The very cold air was still in place today here in the Northern Greens, but we also had some fresh snow moving in with a bit of weak upper-level vorticity pushing through the area. Temperatures at elevation looked like they would stay in the single digits F, so ski touring once again seemed to be the call vs. riding the lifts.
We’d picked up a half-inch or so of new snow down at the house when I headed up to Bolton Valley in the mid to late afternoon. Flakes had been small throughout the storm, so accumulations were coming in a bit on the denser side at around 10 to 12% H2O. I found the same type of snowfall up on the hill, although it was coming down with a bit more intensity. You could see that vehicles had taken on some decent accumulations from the day’s snowfall up to that point.
My ski tour was over in the Holden’s Hollow area, and my initial descent was down through some of the C Bear Woods and Holden’s Hollow West Side Glades that I’ve hit many times before. Based on yesterday’s Wilderness tour, the sweet spot for best turns based on the depth and consistency of the powder seemed to be those mid-angle slopes, so that’s what I was seeking out. Today I was touring at relatively low elevation in the 2,000’ to 2,500’ range, and depth measurements revealed a similar 8 to 10” of powder to what I’d seen yesterday. That surface snow was bolstered a bit by what was falling, but the liquid equivalent from that snow was only about a tenth of an inch, so it wasn’t a major addition. Those mid-angle slopes delivered once again though, with generally bottomless turns on 115 mm fat skis. I mixed things up a bit on the tour to explore some new terrain and continued my descent on the back side of the ridge down below the Telemark trail to the Maple Loop area. I then joined back on to a lower part of the Telemark trail and looped back around to the Holden’s Hollow area again to finish off with a front side descent.
Although temperatures weren’t supposed to be all that different from what they were on Friday, I think they were a few degrees warmer, and with the absence of those 30 to 50 MPH winds, the difference was dramatic. The air was quite calm while I was touring, and the snow was falling straight down, so the overall conditions were just much more comfortable and easy to handle.
The back side of this most recent storm cycle seemed to show some promising potential for upslope snow in the Northern Greens, so this morning I made a quick survey of the snow reports from the resorts along the northern spine to see how things had worked out. With the Jay Peak snow report indicating 4 to 7 inches of new snow, and bwt’s measurement of 5.5 inches at 1,900’ from his place at Jay Peak, things were looking good there. Bolton, Smugg’s, and Stowe were reporting totals in the 2 to 4-inch range, so the Jay Peak area really seemed to be a cut above the other resorts. Temperatures rose above freezing in some areas during the middle of the storm though, so maximizing that resurfacing snow/liquid equivalent could make a substantial difference in the quality of the ski surfaces.
E was heading up to Morrisville to deliver some food to a colleague and do some snowshoeing, so I decided to pop up to the Jay Peak area for a bit of touring, and we coordinated our trip. New accumulations of snow were present everywhere from Waterbury on northward, but they really started to pick up once I got to Eden and points father north. You could tell that the storm had hit harder up there. With road maintenance and some sun, I was generally dealing with slushy accumulations on road surfaces, but those usual spots on Route 118 along Belvidere Pond and through the notch areas into Montgomery were wall-to-wall winter snow and required some extra caution.
My tour was in the Big Jay Basin area that I’ve visited various times before, since it has convenient parking and some decent lower to moderate angle slopes along with its steeper lines. It also has that leeward exposure from Jay Peak, Big Jay, and Little Jay, so it absolutely reels in the snow. The past couple of times we’ve visited the basin, we’ve toured the terrain more toward the north side below Big Jay, but for this tour I decided to favor a bit more toward Little Jay to the south. I’d heard good things from some of my students about the terrain there, so as skin tracks diverged on my ascent, I generally opted for those heading more southward toward Little Jay. As I approached Little Jay, I could see that the terrain was getting steeper than I was looking for with the most recent accumulations, and slightly less pitched terrain was more prevalent off to the north, so I followed a skin track that was heading right through the terrain that looked the best for my plans. That skin track brought me into that drainage below the col between Big Jay, and Little Jay, and the lower sections there do have some nice pitches that avoid the really steep stuff. My goal was to get in a moderate tour’s worth of skiing and exercise with about 1,000’ of vertical, so with the trailhead elevation a bit shy of 1,600’, I was shooting to stop my ascent around 2,500-2,600’. Once I’d hit that level, I contoured back toward the south a bit along the side of Little Jay to get into more untouched snow, and dropped in from there.
