I gotta say, the turns were really nice out there today.
Ty and Dylan had hit the mountain on Wednesday and reported nice soft conditions thanks to some warming temperatures, but then E was out Thursday night and said the snow was quite hard and icy, at least on piste where she had been skiing on the main mountain. I figured that made sense with temperatures cooling back down, and that’s what I thought would be the theme out there on the mountain today.
“Happy Saturday, Boltonites! Today is a great day to get some snow under your feet. We have 38 groomed trails for you this morning and tons of fresh snow still hiding in the woods. Yesterday afternoon there were sightings of 6 inch stashes of powder still in Sleepy Hollow woods and Bolton Outlaw woods!”
That sounded just a bit too good to pass up, and it tipped the scales to get me to head up to the hill.
We’d been getting snow this morning at the house, but it had just started to transition over to mixed precipitation while I was getting ready to head to the mountain in the early afternoon. The precipitation was generally sprinkles of light rain as I headed up to the Bolton Valley Access Road and eventually changed over to sleet as I rode the Wilderness Double Chair and got up near 3,000’. During my second run, the mixed precipitation decided to change back to snow, and there was a nice period with some big fat flakes coming down.
“…I was pleasantly surprised to find all that bottomless snow out there today. I was thus able to probe the depth of the entire snowpack, and was typically getting depths of 30-40” in the 2,500’ – 3,000’ elevation range.”
Bolton definitely got in on that Thursday snow, and I think my wife must have just been on those wind scoured trails on the front face of the main mountain, because that’s not at all what I experienced at Wilderness. The groomed slopes were quiet, and the off piste was covered with up to a foot of dense powder. That seems like more fresh snow than there really should have been based on the snow report, so I’m not sure what to think. I also couldn’t even find any signs of crust below the most recent snows, so I’m not sure what to think about that either. I probed all over the place in the 2,000’ to 3,000’ elevation range, and the only real crust I found was a bit of sun crust on the surface of the snow in a couple of exposed areas. Maybe this was one of those setups where the new snow comes in, starts out wet, and bonds to any crust below to sort of remove the demarcation of that layer a bit. Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised to find all that bottomless snow out there today. I was thus able to probe the depth of the entire snowpack, and was typically getting depths of 30-40” in the 2,500’-3,000’ elevation range. That makes decent sense, with the snowpack now at 55” on Mansfield at 3,700’.
I spent my entire session at Wilderness this afternoon, and the Wilderness sidecountry and nearby backcountry terrain have actually seen a decent amount of skier traffic. Seeing that, and being alone with plenty of time to explore whatever I wanted, I decided to go a bit farther afield, hitting a lot of terrain beyond White Rabbit, Snow Hole, and Jamie’s. Being on mid fat Tele gear, I figured I’d just see where my travels took me in search of untracked powder, and if I ended up on the backcountry network, I’d just skate my way back to the Wilderness Chair as needed. It actually ended up being a bit of a revelation with regard to traveling in that area, because on my first run, I hit Gardiner’s Lane, and then simply followed it until I came to the junction with Snow Hole. All it took was probably 60 seconds to herring bone up to the Snow Hole return to the Wilderness Chair, so as long as you’re on something with good mobility like reasonably light Tele gear, you can easily return to the base of the Wilderness Chair. I even discovered a new area in my explorations today called “Branches” off to the right of Snow Hole. I guess people are always putting in their own little areas out on the backcountry network, so I don’t know how long that’s been around, but it’s always fun to find new areas for skiing that you didn’t know about.
The weather was quite a contrast between yesterday and today – yesterday was relatively low visibility with constant snowfall, but today there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The basin area had definitely picked up more snow since I’d left yesterday, but it was most notable above the road elevation (~1,500’). Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today. If one considers how dry that snow was, and whatever settling occurred, that was obviously another impressive shot of snow overnight.
Based on my adventures yesterday, I had no plans to bring E and the boys way up toward the east face of Big Jay; the terrain is really too steep for efficient skinning, and there’s so much great ski terrain in Big Jay Basin itself, that there was little point anyway. As I mentioned in yesterday’s report, during the approach, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the main skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. It was interesting guiding the family around today though, as the situation with visible routes was quite different. There had been a lot more skier traffic, so there were skin tracks and descent tracks all over the place, and the obvious distinction of those skin track routes had been obliterated. There were so many ski tracks and descent tracks around that the most efficient one’s I’d taken yesterday got missed in a couple of places, but they were all generally leading to where we wanted to go.
“Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today”
The skiing, as expected, was excellent. We topped out at an elevation of roughly 2,700’ in the basin, and worked our way generally back toward the parking area following the typical routes. There was plenty of powder, although since the area had seen additional skier traffic, we didn’t quite have the run of the place like I did yesterday, and we had to move around a bit more for fresh lines. I brought up the idea of just skiing straight down the basin to Route 242 and making the short walk back to the car on the road, because I saw some people that seemed to have taken that approach on my outing yesterday. E and the boys wanted to hit some of that open terrain that’s available near the bottom of the approach though, so we headed that way. Heading straight down out of the basin will be something I’ll have to try on a future trip, but it could be a nice way to avoid having to traverse to the right as much during the ascent and get a more direct fall line run.
Since the trip is an hour or so from home, we used it as an opportunity to get Dylan some of his required driving hours, and that was a win-win. There was still some snow to navigate on the roads so that he could work on dealing with slushy areas, but it was probably good that he wasn’t dealing with the heavy snowfall and low visibility that I had frequently encountered yesterday.
My drive up toward the Jay Peak area gave me a chance to see what had happened with respect to accumulations from Winter Storm Viola thus far. The Froude Numbers have been forecast to be relatively low, meaning that the western slopes were more likely to pick up accumulations than areas east of the spine, and indeed my travels showed that there have definitely been some notable differences in snowfall around the area. The rounds of fluff we’ve been getting here along the spine at our house have covered up the old snow pretty well, and monitoring that aesthetic during my travels today turned out to be a decent way to see who’d recently gotten snow. Heading east from our place, accumulations definitely dropped off toward the Waterbury Village area, and indeed, all along through the east slope towns of Waterbury Center, Stowe, and Morrisville, there really hadn’t been much new snow that I could see. Either that, or what’s fallen had sublimated and disappeared quickly off the snow banks. I’m sure accumulations increase as one heads westward up the mountain road and Mt. Mansfield, but down in Stowe Village, I could see that they need a refresher. There was still light snow falling in all those east side towns, but once I left Morrisville and rose up into the Hyde Park area, the increase in snowfall intensity was obvious. That continued right on through Eden. The snowfall was squally, and quite heavy at times, and I was continually having to turn on my headlights and fogs when I’d get into those more intense areas of snowfall. That increased snowfall definitely showed itself with accumulations – up in that area, all the roadside snowbanks were covered up with a solid coating of new snow. I’d say the snow was in general a bit less through Belvidere and Montgomery Center, but once I headed toward the pass on Route 242… well, we know what happens up there. Even from just a quick glance at the side of the road, it was obvious that even down at the roadside elevations, a lot more snow had fallen than I’d seen anywhere else on my drive.
As we’d done on our last backcountry ski trip in the area, I parked at the lower access lot on the east side of the pass to start my tour. The elevation there is about 1,500’ and right from the start of the tour, I was finding 8-12” of new champagne atop the older snow. Above 2,000’ there was 12-16” of accumulation.
I was also checking snowpack depths along my tour, and I was already getting 40” snowpack readings at just 2,000’. On top of that, it snowed the whole time I was there – most of the time it was what I’d call moderate, probably in the 0.5”/hr range, but there were also stints where it bumped up to the 1”/hr range. The snowfall was typically large, upslope-style flakes, which can make it a little tough to gauge the snowfall rate because they just stack up so fast.
It’s firsthand experiences like this though that have me rolling my eyes every time somebody gets going with the smack talk about Jay Peak and their snow reporting. My actual experiences reveal again, and again, and again that they really get a ridiculous amount of snow in that area.
My ski tour had me on Big Jay itself, and in the Big Jay Basin area today, and that southeast side of Jay Peak really seemed to be the epicenter for this shot of continuing snowfall. I can’t say when all of it fell, and I believe I only saw 3” new on the snow report for the resort this morning when I checked. Reports I heard about said that the resort side of the peak didn’t pick up nearly what the east side did, so the Jay Peak cloud was dropping its bounty there. Whatever the setup has been in terms of wind direction and Froude, etc., that Big Jay Basin area today was definitely getting hit. Something similar was going on with Hyde Park and Eden as well, to a lesser degree of course.
