Stowe, VT 28MAR2010

Based on today’s forecast of cloudy skies and temperatures in the 30-40 F range, there wasn’t a huge incentive to ski, but we did head up to Stowe for our afternoon session so I can provide an update.  Skies were actually pretty bright with a few small breaks in the clouds when we arrived at Spruce a bit after noon.  I’m not sure of the temperature at the base at that point, but it was probably around 40 F.  Fortunately, along with some sun, that warmth was enough to get the corn snow on the Spruce terrain to soften up nicely, at least to the top of the Sunny Spruce Quad (~2,500’).  I never got above that elevation on Spruce, but below that everything skied great.  The areas like West Smuggler’s, Freddie’s Chute, and the upper parts of Meadows that seem most susceptible to snow loss, were closed or inaccessible due to coverage, but just about everything else off Sunny Spruce was in fine shape as far as we saw.

The kids wanted to head over to Mansfield, and the conditions had been so nice on Spruce that it seemed like it would be worth a trip to check it out.  Conditions on the Mansfield side were definitely not the same as what we’d experienced over on Spruce; only the bottom few hundred vertical feet of Mansfield had softened up.  The bumpy part of upper Perry Merrill was a nasty bulletproof moonscape, and most of Gondolier was hard except for the last couple of pitches.  Cliff Trail felt like a mini half pipe of ice with the occasional crowds of skiers trying to squeeze through it.  The saving grace on some trails was the strip of soft snow that had been pushed to the sides, but the somewhat concave nature and narrowness of Cliff Trail meant that it didn’t even really have those.  Cliff Trail, which was probably my favorite Stowe run as a kid, has certainly become one of my least favorite runs this season.  Lower Nosedive was bad enough that I actually switched my left and right skis to get some new edges for the first time this season.  At around 3:00 P.M. the temperature written at the bottom of the Forerunner Quad was 36 F.  Although I’m not exactly sure what time that was from, it seemed reasonable based on the elevation where the snow started to soften.  With the sun heading west and the clouds coming in, it also seemed as though it had cooled a bit from earlier in the day.

As bad as all the Mansfield skiing had been, by far the roughest run of the day was our last one on Mansfield.  Luke, one of our students, wanted to ski Midway from National, which meant taking part of National/Liftline.  I was actually most inclined to take him on it for the absurdity of it all: rock hard ice and hard pack bumps on steep pitches.  Ty was also in our group, and was initially uninterested in going on such an escapade, but I talked him into it.  I suspect he’d never skied anything quite so heinous in terms of the combination of pitch and firmness, so it would be a “good” experience.  I had the boys look at Upper National as we passed by above it, just to see what they would say.  It literally looked like a no-fall zone at the very top, as it must be an almost 40-degree pitch covered with pure ice in places.  With no intention of actually subjecting them to that terrain, I asked them if they wanted to ski it, just to see what they’d say.  I don’t think they quite understood the actual gravity of trying to ski that, but they definitely shied away.  We traversed over to Liftline and I took them on the easiest possible line there.  It was still nasty enough that Luke got stuck on a section of steep ice in the sort of way that you feel you can’t move or you’re going to start a slide for life.  As I began hiking up to assist him, he managed to physically and mentally gain hold on the ice and was able to get back into some turns.  That was nice to see.  Ty did a nice job in general of taking on that part of Liftline, and while he didn’t enjoy it, I don’t blame him.  Down below, things gradually got easier, and on Lower National I did show the boys that while I wouldn’t recommend it, it was possible to ski the porcelain bumps there.  Doing a section of bumps there probably provided as much stress to my knees as the entire rest of the season.  The boys gave an effort in those bumps as well, but quickly got themselves back on the groomed terrain.  The actually goal of the run, Midway, was still all hard, but at least partially groomed.  The only really pleasant part of the run was the very bottom of National, which had fairly soft corn covering moderate angle bumps.  The boys had a lot more fun on that, although it was just a few hundred vertical feet.  Coverage on Mt. Mansfield was great overall, with just some of the steeper natural snow trails having some open spots.

