Bolton Valley, VT 05FEB2015

An image showing a pair of skin tracks for ascending on skis behind the Timberline Base Lodge at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in dry powder snow on the Twice as Nice trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
There’s noting like an impromptu dump of Champlain Powder.

The overnight forecast called for the passage of an arctic cold front, with snowfall projections of 2-4″ for the mountain valleys and a bit more in the mountains themselves. That’s actually a decent accumulation for one of these arctic fronts, and with the way this winter season has gone, we should probably have a good feel for these things. This has felt like the season of arctic air; these fronts seem to come through every few days, and they just keep driving that midwinter cold into the area. It actually hasn’t been brutally oppressive, “high temperatures in the negative Fahrenheit numbers” type of cold, but it’s definitely been a sustained period of below normal temperatures with plenty of days hanging in the single digits. You know that’s been common when days with highs in the teens or even 20s F feel surprisingly warm. One huge upside of this cold has been the snow preservation – with the temperature never creeping above the freezing mark, each round of snow simply piles on another layer of fluff that works into the snow base. And as usual, each one of these fronts brings with it the chance for the Northern Greens to do their thing, i.e., pull a miraculous foot of Champlain Powder™ out of the sky, so it’s good to be at the ready each time these things approach. And, true to form, the mountains and cold air got together to work some of their magic overnight.

“Well, my morning analysis of the snow for CoCoRaHS revealed a density of 4.3% H2O, which is indeed some “break out the bubbly” type of stuff.”

I woke up this morning to find that close to four inches of delicate, fluffy snow had fallen at our house in the valley. Just how dry was that snow? Well, my morning analysis of the snow for CoCoRaHS revealed a density of 4.3% H2O, which is indeed some “break out the bubbly” type of stuff. The snowfall must have really cranked up overnight, because when I looked outside around midnight there was just a dusting down. It seemed like such a short duration that I wondered how much snow could actually have fallen in the mountains during that time. It was early and I wasn’t sure if the snow report at Bolton Valley was even out yet, but four inches down here in the valley was definitely enough to get me interested in checking out what had fallen up on the hill.

“I made depth checks throughout my climb, and got a surprising range of 6 to 12 inches of surface powder over a soft base below.”

We actually had a bit of a respite from the more typical arctic air yesterday, and it was holding over into today with morning temperatures of mid teens F down at the house, and low teens when I arrived at the base of the Timberline area at Bolton Valley. There were three cars parked in the usual spot off to the right, and another car that had just followed me up the access road was parking as well. The skin track up Twice as Nice was in excellent shape, and it was consistently along the climbers left where it’s typically found. The resort had made one pass with the groomer on that side of the trail, which helped to make for a very easy ascent. I made depth checks throughout my climb, and got a surprising range of 6 to 12 inches of surface powder over a soft base below. I was really surprised that I was getting measurements of a foot of snow, and even a bit more at times, because I didn’t think the mountain could have gotten that much in the previous few hours. But, the potential for skiing looked really good – there hadn’t been much in the way of wind, which is just the way you’d want it for maintenance of loft in champagne-style snow.

“I finally began the descent, and whoa, indeed that snow was great – it was serious cold smoke.”

As I approached the top of Twice as Nice, I watched a couple of skiers cut the first tracks down through it, and that definitely got me intrigued. The powder skiing looked exceptionally sweet based on what I saw there. I took a quick look down Showtime from the Timberline Mid Station, but it appeared to have seen more grooming and I was soon headed back toward Twice as Nice; it sometimes gets hit by the wind, and this looked like one of those days where it seemed to have avoided that issue. I finally began the descent, and whoa, indeed that snow was great – it was serious cold smoke. Being roughly in that ~4% H2O range as my analyses from the house indicated, the powder was actually so dry that even on 115 mm fat skis with close to a foot of it, the turns weren’t completely bottomless all the time. But, the quality of the subsurface was so good that even if you did touch down you’d be interacting with something that was still very soft. I made some additional depth measurements on my descent, and if I had to pin the overnight accumulation down to something tighter it would be 8-9″ at around 2,300′. This was clearly one of those storms where the mountains got an elevation boost with respect to snow accumulations.

When I finally did get a chance to check the snow report today, I found that Bolton, as well as the other resorts along the spine of the Northern Greens were reporting close to a foot of fresh snow, with lower numbers in the Central and Southern Greens. So although the air has been on the cold side over the past few weeks, I don’t think you’ll hear too many skiers complaining about any of these arctic fronts that come with a foot of fresh.


Bolton Valley, VT 28JAN2015

An image showing the morning view from the top of the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A map showing the routes of ascent for Bolton Valley's offical uphill travel policy for those skiers and riders that want to ascend the hill under their own power
Bolton Valley now has an official uphill travel policy in place for all those skiers and riders who enjoy making the uphill trek under their own power.

As with most ski areas in Northern Vermont, I’ve always found Bolton Valley to be very accommodating of skiers and riders hiking, skinning, or snowshoeing up their slopes under their own power in order to ski down. Although there wasn’t necessary a formal policy in place, the practice was at least tolerated as long as the individuals were respectful of operating hours, mountain operations, and other factors involving skier safety. So, as a Bolton Valley season’s pass holder who frequently visits the resort for both lift-served and self-powered ascents, I was very intrigued last month when I found out that they had initiated an official uphill travel policy. There are two designated uphill routes: one on Wilderness, and one on Timberline, and although I haven’t seen them yet, Stephen and one of my students told me the resort even has signs marking the uphill route on Wilderness.

“In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches.”

