Stowe, VT 30NOV2012

An image of skiers making their way up the Liftline trail at Stowe Mountain Resort to catch some early morning powder turns
Today’s dawn patrol on Liftline

A cold front came through the area last night, and while it was expected to drop a few inches of snow, the Northern Greens did their usual thing and ultimately managed to pull a foot of beautiful fluff out of the event.  Even though I didn’t quite know what the totals were going to be last night, Winter Weather Advisories had to be posted by the National Weather Service Office in Burlington, we’d picked up over 4 inches of snow down at the house by~9:30 P.M., and it was obvious that the local mountains were getting something worthy of dawn patrol.

I awoke this morning to our coldest temperatures of the season – we bottomed out at 7.2 F and there was no doubt that the snow was going to be light and dry.  Since the snow had shut off by roughly midnight, there had been plenty of time to clean up the roads, and the trip over to Stowe was quick.  There were a good 20+ vehicles present as I parked in the Mansfield lot, and although it was still fairly dark, I could see a few skiers making their way up the slope leading to the trails.  They seemed to be heading off in the direction of Nosedive, so I opted to head that way and hopefully make use of an established skin track.

“I’ve often wondered if it
was worth going the slightly
narrower route on skins to
reduce weight and enhance
glide. After today’s experience,
I can tell you to forget about it
for typical alpine ascents.”

The track headed up Lower National through a few lower elevation snow guns, and the areas of firm, manmade snow quickly made me aware that my ascension setup wasn’t going to be perfect.  I was using my AMPerages (139-115-123) to see how they fared in the powder, but since I don’t have skins for them yet, I was using my RT-86 skins (127-86-113).  That width differential left a good deal of base exposed, and on occasion I had to use a heaping helping of arm strength with my poles to avoid slipping.  Although I’ve always cut my skins to the full width of my skis, I’ve often wondered if it was worth going the slightly narrower route on skins to reduce weight and enhance glide.  After today’s experience, I can tell you to forget about it for typical alpine ascents.  Unless you’re going to be touring on very low angle terrain, it’s just not worth it based on what I experienced today – any benefit from the weight/glide could easily be lost by the constant slipping.  Thank goodness the skin track didn’t have any post holes in it this morning or it would have been a huge pain to hold traction.  Up through Lower National I was getting by reasonably well with the occasional small slip of my skins, but the challenge wasn’t quite over.  After reaching the top of Lower National, the skin track shot up Midway, which has quite a steep pitch, and maintaining skin traction became a lot harder.  The pitch eased a bit as the track made its way onto Nosedive, but by the time I’d reached the Liftline/National junction, time was getting short and I was more than happy avoid any more slipping.  It was time for a descent.

I’d been checking on snow depth during my ascent, but due to all the snow this week, there was a lot of unconsolidated stuff under the current storm’s bounty and it was difficult to assess just what came down overnight.  I’d been getting measurements of roughly a foot or more since I’d started at the base area (~1,500’), but when I stuck my measurement pole into the snow at that ~2,800’ mark, I got an overall depth of 18 inches.  Combined with what I was seeing around me from other skiers (check out the pictures from adk and from Powderfreak at the American Weather Forum), who were having little if any issues touching down on obstacles below the snow, the potential turns were looking really good.  National is quite steep and while it wouldn’t typically be my first choice for early season skiing, Mother Nature has really been dishing out the snow on Stowe this week.  It looked ready and I was about to test it out.

“These new fat, rockered skis
are absolutely the real deal.
I continued to bound my way
down the steep slope, just
amazed at how easy the
turns were.”

I switched to descent mode and decided to see what the AMPerages could do.  I dropped in for the first few turns, tentatively, still wondering in the back of my mind if I was going to hit something below, but it was immediately obvious that there was plenty of snow.  The powder was light and dry, and I quickly found myself just giddy with how well the AMPerages performed.  This was my first time on such fat, rockered skis, and although I figured that there might be some modest, incremental increase in ease of powder skiing over my regular Telemark setup, it was far more than that.  These new fat, rockered skis are absolutely the real deal.  I continued to bound my way down the steep slope, just amazed at how easy the turns were.  At the bottom of National I decided to avoid heading back down toward the snow guns where I’d ascended, and instead took Houghton’s over toward the Lookout Double.  It was very quiet over there, since it was well away from any snow guns, and I finished off my run turning my way through fluffy silence.  It’s not even December 1st and there’s not just passable, but really good natural snow skiing from top to bottom on Mt. Mansfield, so indeed that’s a great end to November on the slopes.

