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.
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.
With today’s high temperatures expected to be in the single digits F at elevation, touring seemed like the far better ski option, so I paid a visit to the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network. Overall ski conditions remain excellent thanks to the 1½ to 2 feet of snow that the local mountains just picked up from Winter Storm Landon, so despite the chilly temperatures, it’s time to get out there and make use of that great snow.
Today I toured over in the Holden’s Hollow area of the network, approaching from the back side of the ridge using the Telemark trail, and then sampling some descents on both the west and east sides. Today’s tour had me in the 2,000’ – 2,500’ elevation band, and I’d say total snowpack depths at those elevations are in the 2 to 3 foot range. In terms of surface snow, we’ve got enough different layers in the snowpack now, and they’re blending together enough, that it’s getting a bit tricky to actually decide what constitutes surface and subsurface snow/base. If you’re very delicate with your measuring, you can find a bit of a dense layer about 16 inches down. I think it’s safe to say that top section of the snowpack is the settled powder from Winter Storm Landon. The dense layer below that is presumably some denser precipitation, perhaps from the start of the storm when temperatures were coming down and there was a mix of rain and snow. Based on Powderfreak’s observations from Thursday, it doesn’t sound like there was too much rain at elevation, and since that layer is rather subtle, that would argue for that and/or a very good transition/blending with the drier snow above.
Past that denser band, you’re into another 6 to 8 inches of powder before you hit something more solid that can really serve as a potential base. That’s typically where I’d find that my poles could finally gain purchase, and it sounds like that’s similar over at Bretton Woods based on Alex’s comment yesterday here in the thread. Having backcountry baskets would probably help a little bit in that regard.
There are a couple of other dense bands down in the snow there that I could detect when probing carefully, but I’d say the solid base is down there in the 22 to 24-inch range for those low to mid elevations, and I’ve got an image of my pole hitting that approximate depth with this report. So if you’re first on an ascent and breaking in the skin track, plan on a good workout. Thankfully, most of the route for my tour had seen some previous traffic, and I only had to break one section with perhaps 100’ of vertical, but it was a good deal of extra work.
Right now in terms of the backcountry skiing around here, I’d argue that you really need black pitches or greater to have a reasonable descent without getting too bogged down or simply having to straight-line it too much. I was on 115 mm skis that I’d just waxed, and I still had to seek out those pitches if the snow was untracked. As long as you get the right pitch though, the powder skiing is excellent as one would imagine.
With our recent winter storm dropping 2½ to 3 feet of snow at the local resorts, the ski conditions are simply fantastic. However, the storm also brought some cold air with it, and that’s now in place over the area. Temperatures were expected to top out in the single digits F today, which isn’t horribly cold, but cold enough that I’d rather be skinning for turns than riding lifts.
Temperatures were indeed in the mid to upper single digits F when I arrived at the Village around midafternoon, and not surprisingly with the fantastic snow conditions, there were a ton of Nordic skiers out on the Network. I headed right over toward the Holden’s Hollow area via Pond Loop, and found myself on the Telemark Trail briefly before I cut right to Holden’s Hollow. My ascent on Holden’s Hollow made me realize just how expansive that area is – there are a lot more sections of maintained glades around there than I knew, not to mention the amount of natural terrain that is skiable on its own.
“In the lowest areas around Village elevation I would typically find at least 12 to 15 inches of powder, but as I ascended in elevation I quickly found that depths of 20 inches or more were common.”
Being well on the leeward side of Oxbow Ridge and North Ridge, the snow in the Holden’s Hollow area is well protected from winds, and boy is the quantity and quality of the powder impressive. In the lowest areas around Village elevation I would typically find at least 12 to 15 inches of powder, but as I ascended in elevation I quickly found that depths of 20 inches or more were common. I’m sure the powder has settled some since it initially fell (my analyses at the house were revealing densities in the 3% H2O range near the end of the storm) but all the snow out there is incredibly light and dry, with a fantastic soft base underneath it. The turns were essentially as you’d expect with snow like that – simply outstanding. I guess the only complaint I can muster would be that a few skiers had already been through the area so I had to hunt around off the main lines a bit for fresh tracks. However, this is the kind of powder that’s so deep and plentiful, it’s still amazingly good even after it’s seen a few passes from other skiers. That’s indeed what’s out there right now in the backcountry, so get out and enjoy it if you’ve got the chance!
