Over the past week, the weather pattern has featured these larger systems with ample snow and moisture, and the most recent one in the series is Winter Storm Gerri. It moved into the area overnight in the wee hours with an initial burst of heavy snow. The front end snow in this case wasn’t as potent as it was with Winter Storm Finn that came through midweek, so when we saw that Bolton Valley was indicating only 2 inches of new snow in their early morning report, we knew there was no need to rush right up to the mountain.
We watched the Bolton Valley Base Area Webcam through the morning and could see that up at 2,100’, the precipitation was snow, and it was quite heavy at times. Dylan and Colin headed up to the mountain in the early afternoon, and we asked them to give us an update on what they found. Their impressions were that the snow surfaces were rather wet, and they said the precipitation was even mixed with rain in the lower elevations at times, so E figured that instead of skiing, she’d hold off until the snow got better. I took another look at the webcam feed and saw that there was heavy snow falling, and decided that it would definitely be worth it to head up for some lift-served runs.
Heading up the Bolton Valley Access Road, the precipitation switched over to all snow at roughly the 1,000’ elevation, and above that the road was quickly covered. The road conditions must have been getting a bit slick with the new snowfall because I had to drive around a van that was stuck trying to make it up the steep s-curve below Timberline. I had actually planned to park at Timberline and start my session there, but the Timberline Quad was apparently on wind hold, so I had to continue on up to the main base area. I arrived up in the Village to very heavy snowfall in the 1 to 2 inch per hour range, and with the intensity of that snowfall, there was just no way that the turns weren’t going to be great.
During my afternoon session I managed to get in runs on all the rest of the lifts, and heavy snow continued to pound the resort at all elevations. It was windy, especially at the Vista and Wilderness Summits above 3,000’, but thankfully the wind was from the west and at your back while you rode the lifts. After my first couple of runs, the lights were coming on, and I got to ski Spillway in night mode. I always find it exciting to be able to ski something that steep under the lights, and I knew that the conditions on Spillway were going to be really good because you couldn’t hear anything from the turns of the skiers and snowboarders below you as you passed over them on the Vista Quad. Indeed, my own experience on the trail revealed that the conditions on Spillway were simply fantastic; new snow was falling so heavily that it must have been covering up an slick spots faster than skiers could push the snow away.
I did notice that below the Mid Mountain elevations (~2,500’), the groomed/packed ski surfaces did have that “wet pack” feel that I’ve encountered in the lower elevations of Whistler Blackcomb. That’s usually a sign that some very wet snow has fallen and was packed by skier traffic. I could see what Dylan was talking about with respect to the wet surface conditions, but at the point that I was up there, those conditions were hard to find because temperatures were falling, and it was snowing so hard that those types of wet surfaces were covered up in all but the highest traffic areas. Some of the best turns I found were near the end of my ski session when I visited the Snowflake Chair. That area hadn’t seen much skier traffic, so I found a lot of fresh powder that skied beautifully. I did numerous depth checks and was consistently getting new snow depths of 6 to 7 inches. There was enough powder there that I questioned whether it was all from just this storm, but when Bolton’s afternoon snow update came in and they were reporting storm totals of 5 to 7 inches, that nicely corroborated my measurements.
All this new snow is a great addition to the snowpack, but even without it, one thing I noticed while out on the mountain today was the huge jump that the snowpack has taken since last weekend. I hadn’t been up to the mountain since Sunday, and at that time, patrol was just starting to open up more areas of natural snow terrain as coverage improved thanks to Winter Storm Ember. The contributions made by Winter Storm Finn must have been huge though, because the resort has now been able to open up just about everything, and everywhere I looked this evening, coverage felt like midwinter. As I look back now at my storm data, I guess I see the difference – Winter Storm Ember dropped 0.69 inches of liquid equivalent here at our site, while Winter Storm Finn dropped 1.99 inches of liquid equivalent. That’s almost triple the amount of liquid, and when you get up around 2 inches of liquid equivalent, that starts to become a serious resurfacing of the slopes. Winter Storm Gerri has already dropped about an inch of liquid equivalent here at the house, and the back side snow is still coming through, so that’s simply adding yet another great layer to the snowpack. All told, this past week of storms has dropped almost 4 inches of liquid equivalent here at our house in the valley, so it must have put down at least 4 to 5 inches plus of liquid equivalent for the mountains. When I look at the numbers, I realize now why the snowpack seems to have improved so much so quickly. When I was riding the Wilderness Chair today, I actually saw a ski patroller skiing the headwall of the Wilderness Lift Line to check the snow. You know the snowpack is getting decent when that headwall is even close to being skiable, so the fact that he was even testing it speaks volumes about how things have gone over the past week.