Today showed more potential though, and I headed up to the mountain for an afternoon session that saw temperatures pushing well into the 40s F at 1,500’ at the Timberline Base. That was definitely enough to soften the snow into pleasant spring conditions, especially on west-facing terrain with afternoon sun. The boys were up at the main mountain with friends for some terrain park runs, and I thought about heading over to see them, but it was well into the afternoon so I just stuck around Timberline for a few Telemark laps. Temperatures certainly cooled with elevation, but the snow was soft enough everywhere to produce great turns. In some spots with direct sun, the snow was even getting a little sticky since it hadn’t gone over to 100% corn, but in general the snow quality was excellent. Coverage is still quite good on piste even down to 1,500’, but there are a few bare spots opening up on natural snow terrain at those low elevations.
The system currently working its way through the area has been named Winter Storm Uriel, and it’s actually provided a nice addition to the snowpack so far. There hadn’t been too much coverage of its snow potential in the forecasts, presumably because it was one of those systems passing well to our northwest with anticipated front end and back end snow, but mixed precipitation and rain in the middle. I was in Burlington yesterday afternoon when the storm started up, and the snowfall came in with some decent intensity right away. Temperatures were marginal in the Champlain Valley, so the snow didn’t accumulate very rapidly, but there was probably about a half inch of new snow on the UVM campus when I was heading home to Waterbury.
I arrived at the house to find that Parker was with Ty and Dylan, and they had just loaded their ski gear into their car to head up to Bolton for some runs. Ty son was on his alpine gear, but asked me to bring his Telemark equipment to switch over if I came up to the mountain later. In my mind, I was certainly not planning to go for a ski session. It didn’t seem worth it to head up to the hill for what I thought was probably an inch or so of new snow atop the spring base that had probably gone through some freeze-thaw cycles over the past couple of days.
But apparently, Mother Nature was going to convince me otherwise. It just kept dumping snow at our house, and of course, Bolton’s Webcam at their main base showed the exact same thing as we watched it on the TV. I couldn’t quite get a feel for the amount of new snow from the webcam, but my snow analyses from the house revealed that we’d already picked up a few tenths of an inch of liquid equivalent in the snow we’d had. Before long, I texted the boys and let them know that I was on my way up.
I was really curious about the new accumulations up at the Village elevations, so as soon as I parked and got out of the car, I headed to an undisturbed location to check out the depth of the snow. I was surprised to get a new snow depth of 6 to 7 inches, and I figured there could have been some drifting around the parking lot area as there often is, but the measurement was quite encouraging.
The timing of my arrival was great, and I caught the boys right at the base of the Vista Quad, so we all hopped on together for a run. It continued to snow steadily, and the conditions were looking really good – folks below us on the trails were making virtually silent turns aside from the usual steep and heavily used spots like the middle of Spillway. Up at the Vista Summit, I checked the new snow depth in the clearing right below the wind turbine and measured 7 inches.
The snow wasn’t enough for a full resurfacing of all pitches of course, certainly not the center of very steep, high-traffic trails like Spillway, but the periphery of the steep terrain was skiing really well, and mid-level pitches were great. Based on my snow analyses back at home, I bet the mountain had picked up a half in of liquid equivalent by that point. I’d say the quality of the skiing was just a touch below the conditions we had back on Sunday with the 6 to 7 inches of new snow that we found then; that round of snow may have had just a bit more liquid equivalent in it.
The boys were mixing things up with a bunch of runs through the terrain park on Valley Road, but fresh tracks were easy to get just about anywhere off Snowflake with the continued snowfall. While riding the Snowflake Chair, we saw a couple of guys skiing some of the unlit Snowflake trails by headlamp, and those were probably some sweet turns because all those trails were essentially untracked.
We haven’t seen much snow here in the Northern Greens since last weekend, and from what I’ve heard, the conditions on the slopes haven’t been all that remarkable. A more substantial winter storm started to affect the area yesterday however, and it seemed to hold some promise with respect to putting down several inches of snow in the mountains.
While the storm had only dropped an inch or two of snow down here at our house in the valley as of this morning, that snow contained almost a half inch of liquid equivalent, and with the temperatures being marginal in the lower elevations, it was easy to see that the accumulations were going to be elevation-dependent. The Bolton Valley snow report was only indicating a few inches of new snow as of this morning, but that was enough to at least get us to head up to the hill and check out the conditions. It seemed like a toss-up with respect to whether or not the snow would really be enough to kick the conditions into high gear, but there had to be more than a half inch of liquid equivalent from the storm at elevation, and that’s certainly enough for a decent resurfacing of the slopes.
