In terms of the ski conditions it was certainly a fairly typical early season affair, and I’d say waiting for that second storm to put down the extra snow was the way to go. I opted to tour up at the main base, and there were clearly at least a couple more inches of settled depth up there (~2,000’) vs. what I found at the Timberline Base (~1,500’).
I could tell from the get go as I was ascending the Lower turnpike skin track and watching other skiers descend there, that the density of the snow was going to call for more moderate angle terrain vs. low angle terrain. The snow was fairly medium weight powder, which was of course good with respect to providing some base for skiing. There was obviously no existing snowpack below these storms, so if these recent snow had been 2-4% H2O champagne, there would have been a lot of dicey contact with the ground. But, this medium weight snow was dense enough that there was just too much resistance for low angle terrain – skiers and riders had to straight line their way down and/or use old tracks to keep moving on those angles.
Here’s the settled snow depth profile I observed during my tour:
Terrain in the medium to low-angle range was required for solid turns, and that meant that it was a balancing act between choosing terrain that had enough pitch for turns, but not too much pitch that you were going to be outskiing the available snow depth. There was also the factor of finding relatively protected terrain – that first storm especially, had some ridiculous winds, and scouring of the exposed slopes was rampant.
So, good knowledge of the local terrain was important, but once you found the appropriate setup there were some nice midwinter powder turns to be had. There was as always that exercise of not going too steep, aggressive, or rocky to outperform the available snow, so of course having knowledge of those grassier options was important in providing the best ski experience.
It was a solid first day out at the mountain, and it looks like we’ve got some warmth coming in the next week or so before we have any additional chances for snow.
I woke up this morning to find snow on the grass and elevated surfaces at our house, most notably our picnic table out back on the deck. This was the first snow I’ve seen at our house this season, and although our weather forecast did suggest there was some potential for accumulation, you never quite know how it’s going to play out in marginal situations like this one.
In any event, the snow stuck even down here at 500’, so it should have easily accumulated in the higher elevations. I measured 0.6” on the boards at observations time, and it did look like it could have melted some since the point at which most of it fell.
This is about a week on the late side for average occurrence of first frozen precipitation here at our house, but just a day off for the average date of first accumulating snow, so it’s very typical in that regard.
Details from the 6:00 A.M. Waterbury observations:
As of last week, the ski areas in the state had ceased operations, which obviously has the potential to be a blow to many employees and ancillary businesses. All things considered, this timing hasn’t been too bad for the resorts, since they would all be tapering down winter services and staffing in the next few weeks to some degree anyway. From the skier’s perspective, the timing of these resorts hasn’t been horrible either – weather has been in that spring doldrums stage for the past couple of weeks. The usual thaw-freeze cycles that we get at this time of year have taken place, and we haven’t had any big storm cycles to resurface the slopes nor beautiful warm days with copious sunshine to soften them up. We last skied back on the 8th for the BJAMS ski program at Stowe, and regardless of the ski area closings, there hasn’t been much to entice us out since then.
“Our initial forecast called for a total of 2 to 4 inches of accumulation, but after we picked up 2.6 inches of snow in just a half hour (an impressive snowfall rate of over 5 inches per hour) yesterday evening, it was obvious that we were going to get more.”
Since the resort is not posting snow reports now that they’re closed, we didn’t have a sense for how much snow Bolton Valley picked up in the storm, but Dylan and I finally had time around late morning to head up for a ski tour. On the way up the access road we stopped in at Timberline to check on the snow depth, and found about 7 inches of settled new accumulation at the base. We also noted that there were a couple dozen cars in the parking lot from folks that were out ski touring.
I was unsure of the base depths at Timberline, and figured they would be more substantial at the main mountain, so we continued on up to the Village. New snow depths were similar there, and indeed fairly similar all the way up to the Vista Summit. So overall, there really didn’t seem to be much change in accumulation with respect to elevations – from what we saw today, even up above 3,000’ the storm totals looked about the same as what we picked up in the valley at 500’
The turns we had today were very nice. The powder was of medium to perhaps slightly higher density, and temperatures were well below freezing even in the Village at 2,000’. The snow had a nice surfy consistency, with enough buoyancy for bottomless turns on even steep pitches in the black diamond range. You could certainly hit bottom on the very steepest pitches, but we focused on medium-angle terrain and it was bottomless all the way.
