With the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake back around the 100-inch mark, it was finally time to bring my BJAMS ski group up into the Mansfield alpine for our weekly Sunday session. My initial plan was a run down Profanity Chute with a return toward Chin Clip, followed by a trip to the Outer Planets. Nolan wasn’t going to be with me since he was still in the process of returning from Montreal, but fortunately Rick was going to join us and that gave me a second adult. With Rick’s added knowledge of the area, I felt comfortable enough to kick things up a notch and bring the boys to the Hell Brook Trail for the bottom part of the run.
The weather forecast was also a big part of opting for the alpine today – highs up around 4,000’ were expected to be in the 20s F and wind was supposed to be minimal. The Climbing Gully was in great shape, with lots of snow and one of the best boot ladders I’ve seen. The March sun had done some work on slopes with southern aspects, but up high the effects seemed to be pretty minimal – the packed snow in Profanity Chute was quite wintry, and there was some nice powder still available in the open area on the right side of the chute. I wish I’d had the camera out for when Rick skied that because the powdery turns looked fantastic.
We cut left following the normal Profanity route, and then traversed below the east face of The Chin containing the Hourglass Chute and connected to the Hell Brook Trail. The north-facing aspects in the Hell Brook area held some fantastic snow, but surface conditions deteriorated the more southerly the aspect. At times we had to ski some of those more southerly-oriented aspects, so that made for some very challenging turns on either crusty snow or powder with a sun crust on it. But the boys all did quite well on what is a very challenging run that simply goes on, and on, and on. By the time we traversed back to Gondola and headed over to Spruce Camp we’d covered over 5.5 miles and 2,900’ of vertical.
Although there are roughly 100 inches of snow at the Mt. Mansfield Stake right now, I don’t think coverage on Profanity was quite where it was on our last visit with the kids a couple of seasons ago. With Winter Storm Stella we really just made back the snow that had settled or melted during the previous couple of weeks, so the snowpack doesn’t seem to have quite the coverage of a 100-inch pack that grew throughout the full season. In any event, there’s a lot of snow up in the high elevations and things look good for the slopes heading into spring.
There really wasn’t much lead up discussion on the American Weather Forum about the winter storm we’ve been having in the Northern Greens the past couple of days. That’s because, while it looked like the mountains would muster up some snow accumulation, the models hadn’t really suggested that we’d be getting TWO FEET of accumulation. But, once the snow levels dropped into the mountains, Mother Nature just continued to drive that moisture into the spine of the Greens, and it kept snowing. It’s been snowing continuously now for two straight days.
Temperatures were a degree or two above the freezing mark around in the lower mountain valleys at mid-morning when I was heading out today, and the precipitation was all snow, but accumulations were quite variable with the borderline freezing temperatures. We had about an inch on the ground here at the house on the Waterbury/Bolton line, and that tapered off to much more patchy accumulations in Waterbury and Waterbury Center. The accumulations picked back up again once I was into the Stowe Village area, fairly similar to what we had at the house. At The Matterhorn around the 1,000’ mark I’d say the snow depth was roughly 2 inches.
“…and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing.”
Just making that jump up to ~1,500’ at the base of the resort resulted in a huge increase in accumulations. My depth checks revealed ~10” of new snow at the base of the Gondola, and that measurement was fairly easy, since the old base had generally melted out down at that elevation. I skinned up Chin Clip Runout, since I like the grade, seclusion, and protection from any wind more than heading right up Gondolier. Actually though, winds today were pretty minimal in the lower mountain elevations, and with the temperature just a bit below freezing, it was really pleasant.
Above mid mountain I started to get into the snow guns, and I meandered here and there from Switchback to Gondolier to Perry Merrill following various skin tracks to see if there were any quiet areas. But aside from Chin Clip, they had guns running all over the place. It’s noisy and ruins the natural snow in spots, but of course the resort has to blow snow when it’s time. I actually only headed above the 3,000’ mark for the exercise and to see what was up at that elevation, because I knew the skiing was going to be much better below that point. The winds were howling on that last section of Upper Gondolier, and pounding snow from the storm combined with snow guns every 50 feet or so blasting out their little ice particles made it a virtual whiteout. It was absolutely miserable. If you’ve ever wondered why people are willing to pay a premium for really high quality alpine/backcountry/ski outerwear, there’s an example. It’s not as if it was even midwinter cold (somewhere in the 20s F), but with the snow guns added in, there was just so much liquid being blasted at you on the strong winds. Gear was thoroughly put to the test today. The skin track from the guy who was just a few minutes in front of me had absolutely vanished in that short amount of time. All I could think as I struggled up that final pitch was that if I was ever going to Tweet something at that point it would have been #itsbrutaloutthere. It was a major relief to be able to get out of the wind, snow, and the roar of the guns under the deck of the Cliff House.
Above the base elevations where the old snowpack had melted out, I did my best to try to measure on top of the old base snow/crust, and here’s the summary of my best estimates for settled accumulations from this event from the valley and up into the Gondi area below The Chin:
That last number there from the Cliff House is just an estimate because as is often the case, the wind made it really tough to find a representative spot for measurement.
“The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great.”
