Bolton Valley, VT 20APR2018

An image of Erica skiing the Alta Vista trail in fresh April powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in fresh powder on the Alta Vista trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Our latest April storm brought another heaping helping of midwinter powder to the slopes of Bolton Valley.

April temperatures have been running several degrees below average here in Northern Vermont, and for those awaiting warmth, the winter weather must feel simply interminable.  Some of us don’t have a whisper of complaint though, since we know when we’ve got a good thing going.  While average April temperatures around here can bring snow, below average temperatures typically bring more snow, drier snow, and preserve the snowpack.  With the approach of the current storm, the National Weather Service in Burlington was already talking about the potential for the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake to get back up to 100 inches, and as of this evening’s co-op report, indeed it’s there.  The snowpack is essentially wall-to-wall everywhere in the local mountains here, so topping that off with fresh powder is a recipe for some awesome skiing and riding.

“Well let’s just say, the turns were fantastic – we had medium to moderately dense midwinter powder covering everything, temperatures near 30 F, and an almost fully untracked resort to ski.”

It’s spring vacation week for E and the boys, so E was able to join me this morning for a tour in the new snow up at Bolton Valley.  We’ve had substantial accumulations of snow all the way to the valley floors with this latest storm, so I knew the potential was there for some dry, winter-style snow up at elevation.  We headed out this morning amidst light snow at the house, and arrived in the Bolton Valley Village to steady snow and temperatures in the upper 20s F.  A quick check on the new snow in the parking lot around 2,000’ revealed accumulations of 5 to 6 inches.

We started skinning right from the car up the Lower Turnpike ascent route, and found a decent skin track in place with just a couple inches of additional snow in it.  We eventually worked our way over toward Vista and the depth of the new snow continued to steadily increase with elevation.  By the time we topped out above 3,000’ on Alta Vista, my depth checks on the powder were revealing 10 to 11 inches.  We de-skinned by the trees out of the wind, and E was pretty slick with her ski-on skin removal.

An image looking up the Alta Vista trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont with a fresh coating of April powder
Looking up Alta Vista with a fresh blanket of white
An image of Erica skiing powder near the Vista Summit at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
E throwing around some of today’s powder at Bolton Valley.

On the entire ascent the snow quality was looking really good, but you never quite know how things are going to ski until you drop.  Well let’s just say, the turns were fantastic – we had medium to moderately dense midwinter powder covering everything, temperatures near 30 F, and an almost fully untracked resort to ski.  Wind effects were pretty minimal on much of the mountain so it really was a dense, velvety resurfacing that skied like a dream.  It’s definitely a good time to get out there and enjoy those uncrowded slopes with all this new snow.

An image of a Sonar Blue lens for Anon M2 GoglesWith the continuing snowfall during today’s tour, I went with our Sonar Blue lenses for my Anon M2 Goggles.  They’ve got 46% visible light transmission and are recommended for graybird days and tree skiing, but they were definitely a good fit for today even with snowfall since we’re talking late-April light.

In an update from this afternoon, eyewall noted that he encountered about 7 inches of new snow at the Bolton Valley Village elevation, so it sounds like they’d picked up another inch or two with the additional snow since E and I had left.  That would put accumulations near the summits around a foot, so it’s definitely been a nice April event for the mountains around here.

An image of a tractor with snow in Richmond Vermont after an April snowstorm
Enjoying the snowy April views from the valley – cool temperatures have brought snow accumulations all the way to the valley bottoms with this latest storm.

Bolton Valley, VT 07APR2018

An image of Ty skiing in the Wilderness Woods area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty skiing the Cougar trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A bit of snow fell yesterday and overnight to freshen up the slopes at Bolton Valley.

A modest winter storm came into the area on Friday and left up to 8 inches of new snow at the Vermont ski areasBolton Valley was reporting 3 inches up top, which seemed like a fairly minimal covering over the base snow that’s seen plenty of spring cycling, but we figured it was worth heading up for a couple of runs to see how the accumulations had settled in.  Sometimes 3 inches can ski like 3 inches, or sometimes it can ski like more, depending on how it was distributed and how densely it settled.

Ty and I headed up fairly early to find bright April sun among some on and off clouds, and temperatures in the upper 20s F.  We took an initial run on the Snowflake Chair to make our way over to the Vista Quad, and while we found the groomed terrain was skiing nicely, we didn’t really find that the snow was enough to get the skiing shaped up off piste, at least down there below the 2,500’ mark.

An image from the base of the Snowflake Chair at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Base of the Snowflake Chair

We still wanted to check out how accumulations had played out at the Vista Summit up above 3,000’, and Alta Vista revealed a few good turns off the usual protected left side, but they were in the minority.  We headed over toward Wilderness and did find some nice turns in the Wilderness Woods, but as Ty nicely put it, “You just couldn’t trust it on every turn”.  Indeed you could get a few nice turns on low angle terrain, but then you’d run into a spot that had been hit by the wind and you’d be back to contacting the hard spring surface below.

“I actually had some of my best turns of the day on the left side of Cougar, where several inches of new snow had settled in.”

