The boys and I had a field trip this morning, but we were done with enough time left to make it to Bolton Valley for a short photo session with some of the resort staff. Indeed today was a great one for ski photography – there was plenty of snow from Winter Storm Stella, clear blue skies, and temperatures in the upper 20s F.
We met Josh at his office, and he let us know that we’d be working with Tucker and Kyler today. The plan was to get some shots over at Wilderness with the afternoon views, and we started with some scenic photos from the deck of the Wilderness Summit Ski Patrol Hut. After the photos, we still needed to wait for another family to arrive up top, so the boys promptly decided to make use of the deep powder sitting just below the deck by launching themselves into it. Some of the folks coming up on the lift felt that it looked like so much fun that they joined in as well. By the time everyone was together it was just about time to shut down the Wilderness Lift, and we watched as they put the “Last Chair” sign in place.
Our photo session took place on Peggy Dow’s and the Wilderness Lift Line, and the guys generally did shots of trios of skiers with background scenery. Once we were done I asked the boys if they wanted to take any more runs, but they said they were good based on the anticipation of skiing more over the coming weekend. Hopefully we’ll have the time this weekend to get the whole family out together for some turns in all the great snow.
It started snowing last night on the front end of our current storm system, and although we only had about a half inch of snow here at the house, the mountains picked up a good 3 to 4 inches containing some real substance. I hadn’t prepared much of our gear ahead of time since I was unsure whether or not this storm was going to deliver, but everyone got up and rolling pretty quickly once we’d made the decision to hit the mountain. I checked the Bolton Valley website for the latest on the lifts and trails, and our timing was looking good because lifts didn’t start running until 9:00 A.M. It really feels like it’s a holiday today because we’re so close to Christmas and school is out for E and the boys, but at for the resort it was just a standard midweek day. We don’t get to ski a lot of those though, so we were excited for that.
Precipitation had been a light mix of snow and rain, but it had generally tapered off by the time we arrived up at the Bolton Valley Village. I dropped E and the boys off at the Village circle and was able to easily grab a parking spot right in the top lot because there were only a couple dozen cars in total. Apparently today really was just another midweek day. I met E and the boys near the back of the base lodge and we headed up to Vista for a run.
As we rode the lift you could immediately see that the resort had been plastered with snow overnight. The evergreens had a fresh coat of white that added yet another layer on top of all the rime and snow they already held, the groomed slopes looked great, and even the off piste was supplying quiet turns. It wasn’t until we got near Spillway that we could hear skiers contacting the subsurface, so we knew that the new snow wasn’t quite enough to support bottomless turns on the steepest pitches. Temperatures were comfortable at just a few degrees below freezing, but there was a stiff wind as we got into the higher elevations.
I’d read that Schuss was the run of the day, so for our first run we headed down Alta Vista to make our way toward Schuss. There was a bit of scouring at the very top of Alta Vista, but below that the groomed snow was excellent. Of to the skier’s left we found several inches of fresh powder, with as much as a foot in some spots. We’d been prepared to just take a run or two if the conditions weren’t that great, but it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen; the conditions were simply fantastic. Down on Schuss we did come in contact with the base in some spots since it’s quite a steep trail, but fresh snow was plentiful as there was only a track or two or two before we got there. On the lower mountain we caught Bull run to Moose Run to Glades, and the trails were either totally untracked or had a track or two on them. Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s what those midweek days are like. As we hit the last hundred or so feet of vertical above the base lodge, you could really feel the snow starting to get a bit wet, so the freezing level must have been rising.
On our next ride up the Vista Quad, Dylan proposed that we each take turns picking a route to ski, so Ty went next. He followed up with another trip down Alta Vista, taking us through the lower parts of Vista Glades, and then finally over to Fanny Hill. We really got to rip up the powder there along the skier’s right, dodging in and out of the trees. I stuck with Ty in that powder right along the edge, and by the bottom of the run my legs were definitely getting cooked from Telemark turns.