We did one more run over at Spruce before the end of the day, and the snow was still nice and soft.  With the great conditions on Spruce Peak, it didn’t seem like there was much sense in going over to the Mansfield side, but the kids had some fun.  I’d say there wasn’t much melting anywhere at Stowe today, even on Spruce, and that Mansfield glacier should last quite a while into the spring.  They even picked up 4 inches of snow up high last night.  Thanks to Powderfreak’s link, I can see with the real time Mansfield temperature that the higher elevations are already down in the 20s F, and there’s still precipitation coming through.  Similar to last night, it seems like there could be a bit more snow tonight.

Bolton Valley, VT 24MAR2010

We picked up 1.7 inches of snow at the house this morning, which was a lot considering the amount of snowfall we’ve seen this March, so I decided to stop up at Bolton to earn some turns and maybe ride the lifts if the skiing was decent enough.  The reports coming in from the local ski areas indicated that they’d picked up similar accumulations to what I’d seen at the house, but the 1.7 inches I’d measured was comprised of 0.24 inches of liquid, so it definitely had some substance to it.  The snowfall had mostly tapered off in the valley as I was heading up the Bolton Valley Access Road in the ~8:00 A.M. range, but precipitation was still falling in the higher elevations.  I was surprised to see that the precipitation was actually a bit mixed as I approached the Bolton Valley Village, but the temperature was in the mid 20s F.

I was encouraged as I stepped out of the car into about 4 inches of powder, but on the snowbank in front of me, I could see that there was just a dusting, so clearly the wind had been messing with the new snow.  The weather was actually pretty nasty, with some wind, light snow/mixed precipitation, and fog, but there was definitely some new powder to be skied.

I skinned straight up Beech Seal, which was easy with the grooming and minimal accumulations.  It quickly became apparent that I’d need to find sheltered places to hit the powder, because the wind had stripped the snow off exposed areas.  With that in mind, I headed over toward the Cobrass area, and at around 9:00 A.M. when the Vista Quad was scheduled to open, I began my descent.  The lower parts of Cobrass itself were looking somewhat windswept, but the Cobrass Run area had a fairly even coating of snow.  The turns were pretty nice, although I was touching down to the hard base on about 50% of them, and once I was down below Cobrass Run, I was into the terrain that had been groomed after the new snowfall.  That surface was not nearly as soft as the terrain that hadn’t seen a grooming.  The couple new inches of dense snow was sort of lost as it was churned into the base snow.

Once down at the base area, I checked in with the lift operators at the bottom of Vista.  With the combination of wind, some riming, and a bit of grooming still taking place, they weren’t quite ready to get underway.  They did ask for the lowdown on the conditions, and I told them what I’d found on Cobrass Run.  So, with the lift situation it was back to manpower for turns, but my initial foray had left me optimistic enough to search out some additional powder.  I ascended by the same route, seeing some nice smooth coatings in the New Sherman’s Pass/Lower Vermont 200 area, but somehow the thought of Wilderness crept into my head, so I continued on up Sherman’s Pass to about the 2,800’ level.  I hopped onto some of the low/moderate angle terrain that brought me over to Wilderness, and the skiing was OK, but nothing too fantastic as I did cross some windswept areas.

I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, but as I saw the Wilderness Lift line showing signs of the wind’s effects, I just kept heading north to Lower Turnpike.  That wound up being the pick of my morning.  I started down, and there was initially a little scouring in spots due to wind, but as I headed lower and lower into more sheltered terrain, the coating of snow got smoother and smoother, and the skiing got better and better.  It wasn’t long before there was only the occasional contact with the old subsurface snow, and as much fun as the corn skiing has been this March, it was very satisfying to fell that consistent powder float again.  That definitely made the morning, and I was ready to catch a lift ride and do it all again, but the chairlifts still didn’t appear to be loading.  All the skiers I saw seemed to be congregating around the handle tow, so based on the time I decided to call it a morning and head to Burlington.

