Today we took Ty up to Bolton Valley for a few afternoon ski runs. I hadn’t initially thought of taking him up to Bolton, but Grandma mentioned it and it sounded like a good idea. With holiday visitors at the house, and another family gathering later that evening, time was a little tight. So, Bolton was especially appropriate being only about 30 minutes away. E hadn’t been out to ski with Ty in the past couple of weeks, so this would be an opportunity for her to ski with him using the leash, and see the progress he’d made first hand.
The weather had been warming since yesterday, and had risen above freezing in the valley. When we left my parent’s house in Shelburne (elevation ~180’), the car thermometer was reading 39 degrees F. At the bottom of the Bolton Valley Access Road (elevation ~340’) it was at 37 F, and by the time we reached Bolton’s main base (elevation ~2,100’) it was down to 34 F. There was a notable difference in the look of the snow on the mountain when compared to the valley. Down in the valley, the snow was getting spring-like, and had melted off the trees. Up on the mountain, even at the base area, there was a coating of white on the trees, and the snow still looked pretty dry and wintry. Bolton was reporting 2 inches of new snow, which we hoped would make for some pleasant skiing.
To get to Grand Targhee, we had to head to the west back over Teton Pass. As we’d come through during the night before, this was our first real chance to check out all its legendary backcountry terrain. It looked as cool as all the hype suggested; skiable lines were everywhere right off the road. The slopes had tons of tracks on them, but there were still areas with untracked powder. I’m sure one could spend many season exploring the Teton Pass ski terrain.
About an hour or so after leaving Jackson, we came to the town of Driggs, Idaho (6,286′), and we knew we were getting close to Targhee. Driggs didn’t really have the resort atmosphere, which I think is due to the fact that Targhee is a sort of smaller, yet self-contained resort. Unlike Jackson, Driggs did have substantial snow on the ground; we could already see that things were different on this (the western) side of the Teton Range. The views of the Grand (13,770′), and other Tetons were also absolutely amazing. E had chosen not to ski today due to the fact that she was so sore from her horrible crash from yesterday, and didn’t want to take any chances on injuring herself further. This was a real downer because she had been really excited to ski Grand Targhee, it is totally her kind of resort. The fact that she was able to sit out after seeing all the great Targhee snow on a bluebird day, really showed how bad she was feeling.
There were only a couple dozen cars in the Targhee parking lot, and as we approached the lifts, we could already feel from this distance that conditions were different. The main skiing on Fred’s Mountain (10,000′), which is at the center of the resort, takes place on huge open slopes splattered with a few trees. Because it was so open, we had a great look at the snow, which looked much more like chowder than hard pack. The brilliant morning sunshine made it look so appealing, and there was virtually nobody around! We hopped on the Dreamcatcher Quad and rode up the 2000 vertical feet to give it the real test.
We were starved for powder, so even though we wanted to test out the broad slopes on the front of the mountain, I thought it would fun to explore a bit and see what we could find as we got the lay of the land. We traversed skier’s left along the summit, and as we followed along the ridge, we came across gates that let you into the legendary Grand Targhee backcountry. One big chute I came across looked like it just dropped into infinity from my vantage point, although since there were many tracks from people who had dropped in, I’m going to assume it was skiable. The backcountry looked enticing, but that wasn’t our plan, we had a whole new resort to explore. The snow surface was already far better than Jackson Hole’s, but so far we were just traversing on mellow terrain, we needed to find a good test. We continued along our traverse, keeping close to the resort boundary in hopes of finding some untracked powder just off piste. Brief forays onto some of the trails clearly confirmed that the snow was in great shape; not fresh powder but soft and loose all about.
Our traverse finally brought us below the cliffs of Peaked Mountain (9,700′) where we could see vast amounts of what looked to be deep powder between the cliffs and the boundary rope. After consulting our map and realizing that we would very easily be able to ski right back into bounds, we decided to traverse and check out the snow here. Even as we began the traverse, we could see that this snow was fantastic. It was deep and feather light. After a few minutes of traversing, we found ourselves atop a slope of powder that we knew was going to be amazing. We double checked that we weren’t below any major avalanche terrain, pulled out the video cameras, and Chris set up his still camera. We KNEW this was going to be good. What proceeded was incredibly cathartic after our days at Jackson. There were almost two feet of powder just sitting there, and although the run wasn’t very long, it was pitched beautifully at around 30 or so degrees, and it did the trick. The smiles on everyone’s faces during and after the run were obvious, the snow had re-invigorated everyone. We were able to traverse a few more minutes and get a second shot at similar terrain. The skiing at Grand Targhee was off to a great start!