The opening of the Wilderness Lift had been delayed a bit due to winds, but it had recently opened as we approached the bottom, so we figured it was worth at least one trip.  It was running slow due to winds though, so we dropped off at the mid station and headed down Cougar.  I actually had some of my best turns of the day on the left side of Cougar, where several inches of new snow had settled in.  We had first tracks on the lower part of Cougar as well, and where the snow was undisturbed by the wind the turns were quite nice.  We finished off dropping in and out of the Wilderness Woods, and for some reason, (perhaps the bright sunlight, or perhaps the deep spring snowpack?) they just seemed very open and smooth everywhere.  There were very few tracks in there, so we had our pick of fresh lines.  You still couldn’t “trust” every turn, just as Ty had said earlier, but we definitely had some good smooth lines through the trees in many spots.

An image showing a Sonar Silver lens for Anon's M2 gogglesIn line with the bright April sun, Ty and I both had a chance to try out the Sonar Silver lens for the Anon M2 Goggles.  It only lets through 6% of the visible light, so it’s even darker than the Sonar Red lens that we’d used last weekend at Magic Mountain, which lets through 14% of the visible light.  We swapped between the two actually, but you could definitely notice the difference – you could easily look toward the sun with the Sonar Silver lens and not be too strained, and I can see it’s going to be another great one for these types of bright, late season days.

“…Bolton Valley is going to open back up for a couple more bonus days of skiing.”

We finished off with a trip to the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery to grab some subs, and it was around lunchtime, so a crowd was building.  Although temperatures were wintry today, and there was some wind, that April sunshine easily warmed you up and you could see that folks were generally quite comfortable out there on the slopes.  It looks like temperatures will be warming up next week for some spring skiing, and Bolton Valley is going to open back up for a couple more bonus days of skiing.  From what I can see in some of the weather models, we may not be quite done with snowfall in the mountains yet either.

Magic Mountain, VT 31MAR2018

An image of a resort bus with a logo at Magic Mountain Ski Area in Vermont
An image of Ty and Dylan underneath the sign for the Warlock trail at Magic Mountain in Vermont
The boys pose with the sign for Dylan’s “namesake” trail at Magic Mountain today.

I knew that our Bolton Valley All Access Season Passes were part of the Freedom Pass, getting us lift access at a number of smaller, out of the way ski areas like Black Mountain in New Hampshire, Plattekill Mountain in New York, Ski Cooper in Colorado, and Lost Valley in Maine.  What I hadn’t noticed though, that is until Stephen pointed it out about a week ago, was that Magic Mountain in Southern Vermont was also on that list.  There are very few mountains in Vermont that I haven’t skied, but Magic Mountain is one of them… or at least it was until today. 

My first impression seeing the mountain in person was indeed, “Hey, that’s steep!”

In fact, none of the family had ever been to Magic Mountain, and I don’t think the boys had even skied anywhere south of Killington.  Living in Northern Vermont with so many great ski areas close by, it takes a bit of extra incentive to head south, and finding out that Magic was on the Freedom Pass was just what we needed.  Today’s forecast for sunshine and temperatures well up into the 40s F sealed the deal, and we made plans to head down to Magic for the afternoon.

I’ve always heard of Magic Mountain being referred to as the “Mad River Glen of Southern Vermont”.  The main reason for the comparison has traditionally been Magic’s steep and challenging terrain, akin to what’s offered at Mad River Glen.  Magic’s terrain stands out especially well because in general, the ski areas in the southern half of Vermont aren’t as steep as what’s up north.  Magic bucks that trend, and now having explored the mountain I can tell you that it bucks that trend hard.  The mountain has a lot of impressively steep terrain, and I especially noticed it in their numerous areas of glades.

An image of a sign at Magic Mountain Ski Area in Vermont stating "You've now officially take the road less traveled - Welcome to Magic"On our way to Magic, we found that the snowpack was minimal down in the Connecticut River Valley, but it increased consistently as we headed westward along Route 11 into the Green Mountains.  Above 1,000’, snow depths were actually a couple of feet in some people’s yards.  My first impression seeing the mountain in person was indeed, “Hey, that’s steep!”  When we we arrived we were a little worried when we saw a sign indicating that parking lot A was filled, but we sort of laughed once we realized that “Lot A” really only looks like it holds about 30 to 40 cars, and “Lot B” is just another couple hundred feet past it.

“It was a bit tricky to find the entrance, but we eventually did, and boy did it have some seriously steep pitch.”

E really liked the feel of the base area.  The people were very friendly, and she said it had a bit of a Bolton Valley vibe with what she called a “log cabin” smell.  The woman who got us our Freedom Pass tickets was quite cheerful, and all of us adults had fun when Ty and Dylan were a little thrown off by the old fashioned metal wickets.  Ty actually remember how it worked thanks to our recent mountain biking trip to Burke, but both boys have used them many times…  it’s just been so many years since they’ve skied with one that they seemed extremely foreign.

