“I dove in and encountered the kind of snow that makes you feel like the bottom of the world is falling out, and you’re dropping down an elevator shaft into infinitely deep feathers.”
Snow from Winter Storm Pluto was still pounding away when I arrived up at Bolton Valley’s Timberline area this morning. It was quiet, with just a couple other cars in the lot. The skin track up Twice as Nice wasn’t even in place yet, and I feared that I’d have to break trail, but fortunately Showtime had recently been groomed. It held about an inch of new snow over the packed base, and I was really thankful for the efforts of the groomers on that one.
I had time for a quick run down Spell Binder, and a probe on the skier’s right of the headwall revealed close to two feet of ridiculously fluffy Champlain Powder™. I dove in and encountered the kind of snow that makes you feel like the bottom of the world is falling out, and you’re dropping down an elevator shaft into infinitely deep feathers. So, yeah, last night’s snow analysis told the story, and the snow out there today was indeed incredibly dry.
Today’s ski session was great, but it really wasn’t the one I was expecting. Since E and the boys were off from school for a snow day, and I had some time in the morning, it seemed like a great chance to all get in some skiing together. My first inclination was to visit Bolton Valley, which is right on my way into Burlington and very convenient, but lifts weren’t opening until 10:00 A.M., which on the late side based on the time I had. So, we decided on Stowe, which opened at 8:00 A.M. However, what we found on the Mountain Road was traffic backed up all the way to Harvest Market. That’s miles away from the resort. I figured it had to be because of an accident, but people in touch with E indicated that it was just bumper to bumper all the way down from the resort. I’m not sure how long it would have taken to travel all those miles, but we didn’t really have the time to find out. We switched our plans to Bolton Valley, figuring we’d take at least a few runs, but winds were keeping the Vista Quad on hold, so the available terrain would be quite minimal. It was just one of those crazy days where getting us all together to ski was going to be a challenge.
So in the end, I wound up stopping at Bolton for some earned turns on my way into Burlington, just like I often do. It simply took me a lot longer than usual to get to that point. Fortunately, just as one would expect thanks to the recent visit from Winter Storm Orson, the snow is simply spectacular. I skinned up the usual Timberline route, and while there were some tracks on Twice as Nice from skiers who had visited earlier, it was still snowing big, fat, fluffy flakes, and their tracks were rapidly disappearing. Today seemed like a great day to make a run on Twice as Nice, and it delivered bottomless turns all the way. The depth of the powder I found there today was generally 8 to 10 inches at the Timberline Base elevation, with nearly a foot in may spots higher up. The density gradient of the powder was fantastic, since we’ve been getting some really light fluff on the back side of the storm. It was funny to come full circle back to what I probably would have done if E and the boys hadn’t had the day off, and while it was a crazy path getting me there, the quality of the turns was definitely worth it.
In any event, I decided to head up to the mountain for a couple of runs to see just where conditions sit ahead of our next potential large winter storm (Winter Storm Orson) that is expected to start up tomorrow. Temperatures were down in the single digits F in the morning, so I waited until later in the afternoon to head up to Bolton Valley’s Timberline area. By then, the temperature was around the 20 F mark and it felt quite comfortable outside.
Watching the skiers below me as I rode the Timberline Quad, the groomed terrain seemed pretty nice, although I could certainly hear their turns, so that wasn’t a great sign. I dropped into Showtime myself and found some decent groomed snow along the skier’s left. My mid-fat Tele skis don’t have much for edges at this point, and I noticed it when I’d get to the occasional firmer spot. I could see that there was some nice powder in the Twice as Nice Woods, so I dropped off the edge of the trail and into the trees. Even though that terrain is roughly intermediate pitch, it was still a bit too steep for the amount of powder available. I was touching down on the dense layer below, and occasionally slipping out on it or breaking through. It was just too inconsistent to make for good skiing so I headed back to the groomed terrain of Showtime to finish my run.
On my next run I took Sure Shot and made my way to the lower angle slopes of the KP Glades. I was able to get some decent powder turns at times, but even there it was possible to bust through the dense layer and the skiing was still just too inconsistent. I finished out my run, and Timberline was closing anyway, but a couple of runs were enough to reveal that there really wasn’t much going on today with regard to off piste skiing. It’s good that we’ve got Winter Storm Orson coming into the area tomorrow because it should be able to get the off piste conditions back to something more consistent and typical for midwinter around here.
There weren’t actually any major winter storms in the forecast for the Northern Greens this week. As it turns out, that forecast was actually 100% correct. We didn’t get a major winter storm… we just got a major winter storm’s worth of snow in short order. What the forecast for the end of the workweek indicated was a general westerly flow, with extra moisture supplied from the Great Lakes to give periods of snow showers in the area. Of course “snow showers” around here in the mountains can often mean several inches of snow, and this time around it certainly did.