Our travels brought us down into the gully between Fred’s and Peaked Mts., and we had an amazing ride though what seemed like an endless singletrack. Taking it at speed with all the blind corners was a blast. In addition, we got a chance to look at all the tress around and see where the fresh powder was at. The gully dumped us off at the bottom of the Sacajawea quad, which took us up to Peaked Mountain, a region which reportedly used to be accessible only for snowcat skiing. Now, they’ve got a lift on part of it, but the rest is still maintained for snowcat trips. There are signs at the top that indicate where you can’t hike for turns (so as not to destroy the powder of the cat skiing operation I guess). We did a few runs off the Sacajawea lift, checking out many areas of tree skiing, which, although having lots of tracks, still had a lot of areas of fresh. Nothing was quite as deep as the stuff we’d hit along the boundary rope, but there were still a lot of fun turns. I also managed to find a way down through the cliffs along the edge of Peaked Mountain, which took a good bit of route finding. There were plenty of cliffs to air out there if you knew the terrain, and it all dropped into the beautiful powder that we had skied on our first run. I was really wishing I knew the terrain up there to check it out, but jumping off a cliff when you can’t quite see what’s below you is still a bit sketchy, no matter how deep the powder is. We resigned to staying among the trees and had some great turns.
After a while, we decided to head in for a quick bite and check out how E was doing in the lodge. She’d brought some work to keep her busy, and it was a bit disheartening to have to tell her about the amazing light powder we’d found out there. I told her that we’d come back together someday to make up for her missing out. We had burgers for lunch which were delicious, and we ate upstairs where Erica was working; in a special room they had available for eating bag lunches. We shared it with a few other visitors and it was really nice since it provided a huge view of the mountain.
After lunch, we decided to focus on that huge open terrain on Fred’s Mountain, and see what else was in store for us. Upon first hand inspection, we found that the snow we’d see below the lift was really quite soft, broken up powder. Unlike Jackson Hole, bumps had not formed due to presumably much lower traffic. I know that Targhee had been under the influence of the same sort of weather as Jackson Hole, and even though it had been many days since snow, the surface was in beautiful soft shape. One of my personal highlights for the afternoon was screaming along the groomers on these broad open slopes. I can honestly say that it was the best groomed terrain I’d ever ridden. I’m not a connoisseur of groomed terrain, but this was fantastic. On trails like The Face, Sitting Bull, and Rock Garden, it felt as though you were on a snowy ridge at the edge of the world. These broad cruisers had such amazing soft groomed snow that you could go as fast as you wanted without any fear of your edges letting go. This fact, combined with few other skiers was a bad recipe for high speed. I make no exaggeration when I say that we scared ourselves silly; hands down the best groomed experience of my life. I know that James will certainly concur, since he had the same dumbfounded look on his face, and told me how he felt.
Off to the skier’s right of one of the groomers (Rock Garden) a small cornice forms which then drops you into steep terrain with names such as The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and theEast Woods. James and I had nearly encountered this in a bad way during a fast run on Rock Garden; although we had both stopped, we had no idea that a cornice dropped off the edge of this groomer upon which we had just been flying. I’m glad I never chose to explore near the edge on those fast runs! Now however, we WERE interested in the cornice. The snow below looked nice and soft, and it was time for some cornice drops. We had great fun working our way down the cornice and traversing back up to drop in again. Chris pulled out his digital still camera and got some great shots. It was a great end to a great day; Targhee is high on my list of places to get back to.
Although all the boys wanted to stay, E pointed out that we had a bit of a drive ahead of us and that she had to get up early for work tomorrow. These were obviously the words of somone who had NOT been on that amazing snow under a brilliant blue sky. Still, after debating on the radios, we realized that she’d been sitting around all day while we were having fun. It was unfortunately time to go :(.
As we drove away, we captured parting pictures of the Tetons and talked about how much fun we’d had. I can’t believe how different the snow was between Jackson Hole and Grand Targhee, especially when the two resorts are so close (as the crow flies). Jackson Hole gets plenty of thumbs up for amenities (we had great food in the lodges) and of course massive vertical and steeps. However, after this trip, Grand Targhee has made me a huge fan of its amazing snow, lack of crowds, fun terrain, and overall atmosphere. I hope I get back soon, I can’t even imagine what a powder day is like!