Anyway, as much as that last, wind-exposed stretch of Upper Gondolier was brutal on the ascent, the skiing was actually fine. But, just below that on Chin Clip was heavenly. The air was calm, the noise of the snow guns was gone, the plentiful flakes falling form the sky were friendly… and then there was that snow. There’s so… much… snow. Oh man, talk about a thorough resurfacing. I actually felt bad on the ascent for anyone that wasn’t skinning up because if you were trying to boot pack through this storm’s bounty, you were doing a lot of work. There’s no walking though airy dendrites out there right now, this is hard-workin’, blue-collar stuff that’s just been put down. Powderfreak is estimating this storm’s likely going to leave a couple inches of liquid equivalent all together. That’s a season starter right there. On my ascent I’d chatted with another guy near the bottom on Chin Clip Runout who was just coming down, and he said he never touched a thing below the snow… and he wasn’t kidding. On 115 mm boards I’d say I was sinking in about 8 to 10 inches on hard pressured turns on steep terrain. So you can imagine up high where there’s 20 inches of new stuff plus an old base below that, you aren’t touching anything. Even back down near the base elevations though, where the snowpack was dropping below a foot, there were no issues. The turns certainly weren’t bubbly champagne today of course, but they were like being out in one of those freshly-fallen Sierra storms without any excess moisture in the snow, where the flakes are just small and the accumulations are dense, but the powder is great. I actually found a bit of upside-down snow at times on my descent, no doubt due to some changing densities throughout the storm, but even for Tele turns it wasn’t too notable within the scope of the overall snow that was available.
On the way back down into the valley on my drive home, I’d say that in general a bit more snow had accumulated during the morning/midday, but you could tell that the snow was struggling to accumulate too quickly with temperatures right around or slightly above the freezing mark. Surprisingly, back in Waterbury Center and Waterbury, there were very sparse accumulations if any, but then accumulations picked back up again once I head toward the house and into the mountains.
The weather pattern is actually looking active and potentially snowy going forward, so we’ll see what Mother Nature wants to give us. It would be really nice to get in even an average December after the past three running in the range of 50% of normal snowfall. Even normal would feel quite snowy with the way things have been the past few seasons.
“The snow in the chute looked so good it was almost spooky.”
My thoughts of a very early departure to Stowe for me and Ty were stymied by the fact that I had to get some work done and send it off to Stephen, but we managed to get going by around 9:30 A.M. I hadn’t eaten by that point, and we stopped in at the DD on Route 100 to really calorie up with some hearty food. Although he’d had some breakfast, Ty followed suit with at least a cream cheese bagel; it was a good idea, because I suspected we’d need those calories, and as we’d find out later in the day… they were going to be burned. We got to the mountain by mid morning, and the slopes were looking very good. The resort was reporting a fresh 9 inches overnight, and they appeared to be in the sweet spot for accumulations. We were of course really happy that the surprise dump of snow coincided with our usual Sunday visit to the mountain. We’d dressed warmly since temperatures were around 10 F, but truth be told, the temperature just didn’t have the bite that it seems to in January. It’s mid March, and either we’re acclimated, or the March sun just helps to fight off the cold.
Ty and I kicked things off with a run on the Sunny Spruce, featuring some Lower Smugglers Trees just like we’d done a couple of weeks ago, followed by a visit to the terrain above Meadows. The new snow was indeed light and dry, and the skiing in the trees was awesome, although the base was stiff in low elevation areas that were unprotected from the sun. I’d suspected that as a possibility based on the dense snow we’d found in the lower elevations at Bolton Valley yesterday, so after that warm up run our plan was to head right up into the higher elevations of Mt. Mansfield, where we knew the snow would be very well preserved.
We started off with a trip along the Kitchen Wall traverse, and hit some of the deep powder there. There had really been minimal traffic through the area at that point, so we just picked an untracked area in one of the first snowfields and had at it. That essentially led us on a long and meandering trip through various areas of tree skiing that brought us to the Fourrunner Quad. From the top of the quad I took Ty down Pipeline, which I probably haven’t skied in 20 years. I was happy that I was able to find it, but less enthused about how narrow it was. My skis have only gotten shorter since 20 years ago, so I have no idea how I skied it back then. It was already well packed out, which probably doesn’t take much, since in general people are going to side slip a lot of it anyway. It was just as steep as I remembered though, and the fall away views were spectacular. We eventually found ourselves dropping into the Hazelton Zone from the south side, and that resulted in a great run with tons of untracked snow. Somehow we even managed to get into some of the same lines we’d hit back on the 2nd, and I think our noses naturally lead us in certain directions. Knowing more about some of the big, north-facing gullies though, we managed to get ourselves into one of those, and that was pretty sweet. We’ve still got several of those to explore however, the trick is just finding exactly where to enter the zone to get there.
By the time we traversed out of the Hazelton Zone, it was time to head over to Spruce Peak for some lunch, and to meet up with Dylan, E, and all the other folks for the afternoon BJAMS ski program. After climbing and skiing the Cliff Trail Gullylast Sunday as a refresher, today the plan was to kick things up a notch and visit Profanity Chute. Skiing Profanity is a bit of a larger endeavor, since it involves going all the way to the top of The Chin, with a longer hike and a longer descent. This was a great day for it though, with a couple feet of snow midweek from winter storm Vulcan, topped off with another 9 inches of fluff from the overnight snows, the odds were favoring some really nice snow in the alpine. Joe had heard about our plans, and since he was interested in bringing his group up as well, we joined together with him, Ethan, and Julia to make a nice gondola-sized group of eight.
