave me some really great stability. I did have to watch out for a few rocks here and there, and at times I switched to alpine turns when it seemed like the base was a bit thinner or the rocks a bit bigger. I found that alpine stance kept me floating a bit higher, and today I really noticed how the AMPerages actually seemed to make it easier to ski alpine style in Telemark bindings. It’s not always easy to ski alpine with a loose heel, but I was very surprised at how stable it felt in today’s conditions. I think the stability and rocker of the fat skis were really playing their part. I eventually made my way back over toward Switchback and connected to Chin Clip Runout to finish off my run, and the grassy slopes down there were perfect for where the powder and base was a bit shallower. It was still fantastic skiing though, and some of my favorite turns of the outing were down there below the 2,100′ elevation. That terrain is so grassy with few rocks that it was easier to just let it ride without worrying about rocks. Rock skis would give you a bit more ease of line selection out there and more peace of mind, but you can certainly get by and have some fantastic turns with regular skis as well.
Our latest modest snowstorm delivered as expected overnight, with 5 inches reported in the upper elevations at Stowe this morning. That was enough to get us to head out for a relatively early start today, so we met Jeff at the Children’s Adventure Center to get Kenny and Liana, who planned to join us for some skiing during the morning before our afternoon BJAMS ski program. We had some breakfast at the Great Room Grill to fuel up (I got to try one of their highly talked about breakfast sandwiches), and by the time we were done eating, all the lifts on the mountain were open.
The snow from this storm was fairly standard in terms of density, but I’d heard that the driest and lightest snow would be found in the higher elevations. We therefore decided to head over to the Gondola instead of making runs on Spruce, where much of the terrain is at lower elevations. Although it was Super Bowl Sunday, there were plenty of people out on the slopes in the morning, and the queue for the Gondola was several minutes long.
“Indeed the snow had plenty of liquid in it and the mountain had seen a decent resurfacing, at least outside the high traffic areas.”
From the Gondola summit we took a run that featured plenty of time on Switchback, and there was a lot of good snow. Indeed the snow had plenty of liquid in it and the mountain had seen a decent resurfacing, at least outside the high traffic areas. The sides of the trails held great snow, and E and I worked with everyone on short radius turns that could keep them in the good snow. We followed up that first run by working our way over to the Fourrunner Quad, where we skied Hayride, got into the Chapel Woods, and got into plenty of other stuff.
What I quickly noticed in the morning was that Kenny and Liana had improved their skiing a lot since I’d last hit the slopes with them – they’re now skiing in one of Stowe’s programs on Saturdays as well as our usual Sunday program, and that’s meaning a lot of time on snow. In Kenny’s case, it meant a dramatic enough improvement that he’d be comfortable skiing with our group on Sunday afternoon. I spent much of the morning assessing what he would need to work on to really bring his skiing up to that next level, and that included slowing down and making both more and shorter-radius turns, separating his upper and lower body even more, and keeping his hands up for more centered balance. By the end of the morning I was confident that he’d be able to ski with our group, especially since I knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere too crazy because the snowpack just isn’t quite ready yet.
The morning had already been quite a workout, so we headed back to the Great Room Grill for some lunch, and then jumped into afternoon ski program to continue tracking down good snow. Luke joined out group with Ty, Dylan and Kenny, and we headed off for more fun on the Gondola, Quad, and Triple. We had a couple of good runs through part of the Nosedive Glades, which are definitely ready for prime time. Kenny definitely held up fine with today’s runs, and I think that he’s really going to have the opportunity to keep working on advanced techniques if he can keep following the other members and noting the techniques that they use to tackle steep and often tight terrain.
Next up on the weather front is the potential for another modest system in the midweek timeframe. We’ve still yet to have a really notable storm this far north this season, but these modest storms are definitely helping to build the snowpack, even if they do so at a slower pace.