I just found today that Lost Trail was having a Telemark demo day on Saturday, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try Tele skiing for the 1st time. E and I had to take care of some things in Missoula in the morning, but we got home as soon as we could and headed to Lost Trail. This meant that we didn’t arrive until after 2:00 P.M., but that’s the nice thing about having a season’s pass. In the past few days, Lost Trail has received about a foot of new snow, so conditions were excellent.
As it turns out, a local Missoula Telemark/outdoor store known as Pipestone was running the demos, everything was free and they had tons of equipment. They were really friendly, and asked us if we had ever Tele skied before, which we hadn’t. From there they set us up with some boots (turns out they were Scarpa T2) and skis (180 cm Atomic TM 22). They gave us a couple of pointers and we headed off to the bunny slope.
We had figured that learning Tele skiing would be like learning to snowboard, so we anticipated spending the rest of the day (about an hour or so) on the bunny slope. I had only tried Telemark style turns on my Nordic equipment, which was pretty unstable, so I figured it would take a while to find balance. Well, this wasn’t the case on this setup. The boots were really stable, and after a couple of turns it already started to get fun. When we got to the bottom of the bunny slope, we contemplated grabbing the rope tow back up to the top, but decided things were going smoothly enough to head on down to chair 2 via the long green slope known as Drifter. We were a little concerned about a short blue pitch on this trail, but soon found out the increased pitch actually helped! Conditions were nice and soft, and the skis bit right in.
After the short blue pitch, we mellowed out to green again, and kept refining our tele-turns. At first during my turns, my back ski was sort of skittish (E didn’t have this problem and I was jealous), so I figured I should put some more weight on it. Shifting the weight back just a smidge took care of that problem, and let the skis act like one big edge in a carve. It really is a lot like Alpine skiing in a slightly different stance. Over at the edge of the trail there was about a foot of nice light powder, so I figured I’d take a shot in there and see what it felt like…
Oooh man was that sweet! (drool)
My favorite part was the feeling of the powder washing up against the knee of my back leg (this is the knee that gets really low). It was just like everyone always says about skiing powder Tele style, you really get down in it. E saw me over there and jumped in herself. After that pitch, she said “Wow, that was like being one with the snow!” We were both giggling like a couple of nuts. We finished off the trail, grabbing a few more stashes of powder and worked on smoothing out the turns and the transitions in between. We got on the lift and it was non-stop chatter about what it was like to ski on Telemark skis.
Since that trail had gone so well, we decided to hit something a bit steeper and headed off in the direction of North Bowl/Speedway (mild blue in steepness). There was lots of nice cut up powder here and we started to really get the hang of turning. Things got a bit faster and we (OK maybe I) got a bit louder. We finished off the trail with a short stash of untracked in some small evergreens. The powder was light and heavenly and we wanted more!
Our time was growing short, and we had just enough time for one more run. We decided to go for the trifecta and hit a black trail. We chose Thunder, a standard black run with a few hundred verts of moguls that should be enough to give of the feeling of Telemarking in bumps. In my first few turns, I found my weight shifting back and I had to rescue myself by finishing off the turn Alpine style (this was actually more of a reflex action than a conscious decision). I was watching E, and she was doing the same thing. We redoubled our efforts to stay in the Tele stance through the whole turn, and gradually improved. By the end of the bumps we were both connecting turns well in Tele stance the whole way. It’s a little different than skiing bumps on Alpines because your footprint is larger, but I found that if I hopped from stance to stance, I could quicken up the turns.
Unfortunately, Warren Miller’s new movie “Cold Fusion” wasn’t playing in Missoula this year. Although it was showing in a number of places in Montana and Idaho, all of them were at least three hours away, which meant a substantial road trip. With this in mind, we decided that it would be great to combine a trip to see the movie with some actual skiing. In order to give the snowpack a chance to build up (or even exist as the case was), we decided on the latest showing in the area, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on December 1st.
As the day approached, it looked as though there wouldn’t be any skiing on our trip, but once we hit Thanksgiving, the snow started to fall. Things still weren’t certain however, as even just two days before our designated date, none of the areas had opened for skiing. Finally however, the base depths piled up to over 40 inches, and all three areas set opening dates, Schweitzer and Lookout on Friday (Nov 30th), and Silver on Saturday (Dec 1st). Silver had already been our frontrunner due to its location, but the chance to hit it on opening day and score some untracked powder sealed the deal.