Indeed, my numerous checks on the snowpack today revealed that the area definitely avoided any real crust from Winter Storm Uri, so obviously that’s going to help a lot with respect to the quality of the subsurface. The resort reported 6-8” from that storm, and although there wasn’t a crust, that snow was still dense. The skiing was indeed fantastic with as much as 16” of that champagne powder in that area, but compared to last weekend, one can definitely nitpick a bit on the quality of the powder skiing. This most recent snow is so ridiculously light that it’s easy to get down to the dense Winter Storm Uri snow if you’re on more than moderate/blue pitch. Then you get to that region of dense snow, and if you pressure hard enough, you’ll collapse that layer a bit because the powder below it is less dense. Essentially, the snowpack’s got an upside down issue with respect to those second and third layers down. We’re very much talking first-world powder problems here of course, but I figured it would be good to get the beta out there for anyone else thinking of heading out. Naturally, going as fat as you can will help with respect to staying up in the champagne layer, and heck, if it dumps more tonight, that surface layer of powder will be bolstered to make it even better.
Relative to Big Jay, I could definitely see the convenience of hitting Little Jay when coming from that lower parking lot on Route 242. Last time I was up there with the family in the general Big Jay Basin area, we actually did head more toward Little Jay, and we were in that drainage between Big Jay and Little Jay. I specifically went out today with the intention of just making turns in Big Jay Basin, but I left the option open to head up toward the main lines from Big Jay (in that general Jailbird Chute area) depending on what skin tracks were in place. There turned out to be a well-established skin track that headed right to that area, so my plan was to continue on it until it either disappeared, or I felt that ascending on skins was getting pointless.
On today’s tour, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. I was heading to the right toward Big Jay Basin, but the left option would have been a good choice for the Little Jay area.
“…right from the start of the tour, I was finding 8-12” of new champagne atop the older snow. Above 2,000’ there was 12-16” of accumulation.”
As I approached the 3,000’ elevation mark on Big Jay today, the ascent was starting to get pretty silly on skins because progress was just so slow. It was around that point when I found myself sidestepping up a steep, narrow area between some trees where the person setting the skin track had essentially done the same. It was basically just a ski’s width area, so you really couldn’t even make any sort of switchback. That was the point where I knew I wasn’t going to push too much longer on the ascent. The skin track still continued a bit farther, and I stuck with it a little while longer until the track really just became hard to follow in the packed snow of the main chute area. I followed a skin track (perhaps the same one, perhaps not) off to climber’s right briefly before that seemed to disappear, and then I decided I would stop my ascent as soon as I found a reasonable spot for deskinning. I side-stepped up about an extra 30 feet or so through fairly deep powder to a nice sheltered spot where I deskinned and had a snack.
I’d been there for just a few minutes when a group of five skiers, ascending on skins, appeared below me. They said hi, and thanked me for setting the skin track. I let them know that I was just following an old one made by others and was stopping where I was. It seemed like they were just going to stop there as well, but they started breaking their own trail above me and continued pushing on. I actually debated putting my skins back on and following now that someone else was breaking trail, but after watching them get maybe another 50 feet or so over the course of 5 to 10 minutes, I knew I’d made the right choice. As a group, I think they were having fun together with respect to the challenge of trying it on skins, and that’s probably the way to approach it.
I wanted to get back down into the lower basin because the powder skiing was far better down there anyway, simply because it’s just so steep up on that face of Big Jay. You’re not getting bottomless turns up there unless there’s 2 to 3 feet of powder. The 12-16” of champagne was really nice up there, but you want even more for that upper terrain. Overall it’s some fantastic steep skiing of course, but I was on fat Tele gear and planning for undisturbed powder on more blueish and blackish pitches, not semi-tracked super steeps.
