Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry, VT 18JAN2015

An image of Erica passing a sign indicating the Gotham City area of the Backcountry Ski Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A picture of Jay skiing the Sasquash glade on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Trying to get to some of that Bolton Valley backcountry powder today before temperatures warmed up too much.

The boys both ended up staying over at the Handler’s house last night, and we wouldn’t be picking them up until the Warren Miller ski movie (No Turning Back) in Stowe this evening, so that gave E and I a chance to get out for a bit of skiing together today. I got a really good sampling of the snow and glade conditions on my solo ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network yesterday, and I found some spots that I thought E would really like, so I planned on a mini tour that would let us focus on just those glades. The Gotham City area and the glades below that looked like a very good option; based on the pitch, tree spacing, and depth and consistency of the powder, it felt like a good fit for E’s off piste Telemark skills.

Temperatures were rising today ahead of our next incoming winter storm, and they were right around the freezing mark when we arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village at midday. The resort was absolutely packed with the cars of visitors; now that the temperatures were nice and comfortable, presumably everyone was making their holiday trips to the slopes. The Village lots were actually all full and they were parking people down at Timberline, but since we’d be visiting the Nordic side of the resort, we figured we’d be able to find something down by the Nordic Center. Even down there it took some creative parking to get a spot, but we managed one in the lowest tier of the main area.

We walked over to the tennis court area, strapped on our skis and began following a short skin track that others had made that quickly merged onto Broadway. From there it was up to the Bryant trail, where we stopped at the highest junction with World Cup to drop some layers and open some vents. We continued on Bryant up to the 2,400′ elevation, where we cut off over toward Coyote. There’s a skin track leading right up into Gotham City that I’d seen yesterday, and my estimates were that an elevation of ~2,400′ was just about right for getting there. Indeed we quickly found the skin track off Coyote, and it was just another few minutes up to Gotham City. They even have a sign now that welcomes you to the area. I’m not sure when it was, but at some point today I realized that Gotham City must of course be name after Ann Gotham of Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry. I’d initially thought that the name referred somehow to the Gotham City of Batman fame, but the link to Ann seems so obvious now.

A map of the Nordic and backcountry terrain network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A map of Bolton Valley’s Nordic and Backcountry Network with more than two dozen glades listed.

We stopped our ascent in the middle of Gotham City to switch over for descending, and we were treated to sunshine peeking in and out from behind clouds as we enjoyed the mild air and snowy scene. We had some soup and hot chocolate, but they almost seemed out of place with the relatively mild weather. Despite the rising temperatures, the powder had appeared to hold up pretty well in areas we’d checked during our ascent, but we soon noticed that it was starting to stick to our skis in sunny areas. We knew we’d better get a move on lest the powder turn to mush on us.

We headed down by skiing a combination of Girls and Sasquash, and fortunately the powder was still decent in the more shaded areas. It was starting to turn in sunnier areas though, and when we got into some of the lower elevation glades below World Cup, it was definitely past its prime. Fortunately we’ve got a winter storm on the way this evening, with Winter Storm Warnings up for the Northern Greens. A good storm will make quick work of any adulterations to the powder in those lower elevations.

In any event, we got some good turns, hit four different glades in that short tour, and finished off on the Telemark Practice Slope. I bet one could easily do that tour in under an hour if they got right to it and didn’t pause to do other things. An efficient route for access might be just to go up Coyote, although I’m not sure if the skinning there would be quite as easy as on Bryant since it’s not used as much. We’ll definitely get back there with E, and hopefully the boys with even better snow, but it’s a great little tour that hits some beautiful ski terrain.

A map of a ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry ski network in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network plotted on Google Earth

An image of the window sign for Bender's Burritos in Stowe Vermont taken from the insideThis evening we met up with the Handler’s and the boys at Bender’s Burritos on the Mountain Road in Stowe. Our family has been a few times now since Ty really likes burritos, but apparently it was a first visit for everyone but Jeff in his family. It’s a small place that seats maybe a dozen people, and we were worried that it might be packed with holiday visitors, but we essentially had it to ourselves. A memorable part of the experience was watching the end of the Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game, in which the Packers seemed to have it all locked up with just a little time to go, but the Seahawks made a ridiculous comeback to win the game. At one point the Bender’s staff was all out front at the counter, eyes riveted to the screen as they watched the dramatic conclusion of the game. Of most importance of course was the fact that the winner of the game could potential be playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I think everyone had a great meal – I got a fish burrito as I often do, going with the cod this time.

