Stowe, VT 10APR2010

April has generally continued our March trend of warm temperatures and very low snowfall, but leading up into the weekend, the forecast suggested that there was the chance for some overnight snows in the higher elevations.  Moisture didn’t look plentiful, but at least the temperatures were returning to more normal levels, and things were lining up to potentially produce some minor snow accumulations each night.

Yesterday, I started monitoring the temperatures near the Mt. Mansfield ridgeline (3,950’) thanks to the real-time sensor that Powderfreak told us about, and the air was already below freezing in the morning as a cold front came through.  One shot of moisture had come through the area yesterday afternoon/evening, and with that I’d already seen snow crashing out of the clouds along the Green Mountains south of the Winooski Valley.  While that precipitation had moved on eastward according to the radar, there were some developing echoes off to the northwest of the Burlington area, and according to the forecast, those held the chance for snow.

When I was outside this morning checking the gauge for my 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS report, I was surprised that I was only being hit with the occasional spit of precipitation – the BTV composite radar actually suggested that there was a decent amount of moisture flowing into the area:

We hadn’t received any snow at the house, but Stowe’s 6:00 A.M. morning report was indicating an inch of new snow – hat’s off to Stowe for always getting their reports out so early, even when the weather trends aren’t the most exciting.  I was surprised that they had only reported an inch of new snow, since it seemed like there could have been a bit more snowfall than that in the highest elevations based on the moisture and air temperatures in the low 20s F.  At that time of the morning however, it was the only indication I had of any snowfall.  I’d told E and the boys that there was the potential for at least a few powder turns over the weekend, but if the snow was going to be very minimal and temperatures on the mountain were going to stay down in the 30s (or even 20s) F, I didn’t think they’d be keen on heading out for dust on crust.

Everything changed right around 7:20 A.M. though, I looked outside and steady snow had started falling at the house.  It was light to only occasionally moderate, and it wasn’t sticking with our air temperature at 36 F, but it was looking good and it was the first snow we’d seen at the house in a while.  Right around that time, Allenson indicated that he was getting accumulation over in Corinth, and j24vt said that he’d actually accumulated an inch of snow in the lower elevations of Stowe.  It snowed for about an hour at our house, and although in our location it didn’t amount to more than a couple transient tenths of an inch of accumulation on the snowboard, it was a good sign.  If snowfall could make it all the way down to our location, there was likely to be additional accumulation in the higher reaches of Mt. Mansfield.  The temperatures had remained in the low 20s F high on the mountain, so the snow actually had the potential to be pretty dry as well:

With snow falling at the house, it wasn’t hard to convince E and the boys to head out for some turns.  We were still suspicious about dust on crust in some locations, but the plan was to use the quad to get up to the higher elevations, and then hike up the Toll Road from there to get some turns in the new snow.

Although somewhat excited to go skiing, E and the boys weren’t “jump in the car half dressed” excited, but we eventually headed out to the mountain toward mid morning.  We hadn’t picked up any lingering snow accumulations in the valley bottoms in our area, but I could see some hints of white in the hills on the other side of the Winooski Valley, and obvious white accumulations up in the Worcester Range as we drove through Waterbury.  Just as exciting was the fact that as we got to Waterbury Center, cars began to trickle past with accumulations of snow on them.  Ty and Dylan had fun picking them out, and the snowy cars started to become a bit more numerous as we headed farther north toward Stowe.  It didn’t quite have the feel of an April snow though, because spring seems to have progressed much more quickly than normal this year, and there’s no residual snow on the ground.  It almost had the feel of one of those October snowstorms, where folks who live in the higher elevations come down with cars laden with snow, giving you just a taste of what might be going on up in the mountains.  Perhaps with the lack of leaves on the trees it was actually more like an early November snowfall event, except that some trees had buds and green was starting to show in places.