An image taken from a trail map of Magic Mountain ski area in Vermont showing the Warlock double black diamond trailSki conditions today were an interesting mix because despite the full sun and mild temperatures, shaded areas actually remained plenty firm.  Also, there haven’t been enough freeze/thaw cycles to fully convert the snow to corn yet, so many areas in the sun featured sticky snow  The best skiing we found was between in what we called “The Goldilocks Zone” – most trails had a shady side, and a sunny side, and right in between the turns were awesome.  We really enjoyed the trail named “Trick” because of its good snow, and from what we heard it’s actually one of the main routes down the mountain.  The mountain’s trails are generally named with a magical theme, and we were all interested in checking out the “Warlock” glade, since that’s the type of character Dylan plays in the video game “Destiny”.  It was a bit tricky to find the entrance, but we eventually did, and boy did it have some seriously steep pitch.  Coverage was already getting a bit lean in there, so we had to pick our way down in spots, but it was a lot of fun.

An image showing the Base Camp 1400 area of the Black Line Tavern at Magic Mountain ski area in Vermont
At Base Camp 1400 (we’re guessing that’ the elevation in feet) you can easily order food from the Black Line Tavern.

We had a fantastic lunch at the Black Line Tavern, with burgers cooked at the grill right outside on the deck, and the boys had fun on the huge “Connect Four” game they’ve got set up in the dining area.  Our lunch break was well into the afternoon, but we were able to get in a couple more runs after that thanks to the mountain running the lifts until 5:00 P.M.  Naturally with the warm temperatures and spring snow, it was only a matter of time before the boys started getting into battling with snowballs on the slopes.  E and I were the usual victims.  An image showing a Sonar Red lens for Anon's M2 gogglesWith today’s bright sun, it was a great chance for me to try out the Sonar Red lens for the Anon M2 Goggles.  It only lets through 14% of the visible light, so it’s great for days like this.  It’s also got a variable tint so that up top where the sun is going to be in your field of vision, more sunlight is blocked.  I did get to try out the Sonar Infrared lens as well today, since the boys and I were swapping lenses around to see how they fared in today’s light.  Sonar Infrared lets through 57% of the visible light and seems to give the world a much more neutral color (vs. the reddish coloring of the Sonar Red) but I didn’t find myself needing to squint with those lenses on either.

An image showing a view of the Enchanted Forest glade at Magic Mountian ski area in Vermont
The Enchanted Forest glade right up near the top of the Red Chair

As is typically the case with just about any mountain that you don’t get a chance to visit with two feet of powder, we all want to head back to Magic at some point with fresh snow to try out more of those glades.  Unfortunately, with how steep a lot of the mountain’s terrain is, and average snowfall of only about 200 inches a season, it’s got to be tough to really get those glades in prime form a lot of the time.  I can see why they are emphasizing more snowmaking to keep things going through the tougher stretches, even if that won’t help out the steep glades.  In any event, there are certainly going to be those stretches where the mountain really makes out well in the snowfall department and has sufficient natural base snow in place (such as much of March this year) to really offer some amazing skiing. 

Well, with today’s visit to Magic Mountain, the only major ski area in Vermont that I’ve yet to ski is Stratton.  Next after that would be Suicide Six, but then we start to get into the really small areas that don’t even get covered on the Ski Vermont website.  Those are still interesting places to visit, but it takes a bit more effort to track them down and find out when they’re open.

Woodward Mountain Trail, VT 18MAR2018

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail in the Bolton Valley backcountry
An image of ski turns in powder snow along the Woodward Mountain Trail in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Powder turns today during explorations in the lower elevations of the Woodward Mountain Trail

Wind chills were forecast to approach -30 F today on the upper elevations of Mt. Mansfield at Stowe Mountain Resort, so E did a “soft cancel” of our BJAMS ski program.  The program was still on, and families could go if they wanted to, but no coaches were required to go, and students wouldn’t have to deal with those potentially frigid temperatures.

Although I was glad to not have to battle the nasty wind chills up in the higher elevations, it was still a gorgeous late-winter day out there, so I thought about heading out for a ski tour on something local, relatively low elevation, and sheltered from the wind.  Eventually, an exploration of the lower elevations of the Woodward Mountain Trail came to mind.  The base of the trail is just a couple miles from our house in Waterbury, and with the healthy snowpack that extends all the way to the bottom of the local mountain valleys, the ski conditions there should be outstanding.

The Woodward Mountain Trail is quite a route, running six miles and dropping over 2,500 vertical feet in elevation.  The traditional way to ski the trail is to spot a car at the VAST parking area (450’) at the bottom on Little River Road near the Waterbury Reservoir, then drive up to Bolton Valley Resort and use the Vista Quad to get to the top of Vista Peak (3,150’).  From there, you ski southward along the ridge between Vista Peak and Woodward Mountain, before descending eastward off the flanks of Woodward Mountain itself down to Little River Road in the Waterbury Reservoir and Little River State Park area.  I’ve skied the upper elevations of the trail before, but I’ve heard route finding for the ending (and middle for that matter) portions of the trail can get a bit tricky.  At some point it would be great to get family and friends together for a full run of the trail, so my goal with today’s outing was to orient myself to the twists and turns at the bottom of the trail to hopefully make that experience a bit more efficient.  And with the great snowpack and plenty of powder out there, I hoped to get in some good turns in the process.

“…my goal with today’s outing was to orient myself to the twists and turns at the bottom of the trail to hopefully make that experience a bit more efficient.”