We left at 5:00 A.M. in the dark, and found good road conditions through most of Montana. Once we approached Idaho however, the weather began to deteriorate (or actually get better if you’re a skier) due to an approaching storm. We crossed over the first pass on I-90 (Lookout Pass – elevation 4,725′) and the snow was really coming down. The road was snow covered and we had to go a bit slowly. Some trucks appeared to be using chains as well. Although it was snowing at a good clip and conditions were cloudy, I was amazed at how long it was taking for the sun to come up (it was already after 7:30 A.M.). I was thinking about how this wasn’t actually all that unusual since we are at the very western edge of the Mountain time zone, when something occurred to me… Lookout Pass marks the boundary between the states of Idaho and Montana, but it also marks the boundary between the Mountain and Pacific time zones! We had forgotten to calculate this fact into our plans, which meant that our timing was now an hour off. Fortunately it meant that we were an hour early, and as you’ll see, we were going to need it.
Once we dropped down from Lookout Pass (also the location of the Lookout Pass Ski Area), the snow began to lighten up, and eventually changed over to mix/rain as we approached the town of Kellogg, Idaho (elevation 2,305′). Silver Mountain Resort is located just outside of Kellogg, and the bottom lift of Silver is literally just off the interstate. Silver Mountain has an interesting lift setup. A gondola ascends from Kellogg, and brings you up to the base of the ski area (Silver Mountain Base is 4,100′). As a bit of trivia, Silver reports that this gondola is the longest single-stage people carrier in the world at 3.1 miles.
The gondola was slated to open at 8:00 A.M., with the other lifts opening at 9:00 A.M., so with our extra hour (it was now 7:30 A.M. Pacific) we were styling for some fresh tracks. We wandered over to the gondola base terminal to get a look around and check on tickets, when we were slapped with some horrible news. Due to high winds up on the mountain (>50 mph) the mountain was not opening today! Noooo! It was almost like a nightmare. We met one of the employees as we walked back to our car, and he said that he was heading over to Lookout Pass to ski, they WOULD be open today. It seemed like a great idea, with Lookout being on 20-30 minutes away. We headed over to the Super 8 motel where we intended to spend the evening. It’s located literally right below the Silver Mountain gondola, and seems like a great place to stay if you are doing an overnighter at Silver. It was obvious that the motel catered to skiers, as they had the local snow report plastered right on the front desk. In addition to the three areas that we had considered for skiing, it also contained snow reports for two other local ski areas in Washington State, Mt. Spokane, and 49 Degrees North. All the areas had received about a foot of snow in the past 24 hours, with 10-20 inches in the past 48 hours. It wouldn’t be hard to find a place with fresh snow.
We finished checking in and considered our skiing options. I could only imagine the number of people that were going to arrive at Silver for opening day, and get turned away. It seemed like poor little Lookout Pass would get swamped. Since we had our extra hour, we decided to go the extra distance to Schweitzer. The locals said it took about an hour or so to get there. Schweitzer was also in the general direction of Coeur d’Alene, so it would work out with regards to seeing the “Cold Fusion” ski movie.
Soon we were on our way again, heading west on I-90. The next pass we had to go over was Fourth of July Pass (elevation 3,019′). Even with this small increase in elevation, the rain changed back to snow and picked up in intensity. The snow stayed with us all the way down into Coeur d’Alene (elevation 2,157′) and kept up as we headed north to Sandpoint, the major town near Schweitzer. Numerous cars were off the road due to the heavy snow, and our going was again quite slow. Even when we finally reached the access road for Schweitzer, our journey was nowhere near done.
The access road for Schweitzer seems like enough of a challenge on a fair weather day, rising almost 2000 feet and containing some interesting hairpin turns, but in the middle of a storm it was a big obstacle. The new snow had brought down a bunch of trees, some of which fell onto the road. Although the major ones had been removed, a lot of debris remained and slowed the going up the hill. This combined with the slippery conditions, and some cars that couldn’t quite make it, slowed the flow of traffic even more. When we finally reached the Schweitzer village (3,910′) the traffic ground to a halt as the attendants attempted to park everyone. As we wound our way up and down around the village in the middle of the snowstorm, the frustration of crawling along in traffic was fortunately augmented by the thrill of exploring a new ski area. By the time we finally parked, in some crazy little parking zone of the village, we had no idea where we were. All told, I bet we spent more than an hour from the base of the access road until we actually parked. We were clueless, but there was tons of new snow, it was still puking more, and we were going to ski some powder as we explored an entirely new resort to us. Who can complain about that?