“Despite the number of people up at the resort, it was clear that even resort ski touring is still a great activity for social distancing. As is typically the case, we actually saw only a few people while we were out on the hill, and you still never had to go within 50 feet of anyone if you didn’t want to.”
With many people not going to work right now as the state strives to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and a fresh dump of powder on the slopes, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how many people were out for turns. The number of people touring seemed notable though – between Timberline and the Village, there were at least several dozen cars out there. Where we really noticed that ski touring traffic was up was by the number of tracks on the trails. D and I definitely had to work a bit to find trails that had only seen a few tracks, but we just poked around until we found them. Fanny Hill delivered pretty nicely with only about four or five tracks on it and plenty of untouched snow. Despite the number of people up at the resort, it was clear that even resort ski touring is still a great activity for social distancing. As is typically the case, we actually saw only a few people while we were out on the hill, and you still never had to go within 50 feet of anyone if you didn’t want to.
There are a few early signs of another potential storm about a week out, but there’s nothing notable in the more immediate term, so we’ll be watching that timeframe to see if anything pops up.
The local ski resorts hadn’t picked up too much more than we had, but totals in the 6 to 10” range seemed typical, and that was certainly enough to entice me out for some early season turns. With that in mind, this morning I decided to head up to Bolton Valley to get in a ski tour and check out the new snow. With the fairly fluffy nature of the snow and based on what we’ve seen at the house over the past couple of days, I’m sure there had been some settling since it fell, but here’s the snow depth/elevation profile of what I found from the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road up to the local summit areas:
I started my ski tour around midday, when temperatures were just edging a bit above freezing at our house down in the valley, but above 1,500’, and certainly above 2,000’, temperatures never got above freezing so the snow was all winter consistency.
In terms of the skiing, it was undoubtedly early season, and rock skis would be your best bet if you’re going on anything with substantial pitch. I actually found the skiing better on the lower half of the mountain because there was a bit of a base there – I think more of the snow down in those elevations was melting on contact with the ground to create that dense layer. Up higher, the consistency of the snow was more straight fluff from top to bottom. As is often the case, most water bars had reasonable crossings at least at one point, but a few were dicey and took some extra navigation. There’s still running water in plenty of spots, and ponding in some flat areas. On my descent it was obvious that my skis got in contact with at least traces of that moisture, because about halfway down I had to pull out a credit card and spend probably 10 minutes doing a scrape down on the ski bases to really get things back in shape for gliding.
That effort was worth it though, because for the bottom half of my run I was on Lower Turnpike, and that offered what was unquestionably the best skiing of the tour. The combination of that bit of dense snow that accumulated as some base down in those elevations, plus some skier traffic packing down areas of the new snow as well, clearly created the best subsurfaces I encountered. On top of that you’ve got the fact that Lower Turnpike is essentially all grassy terrain, and it has a pitch that isn’t really overbearing for the amount of snowpack we’ve got, and it comes together for real winning combination. Even with some skier traffic, there was still plenty of powder to play around in throughout the trail, so that was a great way to finish off my run.
For anyone heading up, you may still want to hit the summit areas to check things out and get the exercise from a more substantial tour, but if you’re just looking to get out from some quality turns, Lower Turnpike is probably going to get you the most bang for your buck. It’s one of the designated ascent routes anyway, so there’s a nice skin track and it’s an efficient way to in some nice turns on the new snow.
I just got an alert on my phone this morning that we’re under a Winter Storm Watch in association with the next system. This one looks more substantial than this past one, but we’re still a day or two out so we’ll need to watch for any final refinements to the forecast.
The first part of this storm had some mixed precipitation, so we were really in no rush to jump out on the slopes early, instead deciding to let some of the new snow build up during the day. Today’s snow here at the house was quite dense, coming in in the 10-13% H2O range based on my analyses, so while it wasn’t going to be the ultimate in fluffy powder, it certainly had the potential to further resurface the slopes.
“I did some depth checks in the trees and frequently found surface snow depths of 12 to 15 inches.”