“…it was so good that after two runs I ran to the rack on the car and swapped out my mid fats for my full fats”
From what I’d seen on Bolton’s snow report, Timberline may not have been running yesterday, so Ty and I headed up to catch the planned 10:00 A.M. opening this morning. E planned to pick up Dylan from his overnight at Ivan’s, then catch up with us later. From what we could tell, Timberline must have been closed or something, because aside from the strips of trails that had been groomed, there was a foot of untracked powder everywhere. Ty and I caught some great powder runs down Brandywine and Spell Binder. I figured the powder would be fine, albeit somewhat flat after a night of settling, but it was much more substantial and impressive than I’d expected – it was so good that after two runs I ran to the rack on the car and swapped out my mid fats for my full fats. For Ty, it was his first chance to try out the Rossignol Soul 7 skis he’d gotten at the beginning of the season, and they were the perfect tool for the day. It was a classic Timberline morning, with walk-on powder laps in great snow. We really haven’t hit the threshold of snowpack required to get Timberline in gear until now, so it was a welcomed return.
Ty and I hit a couple more runs with a mix of on and off piste powder, then headed in for lunch at the Timberline Lodge to catch up with E. We also took the opportunity to try out the new “South of Solitude” (no doubt a nod to the “Adam’s Solitude” trail) Mexican food offering that’s been set up at the Timberline Base Lodge this season. Ty is nuts for burritos, so I knew it would be on our hit list when I saw it announced way back in the off season. The Mexican-themed food is really the only main option now down at Timberline, so you’ll want to plan on that if you’re dining down at that lodge. I got the chimichanga (always one of my favorites), and Ty got a burrito. They’re made to order with your choice of various ingredients, and we found them good and filling!
After lunch we headed back out to get Mom some powder, and found her plenty of untracked lines in the Tattle Tale area. We took her into the Corner Pocket Glades, but discovered they’re quite brushy with the current snowpack down at that elevation. A couple more feet of snow will take care of the issue, but they’re probably going to need a trim in the off season. Ty and I headed back down to the house by around 1:00 P.M. and E stayed for another solo run on Twice as Nice where she had a good time making Tele turns in the mix of loose and packed snow.
It’s been a slow start down in the lower elevations like Timberline, but I’d say the resort is running at just about full tilt now, so get out and enjoy it. We’ve got another Alberta Clipper coming into the area tomorrow, and then a larger storm in the midweek period, so the weather pattern is staying active.
With Bolton Valley reporting nearly a foot of snow over the past two days, the family headed up this today to see just how it well it was settling into the terrain. The snow report let us know that some of the upper lifts would be delayed a bit due to winds, but they were opening just as we were arriving around mid-morning. The word was definitely out about all the new snow today – cars were already parking down to the lowest Village lot when we arrived, and more were coming in by the minute.
We started off with a quick run on Snowflake, and enjoyed some excellent powder on the side of Snowflake Bentley. Since he’s been Telemark Skiing and snowboarding up to this point, it was Ty’s first time on alpine boards all season, and he was really enjoying the powder turns much like a new sensation. There was no line for the Vista Quad by that point, so we hopped on and got to see the impressive rime up near the Vista Summit. Catching some of the first turns on the groomed Alta Vista was nice treat that we don’t usually experience, and it really was soft and carveable from edge to edge. We also got first tracks in the powder off to the ungroomed areas to skier’s left. The only downside in the powder there was occasionally hitting some old grooming chunks under the snow, but the new accumulations were deep enough to make them only a minor hindrance.
We made our way over to Wilderness and took a quick pass through part of the Wilderness Woods. The powder was really nice in there, and there had been little traffic up to that point. We finished off with some groomed and powder turns on Lower Turnpike, and found that the Wilderness Double Chair was running, but they weren’t quite loading it yet.
We stopped into the lodge for an early lunch, and by the time we came out they were loading the Wilderness Lift. Peggy Dow’s was in nice shape, but out favorite part was actually the Wilderness Lift Line, which had a lot of powder left on it. Everyone had so much fun there that we would have easily done it again, but a bit of a queue was forming at the Wilderness Lift so we decided to call it a morning.
When we were leaving, a woman was more than willing to wait for our parking spot way down by the sports center, so obviously the lots were really filling up. Even the Timberline lots looked full when we passed by. Temperatures were in the upper 20s F today, so folks were definitely out in force to enjoy it with the new snow – we’d even heard comments on one the local weather reports about just how good a ski day it was going to be. The current trends with the snow will probably go on for a couple more days, so conditions should stay quite good.
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.