We were lucky enough to catch a shuttle from our parking area towards the direction of the base lodge, but even the shuttle couldn’t get all the way there due to the slippery roads. We eventually got off and followed the line of people walking towards what we hoped was the base lodge, but we could hardly see a thing in the heavy snowfall. There was a line for tickets, which worried me about crowds, but as it turned out, crowds wouldn’t be an issue at all. I looked up at some of the slopes that were close enough to be seen, and saw that they were deserted. As it turned out, there was all the untracked powder you could want and more… if you could ski it.
We caught one of the main lifts from the base, and headed up. We decided to take an easy cruiser to warm up, and that worked great until we passed a sparse area of trees on our left. All I could see were acres of untracked snow, not even a hint of a track anywhere. Who could resist it? Jumping into the glade, everything suddenly became clear, the skiing was unlike anything I had experienced before. We were essentially skiing on virgin snow, most of which had fallen in the past couple of weeks, with absolutely NO base. We’re talking four feet or so of unpacked powder, and this wasn’t the champagne that you’d find in Utah or Colorado, or Vermont in midwinter, this was 10% H2O+ Pacific Northwest material. Happily, this meant that there was no concern about hitting the ground below, but boy was it hard to ski. If you didn’t keep up your speed and plane on top, you bogged down in the mire, and had to extract yourself and start again. The blue pitch that we were on was nowhere near steep enough to keep us going (and as I found out later, even a pitch of 35 degrees wasn’t enough), so it was time for a reassessment. Off to the left, the trees dropped away at a pitch that looked like 40 degrees, nice and steep. However, the slope only got steeper and simply seemed to disappear. Although I wanted to see if the slope was steep enough to keep moving, it didn’t seem too wise to dive into unknown steeps, especially with this crazy snow. Instead, we traversed our way back to the trail, a very slow process indeed. Even just traversing it was difficult to keep your balance, and you didn’t dare fall over because getting out meant a Lot of work. E fell once at the end of the traverse, just fell to the side slightly. I took her 10-15 minutes to dig herself out. We now understood why the powder was so untracked.
Making our way back to the trails, we decided to figure out this snow in a slightly more forgiving setting. The powder on the groomed runs was at least chopped up, and made things a bit easier, but not entirely. As we worked our way down a black trail with a pitch of around 25-30 degrees, I looked around and noticed that every other single person on the trail was buried in the snow searching for their skis, in the process of falling, or getting up from a fall. Any yearning I’d had for my snowboard was removed after I’d seen enough snowboarders floundering in the powder unable to extract themselves, and then struggle to even get moving again. This was obviously challenging snow. Fortunately, the option of skiing the chopped up areas, then diving into the untracked to experiment, really paid off, and we were soon figuring some things out. Planing on top worked the best, which meant that you had to maintain speed. If you tried to turn too aggressively, it meant the pressure would push you down in the mire. Keeping a uniform platform of two skis was imperative. If you weighted one ski even slightly more than the other, down it would go into the deep and you were in trouble. If you did break the plane of the surface few inches and start to dive, shifting your weight rearward seemed to be the best defense. It was like walking a tightrope of powder-skiing technique. The tolerances were so tight, that normal lapses in technique that one could get away with meant the difference between powder skiing bliss and stuck in the deep (or worse). Anyway, it’s not easy to describe the conditions in words, but they were weird enough to be worth of a couple of paragraphs of effort.
As the day wore on, we explored more of the mountain and found some fun places to work out technique for the snow. The mountain is composed of two main areas, the front side, called Schweitzer Bowl, and the back side, called Outback Bowl. Most of the mountain was open, except for a few steep places that seemed to require avalanche control, and a couple of upper lift sections where the wind was just howling too fiercely to allow people to go up (it was easy to see at this point why Silver Mountain was closed). Thus, we unloaded at the mid station. We actually found some of our best turns on a blue trail called Midway on the front side of the mountain. The wind seemed to have hit it just right so that the snow was a little more compacted, allowing you to sink in only a foot or so and maintain speed. We found a nice area of untracked and worked it for a few laps. We explored the Outback Bowl area, and ate our lunches at a lodge there called the Outback Inn. It was a nice quiet place, but they didn’t have fries, only baked potatoes or “Spuds” as they called them. Seems like an Idaho thing.
