Today we decided to do some lift-served skiing for a change of pace, and E joined Ty and I for some Tele runs in the afternoon. Bolton has opened a number of additional trails due to all the recent snow, but the main route off the Vista Summit is still Sherman’s Pass, and we started with that since we wanted to warm up with some mellow terrain. The manmade snow on Sherman’s was pretty typical and firm, but we did venture over toward the lower slopes of Wilderness to check out the natural snow options. There was plenty of coverage since those lower slopes of Wilderness are only up to moderate angle, and the quality difference in the snow was night and day. At Wilderness you had nice chalky snow where it was skier packed, and powder off to the edges – it was soft and quiet snow, and unlike the terrain with manmade snow, you could really sink your edges in easily. That was unquestionably what kept us coming back for more, and if we could have gotten to that terrain more easily by just riding the Mid Mountain Chair instead of the Vista Quad, we certainly would have done it.
Ty was extremely excited about his Telemark turns today, and he really felt that he was getting them dialed in. He talked a lot about the nuances of technique with E and I after the session. One of the comments I made was that this fairly concentrated period we’ve just had in which he’s had several outings on his Telemark skis has been really good for his development. We’ve often seen with students that getting in more back-to-back ski days vs. having them more spread out can really assist in improving their skills, and I think that was the case here. The great snow we’ve had in the backcountry and on piste has helped in that regard as well, since he’s had the confidence to work on his turns without worrying about much else getting in the way.
Today I went for another solo tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, and I decided to check out the Gotham City area since I hadn’t been there yet this season. Prior to this point we’ve been pretty spoiled with fresh snow every day since the start of Winter Storm Diaz, so you could detect just the subtlest bit of settling/aging to the powder and snowpack in general. That’s splitting hairs of course because the powder was still deep and bottomless, and you’d probably only notice if you’d been paying very close attention to the feel of the snowpack over the preceding days. There were also a few more tracks around since there hadn’t been that fresh dose of powder to cover them up.
It’s continued to snow over the past couple of days, and we’ve had another 3 to 4 inches of snow down here at the house that’s come in with an average density of around 4% H2O. The back end of Winter Storm Diaz had already topped off the snowpack with some dry upslope, so we expected that these additional rounds of snow should just represent more quality stuff that’s topping off the upper layers of powder that are already present. Ty and I headed out for a tour this afternoon that took us a bit above Bryant Cabin, and we skied a good variety of different glades that really solidified just how good the skiing was. The shallowest slopes are still a bit slow with the depth of the powder, but very nice if you want a gentler pace that lets you work in and out among tighter trees. As we’d already experienced back on Saturday at Wilderness though, the steep and moderate slopes are skiing great.
It’s amazing how one storm simply brought the backcountry conditions from very early season stuff that I hadn’t even contemplated skiing, to something that skis like a top notch midwinter snowpack. And it’s not as if this last storm cycle was a 3 to 4 foot monster. The snowpack we were skiing today is only in the range of about 20 inches, but apparently it’s just laid down so well that it does the job. I’m sure there are steep slopes out there with lots of big obstacles that are nowhere near ready, but the typical glades we skied on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network today were in great shape.
After discovering such impressive snow coverage when touring at Wilderness yesterday, today I actually headed out onto the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. Part of the afternoon was spent clearing out a tree that had come down in our yard during Winter Storm Diaz, and after that was done I had just enough time to hit the backcountry network for a quick exploratory tour. I wasn’t absolutely sure what to expect, but I was going to be touring entirely above 2,000’, and unless the conditions over at Wilderness were a fluke or something due to aspect, the adjoining backcountry was likely in similar shape. The backcountry snow report didn’t even have any notifications about poor coverage or closures, it just indicated that coverage was variable.
I was still planning to be conservative in my initial explorations, and my time was limited with dusk approaching, so I opted for a quick tour with a descent of the Telemark Practice Slope. On my ascent though, it was immediately obvious how good the coverage was in the surrounding glades, and with just a few tracks here and there in the relatively deep powder, it was too good to pass up. I ended up skiing some of the glades to the skier’s right of the Telemark Practice Slope, and they skied beautifully. I was initially not expecting such a sublime ride, since we’d really needed at least black diamond pitches yesterday to avoid getting bogged down, but there must have been a bit more settling of the snowpack, and the addition of the upslope fluff that’s been falling was really just icing on the cake that added a little cushioning with minimal resistance. The resulting snowpack came together to provide just the right speed for the glades, and it was obvious at that point that a lot more of the gentle and moderate terrain is going to be in play for some excellent powder turns.