Dylan and I headed up to Bolton Valley this afternoon for a quick New Year’s Eve ski tour. Based on my observations from yesterday’s outing, I knew that despite exposed areas being wind-scoured, many trails at Timberline were holding some great powder. There were still resort visitors parking down at the Timberline lots, and while most had left by the time we arrived, there were still a few folks trickling down either by bus or via the trails.
“In a bit of a reversal of the usual setup, the powder actually improved the farther we descended, simply due to better protection from the winds.”
It was a cloudy afternoon, but temperatures were very comfortable in the upper 20s F as we ascended the Twice as Nice skin track. We contoured across below the elevation of the Timberline Mid Station to avoid the wind scoured areas and descended via most of Spell Binder. In a bit of a reversal of the usual setup, the powder actually improved the farther we descended, simply due to better protection from the winds. We were typically skiing in depths of 5 to 10 inches, with the deeper are being those that were most protected. Dylan had a great time and made some excellent turns – even on his bad side, which is getting better all the time.
We’ve actually got an Alberta Clipper coming through the area right now, but the current wind flow seems to be sending most of the snow off to the east of us. We’ll see if that changes to bring any accumulations to the mountains for tomorrow.
I haven’t been up to the mountain for turns since last week, but today when I arrived at Bolton Valley I was reminded just how popular skiing can be over the holidays. I pulled into the Timberline lot expecting to find a few cars from folks earning turns there, but found it nearly full of vehicles. The main lots had presumably filled up, and I could see that the shuttle was ferrying people to and from the Timberline lots.
Although the Timberline Quad isn’t running yet, I was starting at Timberline today as part of a combination sidecountry and lift-served tour that I’d planned. The resort had picked up 4-6” of snow yesterday from Winter Storm Fortis, and an additional 4-5” the previous day from a weak cold front, but I didn’t expect that to be enough snow for a thorough resurfacing that would hold up to holiday skier traffic on all terrain. The Wilderness Lift is running though, so my plan today was to skin up from Timberline to the main mountain, catch a lift-served run through White Rabbit and Snow Hole, and then return via some Timberline skiing.
The skin up Timberline was very pleasant, and I saw a few skiers and riders skiing the trails to make their way back to their vehicles at the Timberline Base. I could see why Timberline isn’t open for lift-served skiing yet though – exposed areas were really windswept and wouldn’t be able to support lift-served levels of skier traffic. Sheltered areas like most of Spell Binder, Brandywine, and Tattle Tale looked really nice though with all the new powder, and I suspected I’d find some great turns at the end of my tour. When I reached the main base I found that there were plenty of visitors, but fortunately lift queues were almost nonexistent. There was generally light snow coming down, with some hefty wind at times that was enough to cause a short stoppage of the Wilderness Lift when I was on it. By the time I reached the top of Wilderness it was definitely cold – it had to be in the teens F, and feeling much lower than that with that wind.
“I caught first tracks down White Rabbit, which was in great shape. The base is really deep up there, with another 5 to 10 inches of powder atop the older layers.”
I caught first tracks down White Rabbit, which was in great shape. The base is really deep up there, with another 5 to 10 inches of powder atop the older layers. Snow Hole had seen a good deal of traffic, but there were still plenty of routes available with powder, and the traffic actually helped to compact the snow at the water crossings. Lower Turnpike was its usual smooth self and offered a nice groomed surface on which to carve some Telemark turns.
Back at the main base I had a little time to stop in for a slice at Fireside Flatbread, and it was sort of that transition time between day and night skiing with lots of visitors coming and going. One of today’s holiday week activities was balloon art, and you could see people around with their colorful balloon headgear.
“I didn’t linger too long in the lodge, but by the time I came out the snowfall had really picked up – it was falling heavily and dramatically reduced the available light as we approached dusk.”
I didn’t linger too long in the lodge, but by the time I came out the snowfall had really picked up – it was falling heavily and dramatically reduced the available light as we approached dusk. I quickly headed over to the Snowflake Chair and made my way toward Timberline. I ran into a family on Timberline Lane trying to make their way back to the Bear Run condominiums where they were staying, and their younger son on a snowboard struggled to move along in the flats, and then struggled more on the ungroomed steep pitch of Timberline Run below. I headed to Lower Tattle Tale to catch some fresh tracks in the powder there (which I’d say were actually the best of the day) but waited at the intersection of Timberline Run to make sure everybody in the family was getting along OK. I actually had already pulled out my headlamp for the last bit of skiing since it had gotten so dark, and that was helpful in making sure the family found their way to their lodging.
It was a great tour today with plenty of powder, and it looks like we’ve got another storm coming into the area tomorrow. Just as I was arriving at the resort today I got an alert that we’ve got a Winter Weather Advisory starting up tomorrow at 10:00 A.M.