I’d checked on some of the boys packs down in the lodge, so once we got to the top of the gondola, the preparation for the hike went fairly smoothly. The ascent of the Climbing Gully was a little slow at first, simply because of all the fresh snow. The boot ladder was just not consolidated enough. That issue gradually waned as we got up into terrain that had been brushed by the wind a bit more. About 1/3 of the way up the gully, we stopped for a break and to let Jack and Kenny catch up with the group. In order to give them a rest, we waited a bit longer, and with temperatures in the single digits, we had to worry about getting too cold. In the upper half of the hike, I eventually had to put Kenny’s and Jack’s skis on my pack to allow them to keep pace with the rest of the group. That worked well though, and we eventually got everyone up to the Chin and the area atop Profanity Chute. Winds were probably 30-35 MPH up along the ridgeline near The Chin, but fortunately we were able to quickly get on the leeward side of the mountain by the chute.
The snow in the chute looked so good it was almost spooky. There was just one obvious ski track over on the skier’s left, but the right side was a huge field of what appeared to be powder. Just to be safe and to check on wind loading, I ski cut through that area to make sure it wasn’t going to release. It passed that test, and we let the kids just rip it up. I didn’t even have time to get my camera out because they were so quickly enamored with what lay beneath their feet. Indeed that was some mighty fine snow we hit, two to three feet of soft powder, with the denser accumulations from Vulcan topped off with last night’s fluff. I was at least able to shoot some images of Joe in the chute, since he’d waited for all the kids to go. The kids were treated to some fantastic conditions up there, with almost no tracks all the way down the second part of the chute toward Taft Lodge. There’s not much to say other than that the snow was deep, bottomless, and everywhere; that leeward side of Mansfield just really knows how to do snow right.
After following the mazes of tracks and bobsled runs through the subalpine area, getting down to Chin Clip, and then skiing all the way to the base, it was time to head back to Spruce Peak and call it a day. The kids really earned high marks today, and I was amazed at how comfortable with the exposure of the chute up in the alpine. I think that the amazing snow helped with that of course, because even when people did fall, they just immediately stopped thanks to the deep powder. The temperatures were doing a great job of preserving the snow, even when the March sun came out, and it looks like those temperatures will continue to keep preserving the snow as we head into the coming week.
Jack had inquired about a hike to The Chin during our BJAMS ski program last Sunday, so while getting my ski group up into Stowe’s alpine terrain has been on my mind over the past couple of weeks, that really got me thinking about a hike for today. The snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake has been sitting at roughly 60 inches for the past three weeks, so I’m satisfied with base depths, and the only other concern that would affect the quality of the skiing would be the usual suspects up there in the alpine like wind and sun crusts, etc. Temperatures also looked reasonable for today, with highs in the 10s and 20s F, and with no strong winds expected and lots of sunshine, it seemed like we were on for a trip above tree line.
“I shot a few pictures of the accomplishment, and then came the highlight of the trip… the jumping.”
Although I’d like to get them up onto The Chin into Profanity Chute at some point, with no direct knowledge of the current snow conditions in the alpine, and this being the boys’ first hike above tree line this season, something a little less aggressive was in order. So, just like we did for our alpine outing on April 7th last season, I decided to go with a hike up Cliff Trail Gully, followed by skiing in that general vicinity. With that plan in place, I met up with today’s group, which consisted of Kenny, Ty, Jack, and Luc, and informed them of the plan. While Dylan is feeling quite chipper after his recent bout of illness, we want to make sure that his physician says he at 100% before we subject him to anything overly rambunctious. So, after grabbing the feature photo on our last trip up Cliff Trail Gully, unfortunately he had to hold out in the base area today.
After a warm up run on Sunny Spruce with Connor while we waited for Jack, everyone was finally ready to go, so we headed to lockers to prepare the gear. The guys got any water and snacks together, I did some fitting of their packs, and we were off to the Gondola. Up at the Cliff House, I helped everyone attach their skis to packs, and in general after working with Kenny’s setup a bit, the arrangements were pretty good without too many skis hitting heads or legs. Luc was carrying his skis, and I talked with him about switching arm positions as need and trying to let his shoulders do as much work as possible so that his arms wouldn’t get too tired. Kenny was very excited, because he said it was the first time he’d ever hiked for skiing.
There was a decent boot ladder in place, so Ty took the lead, the other boys followed, and I brought up the rear. Ty was off like a shot, and within minutes it seemed like he was ¼ of the way up the gully and I had to reel him in a bit and tell him to hold so that the group could catch up. He was good about that, and hung out on one of the obvious stopping plateaus created by the massive room-sized boulders that fill the gully. Kenny was taking his time while he figured out what this whole “hiking with skis” process is all about, and I while I hung out with him, I gave him lots of tips on how to move efficiently in the terrain. He was floored by how fast Ty flew up the gully, and I let him know that Ty had done an awful lot of this kind of hiking and that he’d be much faster as he got used to it. The boot ladder wasn’t too bad, but in some spots you could tell that it was made by someone with fairly long legs. That set the boys at a disadvantage, but they worked it out, and I’m sure Ty was putting in plenty of shorter steps that they got to use. I did get to express to them how if they’re ever the first to set the boot ladder, shorter spaces between steps are the way to go, as they work for everyone.
As we climbed higher in the gully, Kenny was very impressed by the views, and I told him how they would just keep getting better with every step. Kenny really started to catch his groove with the hiking when we got into the upper, less steep half of the gully, and he commented on how much easier it was getting. Once into the upper half of the gully, Ty and Luc quickly gained the ridge line, and it wasn’t long before the rest of us caught up and we were there. The wind was minimal and the sun was warm, so the boys immediately started to explore the immediate area above the gully. I shot a few pictures of the accomplishment, and then came the highlight of the trip… the jumping.