I used my copy of David Goodman’s classing backcountry guidebook “Backcountry Skiing Adventures:  Vermont and New York” to get myself oriented with respect to the lower regions of the route.  His book has a nice description of where to park, as well as a topographic map with the route outlined.  The guide is excellent, with just one problem in my case – the guide is built for following the trail down, so it’s not perfect for guiding you up from the base of the trail if you want to try that approach.  In any event, with the map from the guidebook and my GPS in hand, I knew I’d be able to orient myself reasonably well to what the bottom of the trail held in store, and I’d always be able to come back again if necessary on a future trip with my own first experience in hand.

Temperatures were probably around 20 F when I parked at the VAST lot on the west side of Little River Road.  There were a few cars there, most with snowmobile trailers of course, although one car looked like it might be backcountry skiers waiting to pick someone up.  Starting from the parking lot, you’re immediately on the VAST trail, and it climbs a steep pitch before leveling out and going through some fields along the power line leading up to the dam.  It was easy to see from the map in the guidebook that this part of the trail is a bit circuitous – you’re doing a big loop that doesn’t immediately bring you toward the rest of the Woodward Mountain Trail.  This is due to the layout of the VAST trails, but with the topography of the ridges, valleys and streams down there, you’d probably just waste a ton of time trying to break trail through the snow if you wanted to follow more direct route from the parking area anyway.  It’s hard to put a price on having a packed, well-marked trail to get you through the backcountry, even if the route is a bit indirect.  The energy-saving and route-finding efficiency of having an established packed trail are simply huge.   I was a bit dismayed to find that there was one fairly substantial downhill section (which of course means uphill on the way out) on the route in.  I’m talking about a substantial enough slope that you’re likely going to have to take off your skis and walk, or put your skins on to deal with it.

After 0.9 miles on the well-packed VAST trail, I came to a T junction.  The trail I was intersecting was part of the VAST system, but it was also a road, Woodard Hill Road.  It had actually been groomed (and apparently even plowed) down in that area, so the snow cover was a bit thin in spots.  I headed upward and to the right on Woodard Hill Road, which was the obvious route to take based on the guidebook map.  I passed a couple of hunting camps on the left, and eventually at 1.75 miles into the route I came to a gate that seems to be the one indicated on David Goodman’s route.  This is where the utility of the map in his guidebook broke down a bit for the ascent.  His route appears to be shown passing through the gate, but it’s also shown staying to the south of the main drainage in that area.  If you go through that gate, you’re crossing a bridge to the northerly side of that drainage, so those two pieces of information don’t line up.  On the south side of the drainage there is a clearing that had seen some snowmobile activity, but I didn’t see any obvious ski tracks coming down from there to suggest it was near the Woodward Mountain Trail.

An image of a hunting camp along Woodard Hill Road along the route for the Woodward Mountain backcountry ski trail near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
One of the hunting camps seen during my ski tour along Woodard Hill Road

I decided to play it safe on my first look and simply follow the VAST trail through the gate to see if any obvious trails branched off from it.  The “safe” aspect of this choice was that I could continue to follow a well-packed, well-marked trail for a while, wherever it was going to take me.  At 2.65 miles and an elevation of ~1,750’, I hit the local peak of that VAST trail and hadn’t seen any obvious trails converging on it, so it was time to see what potential the clearing on the other side of the drainage held.  I de-skinned and switched to descent mode, and actually had some fun turns in the terrain off the sides of the VAST trail. 

“At the very start of my tour down around 450’, the powder was generally 8 to 12 inches deep, but up in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range where I topped out it was in excess of 20 inches deep. So there were a lot of good turns today at all elevations.”

Coming back down to the gate and bridge area, I headed up into the clearing and could see what had to be the outlet of the Woodward Mountain Trail.  The clearing was full of powder, and the reason I hadn’t seen any ski tracks coming out among the snowmobile tracks was simply due to the fact that the last person to use the trail had done so before our recent bout of snowfall had stopped.  Once I looked up the trail, I could see that there was an obvious ski/skin track.  I put my skins back on and started up the trail.  Fortunately, only about 6 to 7 inches of light fluffy snow had accumulated since the last person’s track, so breaking trail wasn’t really too much of a chore.  I ascended for a bit within what my schedule allowed, and then had a nice ski back down that section of the trail with some smooth powder turns.

Back at the VAST trails, I descended until I hit the VAST stop sign at the junction of the final leg back to the parking lot.  I was reading Ski Maven’s report of her trip on the Woodward Mountain Trail, and it sounds like her group went right through this junction, which left them at the base of Woodard Hill Road about a mile from the parking lot where they had spotted their car.  This meant that they had to walk that distance back on Little River Road to get to where they’d parked.  Froom that VAST trail junction though, it’s really a short downhill jaunt (just a couple tenths of a mile) to get to the base of Woodard Hill Road.  This would actually be a much better place to park a car for finishing the Woodward Mountain Trail.  Unfortunately, there’s not the expansive VAST parking area that you get following the other route, but I’ve seen cars parked down at the base of Woodard Hill Road, and I’m sure that’s why.  I can tell you, having returned the 0.9 miles to the main parking lot on my tour today via the standard route in the guidebook, with its one substantial uphill and extensive flat sections, that continuing down on Woodard Hill Road would be tremendously more fun and efficient.  It shortens the travel at the end of the route by almost a mile, and it’s all downhill.  Even if parking isn’t available at the bottom of Woodard Hill Road, and you had to park at the VAST lot, you could still have everyone in your party continue that way and have one strong member follow the regular route and pick the rest of the party up at the road.  It would honestly give people a much more enjoyable finish to their tour.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail in the Bolton Valley backcountry
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data showing today’s tour on the Woodward Mountain Trail