So where I topped out was in the 3,000’ – 3,100’ elevation range, and I’d argue that it was already boot pack territory. Boot packing up there would also be quite slow though because you’re pushing up very steep terrain with lots of powder. It would be a serious slog through the snow once you were off your skis if someone hadn’t already broken trail, although you could stick to the more packed snow in some of the main chutes and that might offer some efficiency. I don’t know how far that group of five went, but if they were going all the way to the summit at ~3,800’, it must have been a lot of work. I’m sure one can make it up to the Big Jay summit by skinning that route, but it’s probably something to do if you’ve got a lot of time and want the challenge, it’s certainly not the efficient way to go. I do wonder if there’s an approach from the Little Jay side that perhaps gets it done in a practical way.
One definite theme out there today was a lot of visages of the sun through moderate to heavy snow with big flakes. It was pounding snow a lot on both my tour and my drive, so it made for some nice, snowy scenes.
“…the powder I found was so exquisitely good, that I had to get E out there for some turns as well.”
Thanks to my explorations on trails like Moose-Ski and Grand View, I knew the most efficient and direct approach route to the Buchanan Shelter was to simply take the Catamount Trail to Beaver Pond. I’d taken this as my final route out on yesterday’s tour, and it really worked well as a rather direct and efficient gravity traverse back to the car. Indeed, it was quite the efficient route for the approach today, and it’s such a gradual incline that before you know it, you’ve gained several hundred feet of elevation.
During yesterday’s tour, I was pressed for time, so on my descent from the Buchanan Shelter, I had to stick near Upper Beaver Pond. Today we had plenty of time, so we were able to explore more to the east to find the best lines. There’s plenty of open forest for turns, and we were able to pick some fantastic lines that brought us right back down on Deer Run near the junction with Beaver Pond. We also had plenty of time to enjoy additional turns in some of the low-angle powder on the return to the car.
The powder was just as excellent today as it was yesterday, so it was a great ski outing. And, the fact that it just ended up being the two of us was sort of neat in the context of Valentine’s Day.
On my ascent I was on the lookout for potential descent options, exploring trails on the network such as Moose-ski. The terrain was nice, but generally rolling, so while there were some nice short descents, it would be challenging to incorporate these into an efficient tour once my climbing skins were removed. The views from that area across the beaver ponds did provide some great views back toward the alpine trails and the Village area.
The best powder skiing terrain on the tour was definitely on the slopes below the Buchanan Shelter, with some nice areas of open forest. The only sign of skiing in that area was an old ski track from someone that must have been there at least a couple of storms ago. I suspect traffic is generally light in this area because it requires an approach that’s close to two miles, vs. much quicker access in many other spots on the network. There’s a vast area of terrain for good descents off the ridge where Buchanan Shelter is located, enclosed by the Long Trail, Goat Path, Lower Maple Loop, Deer Run, and Beaver Pond.
Even without new snow in a couple of days, the snow preservation has been so good, that the quality of the powder is simply spectacular. The snowpack I found was generally in the two- to three-foot range, but there’s such good density in the bottom layers that anything of concern is well covered.
I was unsure how smooth the traverse out was going to be via the direct route back to the Catamount Trail, since I’d come in by an alternate route using Grand View and Moose-Ski. Indeed, the direct route out on Beaver Pond is quite quick – it’s essentially a gravity traverse with a few spots that require glide and kick or double polling, but there are even spots below Caribou’s Corner where it’s steep enough that you can get additional turns in the powder outside the skin track.
While we haven’t really had any of those stretches this season where snowfall has really gone off the hook by Northern Greens standards, what we’ve had in the past few weeks has been a nice steady pace of snowfall from bread and butter systems intermixed with the occasional larger synoptic storm. And that snowfall has indeed been steady – since the start of the calendar year at our house, we’ve only had four days without snowfall. Indeed we also haven’t seen any massive blockbuster storm cycles in the area yet this season, but in many ways, it’s felt like a fairly classic Northern Greens winter period since about the start of the calendar year. Part of the climatology here is getting those little surprises throughout the season, such as Winter Storm Roland dropping over 8 inches here, when only about half that was expected. It’s good to take advantage of Mother Nature’s surprises when you get the chance.