There hasn’t been much snow to set up a big cornice along the ridge, but there was at least a little bit of one, and more importantly, plenty of snow deposited just below on the leeward side of the ridge. I can’t recall who suggested it first, but the boys quickly got into a session of leaps, slides, tumbles, and bomb holing, all thanks to the deep snow deposited below the ridge. I’d say they had a good half hour session of jumping before I reminded them of the time and pointed out that we weren’t going to get in much additional skiing today if we didn’t get going. The boys were able to pull themselves away, and after a few snacks, we started our descent of the gully.
The snow conditions were actually somewhat challenging, with a few pockets of soft snow, but a lot of wind slab, dense snow, and even pockets of leftover rain crust. The boys really showed their technical abilities, applying a range of techniques to take on some impressively steep, tight, and scratchy lines down the gully. I kept my eyes peeled for other options off to the skiers left, but with the current snowpack, nothing immediately jumped out that was worth pursuing. So, the boys finished their run right down through the Cliff Trail Gully itself, and it was quite impressive.
Of course, one great part about a run down from Mansfield’s alpine areas is that you have an entire run of 2,000+ vertical feet still to go. The boys chose Mac and Cheese, which actually seemed sort of tame after what they’d just done. We followed that up with some trees and bumps on Lower National. We also had time for one more run over at Spruce Peak once we got back. Actually, despite the time taken up by the hike and the run down the gully, I’m glad the boys spent a lot of time up there, because in general, the conditions on piste were pretty unimpressive. The off piste snow in places such as the Nosedive Glades was reasonable packed powder, even if well packed after this past week with minimal new snow, but trails with snowmaking and high traffic are really quite icy. There’s powder in the trees, but naturally it’s getting harder to come by at this point, and the boys weren’t really missing out on too much down below. Luc even commented on how he didn’t like the snow when we were down on Lower National, so he’s definitely refining his preference for good snow. Fortunately, it looks like we might get some storms this week, so hopefully we’ll have some softer conditions next weekend. Hopefully we’ll be back at Stowe for more fun in the snow.
I didn’t have high hopes for the overall ski conditions today after what I experienced during yesterday’s outing at Stowe. Snow surfaces in the lower elevations had warmed earlier in the week, followed by plenty of cold nights, and the temperatures yesterday just weren’t warm enough to get the snow to soften. Gondolier was quite firm yesterday afternoon when I made my final descent to the base, with generally frozen granular and a bit of loose granular. Fortunately there was some refuge up in the alpine elevations above ~3,800’ where the snow was still wintry, but it would take some sun and/or warmth to get the lower elevations in shape today, and sun didn’t appear to be in the forecast. Whatever the case, we’d be able to head back up into the alpine to get to the good snow if necessary; today was our final BJAMS ski day of the season, and if the right group of willing students came together, my plan was to make use of the reconnaissance I’d done yesterday and get them up for some fun turns in the area of The Chin.
“…he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn…”
Throughout the morning today, E was getting various calls and text messages from folks letting her know that they weren’t going to be making it to ski program. Those students in the BJAMS theatre program have been putting in many long days of preparation over the past 10 weeks, and this weekend was the culmination of those efforts with shows on Friday and Saturday. Most of those students were so sapped of energy from long days and very late nights, that skiing just wasn’t in the cards. Luke was one of those students, but fortunately Claire had made it out for the day. After combining the usual number of absences for various reasons with the ugly-looking weather forecast and the many students resting up from the play, the end result was eventually just a handful of students and adults meeting at the base of Spruce Peak today. When the dust and reorganization had settled, it turned out that both E and Claire were free to go with our group, and the only kids that we’d have would be Ty, Dylan, and Jack.
Ty and Dylan were raring to go for some hiking and turns in the alpine, and it turned out that Jack was more than ready as well. Somehow, a little bird had told him that I’d been out on the mountain yesterday doing some reconnaissance in the alpine near The Chin… and that I just might be planning to take the ski group up there today. He came ready with his backpack holding a couple bottles of water, and an attitude that said “Let’s get up there!” Ty, Dylan, and I grabbed our ski packs, E and Claire joined us, and we headed up the Gondola for a visit to the wilds of The Chin. Everyone in the group had been up on The Chin and other alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield extensively for hiking in the warmer months, but for everyone but me, this was going to be their first experience up there with winter snowpack and skis. We hoped that Mother Nature was going to make the experience a good one.
Indeed the weather was ultimately on our side today, and skies that might have been cloudy became blue and almost cloudless as we set off on our midday adventures. Claire was unsure of how long she wanted to hike and ski, but when I told her we’d be starting off with and ascent and some turns in the Cliff Trail Gully, which was a fairly quick ascent to the ridgeline, she was game. While I was finishing with the other boy’s packs, Dylan led the charge upward, and blazed the ascent using a combination of the boot pack I’d used yesterday and some variations of his own. It was immediately obvious that we were going to be dealing with a different kind of snow today. The snow that had been firm with a bit of wind or sun crust yesterday was now softening in the sun. The ascent was absolutely delightful; there were occasional bouts of gusty winds, but for the most part the temperature was perfect, the snow supportive, and the boy’s attitudes positive. Although notably slower than my solo pace yesterday, we probably gained the ridge at around 4,100’ in roughly 30 minutes.
The views from the ridgeline were tremendous, and Claire was absolutely loving her decision to join us for the full ascent. The boys were already feeling in their element, as we watched them traverse higher on the craggy rocks farther south along the ridgeline. We hung out for about 20 minutes for drink and snacks, where we conversed about the season’s skiing, and just generally enjoyed the scenery and weather. We could have just as easily been up there in gray and cloudy conditions, but apparently the sun wanted to make its presence know.