At the very start of my tour down around 450’, the powder was generally 8 to 12 inches deep, but up in the 1,500’ to 2,000’ range where I topped out it was in excess of 20 inches deep.  So there were a lot of good turns today at all elevations.  At some point I’d like to get to the middle portions of the Woodward Mountain Trail, but I’ve now learned a lot about the layout of the upper and lower sections, and would definitely feel comfortable guiding people in those areas.  The middle portion of the route is supposed to have a lot of fun glades though, so I can’t wait to check those out.

Brandon Gap, VT 16MAR2018

An image of the map at the Bear Brook Bowl trailhead at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
An image of one of the backcountry glades in the No Name area at Brandon Gap in Vermont
Today at Brandon Gap I was greeted by more than 30 inches of feather weight powder, and fantastic ski terrain and access that have been meticulously crafted thanks to the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance.

At Brandon Gap, about an hour or so south of our house in Waterbury, the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance (a.k.a. RASTA) has done something very special.  They’ve created the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area, a network of trails for backcountry skiing and riding in the Green Mountain National Forest just south of Vermont Route 73 at Brandon Gap.  The area has over 16,000 vertical feet of skiing and riding on numerous glades spread out along three miles of the Long Trail.  What makes the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area so special is that unlike the typical clandestine backcountry areas that skiers have created throughout Vermont, the area at Brandon Gap was actually created in partnership with the United States Forest Service,  It truly is a pioneering project showing that the development of backcountry ski terrain can be done in a legal, legitimate, and sustainable way.  The only other area for backcountry skiing that I know of around here that would be somewhat comparable would be the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network, which is associated with Bolton Valley Resort.

An image of the Brandon Gap backcountry ski map from the Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance
A copy of RASTA’s detailed map for the Brandon Gap backcountry area. Please visit RASTA’s website for a full-size version of the map

“Imagine more than 30 inches of feather-light champagne powder, and enough pitch to do it justice, and that’s what was going on at Brandon Gap today.”

The RASTA backcountry ski trails at Brandon Gap have been in the news for a while, and as soon as I first heard about them, I was eager to go on a tour and check them out.  It’s not always easy to find an appropriate hole in one’s schedule that coincides with great snowpack and conditions though, so it’s taken a while to get me down there.  I had time in the afternoon today though, and even though I was busy at work longer than I’d expected, I was still able to make it down to Brandon Gap.

An image of a Rochester/Randolph Area Sport Trail Alliance trail marker at the Brandon Gap Backcountry Recreation Area in Vermont
One of the plentiful RASTA trail markers along the skin track

Although I didn’t know exactly how much snow the Brandon Gap area had picked up relative to the rest of the state, everyone has been getting substantial snows due to the remnants of Winter Storm Skylar.  Ski resorts in the northern part of the state have picked up as much as six feet of snow in the past week or so.  I could see that there wasn’t much to worry about at Brandon Gap when I caught sight of the massive stack of snow atop the map sign at the trailhead.  The snow situation was looking very good.

I was somewhat short on time, so I opted to tour in the No Name Backcountry Area today.  You really can’t ask for much easier access to great backcountry skiing.  For the No Name area you literally hit the trailhead, and within moments you start going right up on your ascent.  The skin track is nicely interwoven among the various glades in the area, so you can get a look at a lot of the potential ski options.  The skin track is well established, beautifully laid out, and extremely well marked with RASTA blazes and directional arrows.  I’ve never seen a skin track so clearly marked, it’s just one of those things about the area that make it so efficient and professional looking.

“We’re talking “hold onto your head as you descend because this is going to blow your mind” type of conditions.”

The ascent was extremely pleasant with such a beautiful skin track underfoot, and before I knew it I’d reached the top of the area where I found a nice packed out area for de-skinning, and another copy of the map displayed.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect on the descent, but my depth checks on the way up had revealed that there was more than 30 inches of absolutely feather-weight powder covering the base snow.  In many cases that would simply be too much snow, since you need some rather steep pitches to accommodate it, but that wasn’t a problem in the No Name area – the pitches there are generally at least black diamond.

An image showing the depth of the new powder for skiing at Brandon Gap in VermontWith my gear set for the descent, I headed off to skiers left where I’d seen a glade that was essentially untracked.  I dove in, and the powder skiing was simply insane.  Imagine more than 30 inches of feather-light champagne powder, and enough pitch to do it justice, and that’s what was going on at Brandon Gap today.  We’re talking “hold onto your head as you descend because this is going to blow your mind” type of conditions.  Wow, just… wow!  One of the more fun aspects of the descent was simply adjusting the pitch of my front leg in my Telemark stance to determine how much of my body was under the snow and adjust my speed.  You know the snow is deep when that’s your main mechanism for controlling your speed.  Got fat skis?  Good, you’ll want ‘em. 