The precipitation was very light snow as I left the mountain a bit after 10:00 A.M., and the temperature in the village was 26 F.  Descending the Access Road offered up some of the snowier views of the day as I got down into elevations where the wind had been more minimal.  The temperature at the bottom of the Access Road was 32 F, and mid 30s F when I got into Burlington.

When I was leaving Burlington later in the afternoon afternoon, it was sunny and the temperature was 50 F.  Most of the valley snow had melted, but the last clouds were pulling away from Mt. Mansfield offering some nice views.  I was surprised to see that we had retained much of the new snow at our house due to the shade, and it was neat to have the yard entirely white again, since our snow at the house had almost disappeared through the course of the month.

Bolton Valley, VT 20MAR2010

This afternoon up at Bolton was very much like last Saturday: generally overcast, but warm enough to keep the spring corn soft and enjoyable.  Temperatures were again in the 40s F and there was some breeze in the higher elevations.  The biggest changes I saw from last week were in snow coverage.  After yet another week with warm temperatures and no snow, significant bare spots are starting to show up at the Timberline elevations.  From what I saw in my daily Bolton Valley email snow report from today, the mountain is still 100% open in terms of on piste terrain.  But, if we have another week like the past three, it would be very likely that they would have to start closing some terrain heading into next weekend.  It still may not be possible to keep everything open, but fortunately, this week doesn’t look as though it will continue the recent weather trends.  We actually could have some snow down at the house by tomorrow morning, which would be the first time in three weeks.  That’s a sign that something is changing.  Also, the NWS point forecasts for the higher elevations of the Green Mountains around here have some sort of snow in them almost every day this week.  We haven’t seen anything remotely like that since back in February.  There’s still a lot of questions as to where the moisture will go and where the freezing levels will be, but at least the mountains have got the chance to accumulate some snow this week.  Also, much cooler temperatures are going to slow down the melting we’ve seen so far this month.

In terms of skiing, after focusing on his Telemark skiing last weekend, Ty wanted to get back in the bumps today.  So, with warm temperatures I said we’d hit some of the steep bump runs off Vista, and E and the boys would get a good workout.  With a puzzled look, E initially asked me what bump runs I was talking about, because she had no clue.  I was sort of surprised, but what I did was simply run upstairs and grab my laptop to show her my current desktop background.  It’s a shot I picked up from the Bolton Valley Facebook Page a couple of weeks back:

After three weeks with nothing in terms of snowfall, the snowpack isn’t quite as bounteous as in the picture, but the coverage is still great aside from a few isolated pockets, and the bumps are still there – except I think on Hard Luck.  We didn’t ski it, but it looked like it had been groomed.  I laughed at the fact that I had to show E and the boys that picture.  In almost four seasons at Bolton, I’ve yet to bring her and the boys down any of the runs like Spillway, Show Off, Hard Luck etc.  I know that we’ve touched on a few edges of the runs in our travels through the off piste, but we certainly haven’t hit the runs together or hit the bumps.  I know that Ty has skied Hard Luck before, but that was in powder back in the middle of April 2007 when we earned turns with Dave, and there were no bumps to be seen.  Up to this point when the whole family has been together, there hasn’t been an occasion to ski any of those trails, since Dylan hasn’t been quite ready to tackle them.  Also, I don’t recall those trails developing bumps like that every spring, probably due to the combination of too much snowfall/too little traffic, etc.

Anyway, Dylan has progressed this season to the point that he’s got the skills and stamina to tackle just about any bump run, so tackle them we did.  We started off down at Timberline, but quickly made our way over to the main mountain and up to the top of Spillway.  Having not skied Spillway with bumps in I don’t know how long, I’d forgotten how steep some of those pitches are.  The bumps were huge at times; it felt like you were dropping several feet in the air per turn.  Ty was definitely challenged; with the combination of very steep pitch and huge bumps, he had plenty of crashes as he tried to take them aggressively and find out what worked for him.  Dylan was more conservative, but very smooth and he didn’t even seem to be phased by the pitch at all.  Although it’s not as long as Chin Clip, Ty definitely found the steep pitches and huge bumps on Spillway more challenging than when we’d skied Chin Clip a couple weeks back.