To begin the descent, the boys headed over to the lip of the gully so that they could drop in on the steep terrain. The snow that was protected against the ridgeline was somewhere between spring and winter, but generally dry and edgeable; it was going to support some nice turns. Dylan was chomping at the bit to drop in, and after heading to the highest part of the lip, he dropped in with gusto and led into a huge sweeping turn that send him flying right down the gully into the terrain below. Ty and Jack followed suit, and within moments the boys were whooping and hollering about how great the turns were as they made their way down the upper sections of the gully. Indeed once I dropped in myself I found the snow to be well worthy of their praise. One could stick next to the protection of the rocky wall of the ridge for the driest snow, or head left out into more sunshine for more spring-like surfaces. We mixed it up with turns in various part of the gully until we’d dropped a couple hundred vertical feet, right to the spot where I’d descended yesterday that at that time marked the transition to lower-quality snow. That wasn’t the case today thanks to the assistance of the sun, but as we stood atop one of the overlooks and Jack saw the Cliff House below, he lamented the fact that we’d already descended so far and would soon be back to the bottom of the gully. I told him not to worry – we didn’t have to descend if we just wanted to keep touring.
Instead of descending the rest of the gully, I led the group on a traverse across to the next gully southward (see stage 4 in the detailed Google Earth GPS map from yesterday’s outing), and we were able to follow the same track that I’d used yesterday. I told the group that one option was to make another ascent here and ski this gully from the top of they wanted. The boys weren’t all that enthusiastic about another ascent, so after a few moments of discussion, we decided to descend the new gully and see how it went. We saw some great terrain below us, but I warned them that I hadn’t scouted the bottom of this gully yesterday. I told them that we could end up having to hike back out and descend via the Cliff Trail Gully if the trees got too tight or we got ran into cliffs. The acknowledged my advice, and then it was time to drop in. The descent of the second gully started with some nice steep terrain among sparse, buried evergreens. There were really a lot of fun terrain options such as rollovers and small ledges in there that will lend themselves to a lot of future exploration. As we continued downward, the trees began to get tight, and Dylan seemed to be having quite a time blazing a trail through the evergreens using a combination of his own ideas and the tracks of a previous skier that had passed through the area. With all the experience they continue to build, it really is inspiring to watch how confidently the boys navigate their way through challenging terrain like a maze of subalpine evergreens. They were inspecting options and helping each other out all while they were well ahead of the adults. Eventually my spider sense told me that that we needed to break right toward the Cliff Trail Gully, and after some tight squeezes through a few spots, we found ourselves in a pleasant spot atop a rock outcropping among the sea of evergreens. About 100-200 feet below we could see the Gondola summit area, and it felt as if we were on a balcony overlooking a show of skiers and boarders starting their way down the slopes. We spent another few minutes there on the knoll while everyone gathered back together via their own routes through the evergreens, and then we cut right about a dozen yards to get back to the Cliff Trail Gully. We finished our descent to the Cliff House there, and that bottom section of the gully served up some nice turns. It was ski pole-style high fives all around for the folks that had just completed their first descent from the alpine areas of Mt. Mansfield. I didn’t track our outing today by GPS, but for visual details, refer to stages 3 through 5 shown on the detailed Google Earth/GPS map from yesterday – today though, instead of ascending the gully shown in stage 5, we descended it.
“Indeed the weather
was ultimately on
our side today…”
It was around 3:00 P.M as we began the next phase of our descent through the resort. We took Perry Merrill, and didn’t see another soul on the entire descent. The late season date, the fact that it was Sunday afternoon, and the ominous forecast had really cleared out the mountain. With the terrain entirely to ourselves, I led the boys in some huge GS-style turns that took up the whole width of the trail, and they had a lot of fun with that. Ty said that he had used up all his patience for going slow during the hiking portion of the day, so with that in mind it was a great time to let him really open it up. The snow was in fact fantastic, not too firm, not too sticky; it was just what you’d want in corn snow to sink in those edges and let the skis ride. Whatever the sun had not been able to do yesterday in terms of softening up the snow surfaces, it had done it in spades today. We had time to squeeze in one more run of Gondolier before calling it a day and heading back to Spruce Camp. Today is the end of the season for the Gondola and for Spruce Peak, and it ultimately turned out to be a great one. The weather was extremely changeable though – once we were back at Spruce Camp, gray clouds had come in and sleet began to fall.
We finished off the day with a visit to Frida’s for dinner, since we hadn’t been there at all this season. The guacamole was excellent as usual, with a real good dose of lemon today. Despite the fairly spring-like atmosphere out there, the boys both went for hot chocolate, which Frida’s does Mexican-style with some interesting extra flavor. It looks like this week is going to have more precipitation coming in, although not necessarily a lot of snow. It doesn’t look especially warm though, so it looks like it could be OK for snow preservation. It’s great to be going into the month with such a strong snowpack, because it looks like there a lot more great skiing to come.
