Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 03FEB2024

An image of fresh snow on a trail sign for the Brant Trail on the Nordic and Backcountry network of ski trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of icicles and fresh snow on the roof of the Bryant Cabin along the Nordic and Backcountry Network of ski trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Fresh snow and icicles adorn the roof of Bryant Cabin as I make my way through the area on today’s Bolton Valley backcountry ski tour

The clipper system that came through the area at the end of the week had been shown in the modeling for quite a while. Some of the earlier runs even suggested the potential for additional upslope snow on the back side of the system, but that component faded in the prognostications as the week wore on, and the system was essentially a clipper passing north of the area. Yesterday morning’s early snow reports of 2 to 3 inches for the Northern Greens resorts were somewhat encouraging, and that was bolstered by PF’s comments from Stowe indicating that the snow wasn’t just fluff – it had some substance to it.

After a consistent run of storm cycles throughout January, we’re in a relatively slow period of snowfall right now. We haven’t had a substantial storm in several days, and it looks like it will be at least a few more until our next one, so this is likely our best immediate window of fresh snow. With that in mind, it seemed like a good day to get our for some turns, so I headed up to Bolton Valley for some touring on the backcountry network.

An image of the top of an evergreen encased in rime ice as viewed during a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Rime adorns the top of an evergreen, which was a frequent sight throughout my ski tour today.

Starting from the Village at around 2,000’, I skinned up past Bryant Cabin to roughly 2,800’ on Heavenly Highway. The new snow depths were very much as advertised, with 2 to 3 inches of powder throughout that entire elevation range. There really wasn’t much increase in the snowfall totals at those elevations where I was touring, but the totals definitely started to tail off below 2,000’. I can’t say exactly how much fell at 1,500’, but it was noticeably less, and once you got below 1,000’ there was no new snow. At some point in the past several days there’s also been some riming in the mountains; you can see the rime on the trees at various elevations throughout the resort.

An image of branches coated with rime ice viewed during a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWith the available snow I stuck to low-angle glades for as much of my descent as possible, and as noted, the new powder had some substance to it so the turns would up being quite decent. On mid-fats I was probably getting 25-50% bottomless turns on terrain with the appropriate pitch. And even when touching down, the turns were still feeling very good because the subsurface has some pliability – it’s certainly dense, but nothing like the sheet of ice that would result from a big rainstorm followed by a refreeze. The base snow is soft enough that you can punch down into the snowpack if you’re not on a floatation device like skis or snowshoes, and I saw numerous signs of this happening where snowboarders or hikers were traversing areas in boots.

An image showing one of the gladed areas with fresh snow on the Nordic and Backcountry network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Thanks to our recent clipper system, there was enough new powder to make for great skiing on many of the lower angle glades and similar terrain areas of the Bolton valley Nordic and Backcountry Network

For the last part of my tour on the backcountry network I worked my way along Gardiner’s Lane and made good use of the low-angle terrain there. In many areas I was able to explore lines that you often can’t hit because the powder is too deep to sustain good momentum, but they were great today, so I experienced a lot of new sections of the network that I often breeze past.

A copy of the 2018-2019 Nordic and Backcountry trail map from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A copy of Bolton Valley’s Nordic & Backcountry trail map which lists the trails and many of the official glades

I connected onto the alpine trails at Lower Turnpike for the last part of my tour, and let’s just say, if you didn’t get out for lift-served turns around here today, you’re really not missing anything. Lower Turnpike typically maintains some of the highest quality snow on the alpine trails because of relatively low skier traffic, modest pitch, and good protection from the wind. Even there, the surface was firm unless I was able to get into the untracked powder off to the sides, and if the snow is firm on Lower Turnpike you know it’s going to be very rough elsewhere. I don’t actually have to imagine what the conditions were like on the main trails though, because some friends sent us video of their son snowboarding today, and the sound of his board on the snow was excruciating. That’s probably going to be a common situation until the next substantial storm comes into the area or it gets very warm, so we’ll be looking for Mother Nature to get another good winter storm system through here as soon as possible.

An image of a Google Earth map overlaid with GPS tracking data from a February ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map overlaid with GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 15DEC2023

An image of Ty Telemark skiing in powder in mid-December in one of the glade areas on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the Bryant Cabin in mid-December during a ski tour out on the Nordic & Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A view of the Bryant Cabin while Ty and I were out on our backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley today

I haven’t been up to the mountain since Tuesday, but Dylan was out for some lift-served turns on Wednesday with friends and he said that Bolton’s conditions were fantastic. Similar to what I’d observed on Tuesday, he said there was a still a lot of roped terrain due to various hazards, but he also noted that his group was able to ski lower down on Preacher, and the untracked powder was going strong. That area is well protected from winds, and with the lower traffic due to the current need to traverse in, he said that conditions in there were better than he often sees in midwinter. The resort had also opened up the lower part of Wilderness that can be easily accessed from Vista, and he said the powder there was excellent as well.

Since it hasn’t snowed for a couple of days, I decided that the timing would be good to head out onto Bolton’s Backcountry Network. This was my first time out on the Network this season, so it was a great opportunity to see where the snowpack stands. In terms of skiing the glades, coverage is quite good, and there are no major issues there. Out in the glades is feels like something that is approaching a midwinter snowpack, but what gives it away that we’re not quite there yet are the water bars on the main access trails. Some water bars are fine, but there are many that seem like they are stuck in early season condition, probably because they got blown out somewhat by the warm start to the last system. I haven’t noticed that issue quite as much on the lift-served terrain, likely because the grooming and greater skier traffic help to pack in the water bars more, but those factors aren’t there to tamp down the snow on the backcountry terrain. There are a number of spots on the Bryant Trail where people have diverted the skin track around the water bar area instead of trying to bridge it.

A copy of the 2018-2019 Nordic and Backcountry trail map from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry trail map which lists a lot of the glades.

Today we toured up the classic route to the Bryant Cabin, and then descended through some of the more popular glades. I was surprised to find that even above 2,000’ the temperature was edging above the freezing mark, so the snow was getting a bit thick in some areas. This effect seemed to diminish with elevation, and thankfully most of the powder skied well and wasn’t sticky, probably because the air is still fairly dry. As we descended below 2,500’, we started to run into areas where the powder became sticky, and I figured it was due to elevation, but we got back into drier powder in lower areas and that makes me think the stickiness was just in areas that had seen the sun. In any event, even with the temperatures being a bit marginal, there’s still plenty of good powder out there at elevation if you avoid areas that got hit by the sun.

A an image of a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from a ski tour on December 15th, 2023 on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour out on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network

It’s not surprising that the backcountry snowpack is getting a midwinter feel, because the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake is at 40 inches, and that’s the depth at which people start to feel comfortable skiing most off piste terrain around here. Those water bars in certain areas do seem to give it away that we’re still in early season though. Bolton’s snow report indicates that they are just shy of 100 inches of snow on the season, and I see that Jay Peak is reporting 115 inches on the season, so both resorts seem to have done well with these early season storms we’ve had thus far. We’re within a couple inches of average snowfall to date down at our site in the valley, but I bet those numbers from the resorts are ahead of their average pace due to the substantial elevation-dependence we’ve see with these recent systems. In any event, 100” of snow by mid-December is a solid start to the season, even at elevation in the Northern Greens.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 05FEB2023

An image of the Bryant Cabin during a ski tour on the Nordic & Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the Alchemist glade on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The quality of the powder out on the mountain today was excellent – even south-facing Alchemist had soft, fluffy conditions.

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.

An image of upslope snow clinging to a tree branch on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Some of the snow formations out there in the forest today that were left behind by recent upslope snows.

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.

An image of signs for the Cotton Brook area and nearby locations on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontFinding 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:

 

2,000’: 15-20”
2,500’: ~20”
3,000’: 20-25”

An image of evergreens laden with snow from recent storms along the Catamount Trail on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The evergreens were loaded with snow from recent storms, making for quite a winter wonderland out on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network today.

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.

A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from a ski tour on February 5th, 2023 at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network.

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.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 20DEC2022

An image showing recent December snow covering tree branches and structures in the Bryant Cabin area of the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty Telemark skiing powder from Winter Storm Diaz in some of the glades on the Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty out in some of Bolton’s Backcountry Network glades today enjoying the powder from Winter Storm Diaz and the additional rounds since then

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.

An image of some of the snow accumulations up around 2,800 feet in elevation on December 20th, 2022 on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontIt’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.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from a ski tour on December 20th, 2022 on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour out on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 23JAN2021

A snowy scene with a skier and cars from the Village area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont after some January snowstorms
An image of a snow-covered sign indicating one of the entrances to the backcountry and trail information at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The recent upslope snows were seen covering and clinging to everything today while I was out on a backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley.

The consistent snows and temperatures we’ve had over the past several days had me pretty certain that the snow quality was there for lift-served skiing today, but the arctic hounds coming in on those northwest winds led me to go touring instead.  When I saw projected highs in the single digits F for Bolton Valley today, there was no way I wanted to sit still on the lifts in the wind vs. generating my own heat down in the protection of the forest.

I got up to the Village around midday, and temperatures were indeed in the mid-single digits F as the forecast had suggested.  Between all the backcountry touring and Nordic folks that I saw, there were plenty of people out on the lower trails, but farther out into the higher trails by the Bryant Cabin, I saw probably a handful of groups. Overall, you could tell by the vibe that people felt it was great weather for these types of activities.

An image of a snow-covered evergreen and house after a week of January snows in the Village area at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Snowy scenes were everywhere today around the Bolton Valley Village.

The additional 4 inches of fresh champagne that the resort had just picked up really served to top off the already crazy levels of fluff that covered everything.  I saw some great images of the recent snows as soon as I arrived in the Village, so before gearing up for my tour, I took a quick walk around the Village and grabbed some scenic shots.  Once I started my tour and got into the forest, the amount of snow on all surfaces was just amazing – it was caked so heavily on the trees that you were surrounded by it on all sides.  Starting up the Bryant Trail was like walking into some sort of white cathedral.

I made depth measurements of the snowpack during my tour, and I found generally 26-27” around the 2,000’ level, and many spots that are getting dangerously close to 40” up near 3,000’.  That’s pretty consistent with what the Mt. Mansfield Stake is showing.  The powder skiing was great, although we could still use another storm or two just to push the snowpack depth past that 40” benchmark.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map showing GPS tracking data from today’s tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network

At the start of my tour off Heavenly Highway I was on some steep, 30+-degree slopes, and I was setting off sloughs that definitely spoke to the relative snowpack instability from the continuous day after day after day of snows without consolidation.  I was perfectly safe where I was the very dense forest, but I immediately though about how I wouldn’t want to be exposed in spots like the ravines of the Presidentials.  So I guess it wasn’t entirely surprising when I discovered posts in the American Weather New England Skiing Thread about slides in Tuckerman.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 27DEC2018

An image of snowy evergreen branches and the sign for the Coyote Trail on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image showing six inches of powder near the Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Roughly a half foot of powder greeted me at the Bryant Cabin as I passed through the area on today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network

Last night’s storm marked the fourth bout of snow we’ve had since our warm system leading up to the weekend.  Although none of these recent snowfall events have been very large, the rounds and rounds of snow from these smaller systems have piled up, and today seemed like a great opportunity to check on how the holiday week powder has been building.

With Bolton Valley reporting 7 inches of new snow during the period, I decided that a backcountry day was in order.  Knowing the way snow accumulates on their Nordic and Backcountry Network, I figured there were be plenty of fresh powder for the low to moderate-angle terrain.  Today was actually the first day this season that I’ve headed out onto the Backcountry Network.  With all the snow we’ve had, the backcountry terrain has been ready for skiing since well back in November, but there’s been so much good skiing in bounds that I’ve just been touring there.

“Once I got on trail, I made some depth checks around the 2,000’ elevation and found 5 to 6 inches of settled powder atop the old base.”

I arrived at the resort around noontime and parked in the lower Nordic Center lot – it was just about filling up while I put on my gear, and the parking attendants were getting ready to start the shuttle bus for Timberline parking.  That’s good news for the resort in terms of holiday visitors.  Once I got on trail, I made some depth checks around the 2,000’ elevation and found 5 to 6 inches of settled powder atop the old base.  The depth of the powder didn’t really increase substantially with elevation, and I found roughly 6 inches at 2,700’ by the Bryant Cabin.

An image of fat Telemark skis in a couple inches of powder in one of the Nordic Center parking lots at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I was greeted by a fresh couple inches of light powder when I parked my car in the lower Nordic Center parking lot today.

“The snow had been quite nice, with probably 70-80% bottomless turns on my 115 mm skis, so I strapped the skins back on and headed up for another descent.”

From what I’d seen, there was plenty of snow for the tour I’d planned, which involved some new terrain and some area I’d not visited in quite a while.  I started my descent in the trees below the Bryant Cabin (Bryant Woods) and worked my way though there until I reached JJ’s.  Then I crossed the Bryant Trail and hung close to it for a few hundred feet until I got into the lines on the west side (Possum Woods).  None of that terrain has much in the way of actual manicured glades, but the natural tree spacing is just fine for its pitch, and today’s conditions, featuring about a half foot of delicate Champlain Powder™ fluff, were exactly what you needed for it.  Lower down, I merged onto Cup Runneth Over and various trees in that area until I got to the lower loops of World Cup.

An image of a sign announcing custom made sandwiches and maple lattes at the Village Deli at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe snow had been quite nice, with probably 70-80% bottomless turns on my 115 mm skis, so I strapped the skins back on and headed up for another descent.  This time I went for a run in the Coyote area and made my way back toward the Village to hit the deli.  At the Village Deli I discovered something excellent – they are back to making custom made sandwiches!  I immediately texted E and the boys and Stephen the good news, and got myself a maple latte and some sandwiches to take home.

An image of a map with GPS tracking data overlayed onto Google Earth for a backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont on December 27th, 2018
The GPS tracking data from today’s ski tour at Bolton Valley overlayed onto Google Earth

We’ve got a more substantial system coming into the area tonight.  It’s supposed to pass to our west, so we’re expecting some warmth, but this one’s expected to have more snow and much less rain than the last one, so we could get some bolstering of the snowpack out of it.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 13MAR2018

An image of Stephen dropping off Heavenly Highway into some powder on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort in Vermont
An image of Stephen skiing powder in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen enjoying some of the great snow out there in the Bolton Valley backcountry today

Today was a big ski day for Stephen.  He’s been working hard, for what seems like years, to put together an appropriate alpine touring setup for backcountry skiing at a reasonable price.  Over the past few months, the final pieces have finally been coming together.  Despite his son Johannes “stealing” critical pieces of what appeared to be his final setup, the gear swapping, shop visits, adjustments, readjustments, and everything else that tried to get in the way, was eventually settled.  All that remained was finding a day in his busy schedule to actually use his fancy gear.  Today was that day, and the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network was the place.

An image out the window of the Bryant Cabin showing icicles in the backcountry near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe got a fairly early start to give us plenty of time for a tour of whatever length we chose, I figured I’d give Stephen a good introduction to some of my favorite parts of the network that he’d never visited.  We’d be able to adapt the length of the tour as needed to fit energy levels and any equipment issues.  Snowfall from Winter Storm Skylar was just getting started as we began our tour from the sports center, and it intensified on our ascent of the Bryant Trail.  We saw only one other person on our ascent, and with the Bryant Cabin vacant, we were able to check out the upgrades that had been done as we took a quick break.  Clearly the cabin has seen some recent use, because the icicles draped down from the roof were some of the largest I’ve ever seen.

The next leg of our journey took us up to “The Glades” above the Catamount Trail, where we stopped our ascent around 3,100’.  Although the storm occasionally brought us some slightly larger flakes, they were for the most part small, with diameters in the 1 to 2 mm range.  This meant that the new snow was fairly dense, and it was covering everything underneath it quite well.  We continued down into the Cotton Brook Glades on Randy’s and Great White Way, and found some impressive untracked lines.  Stephen had a few good explosions in the powder, but he seemed thankful for most of them as they helped cool him down after the long ascent.  Those steep, tight sections on Randy’s were certainly the most challenging, but Stephen had some of his best turns down in the mellower pitches of Great White Way.  I find that those lower angle areas are some of my favorites as well unless you’ve just picked up two feet of fluff and really need the steeper pitch.

The ascent up from the back side was quite a labor at times.  It’s always tough skinning out in a few spots of that Cotton Brook ascent.  It’s just steep and narrow near the bottom of Randy’s, and there’s no way around it, so you have to try your best to set in switchbacks.  We were fortunate to have use of the old skin track that’s in place, but we were slipping on the steepest pitches.  Stephen was definitely feeling it as he’d take one step forward and what felt like 10 steps back, especially as he was getting used his very first day on his skins, but we made it through that struggle and the pitch of the ascent improved dramatically.  When we cut Stephen’s skins for his skis at full width, I was telling him how I considered that approach a “no brainer” vs. going with anything narrower, and after today’s ascent up from the Cotton Brook area I know he agrees 100%.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a tour in the backcountry at Bolton  Valley Resort in Vermont
GPS tracking data for today’s tour into the Bolton Valley backcountry

We finished off the tour with a line below Heavenly Highway down to Bryant Cabin, then on to Gardiner’s Lane and JJ’s, which delivered one of the best runs I’ve had there.  We’d certainly accumulated a few fresh inches of snow from the storm by that point, which helped make the skiing extra soft.  The Telemark Practice Slope was also aided by all the new snow, and made a nice end to the tour.  Actually, the tour wasn’t quite over at that point because we added on one of the most important parts:  sandwiches at the Bolton Valley Deli & Grocery.  We even got to chat with Ralph Deslauriers while we were there, and naturally one of the topics of conversation was the very snowy week we’ve got to look forward to.  It sounds like Winter Storm Skylar is going to move up into Northern Maine and wrap some of that abundant Atlantic moisture into the Northern Greens, just like the way things happened last week after Winter Storm Quinn!

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 30DEC2017

An image of snow-covered berries on a tree up by the Bryant Cabin near Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a glade in the Bolton Valley backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Taking advantage of today’s slightly warmer temperatures to visit some of the glades in the Bolton Valley backcountry network

I last got out for a ski tour at Bolton Valley on Tuesday, with the plan of getting in some turns ahead of the very cold weather that was forecast for the rest of the holiday week.  Indeed the cold came into the area as expected, and while the low temperatures were far from anything that would set records, high temperatures that were staying below zero F and wind chills on top of that meant that it was going to be brutal out there.  Today marked a bit of a respite from those temperatures though, with highs expected to be well up into the single digits F, no winds, and sunshine.  I figured that today was my window to get back out for a ski tour before temperatures dip back down in the coming days.

An image of some plants poking through the snow along the Broadway trail at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontThe warmest part of the day was expected to be in the afternoon, with a southerly flow of air thanks to the remnants of Winter Storm Frankie passing through the area.  I went with two base layers (lights under heavies) just to ensure that I’d be comfortable, and headed up to the mountain around 2:30 P.M.  There was still some dim, arctic-looking sun pushing through the clouds off to the south as I arrived at the Village and parked right along the edge of Broadway.  Temperatures were in the in the 5 to 10 F range, and with no wind it was actually quite comfortable – within a few minutes of starting my ascent of Bryant I was skinning without a hat in order to cool off.

“Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.”

It was my first day out on the backcountry network this season, so I stuck with a simple trip up to Bryant Cabin with one of my favorite touring routes:  Car –> Broadway –> Bryant –> Bryant Cabin –> Gardiner’s Lane –> North Slope –> Connector Glade –> Gardiner’s Lane –> Grizzwald –> Gotham City –> Girl’s –> World Cup –> World Cup Glade –> Telemark Glade –> Broadway –> Bolton Valley Village –> Fireside Flatbread –> Car.  It seems like quite the tour, although it’s only about 2.5 miles.  That last stop before the car is pretty important though, especially on a cold December afternoon when the sun’s gone down.

A map with a GPS tracking data plotted onto Google Earth for a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry network at Bolton Valley Resort on December 30th, 2017
The GPS track of today’s Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry tour mapped onto Google Earth

We’ve had perhaps an inch or two of snow since my last outing on Tuesday, and at Village elevations I was finding about 5 inches of powder atop a thick layer.  That surface snow depth definitely increased a bit with elevation, and if you punched through the thick layer in the snowpack you’d be looking at 18 to 24 inches of snow before getting to whatever base snow was below that.  Learning from my Tuesday tour, I brought fatter skis and dropped the pitch of my selected slopes just a bit, and that yielded some excellent powder turns.  Some of the best sections were Girl’s and Telemark Glade, where the terrain and snow really flowed well.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 10DEC2016

An image showing some ski tracks in powder snow in a high-elevation glade along the Catamount Trail outside of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the depth of powder on a glade along the Catamount Trail outside of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
In the backcountry today, the higher elevations held up to 20 inches of powder atop a roughly 10-inch base, indicating a snowpack of approximately 30 inches.

This is opening weekend for lift-served skiing at Bolton Valley, but with only minimal terrain served by the lifts at the moment and fairly chilly temperatures in the forecast, I decided to make it my first visit of the season to the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network.  Although we haven’t had any big storms in the area in the past few days, we’ve had some lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes and additional snow from an arctic frontal passage that has given the mountains additional bouts of snow almost every day.  The Mt. Mansfield Stake is indicating a snowpack depth of 34”, and it’s definitely not just fluff.  With the high elevation and maintenance that goes on in the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, I’ll usually feel OK poking around on appropriate terrain once the stake kits 24” (depending on the composition of that 24”), so with 34” I figured it would definitely be ready to go.

I headed up to the mountain in the afternoon, and temperatures in the Village at ~2,000’ were in the mid-teens F, but fortunately there was minimal wind.  There was blue sky at times, but light snow was still falling off and on.  My goal was to head to the upper glades along the Catamount Trail out past the resort boundary.  Those glades are up around the 3,000’ elevation, so I suspected the snowpack would be more than sufficient.

An image of a new structure near Bryant Cabin on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
I saw that there had been some recent construction up in the Bryant Cabin area.

I headed up the usual Bryant Trail, and the most interesting thing I saw was that there are some new structures going up around the Bryant Cabin.  One structure looked like a shed of sorts, and there was a larger structure that seemed to be partially built.  It also seemed that there had been some work done on the cabin itself.  In terms of snowpack depths, down at the Village at 2,000’ the surface snow was generally 14-15” of powder over a fairly thin layer of base snow.  Up at the Bryant Cabin at ~2,700’ there was 16-17” of powder over a much more substantial base, and when I finally got up to ~3,000’ in the glades on the back side of Bolton Mountain there was a healthy 18-20” of powder.  I was able to punch through the base at one point in my measurements, and the base snow seemed to be in the 8-10” range.  So, that would put total snowpack depths up at that elevation approaching the 30” range, which seems pretty reasonable with the Mt. Mansfield Stake at 34”.

“…when I finally got up to ~3,000’ in the glades on the back side of Bolton Mountain there was a healthy 18-20” of powder. I was able to punch through the base at one point in my measurements, and the base snow seemed to be in the 8-10” range. So, that would put total snowpack depths up at that elevation approaching the 30” range…”

The skiing was generally excellent, especially in those upper glades.  Since it was afternoon there had certainly been some traffic up there, but I still found areas of fresh snow.  I made my way down via Gardiner’s Lane, and eventually decided to check out the Alchemist glade that I hadn’t visited in a while to the south of Gotham City.  It’s a south-facing glade, so conditions can be quite variable, but aspect almost doesn’t matter right now because we’ve had November/December sun over the past couple of weeks… and not much of it anyway, so south-facing terrain isn’t all that different from north-facing terrain.  One does have to watch out as they get down near 2,000’ though because the base below the surface snow does start to get pretty thin, so you don’t want to ski anything with many obstacles at that point.  One could easily just lap terrain up above 2,500’ though with minimal concern about base depths.  Skiing is definitely quite good up high right now.

A map showing a ski tour from Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
GPS/Google Earth plot of today’s backcountry ski tour at Bolton Valley

There was a bit of accumulation of snow on my car when I got back to it after the tour.  It was rather minimal though, about ¼“ of new after 2 to 3 hours away.  Currently, Winter Weather Advisories are up ahead of our next storm that is coming into the area tomorrow.  I signed up for Washington County weather alert texts through VT-Alert, so I was notified of our Winter Weather Advisory just I was finishing up my ski tour today.  It was definitely nice to get that heads up right away without having to actively check, and it really doesn’t matter where you are.  Anyway, the advisory calls for a general 4-7”, which seems pretty consistent with what’s been expected of this event for a few days now.

Bolton Valley & Backcountry, VT 17JAN2015

An imae looking down the Grizzwald Glade with pristine powder snow in the backcountry at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image looking down Randy's glade on the back side of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heading down into the Cotton Brook area on today’s backcountry ski tour near Bolton Valley.

Best… Bolton… backcountry… tour… ever. That’s really the only way to start this trip report, because even after years of exploring the backcountry around Bolton Valley, that’s what today’s tour was for me. I can’t say that this tour was tops in every category; the powder was fantastic, but there have been numerous days that top it, and E and the boys weren’t with me, so it was a solo outing. What made the tour so great though was the combination of great powder on all aspects, the good distances covered to provide a nice workout, but most importantly, the breadth of the backcountry network used and the substantial number and variety of glades visited. The tour spanned all the way from the alpine trails of Wilderness to the Cotton Brook area, and featured nine different glades. What also made the tour so outstanding was that I could use my knowledge of the area to connect all those glades very efficiently; in terms of powder turns that meant getting the most bang for my buck.

“…we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week.”

It’s a holiday weekend, which typically means lots of visitors to the ski resorts, and the forecast today called for fairly chilly temperatures in the single digits for the mountains. That’s a combination that just calls out for some backcountry touring, and that’s the plan that gradually evolved this past week as I watched the forecast. Although we haven’t had any huge storms in the past week or two, the snow out there in the Northern Greens is simply fantastic – we just keep getting “small” snowfalls to freshen the slopes and top off the powder, but of course around here that’s meant 1 to 2 feet in the past week. And, the January weather just keeps all that powder pristine.

Ty was out at a dance until late last night, and friends came back to our house and stayed overnight to play with him and Dylan. I wasn’t about to pull them away from that this morning, and in fact, I wasn’t really planning to ask anyone if they wanted to ski with only single digits in the mountain forecast. I knew it was going to be one of those days where it could be uncomfortably cold if you didn’t keep moving, so going out by myself meant that I could keep the tour at whatever pace I chose. Knowing that I was going out solo also let me devise a more ambitious tour than if I was heading out with the whole family. After considered the many options, I decided that a lift-assisted tour out toward the Cotton Brook area would be a good option. There are glades farther to the north there that I’ve yet to explore, and at a decent pace, it looked like I’d be able to put together a solid tour out to that area and back in the three to four hour window of time I had.

The Wilderness Chair was scheduled to start running at 10:00 A.M., so I headed up to the mountain a bit after that and found that parking had reached the third tier of the main Village lot. That’s actually less than I’d expect for a Saturday on a holiday weekend, but I think the cold weather kept some folks away. I was able to wrap around and get a spot in the first tier, and then headed right over to the base of the Wilderness Chair to start my tour with a lift assist. Temperatures were certainly on the chilly side, probably somewhere in the single digits, but there was no wind, and that made quite a difference in terms of sitting out there lift. The lift ride gave me a chance to check out the on piste conditions, since I haven’t been to the resort since our trip back on the 4th of the month, and what I saw today looked really good. I didn’t hear any hard sounds as some snowboarders passed below me, and off in the Wilderness Woods to my left, I watched a boy glide through the powder in silence. I’d say ¾ of the terrain in Wilderness Woods was still untracked, so there was a lot of good skiing to be done there. I was even tempted to take a run, but keeping on track for my tour was a necessity.

An image showing a sign for the Heavenly Highway trail on the backcountry network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VemontFrom the Wilderness Summit I skied down the top of Peggy Dow’s to the junction with the backcountry network at Heavenly Highway. I let my momentum carry a bit of the way into the forest, and then stopped to put on my skins. At that point I definitely felt the cold – it had the bite of below zero cold up there around 3,000′, and having just sat on the lift for a while meant that I wasn’t producing much heat. As I got my skins on another skier appeared, coming from Heavenly Highway. We exchanged greetings and I saw that he was heading for a descent on the alpine terrain. I got my skins on quickly, and headed northward on the trail. My goal was to head down Devil’s Drop and get on the Catamount Trail, and I made good time through those high elevations. I checked the depth of the surface powder as I moved across the ridge line on Heavenly Highway, and generally I found about 13 inches. I saw a couple other skiers along the way toward Devil’s Drop, but as usual it was pretty quiet. For Devil’s Drop, I debated taking off my skins and really having some fun on the descent, but opted to just keep them on. I did switch my binding to ski mode so that I could make some Telemark and alpine turns as needed. I actually had first tracks Devil’s Drop, and if I’d been with others it probably would have been worth pulling off the skins and skiing it hard with some pictures.

As I neared the bottom of Devil’s Drop I saw a group of eight skiers below heading northward on the Catamount Trail. That’s one of the larger groups I’ve seen out there, and then seemed pretty organized; as I caught up to them they all pulled over to the right in near unison and let me pass. Within another few minutes I’d passed Birch run and reached the border of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network. I continued on a bit more until I was just below “The Glades”. My goal actual goal was down below, but I had the time and energy, and there were few tracks in The Glades, so I continued up to add another couple hundred vertical to my descent. That’s when I really started to warm up, and I had to hit the side zips on my pants and open the vents in my helmet. I actually think the air temperature was starting to warm a bit as well as southerly flow was starting to kick in ahead of our next storm. The ascent overall there was really quick though, and soon I was at the top of The Glades switching over to descent mode.

I hadn’t really gotten the feel of the skiing since I’d had my skins on at Devil’s Drop, but now I had them off and could dive into those turns in the Glades. The turns were excellent; there was a good foot or more of midwinter powder that easily kept me floating on my fat skis. I continued straight on below the Catamount trail onto “Randy’s”, which began with a modest pitch, and then dropped right off into a nice steep, open drainage. The pitch was close to 30 degrees in spots, and I can imagine this is quite a spot after big dumps of snow. The powder there was the deepest I’d seen on the day, but even that wasn’t quite enough to keep from touching down to the subsurface in a few spots because it was just so steep. That’s some really sweet terrain down there though, and there was just one or two other ski tracks in there, so the untracked lines were plentiful. Below that I got into “Great White Way”, where the pitch mellowed out a bit relative to Randy’s. The route just kept going, and as far as I understand, you can essentially take it all the way down to Waterbury Reservoir if you want, but after about 700-800′ of vertical I decided to call it a descent so that I could stay on track with the rest of my tour.

I skinned up along the edge of Great White Way, using a skin track that others had put in place. It would great to have a skin track that was totally out of the way of the trail, but the pitch is reasonable enough that you can head straight up the trail. As I approached Randy’s, the pitch really steepened of course, and the skin track had to make some pretty tight switchbacks. Fortunately, a more official, off trail skin track is quickly offered that heads up toward Birch Loop; there’s even a sign to let skiers know where that ascent route is, and it’s marked by blue blazes. That ascent was excellent, with a well-established skin track, and it delivers you right back that the Catamount trail just below The Glades.

“The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course.”

I left my skins on and zoomed across the flats toward Bryant Cabin. I didn’t stop inside, but instead continued along Gardiner’s Lane and up to North Slope to set up my final descent of the day. I stopped at the top of Upper JJ’s as my starting point. Since it was my final descent, I pulled out some tomato soup from my thermos, let it cool while I removed my skins, and then chugged the soup down and got on my way. The turns were beautiful, and I continued on Gardiner’s Lane, noting that there was a nice line above A1A that I hadn’t recalled seeing. I’ll have to check that out in the future. When I got to Grizzwald’s I found it completely untracked, and bounded my way down the steep pitch with some deep, fluffy turns. I contemplated a look at Alchemist, since it faces south and might be well preserved in this cold weather, but I saw what looked like just a track or two heading toward Gotham City and my skis just ended up pulling me that way. I skied Girls, and I think those might have been my favorite turns of the day. The depth and consistency of the powder came together perfectly for the pitch, and by the time I hit World Cup I was saying “Yes, Yes, that’s what I’m talking about!”… mostly to myself of course. I hit two more glades on the descent before I was down to Broadway, but I don’t really know the names of those – the snow was good to the very last drop though.

A Google Earth image showing GPS tracking data from a backcountry ski tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry in Vermont
The GPS tracking data from today’s tour in the Bolton Valley backcountry plotted on Google Earth

I really can’t think of a tour I’ve done in the Bolton Valley backcountry that delivered such a huge amount of perfect turns in so many different areas, so this one really does go down as my best tour in that regard. The lift assist really allowed this tour to fit into a reasonable window of time while covering some good distances. There are really limitless combinations to do out there in terms of tours, but I know I’ll visit parts of this one again because it delivered so well.