In terms of the snow quality, it far exceeded my expectations. Accumulations of new snow were very much as expected – I measured about 5 inches of new snow around 1,600’ at the trailhead, and that matched up perfectly with what the resort and bwt had reported in the morning. Accumulations probably increased by another inch about 1,000’ higher, but this didn’t appear to be one of those storms with heavy snow accumulation gains as elevation increased. What impressed me most was when I encountered at least a couple feet of bottomless powder in the drainage below the col. In that area, there were no signs that there had been any sort of significant warmth or rain. It was great to watch all the skiers and riders out there taking advantage of the great snow, and their whoops and hollers could be all over the place throughout the basin, just as you’d expect with great conditions. Aspect mattered in terms of snow quality though. The farther I wrapped around Little Jay toward southern exposure, the more I was skiing on just the new snow, and there was actually a detectable layer atop the old snowpack. Seeing this, I moved back toward the north as I descended in order to get into the best snow. I just found it surprising that it was really only southern aspects where the snowpack had consolidated, because that would represent more effects from sun vs. general warmth. Whatever the case, non-southerly aspects held some excellent bottomless powder out there.
Temperatures on the day were perfect, with mid to upper 20s F keeping the snowpack wintry. Skies were clear and sunny though, and you could tell that the mid-February sun was trying to work on that powder on southern exposures. Temperatures seemed just cold enough, and/or the air was just dry enough, to keep that from happening.
It looks like we might have a system coming through the area tomorrow night that could do something similar to what the back side of this system did, so we’ll see if that adds another few inches to freshen things up again.
I hadn’t been out for any turns since last Sunday when I toured in the Nebraska Valley, so I was eager to see what the mountains had to offer yesterday once the arctic cold departed. At the end of my tour last weekend, temperatures had risen above freezing in the lower elevations, and then we had those potent winds with the arctic front, both of which could have been insults to the quality of the snow surfaces.
Today my plan was to keep my skiing fairly simple and close to home, and I decided to tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network. I figured I’d tour up to Bryant Cabin, check out the snow quality, and decide from there if I was going to go any farther. I was brining minimal camera gear for this outing, so I borrowed Dylan’s backcountry ski pack instead of using my larger one, and I opted for mid-fat Teles instead of going with full fats. I was definitely feeling light and fast with that setup, and hit Bryant Cabin in under 30 minutes, so I felt that I easily had time to extend my tour. In addition, the quality of the snow was far better than I’d expected. We haven’t had a major storm cycle since Winter Storm Kassandra about a week ago, so I didn’t really expect the powder to be very fresh. Those concerns were sidelined right at the start of my tour though – I did numerous depth checks on my ascent, and even down at 2,000’, the surface snow was 15-20” deep above the base. Whatever warming had taken place last weekend was clearly below the 2,000’ elevation range. I’d heard secondhand that the freezing level was somewhere down around the Timberline Base (1,500’), and I guess it never rose much higher than that. The other concern about the snow had been the effects of the wind, but any drifting and wind crusts were few and far between on the terrain I covered up to Bryant Cabin and beyond. I ran into many areas where the trees were just caked and choked with upslope snow clinging to every branch at various crazy angles, and snow doesn’t stay like that when it’s been hit by heavy winds.
Finding the snow quality so impressive, I actually decided to continue my tour all the way up to the top of the Catamount Trail Glades around 3,000’ and the powder just kept getting deeper. Estimates of surface snow depths that I found on my tour were as follows:
Untracked areas up in the Catamount Trail Glades were two feet of bottomless powder, and you could easily be fooled into thinking we’d just had a major storm cycle in the past couple of days, not a week ago. For the rest of my descent I headed down past Bryant Cabin along Gardiner’s Lane and North Slope, and finished off with a connect to Wilderness via Alchemist. The conditions on Alchemist were perhaps the biggest testament to the quality of the snow, because that area has a hard-core southerly exposure, and things have to be prime to get real quality powder turns there. I’d say that today I encountered some of the best conditions I’ve ever seen on Alchemist, so the snow over the past week or so has been extremely well preserved.