By 2:30 P.M. (Pacific Time) it was already starting to get dark (due to a combination of the snowy sky, location in the time zone, and latitude) and we knew we didn’t have many runs left. We enjoyed a couple more on Midway and then decided that we’d better find our car that was buried somewhere in the midst of the village. We put our heads together and gave it our best shot, which turned out to be right on the mark. We skied onto the lower green trails on the front side of the mountain, then hopped onto the street and skied some more. Eventually things started to look familiar and we found the car, in much less time than we had feared.
The snow had lightened up a bit, and the drive out was much easier than the one getting in. As we dropped back down towards Sandpoint, the sky had even cleared a bit in the valley, although a huge mass of clouds still hung over the mountain. We stopped in Coeur d’Alene for a bite to eat and then headed to the Warren Miller movie at the local college (Northern Idaho College I believe). The movie was classic Warren Miller, although the second half seemed to end very quickly. A quick trip down I-90 brought us back to Kellogg where we spent the night.
The next morning was a true test of priorities, as we awoke to clear blue skies, and a gondola outside our door heading up to a newly opened ski area with gobs of bottomless fresh powder. I knew better than to put off the stuff we had to do, but if E had caved I would have done it. I could tell she was tempted as well, but we finally agreed that Silver Mountain would have to wait until another day. As we drove away, I tried not to look up at the pristine slopes (and fortunately they are hidden from view much of the time).
With the unknown element of mixed precipitation, we decided to head for Jay Peak on Saturday. Along with Bennett, we even pulled Mr. Mango Madness out for his first day of the season. In anticipation of bad roads, we loaded ourselves into Bennett’s big rig and headed north. Burlington had accumulated about 4 inches at this point, and although it was temporarily coming down only lightly, it picked up as we headed toward Jay Peak.
We were proud of ourselves for arriving on time (not easy), and took a run on the double before the tram opened. We headed down Green Mountain Boys (I think) and found about 4-6″ blown around by the wind; best on the sides. The powder was not super light, but not bad (and it was still snowing’ like crazy). By the time we got down, the tram was ready and we hopped aboard. We headed out on Vermonter, finding about 12″ of chowder, a tough ski, especially with the humidity and our goggles going crazy from the moist tram ride. I think I heard the term “skiing by Braille”, or some such out of somebody in the group. On a personal note, of course my goggles fogged up right in the middle, but if I turned my head sideways, I could look out the edge and see, really messed with the balance, but oh what fun.
After another run on the tram, we headed over to the triple, and headed for Timbuktu (one of our favorites). We hung to the right to catch fresh snow, but found plenty of ice storm damage in that area, and with the snow that had fallen so far, only very short lines were available, and even then it wasn’t a secure feeling with the fallen trees around. As we headed back left, we found that clearing had been much better, but this area was already getting pretty tracked.
We boarded the quad and found our best run of the day by far. North Glade must have just recently been opened because there were few tracks, and 8+ inches of powder; we left there wanting more (and trying to figure out where we were and how we got there.) We finished off the day with a couple of tram rides (amazingly, you could always get right on the tram with no line) and hit some areas that may not have been officially open, but didn’t exactly have ropes either. Oh well, there were three of us, and sometimes ignorance is bliss; in the form of untracked snow.
One of the highlight’s of the day was Mango simply exploding on a very flat section of Deer Run. It looked like a snow snake just jumped out and bit him; and the look of “what the…!” as he went down into a crumbled heap of man and equipment, was priceless. During one of our traverses that I was leading, I got ridiculed for my choice of line, something about “What rabbit made this!” as Bennett found himself stuck between a tree and a hard place.
During one of our tram rides, the ticket checker said that it was raining just about everywhere south of Jay. I was initially skeptical, then happy that we were at Jay Peak of course, then worried about what would happen at places like Sugarbush. Stay tuned for our Sunday installment in which the truth will be revealed!