Since Winter Storm Diaz dropped another good shot of snow overnight, our plan yesterday was to head up to Bolton for more lift-served skiing. Making a final check on the snow report before heading up though, I discovered that the resort had lost power like a lot of other spots around the area. With that news, and the announcement that the Wilderness Uphill Route was open, we switched our plans over to ski touring at Wilderness. When we got to the resort, power was back on and the lifts were running, but since we’d already taken the time to gear up for it, we stuck with the ski touring plan since it held the potential for a lot more untracked snow anyway.
With the existing base snow from ahead of the storm not entirely consolidated, it was tough to get a sense for how much new snow the resort had picked up specifically from this cycle. But, we were able to get total snowpack depths, and with repeated measurements by both Ty and me, we came in with total settled depths of 16” at 2,000’ and 20” around 3,000’ The resort updated their storm accumulations and reported 12” new at 2,000’ and 16” new at 3,000’, so that fit perfectly with what our measurements were suggesting.
The skin track Wilderness Uphill Route was nicely set from previous traffic, and there were actually two tracks that let us skin side-by-side for easier conversation. Traffic on Lower Turnpike had been moderate, and we counted about 20 descent tracks. I wasn’t sure if we were going to go all the way to the Wilderness Summit depending on how scoured the upper elevations were, but with a lot of the flow with this event coming from the east, there was essentially zero drifting even at the highest elevations, so that set up some potentially great skiing on the upper slopes.
The snow from this storm cycle certain fell right-side-up, and there was a lot of substance to the lower layers, but it skied DEEP. We quickly discovered that even on 115 mm fat skis, low and moderate angle pitches just didn’t cut it. You had to hit black diamond pitches or higher, and once you did, the powder skiing really rocked. We hit the steepest pitches we could find, like the upper slopes of Peggy Dow’s and the Cougar Headwall, and even when we tried to test the limits of the snowpack by attempting to get down to the ground on turns, you just couldn’t. We picked up about 1.30” of liquid equivalent from this storm down at our site in the valley, so the mountain must have had at least 1.50” of liquid atop the previous base. I’m not quite sure how this storm brought the slopes to an almost midwinter feel in terms of substance and coverage, but the combination of liquid equivalent, right-side-up snow, and whatever existing base there was, just hit the sweet spot to make that happen.
When we were about halfway through our first descent and only had moderate and lower angle terrain below us, I suggested we stop the descent there and hit the Wilderness Summit again to try Bolton Outlaw for our next descent. Bolton Outlaw is quite steep with a lot of obstacles, and it often gets scoured and/or skied enough to make coverage an issue, but from what we’d seen of it, and what we’d experience with the skiing up to that point, it seemed like it might be just the ticket. And it was – it had just the pitch we needed, and coverage was too good to be true. Each time I’d come over a rise and over a ledge I’d expect to hear a rock, or a log, or something under my skis… but that just didn’t happen. We’re of course talking touring levels of skier traffic here, but whether you were skiing packed or untracked snow, you just didn’t break through to whatever was below. It’s still hard to figure out how the coverage got so good without a real consolidated base below, but I’d put it right up there with some of the best runs we’ve had on Bolton Outlaw during any part of the season.
I decided to wait until the afternoon to head up to Bolton today, figuring I’d let the snow depths continue to build up through the morning thanks to Winter Storm Diaz, but Dylan and his friends hit the mountain around opening time. They stayed until midday, and said that they enjoyed some nice soft conditions. When we asked which way to lean in terms of ski width, the word was to go on the wider side.
Ty and I headed up toward midafternoon, and temperatures were right around freezing down in the valley with the snow accumulations on the dense side, but temperatures dropped right down into the 20s F in the Bolton Valley Village. The Bolton Valley Access Road was just wet in the lower elevations, with easy driving up to about 1,500’, and above that point it was snow covered.
With only so much terrain open, the main center portions of the runs had a bit of the new snow, but there was enough traffic that you were generally skiing on the base snow. The sides and lower traffic areas of the trails held plenty of soft snow though – places where the snow had either been untouched or pushed there by skiers would definitely get you off the subsurface. The snow was of course much drier than what we were getting down in the valley. We were quickly reminded it was a storm day in mid-December when the night skiing lights started coming on not too far after 3:00 P.M., and it was getting dark enough that it was nice to have the lighting assist at that point.