The boys both ended up staying over at the Handler’s house last night, and we wouldn’t be picking them up until the Warren Miller ski movie (No Turning Back) in Stowe this evening, so that gave E and I a chance to get out for a bit of skiing together today. I got a really good sampling of the snow and glade conditions on my solo ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network yesterday, and I found some spots that I thought E would really like, so I planned on a mini tour that would let us focus on just those glades. The Gotham City area and the glades below that looked like a very good option; based on the pitch, tree spacing, and depth and consistency of the powder, it felt like a good fit for E’s off piste Telemark skills.
Temperatures were rising today ahead of our next incoming winter storm, and they were right around the freezing mark when we arrived up in the Bolton Valley Village at midday. The resort was absolutely packed with the cars of visitors; now that the temperatures were nice and comfortable, presumably everyone was making their holiday trips to the slopes. The Village lots were actually all full and they were parking people down at Timberline, but since we’d be visiting the Nordic side of the resort, we figured we’d be able to find something down by the Nordic Center. Even down there it took some creative parking to get a spot, but we managed one in the lowest tier of the main area.
We walked over to the tennis court area, strapped on our skis and began following a short skin track that others had made that quickly merged onto Broadway. From there it was up to the Bryant trail, where we stopped at the highest junction with World Cup to drop some layers and open some vents. We continued on Bryant up to the 2,400′ elevation, where we cut off over toward Coyote. There’s a skin track leading right up into Gotham City that I’d seen yesterday, and my estimates were that an elevation of ~2,400′ was just about right for getting there. Indeed we quickly found the skin track off Coyote, and it was just another few minutes up to Gotham City. They even have a sign now that welcomes you to the area. I’m not sure when it was, but at some point today I realized that Gotham City must of course be name after Ann Gotham of Friends of Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry. I’d initially thought that the name referred somehow to the Gotham City of Batman fame, but the link to Ann seems so obvious now.
We stopped our ascent in the middle of Gotham City to switch over for descending, and we were treated to sunshine peeking in and out from behind clouds as we enjoyed the mild air and snowy scene. We had some soup and hot chocolate, but they almost seemed out of place with the relatively mild weather. Despite the rising temperatures, the powder had appeared to hold up pretty well in areas we’d checked during our ascent, but we soon noticed that it was starting to stick to our skis in sunny areas. We knew we’d better get a move on lest the powder turn to mush on us.
We headed down by skiing a combination of Girls and Sasquash, and fortunately the powder was still decent in the more shaded areas. It was starting to turn in sunnier areas though, and when we got into some of the lower elevation glades below World Cup, it was definitely past its prime. Fortunately we’ve got a winter storm on the way this evening, with Winter Storm Warnings up for the Northern Greens. A good storm will make quick work of any adulterations to the powder in those lower elevations.
In any event, we got some good turns, hit four different glades in that short tour, and finished off on the Telemark Practice Slope. I bet one could easily do that tour in under an hour if they got right to it and didn’t pause to do other things. An efficient route for access might be just to go up Coyote, although I’m not sure if the skinning there would be quite as easy as on Bryant since it’s not used as much. We’ll definitely get back there with E, and hopefully the boys with even better snow, but it’s a great little tour that hits some beautiful ski terrain.
This evening we met up with the Handler’s and the boys at Bender’s Burritos on the Mountain Road in Stowe. Our family has been a few times now since Ty really likes burritos, but apparently it was a first visit for everyone but Jeff in his family. It’s a small place that seats maybe a dozen people, and we were worried that it might be packed with holiday visitors, but we essentially had it to ourselves. A memorable part of the experience was watching the end of the Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game, in which the Packers seemed to have it all locked up with just a little time to go, but the Seahawks made a ridiculous comeback to win the game. At one point the Bender’s staff was all out front at the counter, eyes riveted to the screen as they watched the dramatic conclusion of the game. Of most importance of course was the fact that the winner of the game could potential be playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I think everyone had a great meal – I got a fish burrito as I often do, going with the cod this time.
“An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up…”
The next phase of the evening was to head up to the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center at the resort to watch the latest Warren Miller ski movie, No Turning Back. We usually catch it in the fall at the Flynn Theater in Burlington, but we didn’t get a chance this year. It was just sort of luck when I found that it was playing at Spruce Peak because I was getting some links for another ski trip report. When Jeff found out about the movie, that set things in motion and he got us all tickets. I believe this showing of the movie is one of those put on by the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum, and it’s very unlike the Flynn Theater experience. Whereas that’s a real raucous affair filled with hundreds and hundreds of people, this was a much mellower time, with about a couple dozen of us in the entire theatre. They do have the intermission, but the only prize drawing is for the grand prize opportunity to win a ski trip. Another cool aspect of this showing was that they have free snacks and drinks for everyone – at intermission you just pop out into the lobby and grab your complimentary food. The movie was great, with a lot of depth in each feature as opposed to just the skiing. An added bonus while watching the movie was the fact that it was dumping heavy snow outside as an incoming winter storm ramped up; it’s worth a little more description as I wrap up this report.
Indeed the thing of greatest importance in the world of Vermont skiing this evening was the weather. This current storm has been potentially dicey in the Northeast, with areas off to the east of the Greens likely to see a lot of rain. But, here in Northern Vermont we’ve been in the game for a good shot of snow, and as of this evening it looks like that might be coming to fruition. When we left the house around 5:00 P.M. there wasn’t much going on, but we got into some light rain in the valley during the trip northward. While we were at Bender’s Burritos on the mountain road (elevation 750′), there was a little light rain, and when we left there around 6:30 P.M. the rain had picked up – it was actually freezing on some ground surfaces, but it was spotty so it must have only been those that were very cold. Upon heading up to the mountain to watch the movie, snow mixed in at roughly 1,200′ elevation. At the Spruce Peak Village (1,500′) the precipitation was all snow, and it was starting to come down at a really healthy clip. At intermission during the movie we could see that the snow was really picking up, and when we were leaving around 9:00 P.M. we were getting a real shellacking of dense snow; there was a good inch or so already down. It was snow all the way back to the house at that point, and a very isothermal 33 F on the car thermometer the entire trip. Here in Waterbury at 500′ I measured 1.2″ of snow as of 11:00 P.M. this evening and I’m planning to do a liquid analysis at midnight. Things are looking good for a day on the slopes tomorrow though.
We had a great day of lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley yesterday thanks to almost two feet of new snow from Winter Storm “Pax”, but today looked to be colder and windier, so some backcountry touring seemed like a good fit. It was such a gorgeous midwinter day today in the valley, with lots of sunshine, and highs around 20 F. The boys were more interested in sledding than skiing, but at least they were getting out enjoying the day. E stayed home with them and ended up doing some snowshoeing, but I headed up to the mountain for a tour. There had actually been a few more inches of fluff overnight in association with upslope flow from Winter Storm “Quintus”, so that new snow simply topped off what came from the larger storm.
“The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.”
Since I was solo, I decided on an interesting tour that would hit some common spots as well as some new areas that would let me check out some additional glades. I began with a standard skin up to Bryant Cabin via the Bryant Trail, which went quite quickly without any real stops. I actually had my pass checked by one of the resort employees out on the trail, so the resort is keeping up on that. The settled powder was 25” deep up at Bryant Cabin, and assessments throughout the day revealed that to be pretty consistent at most of the elevations I visited.
From Bryant Cabin I headed out on Gardiner’s Lane and descended via JJ’s. There had been some skier traffic in the area, but there were various lines with fresh snow, and everything was simply bottomless and soft. I cut across to Possum, merged onto Cliff Hanger, and then skinned up to reach the top of Prayer Flag. Although I’ve explored that area before, I didn’t really know the name of the run until I saw it on the new Bolton Valley Backcountry Map. There was only one track on Prayer Flag, and it seemed to be an ascent track. The turns were good, and it was trench city with respect to the track I left. It was actually a bit much in the way of new snow for shallower grades, but for the steeper pitches it was excellent.
From the bottom of Prayer Flag I headed out toward “Breakfast Bowl”, a glade I’ve never skied before, and noted that the tracks looked really good coming down out of Holden’s Hollow. I found Breakfast Bowl totally untracked, and those were some of the best turns of the day – there is plenty of pitch there for whatever amount of powder you’ve got. At the bottom of Breakfast Bowl, instead of heading back up toward Broadway, I decided to cut across Joiner Brook, head up to the plateau on the other side, and take the Valley Loop Nordic trail back to the car. On my way up out of the streambed, I really got a feel for the instability of the snowpack. With the upside down snowpack having dense snow on top of lighter, drier stuff, “whumphing” sounds were being made with every step. It felt like a snowpack that would be ready to rip in appropriate terrain, and no sooner had I been thinking about it, than a room-sized slab shifted under me on a fairly steep slope. It only moved a couple of inches since it was stabilized by some trees, but it sure let me know that the snowpack meant business. Finishing my tour on Valley Loop was somewhat slow on my fat skis, but it was relaxing, and I cut a few corners to speed up the process on the very winding trail.