Today, the Sugarbush ski patrol continued applying the same liberal policy that we experienced yesterday with regard to opening trails; if they felt there was enough natural snow to ski them, they just opened them, and today they added Birdland to the mix. We got some of the first “legal” tracks there, which were actually far from the first ones put down on the trail, but they were still quite enjoyable. We followed right behind the ski patroller opening up Birdland as he worked his way down while closing off the side trails; it was certainly fun, and all legal-like. Ski patrol also opened up the North Lynx lift line (bottom 3/4) but it will need some time to bump up for those interested in skiing the great mogul lines that can develop there. Despite today being the canned-food day promotion, crowds weren’t bad at all, since the mountain just kept opening more and more terrain basically as fast as they could get the patrollers to stamp the water bars, close off side trails, and check the padding around the poles (so it seemed). My trail pick of the day, and in fact the whole weekend, would have to be Birch Run off of North Lynx; there was natural snow plus some real nice manmade, and lots of fun terrain without big crowds. All the other members of our Sunday ski posse (Tom “Mango Madness” Bursey, Chris, and E) gave it high ratings. I’m glad North Lynx has had a bit of a revival in the past few years, because there’s some real fun terrain over there. Similar to yesterday, the powder continued to be a bit on the denser side, but that also meant that there was plenty of substance for keeping one afloat. Snowfall continued to fall like Saturday, and it essentially seemed to snow all weekend on and off with a few inches each day.
Even though Mad River Glen isn’t open yet, a lot of people are earning their turns there, and that’s certainly a sign of our current November snow situation – Mark Renson sent in his report from the mountain today as he toured around, and it didn’t sound bad at all. Other reports I’ve seen from today include Jeff Strait’s report from Stratton; I don’t have any experience with skiing Stratton, but based on his comments, apparently even that far south people are skiing the glades. I also saw a brief report from Smuggler’s Notch today by Vickie Backus; there wasn’t too much info about the off piste snow, but she did say she skied on a natural snow trail
I hope everyone can get out for some turns over the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday; get those legs moving because the best pre-season workout for skiing is… skiing!
Well, the first thing I’d like to say about today is that I love the new Sugarbush policy of opening trails as soon as they can (I was told that they were emphasizing opening trails this year whenever possible). Patrol opened Spillsville, along with Lower Paradise plus some others that I can’t recall. The coverage was all natural and plenty rocky, but at least they gave us the choice. The powder was pretty heavy, but floatable and it seemed to snow on and off with a few inches of accumulation. Not surprisingly, it sounds like the situation is similar at Jay Peak, with Mark Renson indicating powder up to his knees and even some open tree skiing areas in his report to SkiVT-L. There’s only 15” of snow at the Mt. Mansfield stake as of today’s report, which seems a bit on the lean side to be jumping into the woods per the 24-inch rule, but since we’re talking about Jay Peak, it’s very possible they’ve had a bit more snow than other areas. In any event, Jay Peak patroller Walter Pomroy certainly confirmed the ability to hit the woods in his SkiVT-L report; he was able to go into some areas like Timbuktu and Kitz Woods that are still officially closed, but just like our experienced at Sugarbush today, he spoke of the benefit of the somewhat dense snow, although he still recommended rock skis. Even farther to the south, people were getting off piste; in Dave Barcomb’s report from Killington today, he also indicated that they were skiing the woods, so there is definitely some good early season coverage out there. It’s great to be able to get into the trees before we even hit Thanksgiving; this is two to three weeks ahead of average based on the mean date of roughly December 12th for hitting the 24-inches of depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake that typically supports initial forays into the trees.
Well, the weather setup leading into this weekend was a 4 to 6 inch snowfall yesterday; so it came just in time for weekend turns. Somehow, there came to be a bit of a crust on top, but unlike last weekend, it was paper thin and didn’t really affect the non-groomed terrain.