Since we found such great conditions on our outing at Bolton Valley yesterday evening, we decided to head back up for a little more skiing and riding today. Yesterday’s storm had cleared out, so today it was mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 20s F – a great December day to hit the slopes. Ty was psyched to get back on the snowboard, so E planned to work with him on his riding again today, while Dylan and I brought our Telemark skis to head off into the powder from the recent storm.
We headed up to the mountain around noontime, and the resort was hoppin’ based on the number of cars in the Village lots. With the weather and proximity to the holiday period, that wasn’t surprising. E and Ty stayed focused on the lower mountain terrain so that Ty could continue to work on his snowboard turns, and Dylan and I took the Vista Quad to see what conditions were like on the upper mountain and make our way over toward Wilderness. Skier traffic definitely had its effects on the snow surfaces, and we found lots of firm or icy areas on trails like Alta Vista and even lower-angle terrain like Sherman’s Pass. Fortunately, Wilderness had seen much less traffic and the snow surfaces were excellent. There was plenty of packed powder, chowder, or even untracked powder on the lesser-used routes. We even made our way into the Wilderness Woods, and there was plenty of coverage and very little traffic. Snowpack is certainly not an issue at elevation – I probed the depths at around 2,800’ over toward Wilderness and found as much as 30 inches. The consistency of the snowpack is interesting. There’s definitely a refrozen layer in there from the warm storm we had over the weekend, but it many spots it’s not really crusty, it’s just thick and has bonded pretty nicely to the snow that fell more recently.
“There was plenty of packed powder, chowder, or even untracked powder on the lesser-used routes.”
The snow from yesterday’s storm is holding up well and keeping conditions great in minimal traffic areas of low and moderate-angle terrain, so seek those out if you’re looking for soft turns. Our next winter storm is actually coming into the area tomorrow. It’s similar to yesterday’s event, with the potential for 2 to 4 inches in the higher elevations, but if it works out like that last one it should be another nice boost to the conditions.
I was home this afternoon with enough time to head up to the mountain for a couple of runs before dark, with the incentive being a bit of snow that we picked up today from a small Alberta Clipper-type system. Although the snowfall had generally been quite light in intensity today, it had been snowing continuously, and reports of 3 to 5 inches were coming in from the mountains. I didn’t know if anyone else would be interested, so I figured it would just be a solo outing for me to scope out how the new snow was setting things up for coming days. But, before I knew it, the whole family was interested in getting some turns, and once we confirmed that night skiing was on, up to the hill we went!
“…combined with the weather, the overall ski conditions were so good that we ended up staying a lot longer than I’d thought we would.”
The temperature at Village elevation (~2,100’) was right around freezing, and while we were at the mountain the cloud deck fluctuated between there and Mid Mountain (~2,500’). There was light snow falling the entire evening, and although we never went higher than Mid Mountain, there was no wind to speak of. So overall, it was an incredibly nice time to be out skiing under the lights. I measured 3” of snow in the Village parking lot, and generally found 3-4” on the hill, which jives perfectly with the 3-4” that I see this evening in the Bolton Valley snow report. My liquid analyses down here at the house (500’) revealed a very mid-weight 10% H2O snow, and while we may have had a touch of compaction due to being slightly above the freezing mark at our elevation, I’d say that 10% density is fairly consistent with what the mountain received. So the new snow has got a bit of girth to it and can float you pretty well on low- to moderate-angle terrain as long as there’s a smooth subsurface.
One thing that got Ty excited to head to the mountain this evening was the chance to do some snowboarding. He’s big enough to use my snowboard now, so E said that she’d give him some instruction to get him started. We all started off at the Mighty Mite to ensure that Ty was set on the board, and then spent the rest of our time on the Mid Mountain Chair so that Ty could work on his snowboard turns with E, while I worked with Dylan on his Telemark skiing.
There was plenty of powder available this evening off to the sides of the main runs and on the easily accessible side trails, and combined with the weather, the overall ski conditions were so good that we ended up staying a lot longer than I’d thought we would. There obviously hasn’t been enough liquid added atop the snowpack to keep folks from touching down to the old surface on steep terrain yet, but lower-angle to moderate terrain is skiing beautifully. I suspect the groomed terrain could have been pretty loud before this new snow, but turns were very silent and peaceful tonight. And, there’s the aesthetic quality of all the new snow. Folks coming up for the holiday weekend should be pretty psyched, especially if Mother Nature tops this current snow off with a bit more from the system potentially affecting the area on Saturday.
We capped off the evening with a trip to Fireside Flatbread for the first time this season. It was a quiet midweek evening, and service was really quick – we sent the boys downstairs to the cafeteria to get a couple of appetizers and the pizza arrived before they even got back! Anyway, tonight’s experience with the soft conditions has got everyone in the family interested in getting more turns this weekend, so hopefully we’ll have another chance to get out and enjoy the new snow.