Dylan’s run choice was next, and he stuck with an Alta Vista start, eventually brining us to Sleepy Hollow. He’d wanted to get in there on our first run, but now that everyone was warmed up, we were ready to rip through those trees. If anyone had been in there up to that point, they must have been few and far between, because it looked like the whole glade was untracked. I directed the group to some lines I know off to the left, and some seriously good turns were had by all. There was no problem with the new snow keeping us off the base on those pitches. Kudos go out to Dylan for a great run choice.
The fourth run was E’s selection, and she really didn’t have much of a preference aside from visiting the Glades run again; she’d really started to connect with her Tele turns there and wanted to get more of that type of terrain. So, for the upper mountain we dropped into Show Off, and we got images of the boys skiing around the rock with the big smiley face on it. On the upper half of Snow Off, the pitch was steep enough that we were making contact with the base snow, but on the bottom half of the run, the pitch had mellowed just enough to let us float through our turns quite well. Glades was nice and still held plenty of untracked snow, although the snow on the bottom half was starting to get a bit wet as the freezing level seemed to have risen.
It was approaching midday after that run and we broke for lunch at the James Moore Tavern next. The bar was hopping, but there were only a few tables with people at them. I had their grilled tuna sandwich, which was nicely done, although I’d probably opt out of the Dijon mustard-style sauce next time since it’s not one of my favorite flavors. Dylan got the homemade macaroni and cheese, and in his case he definitely had to get it with the optional bacon. I tried some and it was really good… and really rich. We had enough extra that I even had to run leftovers down to the car.
We decided to take a final run after lunch to see how the Wilderness area was doing. We took the Vista route over, but were surprised to see that the Wilderness lift was actually running. That meant that the terrain wasn’t quite as untracked as it might have been with just Vista access, but there was we caught some good lines on Work Road and in Wilderness Woods. The freezing line had continued to creep upward though, so the quality of turns in the lowest elevations had dropped a bit more.
There’s no doubt that the morning offered the best turns of the day today, and that was the time to be out because they were really good. Temperatures are going to be warm with this system for the next couple of day before they cool down, so some snow will be required at the point to get surfaces back to something soft. There are some chances for snow though over the next week, so we’ll see what falls.
‘Tis the season for being very busy around our house, but the boys and I did find a bit of time to head up to the mountain this afternoon to see what Winter Storm Damon had done for the slopes. We’ve had some periods of sun this weekend, such as the ones we experienced at Stowe yesterday, but temperatures have been staying generally at or below freezing in the mountains to keep the recent snow in midwinter form. So, we anticipated finding some great conditions today on the slopes of Bolton Valley, which thanks to winter storm Damon, has most of its terrain open on the main mountain. A couple feet of dense snow can do that.
“With 2 to 2 ½ feet of dense snow, the ascent was easily twice as hard as it would have been on skins.”
Low clouds hung over the upper half of the mountain as we rode that Vista Quad, and being well into the afternoon, the mountain was really starting to quiet down. The overall feel at the resort was exactly in line with one of those dark December days; the base was plentiful, the snow surfaces were well preserved, and the low clouds seemed to lock in an intimate feeling across the mountain. It’s the holiday season before the commotion of the main holiday week, and with the current amount of terrain and quality of snow surfaces available, it’s a great time to be skiing the resorts around here in Northern Vermont.
The coverage and snow quality was saw from the lift looked simply outstanding, even on the steep trails of the upper mountain, so the boys and I jumped right onto Hard Luck to test out the snow with some real pitch. All you can say is that Damon set down a really solid resurfacing – there’s just a lot of deep, dense snow out there. You can just carve the surface snow away and be confident that there’s simply more of that below. The only real downside that I’ve seen from the storm was that the powder skiing hasn’t been quite up to the quality we typically get around here with lighter snow. The rounds of fluffy snow at the end of the storm cycle weren’t quite substantial enough to keep you off of the denser snow below, so you’re still getting into that thicker stuff, and of course it doesn’t ski like champagne powder. Still, I don’t think I’d trade this recent storm for fluffier powder; it was just too perfect for setting up the core of this season’s base snow.
The powder was still skiing reasonably well for being rather dense, so we headed over to Wilderness on our next run to get into some untracked snow. Although we were only skiing in the top few inches of the snow, untracked areas were silky smooth and a lot of fun. It was enough fun that when I asked the boys if they wanted more, I was hit with a resounding, “Yes!”