An image of the Lookout Double Chairlift with fresh powder below it at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont
A peaceful Lookout this morning

Sure today featured the best snow I’ve encountered this season, but I can already tell that the powder skiing is going to be just that much more fun this season with the new boards in the quiver.  I’ve now tested the AMPerages in some legitimate Champlain Powder™ – they handled the fluff with aplomb and they are clearly NVT worthy in that regard.  Presumably the whole season won’t be just a fluff fest, so I’m also eager to see how they handle thicker snow and crud, but we’ll have time for that.

Stowe, VT 15NOV2012

An image of snow on evergreens near the summit of the Fourrunner Quad at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Blue skies today with a combination of natural and manmade snow coating the trees at the summit of Stowe’s Fourrunner Quad

I was in Morrisville today, so on the way home to Waterbury I stopped in at Stowe to make some turns.  From the Stowe Village area, the view is quite nice with all the trails covered in white from the snow at the beginning of the week.  Even at midday, the temperature was just a bit above freezing at the base (~1,500’) and the resort was cranking out snow from top to bottom.  The bulk of the snowmaking was taking place on the main routes in the Lord/North Slope area, although snow was also being blow over on the lower slopes of Spruce Peak in the same places that we’d seen it on Sunday.  To avoid the roar of the guns, I decided to make my ascent up Nosedive.  Hiking was in order at the start of the ascent, since natural snow doesn’t appear until roughly the 1,800’ elevation.  The air was generally calm and the temperatures pleasantly cool as I hiked, and finally when I reached the 3,000’ elevation it seemed that the snowpack was sufficiently deep and consistent enough to strap on the skis and start skinning.  There were a couple of descent tracks from people who had skied the upper parts of Nosedive, and while the snow was actually quite nice with some powder and sugary surface hoar, you’d certainly want to use your rock skis based on the coverage.  I topped out at the Fourrunner Quad summit area, and switched over for the descent on the plateau above Nosedive away from the snow guns.  Estimates of the natural snow depth at various elevations on the ascent are as follows:

1,500’: 0”
1,800’: T
2,000’: 0.5”
2,500’: 2”
3,000’: 3-4”
3,600’: 4”

“The descent featured all sorts
of conditions, such as bottomless
manmade snow, sticky manmade sludge,
refrozen moonscape, and thankfully,
some areas of packed powder and
partially groomed manmade snow.”

The descent featured all sorts of conditions, such as bottomless manmade snow, sticky manmade sludge, refrozen moonscape, and thankfully, some areas of packed powder and partially groomed manmade snow.  I started the descent on Upper Lord, and that was where I found the bottomless manmade that had recently been blown.  After my experience with the snow on my November 4th tour, I have to say that I find that unconsolidated manmade stuff even more horrific to ski than Sierra Cement or Cascade Concrete, at least on Telemark gear.  The turns often feel like an accident waiting to happen as you glide across the top and then suddenly cut into the paste with random frequency as you pressure the turn.  Fortunately that ended by the time I reached the top of the Lookout Double.  Snow was still being made, but the guns weren’t as densely packed and you could get around so that you were riding on older snow.  Those middle elevations offered some of the best turns, with some nice packed powder to be found.  The manmade snow that had had some time to dry out and/or had been packed by other traffic skied quite nicely.  I did get into trouble in one spot where a gun was blowing fresh snow that turned out to be on the wet side – as soon as I stopped, several inches of it glommed onto the bottom of my skis and I had to slowly work it off while I got moving.  I did my best to avoid any of the snow being blown by the lower mountain guns after that point, but it seemed like that one was just especially bad because of the mixture it was putting out.  On the bottom half of the mountain there were still some areas of nice snow, but also refrozen and slick areas where one had to be careful to avoid a sliding out.  At the bottom of my run, the guns were blowing in the North Slope Terrain Park, and I was dreading the thought of what the snow would be like down at that elevation.  I watched a snow cat head right up through the gut of the trail, so I waited for him to make it above me in order to stay out of his way.  That turned out to be very beneficial, because the best snow was actually in the track that had been churned up by the treads.  It hadn’t been fully smoothed out, but by breaking up the top skin of the manmade snowpack, it produced some really nice packed powder.  Those turns were actually great as I made my way back and forth in the swatch of the snowcat, and it gives me confidence that once Stowe’s snow is appropriately groomed, it’s going to ski quite nicely.