Today turned out to be a day of actual “Alpine Touring” in the high elevations of Mt. Mansfield. Although Stowe picked up a foot of snow earlier this week, the freezing level eventually rose fairly high over the past few days, and that brought the lower elevation snow surfaces back into spring time cycling. There wasn’t going to be much spring softening of the snow today though – highs in the Bolton Valley Village at ~2,100’ were predicted to be below freezing, and up in the peaks the temperatures weren’t supposed to get out of the 20s F. That sounded like a frozen granular recipe for those elevations that had gone above freezing, so it seemed like a prime time to head to the high elevations up near 4,000’. I’ve been waiting for a day to get up into the alpine areas of The Chin so that I could explore some lines to ski with the boys, and today’s conditions were the perfect excuse. It was crystal clear, and visibility is always something to consider if you’re going to go exploring around above tree line.
“The snow was definitely all winter up there…”
I laughed to myself as I was driving to the mountain around midday and saw that even in the valleys the temperature was below freezing. There definitely wasn’t going to be much in the way of softening today. If the alpine areas had been warmed, it was going to be a short outing, because there was no need to play around up there on bad snow that had been refrozen. Despite the sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the valleys, there was still the occasional reminder of spring. As I was driving near The Gables Inn on the Mountain Road, I was momentarily distracted as a red fox was chasing a skinny, dark black animal (perhaps a mink) all over the place alongside and across the road. The mink didn’t seem especially scared, and it actually wasn’t all the much smaller than the fox; it was almost as if the two were simply engaging in some sort of springtime frivolity.
I parked at the Midway Lodge, hopped on the Gondola, and began my hike right up above the Cliff House once the lift dropped me off. I’ve hiked that route in the fall before with E and the boys – it’s the hiking route called Cliff Trail (not to be confused with Stowe’s ski trail called “Cliff Trail”. There’s quite a dramatic difference in what one experiences up there in the warmer months – the trail wraps around, under, and over 20-foot tall boulders and other sorts of obstacles. However, in the winter it’s essentially buffed smooth with meters and meters of snow. That’s pretty amazing, and speaks to just how deep the snow gets up there. On my ascent from the Cliff House at ~3,600’, the surface of the snow initially had a thick layer on top that seemed to be some sort of melt and/or wind crust, but at around the 3,800’ level, the snow began to get better and pockets of powder were starting to appear. Before I knew it, I’d hit the ridge around 4,100’. Relative to similar warm weather hikes, it felt like no time at all had passed, and it’s a testament to just how much easier it is to hike that route when all the huge rocks are covered with a nice, smooth surface of snow. I did get to follow someone else’s boot pack though, and that certainly helped with the pace.
I spent a few minutes on the ridgeline, and then dropped in for some turns. The snow was definitely all winter up there, I’d say the bigger enemy had been the winds. I got in some nice turns, and once I’d dropped a couple hundred feet and the snow quality started to deteriorate, I popped my skis back on my pack and headed skier’s left to see where it brought me. The travel was very easy with all the snow, and I quickly came to the next gully over. I hiked up that one to the top, but didn’t find the snow to be up to the best stuff I’d found over in the Cliff Trail Gully. I made a short descent in that gully, just enough to get me access to keep moving to the left, and then came to a third gully. By the time I topped out in that one I was actually starting to get close to The Chin, so I decided to just continue up and poke around to see what descents might have good snow.
I checked out both Profanity Chute and Hourglass Chute, and they both appeared to have good winter snow in them. I haven’t been down Hourglass since I skied it about 15 years ago, but as I watched people side-slipping their way through the crux, it didn’t seem all that appealing. The snow quality looked decent, it didn’t quite have the appealing look that Profanity did, so I ended up going down Profanity Chute for my descent. Taking that option was a bonus as well, because I don’t think I’ve ever skied it before. It’s definitely a fun line, and it’s not excessively steep at probably 30 degrees or so, it gives you a nice ride with an alpine feel. The snow was generally packed powder, although there were a few slick spots in there. I cut left and followed the main line down through the subalpine areas, and outside the main track there were good shots of powder – I was often finding depths of 10 to 11 inches and it was quality stuff. The snow definitely started to deteriorate below 4,000’. It was mostly in the main lines where there had been traffic, but those spots were certainly slick. Following the lower connection of the chute through the evergreens was notably more challenging than the crux up at the top, in part due to the firmer snow in those lower elevations. I made my way back toward Chin Clip, and connected onto Gondolier. Conditions were pretty bad as far as I was concerned, it was a lot of frozen granular, with the best relief from that being the loose granular that people had pushed around. I’m not sure how much day tickets cost at Stowe today, but I’m surprised how busy the mountain was. The parking lots were reasonably full, so apparently there are plenty of folks out there that didn’t mind the conditions. We’re heading back to Stowe tomorrow for BJAMS ski program, and the potential is there for some warmer temperatures. It feels like we’ll either need some of those warm temperatures, or enough new snow to soften up the surfaces.
“It’s almost hard to get a handle on just how good much of the mountain is skiing right now – each new line we try seems to deliver.”
Claire recently returned from her trip to Africa, so we headed off to Stowe a bit early to make some initial “face time” ski runs that E and Claire could use to catch up on program coordination. We did a couple of laps off Sunny Spruce with the boys, and the conditions were fantastic as expected. The groomed surfaces were all packed powder, and the edges of the trails and the off piste areas were providing ample powder. I did encounter a bit of firmer snow beneath the powder on the open slopes above Meadows. Signs of that melt layer from last week’s bits of low-elevation warmth are certainly getting buried with the continued rounds of light snow, but low elevation and south facing areas still have some of that underneath.