With that in mind we set off on the next run for the summit of Wilderness. There was a skin track in place for the ascent, and a bit of a boot track that comingled with the skin track in places, but that boot pack wasn’t very well established. Since we hadn’t brought our skins, that meant we had to go the boot pack route, which was a real slog at times. The rudimentary boot pack that was in place helped us some, but it contained plenty of post holes that required extra effort to climb out of, and then there were times when I’d post hole my way into the snow unexpectedly, which is always a big waste of energy. With 2 to 2 ½ feet of dense snow, the ascent was easily twice as hard as it would have been on skins. I made sure to explain to the boys that this was the perfect example of why you want to skin up the mountain whenever possible vs. trying to walk in your boots.
After a brief break at the summit, we descended via Bolton Outlaw in the gathering dusk. The powder was dense like we’d experienced elsewhere, but there were plenty of good turns to be had. This is where the boys would have profited from having their powder skis, but they were on their regular carving alpines based on the fact that we’d planned on mostly on piste skiing. Dylan had a couple of prereleases that send him crashing into the powder, and I’m sure the skinnier nature of the skis wasn’t helping the matter. But some good turns were had by all, despite the fact that it was really dark and foggy as we descended the lower half of the mountain.
I had to head off to a Christmas party once we got home, so I’d actually tried to call in a pizza order from Fireside Flatbread for E and the boys when I was up on the Wilderness Summit. I didn’t have a great signal, but it didn’t matter… unfortunately they don’t open until Friday. I ordered instead from Zachary’s in town, but it meant we had to go a couple miles past the house. The James Moore Tavern seemed to be running at full steam tonight though, so that’s currently an option for those seeking après ski fare.
On the weather front, it looks like we’ve got a weak system coming through in the midweek period, and the models show the potential for another storm toward the end of next weekend, but that’s a long way out so we’ll have to see what develops with that one over the next several days.
Last night a storm began to affect the Northeast, and it was very similar to the type of storm we had Wednesday. Snow was anticipated on the front end, with some mixed precipitation in the middle, and then more snow on the back end. This time however, we remained on the cold side of the storm for the entire time, so there was little if any mixed precipitation among the snow. It snowed lightly all day today at the house in Waterbury, and later in the afternoon we headed up to Bolton Valley to see what the storm had done and hopefully make some turns. Everybody in the family was able to go today, so that meant E would get her first turns of the season. We were also thinking of picking up our season’s passes, but we were heading out a bit too late to really have a chance at that.
Temperatures down in the Winooski Valley were a few degrees above freezing, but it was right around the freezing mark up in the Bolton Valley Village at 2,100′ and there was some very light snow still falling. After gearing up at the base of Wilderness, E began to lead the ascent, and hopped onto a track taking her up Lower Fanny Hill. I was actually thinking we’d take our usual route up Lower Turnpike, but E’s selection gave us the perfect opportunity to mix it up a bit. We began the ascent with 3-4″ of powder above just a bit of old base at the elevation of the Village. The snow had some heft to it, so I suspected that it would do a decent job of keeping us from touching down too much, especially with some help from our fat skis. We continued on up Fanny Hill, and the depth of the snow increased pretty quickly. By 2,500′ the depth was about 5-6″, and when we finally called the ascent at around 2,700′ on Lower Crossover due to fading light, the powder was roughly 8″ deep. I’d say that snow depth is actually due to the past couple of storms combined, but the weather has been cool enough in the past few days to keep all the snow in good shape.