Whatever the case, it was fun to see the snow accumulations on the ground gradually appear and increase as we passed through Waterbury Center and headed north toward Stowe.  By the time we’d reached the Moscow/Stowe area, the accumulations had become much more consistent, and as we finally approached the Mansfield area, it was obvious that a nice whitening had taken place.

We found it quite windy in the Mansfield parking lot – I joked with E that of course such a “massive” storm would bring a lot of wind with it.  I was initially worried that the quad wouldn’t even be running because of the wind, but we saw people on it, and the ride ended up not being that bad at all.  I’d say the parking lot was actually one of the windiest places we encountered.

E had been concerned about how things were going to go with regard to loading the boys onto the lift with all our packs.  Somehow the way that we used to frequently ride lifts with the boys IN packs was less stressful to her, but I reassure her that I had a good system that I’d used with Ty before.  I securely attached the boy’s packs to mine, and I could hold them comfortably in one hand during loading.

Even with the new snow, the bumps of Liftline and National looked quite menacing and hard as we looked down on them while riding the lift.  The new snow had settled into the troughs, but the peaks of old, dirty snow were quite prominent.  We were glad our plans were bringing us elsewhere at that point.  At the top of the quad, we cut past the Stone Hut, and headed toward upper Toll Road to find no wind and really nice temperatures.  I was surprised to see that nobody had yet ventured up onto the road at such a late hour, but based on the number of cars in the parking lot, there weren’t all that many people on the mountain to begin with.  We put on our skins, Dylan strapped on his snowshoes, and up the trail we went.

The new powder was very nice, roughly medium weight, and about 2 to 3 inches of it had settled in along the upper elevations of the Toll Road.  Temperatures were still in the 20s F, so for the time being the snow was staying dry.  The clouds were low and swirling above our heads near the Nose as we hiked along, but it wasn’t too long before the clouds began to break away and reveal blue skies.  The views got better and better as the clouds broke away, and by the time we neared the top of the road it seemed like an entirely different day.

We only spent a few moments up at the top while we removed our skins, but it was quite pleasant.  The wind was howling through the big tower near the Mt. Mansfield Summit Station, but it didn’t seem to be making it to our side of the ridge.  We carefully navigated a few sections of thin snow at the very top of the road, then got into some nice turns for the rest of the descent.  The appearance of the sun had come at a bit of a price, as the snow that got lit up was just starting to lose its fluff and get thick.  Fortunately that process hadn’t yet progressed too far.  I think everyone had some good turns

The final descent back to the parking lot was actually a bit of a treat.  We’d initially written that part of the day off as potentially dust on crust, but it was far from that.  By the time we’d descended, the sun and temperatures had already warmed the subsurface snow to a nice spring consistency, and left on top of that an inch or two of new snow that was either settled, dense, or wet depending on the elevation and sun exposure.  We took a combination of Lord and then Tyro, and then finally went through the half pipe at the boy’s request.  The lower part of the route featured many areas of untracked snow off to the sides, and made for some excellent turns.  The skiing was so nice that I actually brought up the idea of heading up for some more turns, but it was well into the afternoon, and E and the boys already had burgers on their minds – and I guess we really hadn’t had any sort of lunch.

On the way home we stopped in at Rimrock’s for food, and possibly because of the strange mid afternoon timing, it was deserted except for a couple of people at the bar.  This did give the boys a chance to mill around without bothering anyone.  The Bruins game was on in the background, and we were casually following it since they only needed 1 point to secure a playoff spot.  However, things suddenly got a lot more exciting when they scored three shorthanded goals in the span of 64 seconds.  One of the guys at the bar thought that had to be a record for three shorthanded goals in such a short span.

So in the end, a little spring snow had made for quite nice trip to the mountain, and it sounds like some of the SkiVT-L folks even had a bit of an impromptu party for good measure.  Things were very much spring later that afternoon in the valley, but towards evening, clouds began to build in and the forecast was calling for the process to repeat itself with a little overnight snow followed by clearing.  These little events aren’t much, but when snowfall has been so infrequent, they help to liven things up and keep the ski vibe going a little stronger.