An image of the summit area of the Fourrunner Quad at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont with a couple of snow guns making snow
Today at the summit of the Fourrunner Quad

So, I definitely found some nice turns out there today.  Today’s skiing scores well above what was available when I went out for a tour back on November 4th, but it wasn’t quite up to the consistency we found in the corn snow on Sunday’s outing, so today will fall in the middle of the pack for this November’s turns.  It looks like we’re going to continue with this stretch of generally clear weather into next week, so while we can’t expect much natural snow during that time, at least the temperatures are such that plenty of snowmaking can take place.

Stowe, VT 11NOV2012

An image of Erica skiing the North Slope trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont near dusk
Today’s descent of Mt. Mansfield was at dusk.

The past week has seen some excellent cold temperatures for November snowmaking in the Northeastern U.S., and Stowe took full advantage, running close to 200 snow guns at times.  I witnessed some of the high elevation guns being fired up when I was out on the mountain last Sunday, but since that point it’s been an all out assault reaching all the way down to the base.  The resort did such a thorough job covering the slopes that they were able to go ahead with an early opening for seasons pass holders yesterday.  The conditions looked fantastic based on Powderfreak’s pictures from the day, but just as exciting was the fact that the lifts wouldn’t be running today, opening up the chance for earned turns.  The forecast called for sun and temperatures in the 50s F, so it looked like we’d have some nice soft snow for carving.

We had house guests over in the morning, and then stopped by the Nordic Barn to pick up some new poles and Telemark boots for Ty, so it was mid afternoon before we got to the mountain.  This meant that we were already in the shadow of mighty Mansfield as we began our ascent, but the sun was still shining brightly on the east wall of the valley.  There’s still a good deal of natural snow around on Mt. Mansfield, with a half foot of snow at the stake as of this evening, but the snowmaking terrain in the North Slope area was the obvious choice in terms of coverage.  The ascent was very easy, since the surface was predominantly dense, manmade snow, which had consolidated with today’s warm temperatures and become spring-like.  We saw a couple of people heading up just ahead of us, but we appeared to be the last group ascending for the day.

The boys had a good ascent in terms of their energy levels, and we got to enjoy numerous views of the Spruce Peak area as we made our way up out of the base elevations.  It turns out that Stowe even turned on some of their snowmaking firepower on the sunny slopes of Spruce, and we could see large expanses of white that had been laid down in the Easy Street and Slalom Hill areas.  We topped out on North Slope in the area of the Lord junction, with dusk dictating that we just had to descend.  Beneath the darkening sky, we descended with the trails to ourselves toward the glowing lights of the Stowe Mountain Lodge.  We had just enough light to see the terrain, so it made for one of those surreal on-slope experiences.  Even at the late hour, the snow remained soft, and it supported great carving thanks to the warm air that’s moving into the region.  Dylan was the hero of the descent, actually finding a tail clip from Ty’s skin that had been lost on the way up.  It was amazing that he was able to find the small piece of metal it in such low light, but he’s going to be inheriting those skis soon once we get Ty’s new ones mounted, so perhaps it was destiny.

After getting in some skiing last weekend, and now this one, November 2012 is turning out much more typical than the previous couple we’ve seen.  Both of those featured above average temperatures, so I only got out for one day in November 2011, and not even a single day on November 2010.  I’m definitely enjoying the return to normalcy this year, and although we’ve got a couple of warm days on tap, snow is already back in the forecast for the mountains and valleys on Tuesday.

Stowe, VT 04NOV2012

An image showing ski tracks on the Sunrise trail at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont after an early November snowfall
Catching a few early season turns on Sunrise today

It’s been snowing in the Green Mountains since Friday, and accumulating down to the 1,500’ to 2,000’ level.  We’ve even had some flakes reach down to the mountain valleys, and although the lower elevations have generally seen rain and we haven’t had any accumulation at the house, we’ve picked up 0.39” of liquid over the past couple of days.  Even as early as yesterday, snow depths had reached the point where it looked like it was worth making a few turns, so I headed to Stowe today to check it out for myself.

I left the house near midday under cloudy skies and a temperature of 39 F, but a few minutes into the drive, the temperature dropped to 37 F in the Waterbury Center area, and snow began to fall.  It snowed lightly all the way to the mountain, and accumulations began to appear just as I hit the resort base at ~1,500’ in elevation.  The temperature had really dropped as I ascended the last stretch to the resort, and as I parked in the Midway lot, the temperature was right around the freezing mark.