It was hard to get a sense for the total snowpack depth while I was out on my tour because it’s getting too deep to probe easily, but the Mansfield snowpack at the stake is at 42”, so the snowpack depth is probably just a bit less than that as you drop to around 3,000’. While that Mansfield snowpack is a foot below average, we’re getting to the point in the season where being below average is less and less relevant in terms of off piste coverage and skiing quality. We’re past that 40” mark at the stake, and all the terrain I encountered yesterday was game on, regardless of pitch or obstacles. I ran the snowpack liquid analysis this morning down at our site in the valley for CoCoRaHS, and there’s 3 inches of liquid equivalent in our snow. The local mountains probably have double that amount at elevation, so it’s easy to see why the off piste skiing is so good. If you have 6 inches of liquid equivalent under your feet, that’s going to take care of a lot of terrain, even relatively steep terrain.
Overall, today was fantastic, both in terms of the temperatures and in terms of the snowpack/snow quality. Temperatures were in the 25-30 F range when I hit the mountain in the afternoon, which was perfect for comfortable skiing while retaining those soft, midwinter snow surfaces.
I was able to park right at the Catamount Trail parking area on the south side of Nebraska Valley Road, so the trail access was very easy. It had started snowing around midday, and there was steady snowfall through much of my tour in the afternoon. Following the Catamount Trail southward, the options for great backcountry skiing are indeed very obvious. From the trailhead at an elevation of ~1,000’, the trail rises at a moderate grade for about 400 feet of vertical over the course of perhaps ¾ of a mile, and then the terrain flattens out into a relatively broad valley with the main drainage on your left, and steep slopes rising up to your right. The slopes consist of very open hardwood forest throughout, with tree spacing in many areas as much as 20 or 30 feet. I couldn’t see all the way to the top of the terrain, but there must be hundreds of acres there with very obvious ski lines, and the fact that there were tracks coming down out of this terrain suggested that it held good potential. At around a mile from the trailhead I came to the first obvious skin track that headed up off the Catamount Trail into these slopes, so using that was a clear option for some great runs.
I just happened to run into one of my students descending on the Catamount Trail as he and his group were finishing up their session for the day, and he said that if I had the time, I should head higher up because the snow was better. Being my first time in the area, I did want to take a long enough tour to get the lay of the land, so I continued another mile or so and toured up to around 2,500’. The snow was indeed even better higher up, but the tree lines weren’t as open as the beautiful looking terrain I’d seen lower down. That higher elevation terrain was plenty steep, and certainly offered decent skiing, but I’d say those initial slopes rising from the valley at around 1,500’ are the best bang for your buck as long as the snowpack and snow quality are good at those elevations.
It was snowing quite hard up at 2,500’ when I began my descent, hard enough that I would have been worried about being out there in such weather if I didn’t know the forecast wasn’t calling for sustained accumulations. The snow had added another couple of inches to top off the snowpack, which certainly helped make the powder even a bit fresher. Temperatures had been cold much of the afternoon, but on my descent I quickly realized that the freezing level had risen. I descended out of the heavy snowfall down into mixed precipitation by ~1,500’, and just sprinklings of rain down at the trailhead elevations of ~1,000’. I was glad that I’d finished my tour by that point because the lower elevation snow was definitely getting sticky and more difficult to ski.
In a discussion with my colleague Stephen at work yesterday, I learned that plans were in place to open the Wilderness Chair for the first time this season on Saturday, so Ty and I headed up this morning for a session. We didn’t really rush out to the mountain, arriving at about 9:30 A.M. for the scheduled 10:00 A.M. opening of the Wilderness Chair, but it turns out that was a bit too late with respect to optimal parking. People were already having to park down at Timberline because the upper parking lots were full, and since the Timberline Quad isn’t running yet, you had to take the shuttle bus up to the main mountain. Being the first notable weekend day with fresh snow in at least a couple of weeks, it seemed like everyone in the state was excited to get out for some skiing.