“An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up…”

The next phase of the evening was to head up to the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center at the resort to watch the latest Warren Miller ski movie, No Turning Back. We usually catch it in the fall at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, but we didn’t get a chance this year. It was just sort of luck when I found that it was playing at Spruce Peak because I was getting some links for another ski trip report. When Jeff found out about the movie, that set things in motion and he got us all tickets. I believe this showing of the movie is one of those put on by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, and it’s very unlike the Flynn Theater experience. Whereas that’s a real raucous affair filled with hundreds and hundreds of people, this was a much mellower time, with about a couple dozen of us in the entire theatre. They do have the intermission, but the only prize drawing is for the grand prize opportunity to win a ski trip. Another cool aspect of this showing was that they have free snacks and drinks for everyone – at intermission you just pop out into the lobby and grab your complimentary food. The movie was great, with a lot of depth in each feature as opposed to just the skiing. An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up; it’s worth a little more description as I wrap up this report.

Indeed the thing of greatest importance in the world of Vermont skiing this evening was the weather. This current storm has been potentially dicey in the Northeast, with areas off to the east of the Greens likely to see a lot of rain. But, here in Northern Vermont we’ve been in the game for a good shot of snow, and as of this evening it looks like that might be coming to fruition. When we left the house around 5:00 P.M. there wasn’t much going on, but we got into some light rain in the valley during the trip northward. While we were at Bender’s Burritos on the mountain road (elevation 750′), there was a little light rain, and when we left there around 6:30 P.M. the rain had picked up – it was actually freezing on some ground surfaces, but it was spotty so it must have only been those that were very cold. Upon heading up to the mountain to watch the movie, snow mixed in at roughly 1,200′ elevation. At the Spruce Peak Village (1,500′) the precipitation was all snow, and it was starting to come down at a really healthy clip. At intermission during the movie we could see that the snow was really picking up, and when we were leaving around 9:00 P.M. we were getting a real shellacking of dense snow; there was a good inch or so already down. It was snow all the way back to the house at that point, and a very isothermal 33 F on the car thermometer the entire trip. Here in Waterbury at 500′ I measured 1.2″ of snow as of 11:00 P.M. this evening and I’m planning to do a liquid analysis at midnight. Things are looking good for a day on the slopes tomorrow though.

Stowe, VT 10FEB2013

An image of Ty skiing in soft snow in the Meadows area at Stowe Mountain Resort in vermont
Ripping it up on Spruce Peak today

Today was a continuation of riding Nemo’s bounty, and we got to check out how things went down at Stowe.  Like most of the Vermont ski areas, Stowe fell in that 1 to 1 ½ foot range for storm accumulation, reporting 14 inches from the event.  Yesterday’s cold had also cleared out today, with the forecast calling for sunshine and temperatures in the 20s F.

We kicked things off before program started, with a warm up run off the Sunny Spruce Quad.  Conditions last Sunday were certainly decent, but it was easy to see that they’d taken a significant step upward today.  On piste, the snow from Nemo had been worked into the groomed surfaces to make them quite soft, and off piste there was a good foot of fairly fresh powder everywhere.  The boys requested a descent along the Sunny Spruce lift line on Lower Smuggler’s and it was some fine cruising.  We had time for a second quick run since people were still assembling, so we checked out Nastar Hill and the open terrain above Meadows.  When we’d initially arrived at the resort today I hadn’t seen many tracks up in that area, so I figured it might be crusty or tough to ski, but it was anything but tough.  It was partially skier-packed snow that was gloriously soft.  After ripping his way down that face Ty proclaimed, presumably with some hyperbole, that it was his “best run ever”.  I get where he was going with that though, in that it was almost effortless.  That’s low elevation, south-facing terrain, and the conditions were extremely impressive.  After experiencing that, and having skied west-facing terrain at similar elevations at Bolton Valley yesterday, I’d say that Stowe currently has the edge in terms of conditions.