For the descent we started off down Work Road, finding some excellent turns in the dense, but fairly dry snow. We would occasionally hit a rock here and there, but really that was in those windswept spots like the junction with the Wilderness Lift Line that just didn’t have the snow depth. Keeping to the well-covered portions of the trails yielded some excellent turns, and after dealing with the wet snow last Saturday, Ty definitely enjoyed the chance to try out his new Telemark gear on this higher quality powder. He was looking extremely confident and comfortable with his Telemark turns, and even Dylan was making some excellent turns. They both made sure to work on those turns on their weak sides to keep improving them. E said that she had some great turns, but did take it easy at times with some alpine turns in tricky spots just to make sure she didn’t stress her back; it had been giving her trouble last week and she didn’t want to go back to that state. For the last 200-300 vertical feet of the descent, the snow was starting to get a bit wet and wasn’t offering quite the same quality of turns as higher up, but it was still quite decent and much drier than what Ty and I skied last weekend. The biggest challenge during the descent was the fading light and the fact that some fog had just come in. The fog at dusk made for a surreal experience, especially was we arrived back down to the lights of the Village. There had been enough snow and minimal plowing that E felt we could ski right back to the car in the parking lot, and she was right. Cars were actually having trouble getting around the Village due to the new snow and minimal plowing. It was a great day to finally get the whole family out skiing together, and due to the good conditions and snow making temperatures, the mountain is actually planning to open on Friday, which is ahead of schedule.
It’s been two weeks since I was last out on the slopes, because there hasn’t been much to draw me out in the interim. We finally got a small snowstorm on Wednesday though, and with another few inches of snow at the mountain overnight into this morning, it seemed like it was time to check out how the powder was building up. Actually, the potential exists for a few more inches of snow tonight with the passage of an arctic frontal boundary, so my real goal was to make a reconnaissance run to see how the snow might be set up for tomorrow. If things come together to offer up some quality turns, it could be time to entice E and the boys up to the hill.
“The snow wasn’t overly deep with just 4 to 5 inches, but the pitches fit that depth quite well, the turns were mostly bottomless on the fat skis, and it was some damn fine powder skiing.”
After hanging out at home and watching some of the AFC Championship game featuring the Patriots, it was almost 4:00 P.M. before I got headed up to Bolton Valley. I knew that it was going to be getting toward dusk by the time I got on the snow, but I also knew that it would be quite peaceful, and I’ve really been enjoying these tours that I get to finish off while descending to the lights of the Village. Comfortable temperatures in the upper 20s F down at the house in Waterbury, gave way to somewhat chillier temperatures and snowfall as I ascended the Bolton Valley Access Road. Our little system from earlier today had dropped a couple inches at the house, and 2 to 3 up at Bolton, but there had been a snowfall lull during the middle of the day. As evening approached however, snow associated with the upcoming frontal passage was making its presence felt, and as usual, it was starting in the higher elevations. The intensity of the snow increased as I ascended, and the road began to take on a light accumulation of snow at ~1,200’. With no night skiing going on tonight, numerous cars inched their way down the road as they finished off their ski day. I made a brief stop at the Timberline Base to check on the snow situation at 1,500’, and indeed as expected, I found that the snowpack is still a bit too lean down at that elevation to be supporting comfortable skiing without rock skis or junkboards. There was only 1 to 2 inches of powder down at the base lodge, and that was on top of a fairly thin base. The snowpack was much improved up in the Village at 2,100’ though, where there was a decent base of several inches, and a consistent 4 inches of powder.
I geared up and began my ascent of Turnpike, watching three snowboarders ahead of me that appeared to have similar thoughts. In a couple of minutes however, they stopped along the trail just after the junction of Turnpike and Wilderness Lift Line, cracked open some beers, and kicked back in the snow. Good times. We exchanged greetings as I passed, tossing around comments on the joys of the new snow, and I continued upward. There was a nice skin track at times, although it did get disrupted as ski tracks merged and diverged from it, or the end of the occasional deeper water bar forced it away from the trail’s edge. Steady light snowfall continued, and an occasional gust of wind worked its way into the protected confines of the trial.
Being a trial run, and paying some respect to the growing darkness, a decided to stop at the connector between Turnpike and the Wilderness Lift Line around 2,500’. The depth of the powder had increased just a bit by that point, and measurements were in the 4 to 5-inch range. There was some untracked snow still remaining on Turnpike, but despite being a bit more exposed to winds, the Wilderness Lift Line had seen a lot less traffic and seemed like the way to go for fresh tracks. There were some tracked areas off to the left and right, but excellent lanes of powder showed themselves near the middle of the trail, even in the darkened view allowed by my goggles. The turns, as I’d later describe them to E, were what I’d call “par for the course” for that area over the past few weeks. The snow wasn’t overly deep with just 4 to 5 inches, but the pitches fit that depth quite well, the turns were mostly bottomless on the fat skis, and it was some damn fine powder skiing. The only complaint would be that the snow was a little cold and slow in spots, so maybe an extra coat of wax would be in order if we try something similar tomorrow.