We moved over to Show Off for more bumps on the next run, and compared to Spillway it was easier skiing judging by the way Ty handled it.  We also hit the Vista Glades, which the boys consider a playground because of all the terrain features.  Vista Glades had some good sections of bumps, and then we added more by skiing Schuss below it.  On the lower mountain we teamed each our upper mountain runs with the bumps on the Vista Quad lift line, and then a run through the smaller terrain park below it.  With just Spillway, Show Off, and Schuss, E and the boys got a good sampling of bumps off Vista, and they had a lot of fun.  Now that Dylan is ready to handle them, I’m sure we’ll visit those runs more frequently when conditions warrant.  Dylan’s stamina has grown by leaps and bounds this season, and is certainly one of the hallmarks of his improvements this spring.  Ultimately that’s going to enable longer days with more varied terrain as we move forward.

Stowe, VT 14MAR2010

Today we were back at Stowe for our weekly program, and the afternoon began with similar conditions to what we’d experienced at Bolton yesterday.  There wasn’t any significant precipitation; it was just mostly cloudy with a couple holes of blue sky and temperatures in the 40s F.  My group stayed on Spruce Peak for the entire afternoon, where surfaces were spring corn and the skiing was excellent.  There were certainly a few spots of ground opening up on steep, south-facing trails with natural snow.  One example would be Freddie’s Chute, which had essentially complete coverage when we’d skied it last week.  The ledges there on the skier’s left showed a lot of exposed spots today, although the right side still had full coverage and skiable lines.  We weren’t actually going to be skiing it with the group we had today, but I noticed that patrol had roped off the entrance corral anyway.  We didn’t head to the upper parts of Spruce, although it sounded like some ground was showing through up there as well.  We skied all the usual terrain on the lower half of Spruce, and there were no coverage concerns on any of that.  Toward the end of the afternoon it started spitting rain showers, and then for the final few runs the precipitation intensified over in the Spruce Peak area.  Fortunately, the skiing was winding down by that point.  It’s going to be sunny and warm for the coming week, so I’m sure that some of the more sensitive south-facing terrain on Spruce will lose additional coverage.  But, it should be clear with most nights going below freezing, so the corn cycling should go well.  Mansfield looked great in terms of coverage when we were there, although I’d imagine a few of the lower-elevation spots in the sun could start having some open spots and the snowpack at the stake will probably drop some this week.  The big storm that brought inches of rain to southern parts of New England didn’t seem to be much of an event in this area, as I only recorded 0.15 inches of liquid in my rain gauge for the entire system.

I had an intermediate group today, with a couple of students that were working on transitioning fully over to parallel, so we did a lot of drills to get them on their way.  After yesterday’s experience, Ty decided to ride his Telemark skis again to work on his Tele turns, so instead of going with one of the more advanced groups, he came with us and tried to focus on that.  I was on my Telemark skis to enable working with Ty, but it was nice to be able to use that Telemark versatility and work just as smoothly on alpine turns with the other students.

I’ve attached a couple of scenic shots below that I captured around noontime today:

Bolton Valley, VT 13MAR2010

We headed up to Bolton this afternoon for a bit if skiing, unsure if the conditions were going to warrant much of a stay.  Weather wise, there was neither fresh powder nor bright sun, so it was looking like our first lackluster sort of day up there in a while.  We hit the Timberline area at around 1:30 P.M., where the temperature at the 1,500’ elevation was probably in the low 40s F.  Fortunately, the snow was nicely softened into spring corn and the skiing was fantastic.  As soon as we’d started our first run down Twice as Nice we knew we were going to stick around.  A quick check in the trees revealed that the off piste hadn’t really softened to the perfection that we’d found on the trails, whether due to the shelter of the trees or lack of traffic.  Basically though, it was a great day of on piste spring skiing, just without the sunshine.  As of the end of the day, coverage was wall to wall all the way down to the lowest elevations of Timberline (~1,500’) so that was nice to see.  We didn’t venture to the main mountain, but with its additional elevation, coverage should only be enhanced over Timberline.  I could tell that a couple of the more sensitive spots on Timberline were close to opening up to ground, so without any new snow over the next few days I’m sure there will be a few areas to watch out for unless the groomers did some patch work.  It sounds like the big coastal storm was bringing some precipitation to parts of southern New England, but it was simply dry and overcast while we were up at Bolton.