An image of Ty sitting in the powder in the Nosedive Glades at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Kickin’ back in the Nosedive Glades

We finally met up with Ken and Jack and made our way over to Mt. Mansfield.  With the new snow that has fallen thanks to Nemo, I decided that a Kitchen Wall run was in order, and the boys were fired up for that.  The snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake has jumped to 55 inches with the addition of the recent snow, so that’s getting it up not too far below average.  The Kitchen Wall traverse is in decent shape, although certainly not as soft and filled in as it could be.  The snow in there was nice, with plenty of areas of untracked powder remaining if you were willing to poke around.  Down below we found Nosedive a bit firm in the middle at times due to the manmade snow, but the edges were great and we worked those all the way back down to the Gondola.

“It was partially
skier-packed snow
that was gloriously
soft.”

Another big plan for the day was to bring the boys out to the Bench Woods, since only Dylan has been in there with me.  The first chutes bypassing Upper Gondolier were simply heinous – they’re cut overly tight for their very steep pitch to begin with, and with the traffic that has been in there, the coverage is worn down way too low.  Another couple feet of base are needed in there to make them respectable.  Even before we went in, I told the boys that I usually skip those chutes because they hardly ever ski well, but I wanted them to at least experience what they were like.  Well, one trip was enough for them to realize why those chutes just aren’t that great.  Down in the Bench Woods the powder was actually quite plentiful.  Ken and I had a blast gliding our way down the center of a small streambed that just kept going and going.  Luke and Jack definitely struggled in there though, since there are a lot of saplings that make many lines feel tight, and they don’t have a ton of experience in that terrain.  Ty and Dylan handled it well, although they did get a bit bored waiting for the other boys if they were getting stuck in the powder or having trouble navigating.  It’s a long run as it is, but between the struggles and boredom, Ken and I were probably the only ones really having an all out blast.  However, we had a lot of good teaching moments dealing with the nuances of skiing that sort of terrain.  The past couple of times I’ve been in there, it’s seemed like there’s a lot more underbrush compared to what I remember back in the 90s – I just think the whole place needs a good pruning and it will ski many, many times better.

An image of Luke having a snack in the Midway Lodge at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in VermontComing back out of the Bench Woods felt like a never ending saga for the boys, so when we finally arrived, I decided that they’d earned a good snack break in the Midway Lodge, just like Dylan and I had done that last time we’d skied in there.  And, just like Dylan and I had done, we kicked back near the Fireplace in the near solitude of Midway in the late afternoon.  For a snack I grabbed what looked like some maple granola made by Mitzi’s, a local Stowe company also known as Fresh Mountain Foods.  That granola is fantastic, and when I shared it around among the group everyone was impressed.  I suspect they carry it in other parts of the resort, but it’s going to be an excuse to get me back to the Midway Lodge.

“Ken and I had a blast
gliding our way down
the center of a small
streambed that just
kept going and going.”

After the extended break to recover from our Bench Woods adventure, we had time for one more run.  We decided to keep it simple due to the late hour, so we just did a Perry Merrill to Gondolier run.  The snow was again quite good, and excellent along the edges.  About halfway down I heard the boys yelling about something they could see off in the distance, and the best we could tell, since it was way down in the base area, it looked like a car was on fire.  Black smoke was billowing hundreds of feet in the air, but it was hard to imagine that it could actually be a car on fire.  We rushed down to the base, and low and behold there was indeed an SUV on fire.  It was the weirdest thing, and not something you’d expect to see at the base of a ski resort (or I guess most places for that matter).  I’m not sure what caused it, but perhaps we’ll hear about it in the paper.