When it was time for our session, we gathered up our main group, which consisted of me, Ty, Dylan, Luke, and Ken. We chatted with Joe and his group about joining up for some runs – we heard about how much fun they’d had in the Chin Clip Streambed, and figured that they would love Angel Food. We were anxious to get Ken a run out there, so it was high on our hit list for the day. Our first run up on the docket though, was Spruce Line; that was Ty’s request, and we figured that we should get it in before we headed over to Mansfield. We teamed up with Joe and his group right away, since they wanted to ski that area as well. We were even able to take Horse Barn Chute on our way over; since coverage is really good right now, and that area has filled in well. From the top of Sensation we dropped into Green Acres, and Luke was very excited to be making turns down that first steep face that has intimidated him in the past. The snow in the trees there was outstanding, with a few inches of untouched powder on the main lines, and bottomless powder off to the sides. It seems like there’s been very little traffic in there as of late. In order to attempt the lower areas of Spruce Line, we connected back to Main Street, but we found the entrances to those lower areas closed (possibly because of the race taking place on Main Street) and took it as our cue to head over to Mansfield.
“Joe was amazed at how deep and plentiful the snow was out there – he said it reminded him of Lake Tahoe…”
We decided to get right on with our plan to ski Angel Food, since it wasn’t the sort of endeavor I wanted to tackle late in the day with a group of eleven, most of whom had never been out there. As it turned out, we were going to appreciate that cushion of time. Our first snafu took place just as we were finishing the traverse out to the top of Angel Food. Joanna dropped a bit too low on the traverse, and wound up being committed to a lower line. Ken decided that he’d better accompany her to make sure everything went smoothly – it’s roughly a mile of distance that needs to be covered to get out of there, and the route is through forested terrain of varying densities that is typically filled with deep powder. It’s important to have a sense for where you are going, so Ken’s choice was apt. And then there were nine. The general descent of Angel Food went fairly smoothly for the rest of the group, and Joe and everyone else experiencing the area for the first time were simply having a blast. Joe was amazed at how deep and plentiful the snow was out there – he said it reminded him of Lake Tahoe, and I let him know that it’s one of the reasons people are so enamored with the skiing on that part of the mountain. That area beneath The Chin gets perhaps the most snow at the resort, on a mountain already known for getting a lot of snow. Indeed the conditions out there have just been getting better and better as the snow’s been piling up over the past month, and it was packed powder all around on the main line with virtually limitless options for powder off to the sides. Our next snafu began when we just missed the main traverse back to the gondola base. I quickly got the word out that we should start traversing hard on our own, but Ethan missed that announcement and was already a few dozen yards below us. I started a fresh traverse through the powder, with the other folks following me, and we instructed Ethan to start his own traverse below. I cut a pretty hard traverse that was doing a good job of getting us back on track, but Ethan’s traverse was not quite as strict, and before long he was a hundred yards below us. There was no way he was going to get back up to us in a reasonable amount of time. I decided that we needed to keep the entire group together, and if it meant taking one of the lines all the way down to the notch and lengthening our run, then that’s what we’d do. It’s one of the reasons we made sure we had the extra time. The bonus result of the situation of course was that we got to ski a fairly steep, very lightly tracked line. It’s one of the multitude of fantastic lines that one might ogle when they’re out there, wondering where they go… and we got to find out. As it turns out, it still has a traverse that gets one back onto the main line, and we had Ethan to thank for the discovery. I’m sure it’s got a nice name given by someone that worked hard to create such an excellent piece of ski terrain, but “Ethan’s Chute” is going to be our name for now. Honestly, today’s explorations only reinforced the fact that it could take years to really piece together the hundreds of acres of glades, chutes, and everything else that is out there. Thanks to today’s explorations though, we were able to add another small piece to the puzzle.
Ken and Joanna had made good time on their descent, which was somewhere inside of ours and more proximal to the resort, and Ken said that although there was still some undergrowth on their route like we’d experienced a few weeks back in the Bench Woods, they encountered just ridiculous amounts of untracked powder. Sam had battled just a little too much powder and a few too many trees on our Angel Food descent, so Joe brought him back over to Spruce for a break, and Joanna and Julia had some runs they wanted to do on their own, so we were down to a group of seven. After the long Angel Food adventure we decided to slow it down a bit by taking a standard run on Waterfall and Gondolier, and then giving the boys a break in the Midway Lodge. Waterfall had absolutely excellent snow after just a couple of windswept moguls at the top – it was soft packed powder with a few inches of new powder sifted in on top. It’s almost hard to get a handle on just how good much of the mountain is skiing right now – each new line we try seems to deliver. We generally stuck to Gondolier for most of that descent, but some of us couldn’t help but get sucked into the Gondolier Woods for at least part of the run. That terrain was already in good shape a month ago, so it’s not hard to figure out how good it’s getting now.
As we sat in the Midway Lodge, taking our break by the fireplace (which I think is becoming a favorite spot for Ken as well as me) we threw around ideas for our end game. We’d have time for just a run or two, and we ultimately decided to traverse over to the Fourrunner Quad and catch either Lookout or Hackett’s Highway. Lookout was closed from the top, so we wound our way down to Hackett’s, again visiting some of those Lord Trees that we’d explored last time. Ty had quite an exit there, dropping a six foot cliff back onto the trail area, and nearly landing on a rock, but he pulled it out. Hackett’s was in nice shape, and we coupled it with some Hackett’s Highway Trees as we made our way to Crossover and back to the Spruce Peak Base Area.