Today I caught up with Shawshank at Stowe sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M. and we hit the usual stashes with other folks that we knew. The big event came in the afternoon with a 1:00 P.M. meeting at the top of the Gondi and a hike into the swirling mists of The Chin. Let’s just say, without the guidance of Shawshank, there would have been no way to find anything up there in the near zero visibility. The wind was probably gusting to 40 mph at times, but it wasn’t bad for the top of a mountain, and by the time we reached the Hourglass Chute, we were protected altogether. Hourglass was fun, although it seemed to be over so quickly. I remember reaching this one point about as wide as the length of my skis (the narrow part of the hourglass) and four turns later we had to bang a left to make the connection to Hell Brook. We traversed for about 50 feet, took a quick step up a short incline, then dropped a nice little section into the low point between the Adam’s Apple And The Chin (so I was told; still socked in). After a bit more of a traverse, we found ourselves at the top of Hell Brook. I thought that it was going to be a singletrack adventure down into the Notch; I was definitely wrong there. As it turns out (at least at this time of year) it is much like an interconnected patchwork of trails, snowfields, and gullies which gradually narrows into a single gully towards the end. Actually, a lot of it reminded me of the gullies at Alta or Snowbird, except that it was a lot longer and there were hardwoods about. One could take this thing 20 times and still not know the whole maze; it makes for some very fun exploration. A word of caution: there were numerous spots where a wrong turn would mean a big drop or other hazards that could ruin your run so take it easy. Shawshank lost his goggles in a little open water spot and before anyone knew what was up, they were down the brook and under the snow. Damn. We finally wound up on Route 108 for a mostly (one bit of uphill) downhill traverse back to the Gondola and nearly 3000′ of vertical in one run. By the time we got back to the quad it was about 3:30 P.M. and we were kaput.
I stopped in at the Stowehof where my friend Chris was staying. It’s a real quaint place with great views. I think that the bar and restaurant are open to the public, but just walking around in there is a lot of fun.
After kicking in steps yesterday evening (snowshoeless are we) to 1,100′, we hiked up to around 1,350′ today with skis. Unfortunately, above this point, the line hasn’t been cleared in a couple of years and its pretty thick with brush. Below this point though, its clear sailing, about 40 feet wide and untracked. The snow conditions were about 5 inches powder followed by that crust, then another 2-3 feet of thick powder below. From our starting point, the first 200 feet down are a little brushy (a la Goat) then the trail funnels into a 50 foot chute with steep drops on either side. After this chute, the line opens up for about 200 feet of blue-grade boulevard untracked (one of the best parts). The next 1,000′ consists of a few cliffs (5-10 feet high and easily bypassed if desired) with islands of brush that leave at least half of the trail open at a all times. At this point (elevation 700′) the main power line takes a dive into a stream bed, but fortunately there is a road, or riverbed or something that parallels the line and provides a nice clear route. The last 100 feet or so is a bit of a scramble out the road. Temps were in the 20s and light snow was falling today making for great conditions. 1,000 continuous vertical of untracked powder at no charge; sometimes it’s nice to earn turns by muscle instead of $$$$.
Shawshank tells me that the lifts at Stowe will start running at an incredible 7:00 A.M for Sunday. OK, I’ll be there bright and early. Recording a possible record arrival, I get myself to the quad before 7:30 and find it humming right along with people returning from runs. After a warm-up attempt to get some freshies on Liftline/National, I ran into Andor & co. right in line. The rest of the morning consisted of Goat, Queebs, traverse, learn, Chin Clip, Goat?, Starr, Starr or something like that. I found myself happily buried more than once. At lunch we met up with Shawshank, ate some food and went back at it. Shawshank reported a multitude of freshies on hayride earlier in the day, so awaaaaaaaaaay we go. In my head and body I’m thinkin’ “Gawd I’m tired, a couple more runs should do it for me, I mean 7 something A.M was a long time ago.” Whoops look what we found, more fresh woods. Any thoughts of leaving were gone as we plowed our way through virtually untracked freshies on “Oh Shit”, “Major Jones”, and others. By connecting everything right, we had found top to bottom fresh woods off the quad “Who could leave?” The stake near “Oh shit” read 3 feet, 6 inches of snow and I whole heartedly believe it. When it finally became too dangerous to ski anymore, we called it. Through the magic of powder, I had managed to reel in over 30,000 vertical without ever realizing it. Now that’s a drug.
OK, back to reality. There was a harsh wind blowing up top, 0 degrees air temp + wind = -38 degree w.c. The wind was also blowing some of the snow off the trails and exposing the ice underneath (more reason to stay off-trail). Lines were a bit long in the noonish hours, even the gondola had a line. I don’t know about the big streambed, but a lot of little ones are still visibly flowing, maybe from all the insulating snow. More poachers getting nabbed on lower lift line, Lookout wasn’t open (100%?) and the Tollhouse lift wasn’t running.
(A friend of mine ended up there on his first day of snowboarding, apparently crossing no ropes, and had to get a ride back. The guy who gave him the ride said “Yeah, that’s been happening a lot today” ?What’s up with that?)
But I’m certainly not complaining.
Next weekend I’m skiing in NH “yikes” and I’ll send in one of those “out of state” reports