There were no signs of the snowboarders by the time I reached the bottom of my run, but the Village was abuzz with lights, and televisions that were probably set to the Patriots game. I stopped in for a few minutes at the big screen set up next to Fireside Flatbread in the lodge, and it wasn’t looking good for the Patriots – the Broncos were up 20 to 3. Outside, the snow had redoubled its efforts, and was coming down at a moderate pace. I had to take some time to wipe the snow off the car, as there was a good coating on the leeward sides. Snowfall that was initially more minimal down here at the house has picked up as the evening has progressed, so we’ll have to see where things stand tomorrow with the new snow. Winter, and fortunately powder skiing, is certainly back after its earlier hiatus.
The ski tour we took yesterday was certainly considered a success, since both E and Ty were saying positive things today, and Ty was expressing to Dylan that he missed out on some fun. With the prospects for a little more snow today from a passing Alberta Clipper, I figured another visit to the mountain was in order, and I decided to make it at the end of the day once the new snow had started to accumulate and top off the powder. I couldn’t quite convince anyone else to come with me since they were having too much fun sledding or doing other stuff, so it was another solo outing.
I wasn’t exactly sure when the snow was supposed to start, but eventually it looked like I was going to run out of light, so around 3:00 P.M. I finally headed out. Fortunately, flakes had just started falling in the valley, so I knew the snow would already be well underway up on the hill. Up at Bolton Valley, the temperature in the Village at 2,100’ was 30 F and a steady light snow was coming down. The flakes weren’t huge, but it was accumulating on my equipment quickly enough that gear left out took on a coating within a minute or two.
“Fanny Hill ultimately lost out to Work Road because the snow was just too good – 6 to 8 inches of fluff and hardly a track.”
After using Turnpike for the past couple of ascents, and seeing that skier traffic there had been decent, I decided to go for an alternative ascent route up through the Fanny Hill area. It would give me a chance to check out the skiing in that area, and still head over toward the Wilderness Lift Line if I didn’t find anything that seemed to top what we skied yesterday. My first interesting sight was right as I was starting my ascent on Lower Fanny Hill – on one of the small cross trails there was a group of folks hanging out in a protected nook in the trees, just sitting in a circle of chairs and chatting. I suspect they were from the Liftline Condos that were just beyond. There was no wind, so with the light snow falling and temperatures around 30 F, it was indeed a fun time to be outside; it just seemed like a fitting thing to be doing on a dark Sunday afternoon in December.
Upon reaching Fanny Hill, the snow looked good, so I decided to continue my ascent there and explore the surfaces further. In general there were the same several inches of powder above the base snow that we’d encountered on the Wilderness Lift Lineyesterday, and only when I got into the steeper sections of terrain near the top did the pitch seem to be too much for the snowpack. In a nice undisturbed spot along the edge of the trail at 2,600’, I was able to check the full snowpack at that elevation, and that came in at 13”. I’d say that consisted of a 6” base, and the rest was powder on top
I continued up toward Upper Fanny Hill, generally staying away from the Sherman’s Pass area where I could hear the snow guns running. Those higher trails like Coyote, Work Road, Lower Crossover, and Swing, held deeper snow and had seen much less traffic. They were definitely going to be on my descent route. I stopped my ascent around 2,900’ on Upper Fanny Hill just before the steepest pitches, because I could see that they were somewhat windswept and just didn’t have the coverage they needed yet.
