Stowe, VT 14MAY2019

An image showing the snow line on Mt. Mansfield at the start of a ski tour in mid-May at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
An image of some ski trails signs in the Nosedive area with fresh snow during a May ski tour at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Today was quite the snowy day in the local mountains as I got out for a ski tour in the fresh May powder on Mt. Mansfield.

It turns out that we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.  It probably feels like May snowstorms are rarer than that, maybe because, well… it’s May.  By this point in the season it typically hasn’t snowed in a few weeks, we’ve had some warm weather, Memorial Day is approaching, and people are well along into thinking about spring and summer.  But I felt as though I’d been out on fresh snow several times in May since we’ve been back in Vermont over the past decade or so, and being curious about the actual numbers during the lead up to our current storm, I checked my ski report archives to see.  Indeed, with today’s storm that makes at least five significant May snowstorms in the past decade.  Here in the Northern Greens we also don’t catch the brunt of every May snowstorm that hits the Northeast, especially with the Presidentials in the mix, so I suspect that for the region as a whole the frequency of May snowstorms averages out to somewhere around a storm each season.

“…we likely get a substantial May snowstorm here in the Northern Greens about every other year on average.”

Whatever the actual frequency is for these May snowstorms, we’ve got one going on now.  We’ve been monitoring the potential of this current storm for several days in the New England forum at American Weather, and the mountain snowfall was well under way last night.  That meant that this morning was time to get a sense for what happened where and decide on a good location for some turns.  After checking out the accumulations on the various mountain webcams this morning, I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield for a ski tour.  I hadn’t seen any obvious differences in accumulations at the various resorts from the webcams, so I opted for Stowe because they seemed to have the most substantial existing snowpack right down to the base elevations.

An image showing a dusting of May snow at an elevation of 1,300 feet near the base of the Toll House chairlift at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
As I approached the mountain today, the first signs of fresh snow were at around 1,300′ just above the base of the Toll House Lift.

As expected, it was a cool, borderline wintry morning as I made my way to the mountain.  Temperatures were in the upper-30s F in the mountain valleys, and mid-30s F at the resort base.  I’d seen on Stowe’s web cams that the North Slope area had its typical late season residual snowpack, so I chose that for my ascent route.  By the time I got out on my tour, the snow level was certainly rising relative to its lowest point overnight or this morning when there were more optimal temperatures and snowfall rates.  New snow accumulations varied considerably depending on the underlying surface, with the best accumulations and retention found atop the existing snowpack.

“The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.”

Continuing up from the North Slope area, I headed through the Fourrunner Quad Summit and up the Toll Road past the Mt. Mansfield Stake to the Mansfield Summit Station at around 3,850’.  Precipitation was snow at all elevations on my ascent, and it was fairly light for the most part until I got to the Summit Station along the Mansfield ridgeline.  While I was hanging out there refueling and changing over for the descent, the intensity of the snowfall ramped up somewhat, with lots of tiny flakes at first.  Eventually though, the snowfall picked up to a pounding of much larger flakes.  There was definitely a lot of liquid coming out of the sky at that point, and my Gore-Tex® was getting a workout.

An image showing the Mt. Mansfield snow stake area during a May snowstorm near Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Stopping for a look at the healthy snowpack still present at the Mt. Mansfield stake as I pass by during today’s ski tour

Observing the new snow accumulations along my ascent, the big jump in depths really seemed to happen between 2,000’ and 3,000’.  Above 3,000’ I didn’t really see too much with respect to additional accumulation, so presumably temperatures were sufficient down to 3,000’ to maximize the snow from the available moisture right from the get go yesterday.

Here’s the elevation profile for the accumulations I found this morning:

500’:  0”
1,000’:  0”
1,300’:  T
1,500’: ½”
2,000’:  1”
2,300’:  3-4”
2,500’:  5”
2,700’:  6”
3,000’:  7-8”
3,500’:  8”
3,850’:  8”

An image showing the Summit Station/Visitor Center atop Mt. Mansfield in Vermont during a May snowstorm
Snowfall picked up when I was on the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline by the Visitor Center today, with huge flakes and reduced visibility for a time.

The amount of dense snow up high meant that you had plenty of cushion for some nice powder turns.  Of course, the density also meant that the snow was Sierra Cement/Cascade Concrete and you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns.  I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a lot of work.  It is mid-May though, so even dense powder turns this time of year are always a treat, and getting the workout is a big part of the experience anyway.

“…you had your work cut out for you with respect to getting those powder turns. I had my midfat Telemark skis, and let’s just say that the Tele turns in today’s snow were a LOT of work.”

In some cases it wasn’t just the descent that added an extra challenge due to the dense snow.  I followed a pair of skin tracks on my ascent and noticed that in some spots the new snow had stuck to their skins.  I wasn’t having that issue with my skins, but I eventually caught up to the gentlemen who were making the skin tracks, and they said for them it was an issue when they traveled over areas without an existing snowpack.  I was able to pay them back for their helpful skin track by setting the track for the second half of the ascent, and while I didn’t see them on the descent, I saw them back at my car and at Edelweiss Deli where I grabbed a sub for lunch (great minds think alike) and it sounds like they had a great tour.