With neither off piste nor major bump skiing in mind for the day, E and Ty decided to ride their Telemark skis.  For Ty, it was his first day on his Teles in quite a while, probably over a month, so he was excited to get back on them.  A few weeks back I’d picked up a couple of binding wedges at OGE, and this was his first chance to try his skis with them.  I guess it can be common to have too much forward lean in kids’ Telemark setups, with “rocker launch” being a potential issue, and although it didn’t seem to be a major problem with Ty’s rig when I checked the resting height of his boot’s heel, it seemed like it was worth picking some up wedges for a few bucks since they’ve been recommended and he might benefit.  Ty didn’t indicate that he could feel any major differences in his skiing with the wedges in place, but they certainly weren’t a problem.  I’ll have to check the heel of his boots and see where they rest now.  Even though Ty couldn’t discern any major changes with the wedges installed, potentially through progression alone, E and I agreed that he had his best day yet on his Telemark gear.  He’s still working on being able to hold a lower stance through turns, and I can see that that’s going to challenge him for a while.  He’s able to hold his lower Telemark stances longer and longer however.  Ty noted that he’s got a weaker side with regard to his Telemark stance/turn, and like E, he worked on that during the afternoon.  The most obvious advancement for Ty was his ability to come into airs in one Telemark stance, switch it up in the air, and land in the opposite Telemark stance.  I enjoy playing around with that a lot, and whether because Ty had reached that stage of progression, or he had enjoyed seeing the ski jumpers doing their Telemark landings in the Olympics a couple of weeks back, he really got into it today.  Finding that he was able to land his jumps in a Telemark stance kept Ty pretty invigorated all afternoon, so he may go with his Telemark skis again tomorrow at Stowe.

Since it was pretty gray and overcast, I didn’t get anything in the way of scenery shots, but I did grab a few shots of the boys in action in the corn snow:

Stowe, VT 07MAR2010

Like yesterday, today was another warm, sunny day, and we headed off to Stowe in the afternoon for our weekly program.  I was very curious to see if spring conditions would develop to a greater extent than the spotty softening we’d found at Bolton yesterday, but with Spruce Peak’s southern exposure, I was confident that we could at least find a decent amount of corn snow over there.  During our drive up to Stowe, the midday views of all the snow-covered alpine areas in the surrounding peaks were very impressive.  There’s a nice-looking snowfield atop Hunger Mountain, and obvious lines were popping out in various spots up and down the Worcester Range.  Hopefully people are getting out and hitting these spots.

I was supposed to have two snowboarders in my group for the day, so I started off the afternoon on my board in preparation for riding with them.  Before group began, I went off with Ty and Dylan for a run off the Sunny Spruce Quad, and we hit Fredie’s Chute.  The snow was already plenty soft, so the turns were great.  With its southern exposure and ledgy areas though, there are already a few bare spots starting to open up on.  Seeing that the snow conditions were already excellent in terms of softening, I was planning to work on bumps for the afternoon with the kids.  So, when my snowboarders didn’t show up and I was left with a group of exclusively skiers, I quickly switched to skis.  A couple of fantastic carves on West Slope had me enjoying my board, but I find skis far superior in the bumps.

