The weather shifted into a bit of a spring-like pattern this past week, with temperatures getting above freezing even in the mountains. Knowing that the snow had tightened up as colder temperatures moved back in by Thursday and Friday, we didn’t ski yesterday, but instead waited until today when Mother Nature brought in our latest winter storm. The storm actually started up yesterday at a rather modest pace, and accumulations were generally just 3 to 5 inches at the resorts as of this morning. It was a high water content snow though, and it really held the potential to cover up the underlying subsurface. And, that snow even continued to fall throughout the morning at a more fervent pace, so the prospects for bottomless powder this afternoon were looking very good.
“I was amazed at how good the snow was; we knew the surface powder was going to be good, but it really seemed like traffic had been light in there because even the packed snow underneath was really quite nice.”
We arrived at the mountain early enough to take a quick run off the Sunny Spruce Quad before ski program began, and we could tell that the mountain had already received a nice resurfacing. Trails that people had skied showed a few firm areas, but anywhere that hadn’t been touched was beautiful. When the lower slopes of Spruce Peak have been resurfaced, you know that the slopes of Mt. Mansfield are going to be excellent. As I looked over toward The Chin and saw how the Gondola simply disappeared into the snowfall, I knew we were going to make our way over there in short order.
Today’s group was one of our biggest of the season, with Ty, Dylan, me, Joe, Ethan, Luc, Elisabeth, Kenny, Jack, Wiley, Johan, Julia, and big Luke it numbered 13. Last Sunday we hiked up into the Mt. Mansfield alpine, and it was tough to manage at times with a group that size, but with today being a storm day we were staying down low and I expected it to be much easier. Today Joe and I assigned everyone a buddy that they were to keep tabs on as well; since we’d be skiing a lot (as it turned out, almost exclusively) in the trees, we definitely wanted that system in place. It’s just too easy for folks to get separated when tree skiing, and the bigger the group, the harder it gets to keep everyone relatively coalesced.
Once gathered we headed right over to the Gondola and were surprised to find a rather large queue sticking right out of the lower terminal. There was a big AIG event going on, but we suspected the line was in part due to folks riding the Gondola to stay out of the wind. Elisabeth told us that it was really windy on the Fourrunner Quad, and I could tell that today was going to be a windy one even when we were on Sunny Spruce. It was a perfect day to stay in the shelter of the trees, so our first run was down Ravine. I was amazed at how good the snow was; we knew the surface powder was going to be good, but it really seemed like traffic had been light in there because even the packed snow underneath was really quite nice. Ravine is in excellent condition as one would expect this time of year, with many of the ice falls looking rather small because so much snow has piled in. Everyone tackled the large ice fall well, and each person did it in their own style as I shot photos. Some of us made forays into the powder in the trees off to the sides of the main ravine, and that powder was sweet. Although in spots, the trails bore the firmness that suggested temperatures had risen above freezing at some point, with the off piste skiing it was really hard to tell.
We might have stayed for another run on the Gondola were it not for that surprisingly long lift queue, but leaving meant that we were quickly on to my other plans for the day. With the Fourrunner Quad really getting up there into today’s winds, I decided that we should stay low and work the trees off the Mountain Triple Chair to see how the snow was faring down there. We started off heading through the Chapel Glades, and as soon as I got off into the untracked powder outside the main lines, I knew that we’d found an activity that would keep us going the whole afternoon. The group proceeded to work just about every segment of off piste terrain from that southern end of the mountain, and there was so much untracked powder that even our group of 13 was going back to areas more than once.
“Whether it’s the awesome coverage, the great snow, or their abilities hitting their stride as we get into the latter part of the season, the students seem to be firing on all cylinders.”
Whether or not it was the buddy system helping out, or the newer members of the group simply learning our typical dynamic and modus operandi, things just worked today. As large as it was, the group somehow meshed and there was no splintering or wandering. Folks knew just when to wait (such as when we’d encounter a trail) and when someone crashed or got stuck in the powder, people always chipped in and helped them right out. One thing I’m very excited about is that everyone’s tree skiing is now at a level where I can take them on just about anything without much forethought. If I see a chunk of terrain that looks interesting, I just dive in and say let’s go. If we come upon cliffs, or drainage traps, or denser areas of trees, it doesn’t matter because everyone can handle it. I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed by everyone’s skiing today. Whether it’s the awesome coverage, the great snow, or their abilities hitting their stride as we get into the latter part of the season, the students seem to be firing on all cylinders.
“That boy can really ski trees.”
Dylan was sticking with me a lot so I got to watch him ski, and he was simply on fire today. I was blasting through what I thought were some tricky lines, and he was always right there if he wanted to follow me. Sometimes he’d go first and I was just amazed at the lines he’d take. He was just gliding effortlessly through whatever came his way today; it didn’t matter how tight or open the vegetation was, he was just making it all look like he was out for a Sunday stroll. That boy can really ski trees.
“…I hit the first drop of probably 6 to 8 feet right down onto another pillow, and from there the line just flowed with fresh powder…”
One of my favorite times today was somewhere in the woods near Gulch. We’d just come down through Upper T-Line and cut our way southward into a new set of trees. Everyone was choosing their own unique paths, and Wiley had followed me to skiers left as we all approached a band off cliffs and ledges that represented a cumulative drop of probably 50-100 feet. The area that Wiley and I had was all untracked, and it was steep with some pillow drops. I told Wiley to come along as I hit the first drop of probably 6 to 8 feet right down onto another pillow, and from there the line just flowed with fresh powder right down until the terrain began to mellow out. Wiley did a great job getting down through there, and indeed everyone had managed to find their own way through the steep terrain. Watching everyone make quick work of such a challenging chunk of terrain and quickly regroup when we hit the next trail below really epitomized the way that the afternoon played out. If we can keep everyone on this wavelength and in synch the way they are, our group is going to have a lot of fun going forward. Today it seemed like every off piste shot I chose delivered great terrain and untracked snow in spades. So indeed I love it when a plan comes together, but it’s even better when it brings the group together, and that’s exactly what seemed to happen today.