To that point, I certainly hadn’t planned to ski today. But, with the way it was dumping huge flakes here at the house this morning, and after watching it snow 2.5” in an hour, I started to reconsider. I checked out the Bolton Valley Base Area Webcam, saw just a whiteout of massive flakes, and that pretty much sealed the deal. I told the boys that if we they didn’t have any meetings this morning, we definitely needed to head up to the mountain for some turns. And so we did.
We just stuck to Timberline, and skier traffic was low enough that there really wasn’t any need to go anywhere else. We started with a run on Adam’s Solitude, but spent the rest of the day in Doug’s Woods and Doug’s Solitude. Bolton is reporting 12” in the past 48 hours, but we were typically finding 12-16” off piste in the areas we were skiing. The snow was absolute champagne, definitely in line with the ~2% H2O I’d gotten from my previous three snow analyses at the house, so it skied like a dream. The boys had fun throwing themselves off just about any stump, bump, log, tree, ledged, or cliff they found. And, Mother Nature even decided to treat us with some sun during the morning to let us get a bit more pop out of the photos from the session.
It had just started to snow when I headed up to Bolton Valley with the boys this afternoon for a session. We had planned to start at Timberline, but we were surprised to find that the Timberline Quad wasn’t running. It must have been a mechanical issue because it didn’t seem like there were any issue with the wind.
The powder really just keeps piling up with each round of snow, making all the untouched areas more and more bottomless. We had on and off light snow during the afternoon that accumulated to less than an inch, but it started dumping those huge flakes when we were leaving due to approaching Winter Storm Quade, so there should be some additional accumulation tomorrow.
With Bolton Valley reporting 8” in the past 24 hours due to various rounds of snow from Winter Storm Peggy, we headed up for a session at the opening of Timberline this morning. It was bright and sunny when we got there, but before long it clouded up and flakes started to appear. For the rest of the morning it was generally cloudy with a bit of snow and the occasional appearance of the sun.
My depth checks in the 1,500’ – 2,500’ range revealed new snow depths in the 6-9” range, which was definitely consistent with the snow report. The powder was pretty dry (3-5% H2O) so the new stuff alone wasn’t quite bottomless on piste on steep terrain, but it skied really well.
We ended up spending the entire morning and into the early afternoon at Timberline, starting off with powder runs on the trails, and gradually moving into the trees. We hit some favorites that we had yet visited this season, like the KP Glades, Lost Girlz, and the Corner Pocket Glades. Anywhere off piste that hasn’t seen heavy traffic, the new snow just bolstered the depth of that already bottomless snowpack that’s out there.
I was surprised to run into freezing mist and drizzle as I was heading through Bolton Flats, and that was the main precipitation type right on up to the mountain. My experience was similar to what I’d heard from skiers at other local resorts, in that it was pretty inconsequential with respect to the overall snow quality. It was irrelevant on the groomed terrain, and in the powder out in the open, while you could tell the layer was there, it was so thin that it just didn’t make a difference with respect to turns. The powder overall was denser than I thought it would be with my evening snow analyses coming in roughly 5 to 6% H2O, but perhaps the freezing drizzle had its effects there in terms of compacting things a bit. In the trees, the powder was essentially untouched by any of the mist because of the way the foliage catches most of the mist/drizzle.
While the snow was relatively unaffected by the precipitation, the biggest hassle I found with the freezing drizzle was visibility. My goggles would glaze up pretty nicely during a lift ride. The great solution I found was to simply pop out my lens for the lift ride (another nice benefit of magnetic lenses), stick it in my coat, and by the time I reached the top, it was thawed and clear to start another run.
“At the Timberline Base I found about 5” of new snow, and depth checks I did around the mountain in the 1,500’ – 2,500’ range revealed roughly 5-8” of accumulation.”
At the Timberline Base I found about 5” of new snow, and depth checks I did around the mountain in the 1,500’ – 2,500’ range revealed roughly 5-8” of accumulation. I think was a bit more than what they mentioned in the snow report, but I’m currently seeing a report of 9” in the past 48 hours, so I’d say that’s pretty similar overall.
The precipitation was changing back over to snow as I was heading out, and then later in the day that next round of backside upslope finally came through to finish off the storm.
Even with that bit of freezing drizzle that came through, we really haven’t had too much weather to specifically knock down the fluff or push the snow off objects, so it just continues to stack up on various surfaces and looks quite scenic.