Accumulations in the Midway area were generally a trace to an inch, so I stowed my skis on my pack and headed over toward Nosedive to use that standard route of ascent.  As I approached the 2,000’ mark, the snow depth became a bit more consistent, generally in the 1”-2” range, and I switched to skins.  I was probably a touch early on putting on my skins since I encountered a few more spots of mud, but that’s what rock skins are for, and it made for a lot less slipping than hiking in my boots.  The precipitation that had been snow at the start of my ascent turned into more of a freezing mist as I headed into the clouds around 3,000’.  Up around 3,600’ at the Stone Hut it was windy, well below freezing, and quite chaotic with Stowe’s snow gun firing off what seemed like a 21 gun salute.  I sheltered behind the hut to keep out of the wind and the roar of the snow guns as I switched to descent mode and had a much needed snack.  The wind made for plenty of drifting during my ascent, but I’d sum up the snow depths with respect to elevation as follows:

1,600’: T-1”
2,000’: 1”-2”
2,500’: 2”-4”
3,000’: 4”-6”
3,600’: 6”+

I’d only encountered a couple of groups descending on Nosedive while on my ascent, but there were plenty of tracks from previous visitors and the snow was quite packed out, so I decided to descend some other terrain off to the south.  The combination of wind, freezing mist, low visibility, and manmade snow made for a really challenging descent, especially on my skinny Telemark skis, so I generally just took it easy and stuck to mellow terrain.  In general I didn’t find much in the way of decent turns until I got down onto Sunrise below the snowmaking, and pretty quickly after that the snow depth was getting a bit meager.  I did manage some nice turns here and there, but eventually it was more gorilla-style survival turns until I finally decided to call it at the elevation of Crossover.  I strapped the skis back on my pack and had a nice stroll back to the car.  I’d say at this point the skiing isn’t worth putting in a ton of effort, but it’s definitely fun to get out for a few turns if you’re close by.  We’ll have to see if anything comes from the Nor’easter that’s expected this week though, because the current snow could serve as a decent base for another round of accumulations.

Checking out today’s snow at Bolton Valley, Vermont

An image of the village area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont - November snows have just coated the slopes along with the village.
Today’s snow up at Bolton Valley

On our way toward Burlington to run some errands today, we headed up to Bolton Valley in the mid afternoon to get our season’s passes.  Temperatures were in the low 40s F at the house, but started to drop pretty quickly as we ascended the Bolton Valley Access Road.  The first signs of snow on the ground along the road were just above the Timberline Base in the 1,700’ elevation range, but I also noticed that slushy snow was still present on vehicles in the parking lot of the Timberline Base Lodge (1,500’) even though there was nothing left on the ground there.  I suspect that the snow line was a bit lower last night, but I’m not sure quite had far down it reached. Up in the village at 2,100’ it was snowing with temperatures in the low to mid 30s F, and we found about an inch and a half of accumulated snow on the ground/elevated surfaces.  It was quite a contrast descending the road and spending the afternoon in the Burlington area, where the temperatures were in the mid 40s F and it was hard to imagine that it was snowing even below 2,000’, the lapse rate actually seemed steeper than usual today.  In the Champlain Valley it was often just cloudy with the feeling that precipitation had wound down, but as the afternoon wore on, spits of precipitation and bouts of light rain became more common.  At times we’d have bursts of more moderate precipitation and it was nice to know that moisture was still heading to the mountains and falling as snow.  Leaving Burlington later in the evening we went from 42 F in Williston to ~37-38 F at the house.  There no accumulating snow to report down here as the temperature is sitting around the 37 F mark, but we’ve got light to moderate rain right now and 0.18” of liquid in the rain gauge since it was emptied this morning, so it’s probably still accumulating at elevation.  A few pictures are available from our visit to the higher elevations of Vermont today.

November snows begin for Vermont

An image of the snow line on Mt. Mansfield and some of the Northern Green mountains in Vermont in early November
The snow line visible in the Greens today

After five snow events for Vermont in October, temperatures warmed up for the end of the month as Hurricane Sandy entered the picture, but cold air is back now that we’re into November, and snow has come with it.  Taking a look outside from my office at UVM today, I saw that the cloud ceiling has risen a bit up to ~3,500’, and an obvious snow line was visible in the Northern Greensit looked like it was in the 2,500’ to 3,000’ range, jiving nicely with Powderfreak’s report of 2,800’ on the east side of the range at Stowe Mountain Resort.  The northern portion of the Central Greens south of I-89 was actually hidden at that because there was snow falling there, and that snow gradually moved northward.  As temperatures have cooled tonight, we’re even getting snow down in the mountain valleys, with potential accumulation in the forecast over the next couple of days.