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour at Brandon Gap in Vermont
A Google Earth Map with GPS tracking data showing the path of today’s tour in the No Name area at Brandon Gap

It’s so funny how different the snow was today compared to the dense snow yesterday at Bolton Valley, but that’s the way storms go.  Sometimes you have the right conditions in the dendritic grown zone to produce those massive, fluffy crystal, and sometimes you get small, baking powder flakes.  Brandon Gap definitely got the goods over the past few days.  It looks like we’ve got cold, midwinter conditions going into the weekend however, so the current state of the snow should be maintained for everyone getting out to enjoy the bounty of the recent big storms.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 13MAR2018

An image of Stephen dropping off Heavenly Highway into some powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Stephen skiing powder in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen enjoying some of the great snow out there in the Bolton Valley backcountry today

Today was a big ski day for Stephen.  He’s been working hard, for what seems like years, to put together an appropriate alpine touring setup for backcountry skiing at a reasonable price.  Over the past few months, the final pieces have finally been coming together.  Despite his son Johannes “stealing” critical pieces of what appeared to be his final setup, the gear swapping, shop visits, adjustments, readjustments, and everything else that tried to get in the way, was eventually settled.  All that remained was finding a day in his busy schedule to actually use his fancy gear.  Today was that day, and the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network was the place.

An image out the window of the Bryant Cabin showing icicles in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe got a fairly early start to give us plenty of time for a tour of whatever length we chose, I figured I’d give Stephen a good introduction to some of my favorite parts of the network that he’d never visited.  We’d be able to adapt the length of the tour as needed to fit energy levels and any equipment issues.  Snowfall from Winter Storm Skylar was just getting started as we began our tour from the sports center, and it intensified on our ascent of the Bryant Trail.  We saw only one other person on our ascent, and with the Bryant Cabin vacant, we were able to check out the upgrades that had been done as we took a quick break.  Clearly the cabin has seen some recent use, because the icicles draped down from the roof were some of the largest I’ve ever seen.

The next leg of our journey took us up to “The Glades” above the Catamount Trail, where we stopped our ascent around 3,100’.  Although the storm occasionally brought us some slightly larger flakes, they were for the most part small, with diameters in the 1 to 2 mm range.  This meant that the new snow was fairly dense, and it was covering everything underneath it quite well.  We continued down into the Cotton Brook Glades on Randy’s and Great White Way, and found some impressive untracked lines.  Stephen had a few good explosions in the powder, but he seemed thankful for most of them as they helped cool him down after the long ascent.  Those steep, tight sections on Randy’s were certainly the most challenging, but Stephen had some of his best turns down in the mellower pitches of Great White Way.  I find that those lower angle areas are some of my favorites as well unless you’ve just picked up two feet of fluff and really need the steeper pitch.

The ascent up from the back side was quite a labor at times.  It’s always tough skinning out in a few spots of that Cotton Brook ascent.  It’s just steep and narrow near the bottom of Randy’s, and there’s no way around it, so you have to try your best to set in switchbacks.  We were fortunate to have use of the old skin track that’s in place, but we were slipping on the steepest pitches.  Stephen was definitely feeling it as he’d take one step forward and what felt like 10 steps back, especially as he was getting used his very first day on his skins, but we made it through that struggle and the pitch of the ascent improved dramatically.  When we cut Stephen’s skins for his skis at full width, I was telling him how I considered that approach a “no brainer” vs. going with anything narrower, and after today’s ascent up from the Cotton Brook area I know he agrees 100%.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a tour in the backcountry at Bolton  Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS tracking data for today’s tour into the Bolton Valley backcountry

We finished off the tour with a line below Heavenly Highway down to Bryant Cabin, then on to Gardiner’s Lane and JJ’s, which delivered one of the best runs I’ve had there.  We’d certainly accumulated a few fresh inches of snow from the storm by that point, which helped make the skiing extra soft.  The Telemark Practice Slope was also aided by all the new snow, and made a nice end to the tour.  Actually, the tour wasn’t quite over at that point because we added on one of the most important parts:  sandwiches at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery.  We even got to chat with Ralph Deslauriers while we were there, and naturally one of the topics of conversation was the very snowy week we’ve got to look forward to.  It sounds like Winter Storm Skylar is going to move up into Northern Maine and wrap some of that abundant Atlantic moisture into the Northern Greens, just like the way things happened last week after Winter Storm Quinn!

Bolton Valley, VT 10MAR2018

An image of E and Dylan in the car at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty skiing powder in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Snowfall over the past few days has built up some great powder at Bolton Valley, and today was a day for getting out and finding it!

Although Bolton Valley was only reporting an inch of new snow in this morning’s report, they’ve picked up more than a foot of snow in the past couple of days from Winter Storm Quinn.  Combined with modest midweek skier traffic, that was already a recipe for some great skiing today, but even more snow was expected to arrive as the day wore on to further freshen up the slopes.

E and Dylan had some obligations in the morning, but Ty and I were free to ski and had plans to meet up with Stephen at the resort.  We parked at Timberline, alerted Stephen with a text, and headed up the Timberline Quad for a run.  Although I couldn’t find any slopes that hadn’t been thoroughly resurfaced at the resort during yesterday’s outing, I can finally say that I found at least one today.  I figured we could try a run on Lost Girlz, which would be a really tough test of the resurfacing.  Unfortunately, the combination of dense evergreen canopy above, and very steep pitch were too much; the coverage just wasn’t enough.  So, we high tailed it over to Tattle Tale for a run.  The snow was certainly good there, but in general it had seen much more traffic than usual because the Tattle Tale headwall was open.