I learned that the Wilderness Chair had actually halted operations for a bit this morning due to a mechanical issue, but that timing worked out pretty well for us – by the time we took one run on Vista to get us over toward Wilderness, the lift was running. We spent much of our time today on Wilderness, exploring various off piste lines between Snow Hole and the Nordic/backcountry network, and the powder skiing was great. We could still use a couple more feet of base to cover up some of the usual obstacles and really get the off piste skiing into prime time, but everywhere we went it was pretty much good to go.
We wrapped up today’s session in the midafternoon with a run back to our car at the base of Timberline, and while having to shuttle up to the main mountain at the start of the day wasn’t our first choice, the run back to the car through endless powder was more than worth it. It doesn’t look like the Timberline Uphill Route is officially open yet, but we’d seen a number of skiers ascending there when we were waiting for the shuttle. Practically speaking, the snow at Timberline is ready with respect to ski touring, so it will be interesting to see if the resort officially opens that uphill route soon. The resort is making snow down at Timberline to presumably open it up for lift-served skiing before long, and if these next couple of winter storms deliver like Winter Storm Iggy did, they’ll probably be able to open it up even before all the snowmaking is done. The next system coming into the area has earned the name Winter Storm Jimenez due to its anticipated impacts, so we’ll see what it delivers over the next couple of days.
I wasn’t exactly sure where on Bolton’s backcountry network today’s ski tour was going to take me, but my plan was to start with an ascent up to the start of the C Bear Woods, and then go from there. I haven’t toured in that part of the Network yet this season, but the ridgeline there tops out around 2,400’, so starting in the lower Village, it would give me a good sampling of the snowpack in the 2,000’ to 2,400’ elevation range.
For my tour back on Monday on some of the lower sections of the Network I topped out around 1,800’ and generally found 6 to 12 inches of powder, and the tenor of the powder skiing was that something with a bit more pitch would be appropriate for the snow depth. With continued rounds of snow accumulation over the past couple of days (and an additional 2 to 3 inches reported in the past 24 hours at Bolton as of this morning’s update), I figured the powder might even be a notch up from where it had been at that point.
It was midmorning by the time I arrived at the Village, and temperatures were very comfortable in the lower 30s F. Being the big holiday week, the resort was really humming, and they were already parking folks in the lower Nordic Center parking lot. That worked out well for me though, since it’s right on the Broadway Trail that links in nicely with the heart of the Backcountry Network.
Around 2,000’ in the open areas of the Village, the depth of the surface snow was quite variable between the effects of the wind and sun, but in general I found 5 to 6 inches of powder over a consolidated base. There wasn’t any obvious rain crust, but there was a denser layer below the powder. That layer generally wasn’t present in the trees, so I assume it was from wind and sun. Up at 2,400’ I’d say powder depths were about the same as what I found in the 1,500’ to 1,800’ elevation range on Monday, so between additional accumulations and settling, I guess things roughly held pat at that level. The pitches near the top of the ridge there are up in the black diamond range, and I think the uppermost parts of the ridgeline were a bit windswept because the snowpack wasn’t sufficient for confident turns in that area. Noticing that, I headed southward to the right of the main C Bear Woods entrance into some other areas of glades to shallow out my overall run. Intermediate pitches offered nice turns, and the snowpack easily supported that type of skiing. The best turns of that descent were in the lower slopes among the moderate and lower angle pitches as I got back toward Brook Run.