While working today, I watched the Bolton Valley Live Webcam, and saw that the Vista Quad stopped running at some point around midday. I figured it was on wind hold, but Mid Mountain and Snowflake were still running, so we still headed up for a few lower mountain runs. The wind was certainly whipping around up there, but most of the lower mountain areas were reasonably sheltered, and the trees were especially nice because it seemed like a lot of snow had settled in there. I did some depth checks in the trees and frequently found surface snow depths of 12 to 15 inches. I’m sure some of that is from a previous storm or two, but as their afternoon report, the resort was indicating 7 inches of snow and overall there have been some healthy, dense accumulations from these past couple events. Indeed we found the new snow on the mountain to be dense as my analyses had suggested, but boy did it constitute a resurfacing of the slopes. If you were on the new snow there was no touching the subsurface, and you typically sunk into the powder just a few inches anyway because of the density.
As of about 9:30 P.M. this evening, the flakes falling have become much larger down here at the house, so the snow is getting fluffier. This drier snow on top of the dense stuff from earlier today is just what we like – the perfect right-side-up deposition for those powder turns.
You can put away the rock skis for this storm. Indeed the Northeastern U.S. has been under the influence of a double-barrel low pressure system that the weather models have been showing for more than a week, and it’s finally delivered a healthy shot of snow to the Green Mountains. With one low pressure system traveling through the eastern Great Lakes, and another up the New England coast, there was some warm air involved in this event, but the precipitation in the mountains has generally been frozen, and it’s been plentiful.
“There’s definitely a nice density gradient to give you those easy powder turns with ample protection below.”
Most of the mountain valleys even picked up some snow, but when the snow began yesterday afternoon, the eastern slopes seemed to be the areas getting the most precipitation and notable accumulations even in the valley bottoms. I was hoping to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns today, but the lower accumulations in the valleys of the western slopes had me wondering how the resort had done with respect to snowfall. They don’t have their webcam in operation yet, and they’re not making immediate snow reports, so I quickly popped up to the mountain this morning to assess the potential for turns.
Signs of leftover snow like we had at our house disappeared as I dropped down into Bolton Flats, and at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road (340’) there was no accumulation. There weren’t even any signs of white until I hit 1,000’. So I’d say that indeed, accumulating snow levels were definitely lower in elevation on the eastern slopes – snow at 1,000’ in the Bolton Valley area was about equivalent to 500’ at our house slightly east of the spine. The snow depths did eventually did go up dramatically with elevation however. I found 3 to 4 inches at the Timberline Base (1,500’) and up in the Bolton Valley Village (2,000’) there were 6 to 8 inches on the ground with heavy snowfall adding to that by the minute. The resort was clearly all set in terms of snow, so I hoped to head back up in the afternoon for a tour when I had sufficient time.
After visiting the ski swap in Waitsfield in the early afternoon, I was able to head back up to Bolton Valley in the midafternoon period to get in that ski tour. The accumulations I’d see in the Village in the morning just continue to increase as I skinned up toward the summits, and all told I found the following accumulation profile with respect to elevation:
I did get readings as high as 16” on the upper mountain, and one drifted spot with 20”, but I’d say 12-14” is a decent measure of the top end I found for depth. It seemed like there was some old snowpack up high, but I don’t think it interfered with measurements of the new snow because it should have been pretty solid by now.
Even base temperatures had dropped into the 20s F when I was up there in the midafternoon, and my thermometer was showing 19 F when I was up at the Vista Summit, so the snow wasn’t wet at all. Below ~2,500’ there was a thick layer in the snowpack that was only an issue in wind scoured areas. I’m not sure when that developed (maybe during the warmest part of the storm), but today’s additional snow sort of mitigated that, at least with the 115 mm skis I was on. Above 2,500’ it didn’t seem like that layer was even present, and turns were fantastic in midwinter snow. There’s definitely a nice density gradient to give you those easy powder turns with ample protection below. With tonight’s temperatures, the only enemy of the powder would be wind, so the good snow should be there a while for those who want get after it.