I played it by ear on the descent, just watching for those trails with deep snow that had seen minimal traffic. Fanny Hill ultimately lost out to Work Road because the snow was just too good – 6 to 8 inches of fluff and hardly a track. That brought me over to the Wilderness Lift Line, and since we’d skied the skier’s right yesterday, I took the skier’s left today and found the same type of good snow. I’m sure Fanny Hill would have been fine as well, but after committing to Work Road I went where gravity took me. The rest of the descent back to the Village was just like yesterday, good soft snow, so no complaints.
It was getting pretty dark when I was leaving, but the group of folks was still hanging out in their little alcove in the trees – it was a good spot. As I made my way along some of the Liftline Condos, I saw a woman pushing something along through the snow – she made her way through some of the deeper snow around the back of the condos, and then was out of view for a bit before she got onto the street and I could get a picture I didn’t know if it was a stroller, or just some other sort of vehicle for moving things, but whatever the case, the fact that it was on skis was intriguing. Clearly it seemed to be somebody who knows the Bolton Valley environment.
It snowed all the way down to the valley when I was heading back to the house around 5:00 P.M., and the temperatures had fallen below the freezing mark even at the bottom of the access road down at 340’. It looks like the next opportunities for snow are some light stuff in the early week, and then a frontal system later in the week.
For the valleys in Northern Vermont, our first big winter storm of the season hit the area this week, and it created some potential holiday travel woes because of its occurrence so close to Thanksgiving. The storm was essentially complete by the time we traveled on Thanksgiving Day, but with 8.2 inches of snow, and 1.62 inches of liquid equivalent, it had certainly bolstered the snowpack in the yard and changed the look of the landscape. While the storm did have some mixed precipitation and rain in the middle, it was quite a nice gain in snow for the mountains, with some of the ski areas in the Northern Greens picking up more than foot of snow. And, as is often the case, the final volley from the storm consisted of a good shot of dry powder that sat well atop some newly added dense base to create some great Thanksgiving Day skiing.
With our holiday traveling done, we finally had the chance to get out today and sample some of the new snow. Dylan was away at a friend’s house, but E, Ty, and I headed up to Bolton Valley to earn some turns. They had reported 9 inches of new snow for Thanksgiving morning, and as we headed up to the Village, we stopped in at the base of Timberline at 1,500’ to check on how the snow had settled in down at that elevation. The depth of the powder was 3 to 4 inches over a good base, and we could see that there had been plenty of ski activity on Timberline’s slopes. Continuing on up to the Village at 2,100’, we found that the snow had increased to 4 to 6 inches in depth.
“The powder skiing was every bit as good as what I’d experienced on Sunday…”
Having experienced some good snow on Turnpike on Sunday, I figured that we would check that out again today. Of course, with it being two to three days since the snow fell, plenty of skiers and snowboarders had been out on the trail, a lot more than the single track I’d seen on my last trip. We were treated to a nice skin track, but most of the powder was tracked out, so we definitely kept our eyes open on the ascent for lesser used options. We ran into Cam at the top of Lower Turnpike, and chatted about the mountain’s opening in a couple of weeks. If we can stick with the current weather pattern, things are looking quite good.
Like I’d done on Sunday, we stopped our ascent around 2,900’ on Turnpike since the terrain above that level was rather windswept, but snow depths had increased to roughly 6 to 8 inches, and combined with the base, there was easily over a foot of snow sitting there in many places. On the ascent I’d looked at the snow on Cougar and the Wilderness Lift Line, and I’d seen only a couple of tracks, so we worked those into our descent. The powder skiing was every bit as good as what I’d experienced on Sunday, and I was glad that we found plenty of untracked snow for Ty and E. Ty was putting together some great turns on his Teles, and I think his skiing was helped by the fact that he was in high spirits. E had her first chance to get on her Element skis with her new Telemark boots, and she definitely felt a big increase in control that she’d previously lacked with on her fat skis with her old boots.
Today was a great, mellow outing, just like you’d expect pre-season at Bolton Valley. Along with Cam, we saw a couple other pairs of skiers, and they all appeared to be experiencing that same vibe. We’ve actually got our next small storm coming through tonight, and it’s supposed to persist into tomorrow, so perhaps we’ll get a freshening of the powder that will set things up for more turns. It’s been a great November of skiing around here, and now it’s on to December – let’s hope it can follow suit.