I’ve visited the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network over the past couple of weeks, but today was the first time I’ve made an ascent on the alpine trail network since the announcement of the uphill travel policy. The impetus for my ski tour in this case was that Winter Storm Juno just hit the area yesterday, and it meant that this morning would be a good time to check out the new snow. While the Green Mountains certainly didn’t get the storm totals of up the three feet that were seen down in the Boston area, the Vermont ski areas did pick up general accumulations of 3 to 8 inches throughout the state. Even without a huge snowfall in the area, it seemed like it would be worth getting out for some turns; the ski conditions have just been so darned good over the past few weeks that even a modest dump makes for some excellent skiing.

I headed out the door early this morning, and decided to go with an efficient Timberline outing to leave me plenty of time to get to work. Temperatures were in the middle single digits F at the house, and low single digits at the Timberline Base. So indeed it was cold, no doubt about that, but the air was fairly calm and that helped keep it manageable. There were about a half dozen cars parked in the usual spot off to the right in the main lot, and I could see a couple people either prepping their skins for a run, or packing up their gear as they got ready to depart. There were just a few flurries in the air, but there was a healthy coating of snow all around, and I was able to start my skinning ascent right from the car.

An imae of two hikers ascending the Twice as Nice trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
There were a few folks out early this morning to enjoy the new snow at Bolton Valley.

I was a little surprised that the skin track started on the hiker’s right of Twice as Nice, since it’s typically on the left in line with the uphill travel policy, but I wasn’t going to eschew a track that was already there. I was measuring surface snow depths in the 4″ range, and it was medium-weight powder. As is often the case with big storms, there had been some wind, so some of the powder was pushed around in spots. But, it really hadn’t been hammered or packed too hard, and it looked like turns would be nice. Up ahead of me on the skin track I saw a snowboarder, and behind him a skier. After a few minutes I noticed that the skier was struggling to get up one of those short steep pitches that roll over – he finally managed to get past it with a little herring boning and/or side-stepping. When a similar pitch came up a little while later, he was struggling again and eventually let me pass. He said that it was actually his first time ever trying out skins, and he’d come to Bolton Valley after reading online about the uphill travel policy. As I seemed to have no trouble with those slick spots, he said that wanted to watch how I managed them. After we were both past that spot, I first asked if he had full-width skins, since I know that not having full width has given me trouble in those types of areas in the past, and he said he did. We then chatted about the balance between getting up on your ski edges or staying the skins, and finding out what worked best when you began to slip. He said that what I seemed to do was just keep my momentum really going through those tough spots. I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I do. I also let him know that I keep a lot of pressure on my poles, and ensure that I’ve got a very good plant so that if I do slip, my arms can help pull me through. After a couple of pitches, the skin track switched to the more typical left side, and there were actually a couple of skin tracks there, so we were able to skin alongside each other and chat for a bit. Eventually I stopped to get a few pictures, and he headed on ahead. Like me, he said his goal was the Timberline Mid Station, and he thought that he might like to do that instead of the Timberline Summit and do a couple of laps.

“As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns…”

When I reached the Timberline Mid Station, the skier I’d ascended with was just taking off his skins. We chatted for a few moments, I wished him well on his first descent, and then I headed across toward the top of Spell Binder. I switched over for the descent, did a quick survey of the snow on the headwall, and opted for the skier’s right. There were a couple of old tracks in there that looked like they’d been made yesterday, and the snow had been pushed around a bit by the wind, but the overall conditions were quite good. I worked my way toward the middle of the headwall and found even smoother snow, although the powder was perhaps a bit shallower there. On the steep pitch of the headwall, the new powder certainly wasn’t bottomless, even on my 115 mm AMPerages; I was touching down to the base at least a bit on most turns, but I’d say the snow delivered a pretty smooth ride. As I got down into the more moderate angles below, I was getting a lot more bottomless turns, and if the wind had played with the snow a little up on the headwall, it definitely hadn’t done much to the powder lower down. In general my depth checks of the powder revealed 4 to 6 inches, with some spots up to 8 inches. The skiing did feel a bit slow with temperatures around zero F, but I didn’t find any issues with movement, even on the shallowest pitches. When I got to the bottom of Spell Binder, I made a few turns on the corduroy, and boy, that was some sweet groomed snow. The snow from this storm is really just topping off what are already fantastic conditions, so folks who were coming out for a day at the resort were really going to be in for a treat.

An image of ski tracks in powder snow on the Spell Binder trail at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont thanks to Winter Storm Juno
Thank you Juno!

On the way into Burlington, I stopped off at the Williston rest area, and one of my former students was there. He said he thought he’d seen me up at the mountain, and now he was sure of it. After hearing about the uphill travel policy, he’d actually been up skinning on the main mountain using the Wilderness route this morning, and he’d had a great time. He said that he and a friend often went out ice climbing in the early morning, but they think they’ll be mixing in some ski touring as well. I had first heard about Bolton’s uphill travel policy in a post on the Vermont Backcountry Alliance Facebook Page, and it wasn’t too surprising based on Bolton’s history in that area. What was surprising though was finding out that Sugarbush now has a hiking/skinning policy in place. That’s exciting news, because they have not generally allowed uphill travel in recent years. I also just saw that Bolton Valley will be having an uphill ski demo day on February 7th, where people can try out alpine touring, Telemark, and split boarding equipment. Hopefully that will serve for a great introduction for people that have been curious about trying ascents on their own power on that type of equipment.

It looks like our next winter storm could be coming into the area tomorrow night; it’s expected to be an Alberta Clipper type of system with the potential for 6 to 8 inches in the local mountains.