It’s been quite a while since I last used my “rock skis”. Although I’ve certainly gotten out for many early- and late-season turns over the past several seasons, I just haven’t had to worry much about conditions that were going to damage my skis. Late-season snow is dense, for the most part covering rocks where it’s present, and our early-season storms of late have generally been substantial enough that I wasn’t concerned about rocks on the terrain I was skiing. This year has been a bit different here in the Northern Greens though, and rock skis turned out to be just the right choice for today’s outing. We’ve had numerous rounds of snow in the mountains over the past couple of weeks, but none of the storms have been the type that really put down a big dump of 6 to 12 inches or more at once. New Hampshire did get a big shot of snow from the last storm that hit, but over here in the Greens we’ve just been adding an inch or two here and there. Those smaller bouts of snow have added up over the past couple of weeks though, and with the nor’easter affecting the area today, it finally seemed like it would reach that threshold of base depths to lure me out to the slopes.
“Up by the Mountain Chapel, the 3 to 4 inches of dense snow on the smooth surface of the Toll Road really produced some excellent floaty turns.”
As the nor’easter approached, snowfall at our house in Waterbury began mid-morning, and then in the midafternoon Mother Nature really turned on the spigot and we got into a period of heavy snowfall composed of big wet flakes up to 2 inches in diameter. With the heavy snow falling it seemed like as good a time as any with respect to catching any new accumulations on the slopes before any potential mixed precipitation. I was planning to take an initial look at Bolton Valley to see how the snow was up there, but the Bolton Valley Access Road still hadn’t been plowed as I started up, so I didn’t go very high before I decided it was best to turn around. There was no way I wanted to try heading all the way up to the Village above 2,000’ on an unplowed road.
In line with my plans, I next headed off to Stowe for some skiing, and I was fairly confident that the driving would be fine with the route at mostly low elevation. Indeed the driving was fine, and unlike Waterbury, the town of Stowe really hadn’t picked up any snow, so that made the drive very easy. Rain through the valley switched to mixed precipitation as I approached the base elevations of the resort at 1,500’, and I found a solid covering of 1 to 2 inches of snow on the ground at the Mansfield Base Lodge where I parked. I’d brought two pairs of skis and skins, and after surveilling the area I decided that the rock skis were the way to go for a more enjoyable descent because I wouldn’t have to work too hard trying to avoid any rocks.
I wanted some mellow, grassy slopes for my tour, so I headed up in the area of the Mountain Triple Chair toward the Stowe Mountain Chapel. The mixed precipitation that I’d found when I first arrived changed over to all snow as I began my ascent, and I really needed the hood of my coat at times due to the intensity of the precipitation. I quickly found 3 to 4 inches of snow on the grassy slopes, which is about where the depth stayed up to the Mountain Chapel at ~2,300’. Although I could have used my skins, I never really needed them because once I got up to the Crossover road I was able to simply walk in my Tele boots easily.
I really thought that the grassy slopes would offer the best skiing, but it turned out that the service roads were the best. Up by the Mountain Chapel, the 3 to 4 inches of dense snow on the smooth surface of the Toll Road really produced some excellent floaty turns. The Crossover Road isn’t nearly as smooth, and the snow depths did drop a bit on the descent, so nothing compared to the turns up on the Toll Road. On the grassy slopes, the depth of the cut grass relative to the few inches of snow, combined with my fairly skinny rock Tele skis, made turns much more challenging. I was low enough down in the grass that there was substantial resistance to making any short-radius turns.
The snowfall had let up for the most part by the time I’d descended back to the base, but the weather show wasn’t quite over. I got to see some plowing of the parking lot, and the slushy snow was so wet that it was almost as if the plow was simply plowing water! This was the 4th storm with accumulating snow at our house this October, and based on my count, it was the 6th storm with snow for the mountains, so we’ve really had quite a run. It might not be the last of our October snow though; we may get a couple of chances through midweek before we get into a slightly warmer pattern heading into November.
There’s apparently a Nor’easter brewing for this weekend, although there’s not a ton of cold air around for the system to use, so the current forecast suggest snow will only be up near the summit elevations and fairly limited in amount.
“…once the snow showers got started in the morning, they literally kept going all day with that classic upslope flow from the northwest..”
This event was the second accumulating one at our house this month, and the fourth one for the mountains. Looking ahead, there seems to be some potential for snow in the midweek timeframe, and then again out toward the weekend.