I didn’t really make any attempts at officially measuring the new snow, but Ty and I both estimated the accumulations at the mountain as of this afternoon were somewhere in the 6-12” range. I’m surprised to see the mountain coming in with a report of 4-6” new, since we’d already had 6 to 7” down at the house by this afternoon, so I’d say that’s a conservative snow report based on what we encountered. While we were up there the snowfall rate was close to an inch per hour based on what we found on our car, but nothing outrageous in terms of what the mountains can get for snowfall intensity. The snowfall was definitely more intense up there than down the valley at our place, as the afternoon period had lighter snowfall than the morning.
Temperatures were expected to warm above freezing today, so I was thinking of heading up to the mountain in the afternoon to catch some turns in soft snow. Dylan and his friends headed up to Bolton Valley in the morning, and said that things were indeed softening up by the time they’re returned in the early afternoon.
Since Ty wasn’t working today, he decided to join me for some skiing, and based on the limited terrain that was open, I recommended that he bring his Telemark gear so that he could get in some practice. With only the Mid Mountain and Snowflake Chairs running along with the Mighty Mite, there were actually some lift queues, but we still had a fun session getting in a few fun runs on the available terrain. We didn’t encounter much in the way of soft snow though. I’m not sure if we’d just missed the window of softening, but looking at just how low that sun was with its November sun angle, it made me wonder how much softening could actually occur – even on a sunny day like today. The only softened snow we actually found was on the south facing terrain near the top of Bear Run.
Ty had a good time working on his Telemark turns, and he commented that what he needed to work on was smoothing out his transitions from one turn to another. I told him that’s exactly what Mom and I had discovered when we first started Telemark skiing. The transition from one Telemark stance to the next is much more challenging than a typical alpine turn, because it’s a longer duration, a longer distance, and there’s a lot more body movement to do. But, once you get a smooth transition down, your Telemark turns can really flow and you can have a lot of fun with it. It’s still a tremendous workout compared to alpine skiing, and that’s part of the allure if one goal of your outing is to get in some exercise.
After some initial frozen precipitation at our house this morning, we’d had on and off rain in the valley heading into the afternoon. It had been steady at times, but nothing too heavy. I got a bit worried though when I encountered a couple of downpours while driving through Bolton Flats, because the thought of skiing in the pouring rain wasn’t all that enticing. I was happy to see that the rain changed over to snow around 1,500’ at the Timberline Base, so that alleviated the concerns about having to potentially be out on the mountain in a downpour. The drive up the Bolton Valley Access Road definitely gave its usual introduction to the local temperature profile – the temperatures ticked right down at a steady pace and dropped from the lower 40s F in the valley to the lower 30s F by the time I hit the base village.
I was getting concerned that the snow surfaces were going to be quickly tightening up as colder air moved in, but the lower mountain seemed to be just enough around the freezing mark that the snow remained soft. I could tell it wouldn’t be too long before the surfaces would be getting firm though – the wind had really picked up as the back side of the storm system was pushing through, and the Mid Mountain Chair appeared to close early because of it.
The settled snow depths depended heavily on the underlying surface – grassy areas that insulated the snow from the ground tended to have a couple more inches of depth, so it really seemed like there was some consolidation/melting due to warm ground.
Even at 2,000’ in the Bolton Valley Village area it edged above freezing this afternoon, and it was somewhere in the 2,700’ elevation range where temperatures finally dropped below the freezing mark. The snow above the point was much less consolidated, so the snow below that elevation is actually better set up to serve as a base. Liquid equivalent thus far at our house for this storm is 0.70”, so the mountain should be somewhere in that range or higher.
The most notable jump in accumulations was between 1,500’ and 2,000’, and perhaps somewhere between there was when consolidation jumped a lot due to the temperatures. The increase in depth was really quite slow above 2,000’, and it was hard to see much of a change until I hit the freezing line around 2,700’ – the depth got a bump there because above that point it was still quite dry and hadn’t seen any consolidation.
The freezing line was dropping as the afternoon wore on, and backside snows had started up rather vigorously when I was heading home. That snowfall appeared to be confined to the higher elevations around here though, because I haven’t seen any back side snows yet down here at our house.
Since our first snows of the season back in September, we’ve moved on into a new month and another window for early season snowfall. This time the snow chances are associated with a series of small disturbances that started moving into the area last night and are expected to continue through the weekend.