An image of Ty skiing in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Fun in the Villager Trees

We met up with Stephen and did a full run of Tattle Tale so that we could really take in the headwall experience.  It was a bit windblown at the very top, but coverage was quite good overall and it was definitely worth the trip. 

An image of Stephen skiing in the Villager Trees area of Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
Stephen getting just what he was looking for today… powder for his fat skis!

The rest of the morning was dedicated to getting Stephen some deep untracked powder, and that we delivered in spades with trips to The Crack, Villager Trees, and White Rabbit.  Stephen seemed quite happy floating around on his fat alpine touring skis.  The powder was easily a foot or more in untracked areas, and it was definitely delivering great turns with that right-side-up density gradient that Winter Storm Quinn had set up.  In addition, new snowfall was ramping right up as we approached midday due to an incoming mountain upslope snow event that’s developing in the area.

An image of a water bottle and some ski gloves at the Fireside Flatbread bar at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe three of us headed to Fireside Flatbread for some lunch, and E and Dylan joined us for a bite once they arrived at the resort.  We all did a Cobrass/Five Corners run together before Stephen had to head back to pick up Johannes, and the rest of us finished off the day with some Timberline runs.  E and Dylan had skied Spell Binder earlier and it got a great recommendation.  It lived up to the expectations, especially that skier’s left that Dylan enjoyed ripping up so much.

“As mentioned earlier, the big weather news in the coming days is the mountain upslope snow event that’s poised to bring another hefty shot of snow to the area.”

As mentioned earlier, the big weather news in the coming days is the mountain upslope snow event that’s poised to bring another hefty shot of snow to the area.  There’s a vertically stacked low pressure sitting in Northern Maine, and that’s typically a great setup for snowfall in the Northern Greens when the low pressure wraps in deep moisture from the Atlantic.  You know there’s some potential for continued snowfall when the National Weather Service in Burlington speaks about difficulty in finding the off switch for the snowfall in their forecast discussion:

“Another good problem to have is trying to find the off switch to the upslope snow machine…looks like a brief break develops Sunday afternoon into Monday…before more accumulating snowfall for Tuesday into Weds.”

Bolton Valley, VT 09MAR2018

An image of two skiers walking through snowfall in the Village at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a snowboard track in powder snow at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont after Winter Storm Quinn
With more snow from Winter Storm Quinn falling last night, today produced some beautiful powder skiing on the slopes of Bolton Valley.

Right on the heels of last week’s Winter Storm Riley that brought 40 inches of snow to parts of the Catskills, another nor’easter named Winter Storm Quinn hit the New England area during the middle of this week.  Quinn left three feet of snow in Southern Vermont, and really hammered the Southern Vermont Ski Resorts.  Up here in the northern part of the state, the accumulations weren’t quite that huge, but as of today the northern resorts were in the 1-foot range for total snowfall.

I actually had time in my schedule for some lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley this morning, and with half foot or so of additional power on top of yesterday’s snow, it seemed like there would be plenty of quality out there on all the slopes.  Indeed this overall shot of snow from Winter Storm Quinn had the potential for a good resurfacing of the trails, since my measurements down at the house indicated that we’d picked up close to an inch of liquid equivalent in our snow, and the local resorts should have seen at least that much.

“I took every steep and potentially rocky line I could find to get a sense for how aggressive I could make my turns in the powder before hitting the old subsurface or various trail obstacles. Try as I might to make contact with surface below, I just couldn’t do it.”

After getting to watch the Snowflake lift-op John, shred some endless tight turns on his snowboard, I made my way over to Timberline just in time to catch the opening of the chair.  My first run was Intro to Brandywine, and I took every steep and potentially rocky line I could find to get a sense for how aggressive I could make my turns in the powder before hitting the old subsurface or various trail obstacles, and I just couldn’t do it.  Even though Winter Storm Quinn only brought about a foot of snow and an inch or so of liquid equivalent, it had essentially resurfaced everything.  There’s little doubt that the robust coverage was due to the start of the storm providing some nice dense snow that simply adhered to and covered whatever was underneath.  My trip down Spell Binder revealed that the headwall was in prime form.  I launched off the ledges on the skier’s left expecting to bust down into a hard contact with the subsurface, but that simply never happened.  Although I didn’t ski it, I saw that even the Tattle Tale headwall was open, and that is really hard to cover well.  Along with the high density of the snow from the initial part of the storm, I think that fact that the storm had so little wind overall allowed the snow to really cover things well without the usual scouring.

Back at the main mountain all I can say is that everything was simply great: the powder, the groomers, all of it.  My measurements around the resort revealed generally 13” of settled surface snow at the elevations of the main mountain, and 11” at Timberline elevations, but the difference wasn’t noticeable in terms of the skiing – the new snow just covered everything.  Temperatures were in the mid-20s F during my session this morning, and I don’t think they were expected to go above freezing at the resort level, so the snow should continue to stay in great shape.