I’d left the option open to extend my tour up toward some of the Bryant Trail terrain, but it was approaching midday and the powder was already started to get denser and a bit sticky as the temperatures pushed above freezing. As I headed to the main base area, it was turning into a fantastic day with breaks of sun and temperatures moving into the 30s F. That’s a pretty nice combination for the holiday visitors to have comfortable temperatures and some decent snowpack, and it will be interesting to see how this holiday week plays out overall for visitation at the local resorts. It’s been pretty sweet to have some daily refresher snowfalls recently to bolster the snowpack, and the snow reports I’ve seen from the resorts around here have indicated that it’s been allowing them to continue to open new terrain and expand the trail count. Visitors to the slopes should generally be treated to some comfortable temperatures for the remained of the holiday week, which I think many would take over the subzero spells that can often occur around the start of the new year. It looks like anyone going out on Sunday might have to dodge a bit of rain though based on the current forecast.
This may be one of the nicer holiday week’s we’ve had recently in terms of the quality of the skiing. Looking at my notes, I’ve had a half dozen backcountry ski tours in about the past ten days, and that’s pretty decent because sometimes the backcountry doesn’t even get rolling until January or February. On average, it should get going (at least on low and moderate angle terrain) in mid-December here in the Northern Greens, but the past three seasons haven’t hit 24 inches at the Mt. Mansfield Stake until January. Technically, the stake only hit the 24-inch mark for the first time this season on Tuesday, but it’s been hovering in the 20-inch range since mid-month when Winter Storm Diaz hit, and the snowpack came together in such a way that those 20-ish inches were sufficient to put a lot of the local backcountry terrain in play for quality turns.
I hadn’t been out to the mountain since Winter Storm Elliot finished up, and although it was a mixed system in terms of precipitation, I was encouraged by how it played out for the local snowpack. The storm brought roughly 8 inches of snow to our place down in the valley, and represented a net gain in both snowpack depth and snowpack liquid equivalent. Bolton Valley was reporting 12 inches of new snow from the system, so the mountains must have fared at least as well as the valleys.
With some rain during the middle part of the system, I was wondering about the condition of the snow surfaces, so today I decided on a relatively low angle tour on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network to get a feel for how the new snow had settled in. I started at the Catamount Trail access point on the Bolton Valley Access Road, which is down around 1,200’, and toured up to around the 1,800’ elevation a bit above Caribou Corner. Those are relatively low elevations overall, and 1,200’ is below even the Timberline Base, so it would certainly be a challenging stress test to speak to the quality and utility of the snowpack.
At 1,200’ at the parking area I found about 4 to 5 inches of powder above the base snow, and most notably, I couldn’t really find a rain crust. There was a clear demarcation between the consolidated base and the surface snow, at least around the parking area where the snowpack is a bit more exposed to snow maintenance and sunshine. The depth of the powder quickly increased as I ascended, and by about 1,500’ I was easily finding 6 to 12 inches of powder. It became hard to judge the depth of the surface snow though, because I typically couldn’t even find an interface between the new snow and the underlying snowpack; the wetter precipitation from the storm must have either drained well or transitioned smoothly to snow. I’d say total snowpack depth was probably around 10 to 12 inches at 1,200’ and 12 to 16 inches at 1,800’, but there’s plenty of substance to it, so it’s quite skiable up to moderate angles in maintained areas, and obviously it’s going to be notably deeper up above 2,000’.
In terms of the skiing, the powder was actually too deep for the lowest angle sections on the tour, and I’d have to use existing skin tracks or other skier tracks to maintain or pick up speed. The next tier of pitches skied great with the snow though. I typically like that tour up to Caribou Corner when there’s about 4 to 6 inches of powder over a consolidated base, so this really was a bit deeper than that, and I’d say folks should move on up to moderate angle terrain for the best backcountry turns, especially with additional snow falling over the next couple of days. There was light snow falling during my tour in the form of those big fluffy flakes, and I see that the resort reported an inch of new this morning.
The season snowfall seems roughly on track at our house observations site as of Christmas. Snowfall to date on the 25th was 40.1” vs. a mean of 40.4”, and snowpack depth at 10.5” was a few inches above average. The SDD for the season were a little behind average pace at 146.5 SDD vs. the 162.2 SDD average. I can see in the data that the SDD deficiency is largely due to that slow first half of December, because we were still ahead of average SDD as of the end of November, and then the pace started to fall off before picking up again in the second half of the month.
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.