Wintry conditions in May are typically quite ephemeral, so I guess we’ll be back to spring skiing soon, but these late season powder days are always a treat.  There’s a certain mystique with these late season elevation snow event because it feels like you were in another world when you get back to the strong sun, spring warmth, and rapidly emerging greenery in the valleys.

Stowe, VT 21NOV2013

An image of ski tracks on the Lower North Slope trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Super smooth turns today on Lower North Slope

We were last out at Stowe for turns on Sunday, and since that time there really hasn’t been much in the way of new snow – about an inch fell at 1,500’ on Tuesday, with probably a couple of inches up near the Mansfield ridgeline.  That wasn’t much to inspire one with thoughts of great ski conditions, but since I was in Morrisville today for the annual BJAMS Thanksgiving lunch, on the way home I decided to pay a visit to Mt. Mansfield and make use of the energy provided by that great meal.

“…the forecast suggests
that we’ve got three
potential systems moving
through in the next few
days…”

Temperatures that were in the teens this morning were hovering near 40 F in the mountain valleys and up at the Mansfield Base in the early afternoon.  Although it was above freezing, the air seemed quite cold and there was no melting going on – the dew points were just sitting there down in the teens.  I parked a bit north of the Mansfield Base Lodge, got my gear together and began skinning up toward Lower North Slope.  With an inch or two of natural snow supplemented by some snowmaking blow-over, the look and feel of the snow on that first pitch above the parking lot was quite encouraging.

An image of a skin track in a couple inches of snow on the Toll Road at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontThere was an occasional skier here or there on the slopes, but as one might expect on a pre-season midweek day without any obvious storms having gone through the area, it was pretty quiet.  The snowmaking lines were definitely charged in many areas, but with the marginal temperatures, the guns seemed to be on hold.  That kept the scene especially peaceful.  I ascended at first via North Slope, and while Lower North Slope had seen a massive bombardment of manmade snow thanks to the cold temperatures, above Crossover the surface was a refrozen mess that had either seen snowcat/snowmobile traffic or previous skiers.  The uneven surface was occasionally slick enough to cause some skin slippage on the steepest pitches, so at the top of the Mountain Triple at ~2,700’ I switched over to Toll Road for a change of pace.  The skinning there was delightful, with a track recently made by another skier in a couple inches of powder.  I continued on up Sunrise and Lower Ridgeview, and finally stopped my ascent at the next junction with Toll Road at 3,300’.  Based on what I’d seen during my meandering climb of the mountain, I liked the prospects for starting out with some turns in the powder along the edges of Toll Road.  In general, slopes that hadn’t seen fresh snowmaking were going to be a scratchy mess of refrozen corduroy, bumpy snow, or worse yet, snow that had been beaten up by the treads of machinery… and then solidified.

An image of partly cloudy skies behind some evergreens at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
A mix of sun and clouds today

I started down Toll Road, and indeed the surface was as expected – where vehicles had traveled it was very disheveled, but fortunately the edges held frequent untouched powder of a couple inches that made for some smooth turns on the gentle pitches.  Sunrise was steeper and held the occasional good pocket of powder off to the sides, but generally the scratchy, messy snow that marked the low end of today’s spectrum of conditions.  However, when I found myself on Gulch I was greeted with some freshly-made snow that produced some great turns.  There was quite a mix of options on Gulch, with turns on the manmade and occasional jaunts into the natural snow where nothing had been blown.  Like Sunday, at Crossover I once again found myself looking down Lower Lord at some impressive snow – it was that mix of natural bolstered by manmade, and I got about 10 turns worth of good stuff before I cut through the trees over to Lower North Slope.  Natural snow almost always trumps manmade snow, but for today, I actually might have to give top honors for most fun turns to that freshly-made stuff on Lower North Slope.  Where it hadn’t been touched by any equipment, which was fortunately most of the slope, it was billiard table smooth – and it offered up turns just as smooth.  You would shave off just a half inch or so of that snow and the turns were dreamy.  The surface seemed so durable despite its softness, and it made me wonder how a non-groomed surface like that would hold up to skier traffic.  It was a really fun way to finish off the run.

“…I actually might have
to give top honors for
most fun turns to that
freshly-made stuff on
Lower North Slope.”

So, although the base depths certainly aren’t up close to the two foot mark the way they were last week, the base of 7 inches or so up high is right around average – and we’re not talking about 7 inches of fluff, this is stuff that has already been consolidated by the warmer temperatures from earlier in the week.  I think we’re going to see some interesting options in the higher elevations when natural snow moves in and starts to build upon what’s there.  And, we may not have to wait long – the forecast suggests that we’ve got three potential systems moving through in the next few days, and possibly even a fourth, larger system, in the middle of next week.  That one is still too far out in the modeling world to really be considered likely at this point, but it’s got people’s interest because it could be a coastal storm with more copious amounts of moisture.  In any event, the first three events are much more likely, and should be almost exclusively snow in the mountains.  I’m curious to see what we get out of these systems, because as we know, the Northern Greens can often take these smaller snow events, run with them, and deliver the goods.