An image of the Bonus Woods area with lots of fresh powder at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a line through the Bonus Woods today and admiring how everything was just caked with powder

We’ve actually got a winter Weather Advisory out for the Northern Greens for tomorrow into Sunday because there’s a chance for some decent upslope snowWinter Storm Quinn was the type of storm that took a track northward after it hugged the coast, and it’s now part of the general cyclonic flow over there in the Maritimes that just spins Atlantic moisture into the area.  Around here in the Northern Greens we like that setup very much and we’re looking forward to seeing what else Mother Nature might throw at us in the coming days.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 03MAR2018

An image of people riding fat bikes on the Nordic Trails at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont March after a fresh snowfall
An image of the Prayer Flag trail on the Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heading down through a bit of fresh powder today on the Prayer Flag trail on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network

Yesterday the Northeast was affected by Winter Storm Riley, a whopper of a system with wind gusts reaching 93 MPH in Barnstable on Cape Cod.  On the winter side of the storm, the Catskills were the epicenter for big snowfall, with accumulations reaching 40 inches.  Here in Vermont, the snow totals weren’t quite as outrageous, but the southern resorts still pulled in over a foot of accumulation.  Bolton Valley was reporting 4 inches of new snow from the storm, which seemed like just enough to temp me out for a tour in the new powder.

“I didn’t have first tracks, but I did catch second tracks, and they were generally bottomless thanks to the dense snow and 115 mm fat skis.”

I headed up to the Village in the mid-morning timeframe with temperatures in the upper 20s F and mostly cloudy skies.  The parking lots were already getting quite full, but there were still a number of parking spots right along Broadway, and I was able to grab one of those.  I actually saw a few folks riding fat bikes on some of the lower Nordic Trails, and it looked like a perfect day to be out on those.  Actually, with the fresh snow, comfortable temperature, and peeks of sun, it was just a gorgeous day to be out on anything – I saw all manner of folks on the trails varying from the bikers, to snowshoers, to Nordic skiers, to backcountry skiers.

A direction arrow and snowy evergreens on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in VermontWith only a few inches of new snow, I was looking for some low-angle glades for today’s tour, and I decided to venture across to the west side of the valley for a change.  I kicked things off with a run on Prayer Flag, augmented by ascending a bit farther up the west wall of the valley above the flags to get some extra vertical.  I didn’t have first tracks, but I did catch second tracks, and they were generally bottomless thanks to the dense snow and 115 mm fat skis.  Only when I had to cut hard to stop or adjust for a major obstacle would I get down to the subsurface.  Lower angle was clearly the way to go today though, because down on Brook Run I could see that steeper terrain like the Holden’s Hollow Glades will definitely need another storm before they’ll be back in top form.

Down at the pump house on Broadway, I reskinned my skis and headed back up World Cup to Bryant.  I skied the first half of Cup Runneth Over to start my next run, skipping the steeper bottom half because the new snow just wasn’t sufficient for that pitch.  Cup Runneth Over had seen a couple of skiers, but there was ample fresh snow remaining and the turns were generally very nice.  I finished out with some of the usual glades in the World Cup area, and even caught part of the Telemark Practice Slope, which had actually seen minimal traffic.

A Google Earth Map with GPS Tracking Data for a ski tour on the Nordic & Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A map of today’s tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network

The classic end to the tour was of course a visit to the Village Deli to grab some subs with that fantastic new bread they’ve got.  I didn’t see Gus today, but the Deli was really hummin’ with just about every table filled.  It sounds like we might have another storm affecting the area this coming week, so we’ll certainly be watching that potential over the next few days.

Bolton Valley, VT 19FEB2018

An image of a ski track in powder snow in the White Rabbit area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the Glades Right area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The excellent snow conditions were still out there today at Bolton Valley, as were a lot of untracked areas of powder.

Although today really was the President’s Day holiday, it didn’t feel like it to me because everyone seemed to have to go to school or work anyway.  My plan was to head to the office as well, but being a holiday, it seemed silly to miss out on the fantastic ski conditions that are out there, so I had to stop in at Bolton Valley for a few runs en route.

Today was the third in a string of really nice ski days featuring soft, midwinter snow conditions and temperatures in the upper 20s F at elevation.  You really couldn’t ask for much better timing for all the visitors to the resort over this long holiday weekend.  Figuring that the powder from our recent storms would be pretty tracked out by the plentiful skier traffic from the big weekend, my plan was to just work the legs a bit with a few on piste Telemark runs. 

“…Only at Bolton Valley are you going to be able to find such a ridiculous amount of untracked powder after a busy holiday weekend.”

But, as soon as I started down Vermont 200 I started began to look off piste and saw that there was simply too much good snow out there to resist.  Once I got into the trees I was finding untracked lines everywhere, and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of my ski session today.

An image of the upper White Rabbit area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching a beautiful untracked line through conifers in the upper part of White Rabbit.

I visited a number of spots that I hadn’t been in quite a while, including places like Glades Right, Snow Hole, and White Rabbit, and the skiing was so good that I had to visit some of them more than once.  I was amazed at how little traffic those places had seen as I glided my way through the powder and thought, “Only at Bolton Valley are you going to be able to find such a ridiculous amount of untracked powder after a busy holiday weekend.”  That’s of course one of the things that makes the mountain so great.