An image of a burning SUV in the Midway parking lot at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
Strange sight in the Midway parking lot

The boys wanted to hang around for some food, so we had a mellow meal by one of the south windows in the mostly deserted Great Room Grill.  Claire is off to Africa for a couple of weeks, so she and Luke weren’t there, and Jack and his family were with some other folks over by the Spruce Camp Bar.  Jack and the boys played some sort of hide and go seek around the lodge though, and kept themselves amused until we finally had to reel them in.  At least E got them to eat most of their food – they often forget to eat and then they want more food when we get home.

We’ve got another winter storm coming into the area tomorrow.  It’s a low pressure system that will be working in nearly overhead out of the Midwest, and in The Weather Channel naming scheme this one is called “Orko”.  Down here in the valley it sounds like we’ll have a bit of rain with snow on the front and back ends of the storm, but it sounds like the higher elevations are going to be mostly snow with perhaps a little sleet.  You folks better get your space heaters in order, no one wants frozen toes. The current forecast calls for 5 to 9 inches in the Mt. Mansfield area, although the models are showing some good potential for upslope snow on the back side lingering into Tuesday night, so totals could ultimately be higher than that if the upslope really kicks in.

Bolton Valley, VT 09FEB2013

An image of Ty skiing waist deeppowder in the KP Glades at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont thanks to winter storm Nemo
Ty, finding Nemo quite rewarding today.

Winter storm “Nemo” dropped up to 40 inches of snow on parts of Southern New England, and the effects were much less dramatic up here in Northern Vermont, but we did pick up over a foot of snow at the house, and Bolton Valley’s snow report came in at 14 inches this morning.  Being far enough away from the core of the storm, winds weren’t a big problem, but the forecast called for fairly cold temperatures with a high of around 10 F in the mountains.  Today’s skiing held a little too much potential to let a bit of cold get in the way though, so we brought along some hand and foot warmers for the boys, and headed up to Timberline.

“As for the skiing, it was
a decent day with plenty
of powder, but certainly
nothing epic.”

Today was actually the first time this season that we had a chance to get in a Timberline-based day, and there was a surprising amount of activity at the base area when we arrived.  There was even a couple minute lift queue present at the Timberline Quad not too long after lift opening.  Ty commented that he’d seen a sign indicating that the Vista Quad was down, and it turned out that it was down all day due to electrical issues.  That made for some substantial queues of several minutes at the Timberline Quad in the late morning period, but they dissipated in the afternoon.

An image of Dylan skiing powder in the KP Glades at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont after winter storm Nemo hit the areaAs for the skiing, it was a decent day with plenty of powder, but certainly nothing epic.  We checked out Spell Binder, which had some coverage issues on the headwall outside the center strip where they’d made some snow.  There were also some massive death chunks, some that were the size of basketballs, which were left over from the snowmaking in the transition zone between the natural and manmade snow.  They had groomed most of the lower part of the run, so powder really wasn’t as plentiful there as it usually is.  We did find some very nice powder turns in the Corner Pocket Glades though, with first tracks through a good part of that area.  We also found some great fresh snow in the KP Glades and the Sure Shot TreesTwice as Nice really needs one more round of base building, and that’s the case with a lot of natural snow terrain down in the lower Timberline elevations.  The turns are generally fine, but you need to be on your guard to avoid any spots where coverage is a little low.  The off piste is skiing well because it gets more minimal traffic, but it would be nice to have another couple feet of base there to better cover up underlying objects.  We’d occasionally bump something under the snow today where we typically wouldn’t expect to find anything.  We never ventured over to the main mountain with the Vista Quad not operating, but the base depths there generally seem sufficient to avoid those types of issues.

An image of Erica Telemark skiing in powder in the Corner Pocket Glades at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
E glides through some of today’s fluff deposited by Nemo.

It was definitely fun being back in the Timberline groove today, we had an early lunch and the lodge was moderately busy, but there was still ample space.  Some of us did a little rating of the overall skiing when we were discussing things at the end of the day – Dad gave it a 5 out of 10, and Ty gave it a 6 out of 10.  A couple more decent storms will get those lower elevation Timberline trails fixed up, and it looks like the next one could be coming in Monday.  February is becoming a lot more active in terms of winter storms, which is a nice change from the relatively dry January period that we went through.  We’re looking forward to the upcoming stretch of skiing at Bolton Valley.