With just three skiers in tow, two of them being Ty and Dylan, we were off to find ourselves some soft bumps.  We worked our way over toward the Sensation Quad and did a run on Whirlaway.  Whirlaway is a favorite of James, one of our other students, but since he was out for the day, the other guys ripped it up in his honor.  We next took on Upper Smuggler’s, and for the first time this spring they got to hit the final, very steep section of Upper Smuggler’s that has often been closed this season due to low snow depths.  It’s another southern exposure trail, so a couple of bare spots were appearing, but coverage was almost perfect and the boys had a lot of fun.  As it turned out, they hadn’t had their butts kicked quite hard enough, so I decided that we should do a run on Chin Clip.

We headed down Chin Clip just as the sun was leaving it and things were starting to tighten up, but we still caught good snow.  Coverage was perfect as far as I saw, and the endless bumps were huge; it was classic Chin Clip.  We ran into a group of three Telemark skiers during our descent, and they were very impressed with how the boys were playing in the bumps.  When they asked how I was able to keep up, I told them that I spend a lot of time on my Telemark skis; then, when I get on my alpines I feel like a super hero.  At least that’s what my quads tell me, and they seem to know what they’re talking about.

A few pictures from the day have been added below:

Bolton Valley, VT 06MAR2010

With temperatures at the house closing in on the mid 40s F by midday today, we were expecting corn snow up on the mountain, but as it turns out, that wasn’t quite what we found.  We started off at Timberline, and if anywhere on the mountain was going to feature spring snow, the lower half of Timberline was going to be it.  We joined up with Stephen and Helena, and once we got off at the Timberline mid station, we headed over to Spell Binder based on a request from Dylan.  The Spell Binder headwall was far from spring snow, it was mid winter snow, but pretty firm since there had obviously been some temperature fluctuations down there.  It may have been due to the cool west or northwest breeze that was blowing, but only the lower elevation spots in direct sunlight featured corn snow.  Those spots were good, but you had to stick to the skier’s right of the runs, and even then you were looking at partial runs.

If we weren’t going to get much in the way of spring snow, we decided that we’d head to the top of the main mountain and see where we could find the best winter snow.  I didn’t know how high the freezing levels had gone during the week, but once we got to the top of Wilderness, I could see that they had certainly gone above 3,000’ in areas exposed to the sun.  We skied Bolton Outlaw, and the snow was OK for presumably going above freezing at some point, but certainly not like last Saturday.  I checked out some of the snow in the trees, and it turned out that up around the 3,000’ mark, snow that had not seen any sun was still dry and powdery.  Based on what I saw up there, it looked like north-facing terrain from about 2,500’ on up likely held onto some good powder.  While sunny and at times warm, the weather was pretty dry last week, so that may have helped with the preservation.  I bet some of the north-facing lines below Paradise Pass or off the peak of Ricker Mountain would deliver some great turns.

One note of interest that I observed from the Wilderness area was the state of the snowpack in the higher reaches of Ricker Mountain.  There’s a lot of snow up there.  You can actually see snowfields starting to form in some areas due to the big storms that came through at the end of February.  Also, I saw that the big trail map at the top of the Wilderness Lift was starting to get buried, and as I recall it’s pretty high off the ground.  I can see new lines forming all over the place high up on Ricker Mountain now, so I’m sure there are plenty of good turns up top for those that have time to hike above the lifts.  If the boys had the stamina and inclination at this point, that would be a fun way to spend some days.

Lower down on Wilderness we took some turns in some of the trees off Old Turnpike, and the untracked snow wasn’t half bad.  There was some nice settled powder in spots, but it was highly variably because if you got to a spot where the sun had hit (which was most places), there would be a sun/melt crust.  Lower Turnpike itself featured great snow as usual.  There was good packed powder on the shaded side of the trail, which transitioned right over to corn on the sunny side with little if any hybrid in between.  You could almost alternate winter and spring skiing with each turn if you wanted to.

Although there was the slight breeze and the air temperature was probably just in the 30s F, the bright sun made things quite comfortable so the base area had that spring feel in the afternoon.  We hung outside with the kids for a bit and got some waffles from the hut before making a last run back down to Timberline.  By the time we headed back down, the Timberline area was already closed, so it had that spooky, private ski area feel.  A few images from today are attached below: