The weather was quite a contrast between yesterday and today – yesterday was relatively low visibility with constant snowfall, but today there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The basin area had definitely picked up more snow since I’d left yesterday, but it was most notable above the road elevation (~1,500’). Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today. If one considers how dry that snow was, and whatever settling occurred, that was obviously another impressive shot of snow overnight.
Based on my adventures yesterday, I had no plans to bring E and the boys way up toward the east face of Big Jay; the terrain is really too steep for efficient skinning, and there’s so much great ski terrain in Big Jay Basin itself, that there was little point anyway. As I mentioned in yesterday’s report, during the approach, it was somewhere above 2,000’ when I found the first obvious split in the main skin track – I literally came to a “T” junction with a skin track to the left, and the other option to the right. It was interesting guiding the family around today though, as the situation with visible routes was quite different. There had been a lot more skier traffic, so there were skin tracks and descent tracks all over the place, and the obvious distinction of those skin track routes had been obliterated. There were so many ski tracks and descent tracks around that the most efficient one’s I’d taken yesterday got missed in a couple of places, but they were all generally leading to where we wanted to go.
“Yesterday I found powder in the 8-12” range down in that elevation range, and we found something closer to a consistent 12” today. Up higher, I’d found 12-16” in the 2,500’ range, but my measurements show that the powder depth had increased to roughly 20” when we were there today”
The skiing, as expected, was excellent. We topped out at an elevation of roughly 2,700’ in the basin, and worked our way generally back toward the parking area following the typical routes. There was plenty of powder, although since the area had seen additional skier traffic, we didn’t quite have the run of the place like I did yesterday, and we had to move around a bit more for fresh lines. I brought up the idea of just skiing straight down the basin to Route 242 and making the short walk back to the car on the road, because I saw some people that seemed to have taken that approach on my outing yesterday. E and the boys wanted to hit some of that open terrain that’s available near the bottom of the approach though, so we headed that way. Heading straight down out of the basin will be something I’ll have to try on a future trip, but it could be a nice way to avoid having to traverse to the right as much during the ascent and get a more direct fall line run.
Since the trip is an hour or so from home, we used it as an opportunity to get Dylan some of his required driving hours, and that was a win-win. There was still some snow to navigate on the roads so that he could work on dealing with slushy areas, but it was probably good that he wasn’t dealing with the heavy snowfall and low visibility that I had frequently encountered yesterday.
Relative to yesterday, today’s forecast called for temperatures to be a couple of degrees warmer, but the reality was that the cold arctic air would still be in place, and temperatures would likely be in the single digits F in the mountains. Add some breezes, and the wind chills would be well below zero, so it was an easy call for E and Claire to once again cancel our BJAMS ski program at Stowe. E and the boys were happy to stay inside out of the cold, but I figured I’d take the opportunity to get out for a workout and make some turns. It’s still weather that’s better suited for self-powered ascents vs. riding lifts as far as I’m concerned, so I made plans for another backcountry ski tour.
“…it was easier than breaking trail through the powder, which was already in the 12-15″ range.”
Although my preference was to explore the skiing options down below the ridge at the point where I’d heard people in the past, for my first exploration of the notch I planned to start a tour from wherever I found convenient parking. That turned out to be a couple miles north of where I was initially thinking, at the parking area for the Preston Pond Trails. The lot is at an elevation of ~1,200′ on the west side of the road, and although it’s fairly small and already had another car in it, there was plenty of room for another. So I’d found decent parking, but in reality, I wasn’t all that optimistic about the potential for skiing in that area. The terrain directly to my east featured the huge cliffs of Bolton Notch Peak looming over everything, and they were cliffs that were essentially sheer and unskiable. And as if that wasn’t enough, the terrain below the cliffs was fairly steep and littered with car to house size boulders, presumably large chunks of rock that had fallen from the cliffs above. The prospects for skiing looked much better about a quarter mile to the south, where the terrain was a bit mellower and not so full of boulders. For my first visit to the area though, my plan was to just look for a skin track and see where it led me.
“The depth of the surface powder snow was actually getting pretty close to yesterday’s depths at times, up into the range of 18″ or more, but these elevations just didn’t have as substantial a base.”
As has been the case as of late, temperatures were in the single digits, so I quickly geared up and set out. Right across the road, I saw ski tracks heading up into the trees, so I figured that must be the standard skin track for the parking area and hopped on. Well, it didn’t turn out to be a well-established skin track, it was just a skin track made by one or two previous skiers, and it left a lot to be desired. I’m not sure what they person who made it was thinking, but they set it with some steep pitches and cruxes that required scrambling or holding onto trees to get up and through. It seemed to be heading up toward the unskiable terrain of the cliffs, and since it was rather poorly placed, I thought more than once about simply breaking off on my own to the south and contouring up in elevation more slowly. But, I stuck with the skin track because even though it was poorly done, it was easier than breaking trail through the powder, which was already in the 12-15″ range.
“The ski terrain wasn’t looking more promising in any direction – to the north it was cliffs and boulders, and to the south it was getting too flat.”
Finally, at around 1,700′, the skin track intersected with the VAST trail that runs through the notch area, and the prospects for getting to some decent skiing were looking a little better. The person who’d made the track appeared to have headed off to the south on the VAST trail, and this was good because this was the direction toward what looked like much better ski terrain. I headed up a rise on the VAST trail, and kept my eyes peeled for signs of the skin track heading back into the trees. Indeed after a few hundred feet, I saw the skin track head off to the left on what looked like an old logging road. The ski touring potential there were looking good, but after about five to ten minutes of additional skinning, it was becoming obvious that the skin track wasn’t really heading toward any primo ski terrain. It followed the logging roads in the area and was generally quite nice in terms of pitch, but it soon looked like whoever had made the track had descended right back down it. I gave it a few more minutes until I saw that the track’s creator clearly didn’t know where they were going. There were small side loops in the track and signs of doubling back where the person seemed to be surveilling the area. After some of these small loops, I could see that the person did eventually continue onward, but at an elevation of a bit below 2,000′ I decided to call it. The ski terrain wasn’t looking more promising in any direction – to the north it was cliffs and boulders, and to the south it was getting too flat. I’d already seen some options for turns near where I was, which actually might be the local sweet spot for ski potential in that immediate area.
“There were some nice open hardwoods in there, and I got some great powder turns.”
I had some soup, switched over for the descent, and began my way back down in the area of the skin track. I was able to veer off the track and get into some nice terrain for powder turns that would eventually return me safely to the track. It was my first chance to actually check out how the snow was skiing, and I was a little leery because the snow down at these elevations wasn’t as deep as what I’d been in yesterday up on Dewey Mountain. The depth of the surface powder snow was actually getting pretty close to yesterday’s depths at times, up into the range of 18″ or more, but these elevations just didn’t have as substantial a base. When I actually got turning though, I found that the overall combination of powder and base was more than sufficient, especially floating on 115 mm fat skis. And I have to say that the fluff there in the notch was of really high quality – definitely up to the standards of Champlain Powder™.
When I got back down to the VAST trail I decided that for the rest of the descent, I wasn’t going to go near the boulder-infested area in which I’d skinned up if I could help it. I opted to drop right from the VAST trail to Notch Road, or at least as straight down as the terrain and private property boundaries would let me. There were some nice open hardwoods in there, and I got some great powder turns. I had to navigate some ledges, but a shuffle to the left or right would usually get me to a mellower line around them. Unfortunately my direct descent was stopped when I ran into a “POSTED – PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign that belonged to one of the property owners below. I had to traverse above it, so I chose to go northward in the direction of the parking area. After a few minutes of traversing and skiing some lines, I saw that I’d soon be getting onto the property of a couple of additional houses, and fortunately, I found a nice area in between that seemed to be out of sight and off anyone’s property. That shot brought me right down to the road, where I strapped my skis on my pack and made the short walk back to my car.
While I was packing up at the car, the owner of the other vehicle arrived with her dog. She actually lives right on the road, and we began to talk skiing. She asked how it was, and I said that the snow was great, but the ski terrain, as I’d expected, was somewhat limited. Between the cliffs up above, areas of terrain that were too flat, areas of terrain that were of inconsistent slope and alternated between ledges and run outs, and the private property boundaries, it just wasn’t a prime backcountry ski spot. There were some very nice lines with open trees, but overall it wasn’t a lot of bang for your buck. I inquired about other parking areas on the road, and she couldn’t think of any immediately, but suggested to go to the Long Trail area. She said that once you got up above the VAST trail in that area, there were some nice lines. That is indeed back where I’d initially thought I’d find some good terrain, so I’ll likely try to find my way over there at some point in the future.
I’m sure there are many interesting stories that begin in a dark room, but in this case, the story begins in a darkroom. It was early June of 2010, and I was in the Pharmacology darkroom on the third floor of UVM’s Given Building. It must have been a popular day for western blotting, because I was in there with another guy as we both queued up some films for the developer. I can’t recall his name, but I think he knew I was a skier, and as he was as well, the conversation almost inevitably migrated in that direction. As backcountry skiing was discussed, he told me that I should check out the west face of Dewey Mountain sometime – he said you just drive up to the top of the road, put on your skins, and go up. It all sounded pretty straightforward from what I could tell. Being well entrenched in the warm season at that point, there was of course no way I was going to run off and check it out anytime soon, but I made a mental note and figured I’d check it out at some point in the future when the time was right. As one might expect, things happened to align, and that time was today.
“I was thankful to be able to use the track, because that powder was indeed deep – my checks were giving me measurements of 20-24″ of fluff.”
Our most recent snowfall in the Northern Greens came yesterday from Winter Storm Kari; it wasn’t an especially big storm up here, but much of the Champlain Valley picked up a half a foot of snow, and the west side resorts like Bolton Valley and Smuggler’s Notch received more than a foot. While yesterday’s temperatures were quite pleasant (and the skiing fantastic from what I hear), the storm pulled down more arctic air and was back into highs in the single digits F for the weekend. Combined with wind, temperatures would be well down into the negative numbers, and E and the boys had no interest in going out in that. I didn’t really feel like riding the lifts in those temperatures either, so another backcountry day was calling. I’d been a bit leery to head to the western slopes with the way they were lagging in snowpack earlier in the season, but with the way they cleaned up in this most recent storm, it seemed like the time had come. I had enough time to head out toward Underhill, so I figured I’d finally head to the top of the road and see what Dewey Mountain had to offer for snow and terrain.
“The best way to describe what’s up there is simply “steep and deep” terrain.”
It turns out that “the road” that you head to the top of, is Stevensville Road coming out of Underhill Center. There’s a fairly large parking area there, and I’d actually just visited it this past fall when Mark and I did a shuttle hike up to the ridge line of Mt. Mansfield and down to Underhill State Park. I’d never been there in the winter though, and it was an interesting drive. Even though this past storm wasn’t a big one, as I got into the upper elevations of Stevensville Road, I could see that they had a ton of snow, and it looked like a mini fluff bomb had gone off in the area. Delicate upslopeChamplain Powder™ snow was piled on everything. The prospects for some powder skiing were looking very good.
There were about a half dozen cars in the parking area as I geared up and hopped onto the skin track at the east end. It was really more than a skin track; there had been enough use that the trail was essentially packed. It reminded me of a narrower version of the Bryant Trail at Bolton Valley. It wasn’t long before I came to a junction that gave me the option to follow either the Overland X-C Ski Trail or the Nebraska Notch Trail. My initial assessment of the area on Google Earth had me planning on the Overland side, and with the vast preponderance of skin traffic heading in that direction, it sealed the deal. I did a few checks on the depth of the surface snow as I continued onward, and was getting measurements in the 15-16″ range. Even down in that 1,400′ to 1,500′ elevation range, the area had clearly been reeling in some good snows as of late.
After about a half mile, the blazed Overland Trail seemed to head off to the north across the local streambed, but I stayed on straight ahead following the majority of the skin traffic. The skin track meandered upward through hardwoods, and I could see that people descending in the area would sometimes head off to the sides of the trail and ski the surrounding powdery terrain. The skin track began to steepen, and at some point above the 2,000′ mark I began to get into more obvious glades. Based on the distribution of mature trees vs. hobblebush and striped maple saplings, it looked like the area had seen some pruning at some point in the past. The skin track steepened further, and very obvious ski lines through glades with mature trees became more apparent. I caught sight of a couple of women who were ascending the skin track ahead of me, and eventually caught up to them at an elevation of around 2,700′ as they were switching over for a descent. We were just hitting the evergreen line, and I could see why they would start a descent there, but as I could also see a good number of ski tracks coming down from the evergreens above, I decided to push on a bit farther. We exchanged greetings as I prepared to step up above the skin track to get around them, but they happily moved when they saw just how hard it was to step into the powder and go around the track. I was thankful to be able to use the track, because that powder was indeed deep – my checks were giving me measurements of 20-24″ of fluff. I continued on up into the evergreens for about another hundred vertical feet, following a mish mash of skin tracks and possibly descent tracks, until I found a nice spot to stop that looked like it would give me a good start to a run.
I actually had a nice sheltered spot among some evergreens; it would have kept me well out of the wind, but I really hadn’t experienced any during the trip anyway. I poured some soup from my thermos to let it cool in the snow, and began the gear switch for the descent. It was definitely one of those “one skin at a time” types of transitions, as the powder was so light, fluffy, and deep, that it would be a hassle getting out of my skis entirely. I’m sure the temperature was somewhere below zero up there, and I made the switch to my heavier gear quickly before I began to cool down post-ascent. I had my soup, gathered my gear, and got set to push through the evergreens to look for a line.
“…it’s not the sort of terrain that would be great without sufficient snow – you’d be bottoming out all over the place.”
A little traversing through the evergreens was all it took, and I was into skiable terrain. The best way to describe what’s up there is simply “steep and deep” terrain. It’s indeed steep, probably 25 degrees or so, and you really want the deep because it’s not the sort of terrain that would be great without sufficient snow – you’d be bottoming out all over the place. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the current snowpack. The roughly two feet of powder up there provided plenty of cushion, as well as resistance. There’s plenty of spacing in the hardwoods, and you can open up the turns; even slower Telemark turns were comfortable thanks to the tree spacing and depth of the surface snow. Well, some credit in that department is definitely due to fat, rockered skis as well. Also, any concerns about west side base depths was pretty much erased on this outing – if there were no concerns on that really steep terrain, it’s not an issue. The steep terrain goes on for several hundred vertical feet before it starts to become more moderate. I hung to the left and continued downward, eventually finding a popular catch track that actually headed up a short incline and off to the skier’s left away from the area of the skin track. I suspected that this would work in some additional lines down to the skin track, but available daylight and air temperature suggested that it would be best to save that exploration for another time. I headed down through the various trees around the area of the skin track, and there were plenty of additional turns to be made. Eventually as the pitch of the terrain became shallower, the Overland Trail itself was the most practical route, with just occasional forays off into the powder as speed allowed.
One nice aspect about the current snow conditions up there is that they allowed for good skiing in both the steep terrain, as well as the more moderate terrain below – the depth of the powder decreased pretty well in concert with the terrain’s pitch. One could easily ski just some of the lower sections of terrain if the depth of powder didn’t suit the steep shots. In any event, thanks to the quality and depth of the snow, it was some pretty fantastic skiing for an exploration that started in a darkroom. I guess there might have been some nice symmetry to the report if I finished my run as darkness approached, but with these temperatures it’s not wise to push your luck being out there too late.
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.
All of Vermont has seen a number of modest snowfalls this past week, and with the squally nature of some of them, snow totals were quite variable at the ski resorts up and down the spine of the Greens. As is often the case though, the Jay Peak area did quite well in the snowfall department, with a seven day snow total of over two feet. After seeing a couple of photos showing the delectable powder at Jay Peak on Thursday, and knowing that even more was on the way for Friday, a visit the Jay Peak area backcountry was sounding very appealing. I mentioned the idea to borderwx on the American Weather Forum, since he lives right in the area and is a regular at the resort and local backcountry, and he got back to me with a number of options. Previously we’ve skied Gilpin Mountain using a car shuttle off Route 242, and I was initially thinking of a variation on that theme, but borderwx also mentioned some options for tours in Big Jay Basin. There were variations starting from Jay Pass, as well as the parking areas down on Route 242 where Big Jay Basin drains out. After weighing the options, and consulting the nice Google Earth map of the Big Jay area put together by Guru Gered in his Big Jay Powder Day trip report at the Nor’easter Backcountry Blog, E and I decided that an out-and-back tour from the lower parking area at the outlet of the basin was the most practical with the boys. We really didn’t want to drive two cars to set up a shuttle, temperatures were expected to only be in the 10 to 15 F range, and this was our first tour in the area. A simple out-and-back meant that we could stop and descend at any time should the need arise.
“The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range.”
Temperatures were right around 20 F in the Waterbury area as we left at noontime today, but the thermometer gradually dropped with our travel northward until it was 12 F at the Big Jay Basin parking area at ~1,500′. There were about a half dozen cars parked there, and we saw one guy just prepping his gear and starting on a tour. We could see he was using the prominent skin track right across the road, so as soon as we’d geared up, we followed suit. An initial depth check right there at the base of the skin track revealed 7 to 8 inches of powder, so even down at that elevation, the Jay Peak area had clearly picked up a decent amount of new snow this week. The powder was cold, fluffy, midwinter stuff… just like you’d expect out of January.
The skin track was indeed well established, and easy to follow as it worked its way up at a gentle pace on what appeared to be a logging road. We traveled along the road through areas of dense and sparse vegetation, as well as some acreage cleared by logging. The quality of the powder remained very good all around, with just a few windswept areas, and the depth had quickly increased to the 8 to 12-inch range. I’m not actually sure how deep the base snow was, but aside from a few windswept areas it was quite plentiful; we never really had to deal with underlying obstacles due to thin snow. Along with the skin track, we could see that people also used this route for descent out of the bowl, and that was clearly evident when we had to make way for a couple of groups skiing down. They appeared to be having a really good time as judged by their greetings and attitudes.
“It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay.”
After about a half mile, the skin track left the logging road and headed off generally to the right into the trees. From here the pitch increased a bit, and the skin track wound through the slightly tighter confines of the forest. Around 2,150′ we came to an obvious open spot that seemed to be the base for a broad collection of skiable lines. The skin track continued off to the left, and there were no longer ski tracks around it – it seemed like this was the point where people were converging to the track from the various ski routes above during their descents. It also seemed to be a popular spot to use for people skiing laps above the final runout back to the road. The skin track steepened here, and there were a few spots where it was a little steeper than it probably should have been, but we managed our way through them. Since I knew the boys wouldn’t want to do a huge tour, I’d set an elevation mark of ~2,500′ as a good stopping point from which to descend. That would make for a respectable descent in the range of 1,000′ of vertical. At an elevation of ~2,450′, we came across a very nice flat area along the western edge of a bowl somewhere below Big Jay on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin. The spot had a nice view down into the various areas of open ski terrain within the bowl itself. It was slightly shy of the 2,500′ mark, but a quick look around revealed that it was the obvious choice for a comfortable respite and preparation for descent in the immediate area. It turns out that the bowl we were seeing off to our east wasn’t the main expanse of Big Jay Basin, but a smaller bowl below the col between Big Jay and Little Jay. For perspective, our route can be seen on the Google Earth map available at the end of this report.
“All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns.”
We had some hot soup and cocoa that we’d brought along, removed our skins, and generally geared up for the descent, but we didn’t linger long because it was definitely chilly. While we were there though, we saw a few skiers descend through the more open terrain in the middle of the bowl, and the skiing looked nice. As soon as we were ready, we dropped into the bowl. The snow quality was excellent, there was about a foot of powder over a generally smooth base. There were a few windswept spots with hard snow here and there, which was sort of strange because the area was generally sheltered. I’d say that the tree spacing and amount of smaller saplings was a bit too constraining though. It looked better a bit up from where we were, so I think that we’ll explore up there the next time we head into the bowl. A couple more feet of base would really help in those lower reaches of the bowl that we skied, since it would bury some of the smaller saplings and open up more lines. With that said, there were some nice lines in there and we managed some good turns. All of us made a lot of alpine turns though, since the confines were just a bit too tight to really open it up all the time with slower, Telemark turns. We made our way generally back in the direction of the logging road, and once we got there we skied a combination of on and off-road lines, depending on the pitch and spacing of the trees. The trees were actually pretty tight down along the logging road, and although the pitch was fairly shallow, it’s about as much as you’d want. There were some areas where the pitch was shallow enough that skiing on the partially packed logging road was the only option, but there were still shots of powder along the edges of the road to catch.
“We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass.”
As we were packing up our gear back at the car, a group of four skiers emerged from the forest about 100 yards up the road from where we were. One of them grabbed my attention and asked if he could get a lift up to the top of the pass where his vehicle was parked. He’d started a tour from there, and had intended to finish there as he’d done in the past, but somehow he got into a different drainage or something. He’d actually run into the other skiers along the way, who were presumably in a similar predicament, and they teamed up to make sure they all got out OK. We were the last car in the lower parking lot, so he was really thankful that we were there and able to give him a ride back up to the top of the pass. He let the other guys know that he’d be back soon to pick them up. The delivery to his car went fine, and he was happy to have avoided a 1.5-mile hike up the road. There was a good amount of traffic on the road though, so I’m sure he could have found a ride pretty quickly if we hadn’t been there. I’m just glad we had space in the car for one more!
On our drive to the area earlier in the day, we’d taken the Montgomery Center route, since it was closer to where we were touring, but on the way home we continued east down the pass and stopped in at Jay Peak Resort for a bite to eat. We went to Howie’s at the Stateside Base, which we’d last visited about a year ago during our Christmas trip to Jay Peak with my family. We had some appetizers (including poutine of course) and got to watch the start of the Patriots playoff game against the Ravens. There were a number of people at the bar, but we had the table area to ourselves as the resort wound down from the day and darkness descended. This evening when I was at a work function in Burlington, a colleague mentioned that he’d heard the trails at Bolton Valley were really icy, and I said that we’d suspect that might be the case and headed up to the Jay Peak backcountry for a tour. After hearing his comment, I’d say we made the right choice today and got some good powder skiing out of it.
Looking at the Google Earth map of our GPS track, it’s really easy to see that we were quite far on the western fringe of Big Jay Basin, so we’ll certainly want to explore a bit farther to the east in the big bowl next time we visit the area. A start from Jay Pass would certainly get us in there, I just think spotting a car appropriately for the exit might be difficult. Aside from the large parking area that we used on the south side of Route 242, we didn’t see any other obvious spots between it and the pass. Another option would be to simply tour out and back to the pass, but of course that means finishing with an ascent.