On the way home, E and the boys and I stopped off for some dinner at Piecasso, and while we were there discussing the day’s exploits on the slopes, a gentleman sitting at the table next to us with his family, overhead us and asked about conditions. He said that they had just arrived in town, and that they were concerned about the amount of snow that they were seeing, wondering if there was going to be enough on the slopes. I was surprised, because Stowe actually has decent coverage in town – I’m sure it’s below normal for this time of year at a bit less than a foot (March 3rd is actually the peak for snowpack at our house, and that’s typically around two feet), but everything is well covered and white thanks to the recent light snows. Depending on where he came from though, he may have seen some rather meager looking snowpack in places. I assured him that the mountain was very well covered, and that there was over five feet of natural snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield Stake. I’m not sure where that family was from, perhaps Quebec based on the accents, but they should have a classic, fantastic Stowe experience this week. We’ve got a couple more days of this light snow, then some clear days are expected at the end of the week, and there’s the potential for a larger snowstorm next weekend. I’m looking forward to making turns next weekend already.
The boys were more interested in planting flowers with Mom on Saturday than skiing, so unfortunately I couldn’t interest them in going out for some turns. This meant that I was on a solo outing, but the upside was that I’d be able to do a much bigger tour than I would have been able to with Ty, or especially with Dylan. The skies were clear and blue all Saturday morning on what was likely our warmest day of the spring up to that point. The temperature was already around 80 F when I pulled into Stowe’s Midway lot (~1,700’) in the early afternoon, and with the forecast for temperatures in that range, I hadn’t been too optimistic about the snow quality. My major goal was to at least get in a good workout, so I was willing to negotiate some sloppy snow on the descent if that was the way it had to be.
Snow was available right from the Midway Lodge elevation, with just a couple hundred feet of fairly flat walking on grass to get on it from the parking lot. I was immediately surprised when I got on the snow and found that it wasn’t sloppy at all; it was all corn with just the top inch or so loosened up. That’s the sort of corn that seems to provide some of the easiest turns, so I was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for a quality descent. There wasn’t much of a breeze in the lower elevations, but the snow helped keep the air temperature a bit cooler and the ascent was very enjoyable. For ascent attire I’d gone about as minimally as I felt comfortable doing, with a short sleeve polypropylene T-shirt and my ski pants with the side zippers fully open, and that worked out to be a comfortable setup for the temperature. I hadn’t made a non-powder ascent on skins in a while, and I was quickly reminded how the lightness of Telemark gear allows you to simply fly up the slopes. Before I knew it I was up at the Cliff House (3,625’) and feeling great, so I decided to keep going up into the alpine.
I set my skis onto my pack and hit the climbing gully. There was a bit of rotten snow in spots, and as I didn’t immediately find a boot ladder, I had visions of an inefficient, sloppy climb with lots of post-holing. I’d already post-holed a few times in the outskirts of the gully (it only took one of those to remind me to get my ski pants zipped up at least halfway) but fortunately, about 50 feet up the climbing gully I found a boot ladder made by some nice big feet. That made the going fairly smooth, and the views of the Green and White Mountains continued to improve with each step. Near the top of the gully, I ran into a guy about to descend. He had spent an overnight or two on the mountain, and said that he’d been amazed to find fresh powder on Friday morning when he’d started skiing. It sounds like along with Thursday morning, Friday morning had also been good in the higher elevations with regard to fresh snow. The downside of the fresh snow was that conditions in the alpine were still a bit sloppy. The new snow had not yet cycled to corn in the highest elevations, so it just wasn’t going to provide an optimal surface. By the time I departed from my conversation in the gully, I was moments from the Mansfield ridge line. Up on the ridge I enjoyed the new westerly views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and decided to stop in at the top of The Chin (4,395’) since I was so close. There was a small group of college students enjoying the popular leeward side of the summit, and there was a pleasant breeze of probably 15 MPH or so. The high temperature for the day at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 67 F, so I suspect that the summit maximum temperature was probably close to that. Getting an April day like that at the top of The Chin is certainly a treat.
For my descent, I wasn’t able to ski right in the summit or the West Chin area due to lack of snow, but I was able to ski down the gully where the Long Trail drops away from The Chin as it heads south. It was quite a perspective to see the snow create a flat surface through the gully, when in the off season it’s a 10-foot deep chasm containing the hiking trail. I had to remove my skis to descend the very top of the climbing gully, but below that point one could keep them on continuously. As expected, the new snow up high that hadn’t fully cycled to corn wasn’t as nice as the corn snow on the bottom 2,000’, but I actually had some fun turns in the climbing gully, and it let me work on Telemark turns in steeper, tighter confines. I still had to make some alpine turns and throw in some side slipping up there since some areas were just so tight, but overall the gully allowed a good mix of styles. The crème de la crème of snow surfaces for the day was probably the top half of the Gondolier descent. There must have been very little traffic up there because most of the snow surface was just a smooth layer of ripe corn. The lower half of Gondolier still had nice corn snow, but the surface wasn’t as smooth as the top half of trail. Perhaps the lower elevations had experienced more melting that started forming aberrations in the surface. Based on my GPS data, it looks like my descent was 2,720’, not quite what you can get for vertical in the winter when you head all the way back down to Route 108, but still a decent run. There were still about 7 feet of snow at the stake on Saturday, and even though that level has dropped some with the recent warmth we’ve had, skiing should available on Mt. Mansfield for a while.
Today I spent the day skiing with Rolandos and Chris at Stowe – we had soft spring snow and hit some of the old favorites like Lord, and of course Hayride with those great bumps. Rolandos took some photographs with his camera, and it was great having the chance to be out with a skilled photographer possessing a real SLR camera. Rolandos scanned his negatives (or something along those lines) and created some digital images that I’ve added to this report.