We parked at Timberline, and right from the start, we were encouraged by what we saw. There were 2 to 4 inches of dense accumulation even at those lowest elevations, and as we rode the Timberline Quad and watched and listened to the skiers below, their relatively quiet turns suggested that the new snow had bonded well to the subsurface. Our plan was to head up to the main mountain, get a good assessment of the conditions at all elevations, and then take it from there. Up at 2,500’ when we got off at the Timberline Summit, it was immediately obvious that the conditions were going to be good. The new snow had clearly put down a resurfacing that was incorporated well into the grooming and created a soft, quiet surface that let you cut right into it with your carves. We next took a trip up the Vista Quad, and the conditions above 3,000’ were even better. The sides of Alta Vista yielded excellent turns, and my depth checks were coming in with 6 to 7 inches of new snow.
We’d met up with some colleagues from work and their families, and our group spent much of the afternoon roaming around the main mountain, venturing from Vista to Wilderness, with a lot of time spent on Snowflake. The boys were having some great fun on the jumps in the terrain park, and with the usual low traffic of Snowflake, the trails held plenty of untracked lines. When we were over on Wilderness, just about everyone hit the Wilderness Woods and had some great turns, and those of us inclined to hit the trees off Snowflake were treated to run after run of untracked powder through some very nice lines.
We finished off our day with a long run down from the Vista Summit to the Timberline Base, and based on that run it was very evident that the main mountain was the place to be today for the best powder and groomed surfaces. The snow below 2,000’ was still decent, but as we’d seen, the accumulations were a bit less, and the powder a bit denser. Up on the main mountain was definitely where the best snow was located, and skier traffic was quite light. It’s March after all, and since this wasn’t an obvious slam dunk storm cycle, I’m sure there were many folks that opted not to make the trip to the mountain for conditions that probably could have gone either way.
Continuing on overnight, Winter Storm Sage brought an additional resurgence of heavy snowfall into the area this morning. So, combined with somewhat limited lift service at Bolton Valley on Tuesday due to power outages, today was an obvious day to get out for turns. Dylan was off from school for his second snow day in a row, and since it initially didn’t look like Colin would be able to join him for skiing, he and I headed up to the hill to catch the opening of the Vista Quad. Snowfall was probably in the inch per hour range at that point, so the Bolton Valley Access Road was a bit slick, and we encountered a couple of vehicles having trouble on the ascent.
Areas up around the ridgeline of the resort were getting hit pretty hard by the wind, so the new snow was heavily wind packed up there, but once you were down a couple hundred feet, most areas were fine. Surface snow depths I measured were generally around 20 inches on the low end, up toward 30 inches on the high end, and that seemed to fit pretty well with the resort’s reported 32” storm total. While the initial forecasts for Winter Storm Sage looked fairly lean in the Northern Greens, accumulations ultimately approached 3 feet, and the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield Stake took a healthy jump up to 90 inches. Winter Storm Sage wound up being a solid storm cycle up and down the spine of the Green Mountains, with roughly 3 to 4 feet of accumulation. The north to south listing of available storm totals from the Vermont ski areas tells the tale:
At times on the mountain today, especially late morning, we were getting hit with larger flakes for increased loft in accumulations, but there was still plenty of dense snow present as well. When you’re nearing 3 feet of dense snow like that, the name of the game was still to hit steepest terrain for the best turns, so Dylan and I started off with a run of Vermont 200. After only that one run, we ran into Colin at the base of the Vista Quad, and our posse just continued to grow as the morning went on to include Parker, Parker’s dad, and Jesuin. We found excellent conditions on Cobrass, and Maria’s was outstanding – most specifically the initial steep section due to the pitch being a great fit for the substantial depth of the moderately dense snow.
While the Wilderness Double Chair was schedule for a midmorning opening, it wasn’t until midday or so that it actually opened. Wilderness offered up the clear highlight of the day in the form of the headwall of the Wilderness Liftline. That terrain isn’t usually open, because it’s very steep. It’s so steep, ledgy, and exposed to the wind that it rarely holds snow. I don’t believe it’s even officially a trail. Although the very top is usually roped off by patrol, you can access lower parts of it by traversing in from the surrounding trees. As we passed over it on the lift, it was clear that coverage below the first several yards was excellent, so we traversed in below that point to check it out. It delivered some classic steep and deep, and more than once I heard some of the boys proclaim that was the steepest powder they’d ever skied. Ski patrol clearly felt that the entire slope was safely skiable, and by our next run, the rope was opened and everyone was diving in from the very top. The energy and excitement of the folks on the slope, and those right above you on the lift (the snowpack is high enough that you needed appropriate timing to stay clear of people on the lift at the entry) was quite palpable.
Although the lower slopes of Wilderness are too shallow in pitch to support skiing in 2 plus feet of dense powder, they did offer another highlight of the day. The parts of the Wilderness Liftline that had been groomed were substantially lower than the surrounding areas of the trail that had not been groomed, so it provided a kicker to use if you wanted to jump into the powder. The boys started launching powder bombs as they threw themselves off the side of the trail, and eventually everyone got into it and was burying themselves silly. It was great fun all around and made for lots of hilarious GoPro footage. Action photography was definitely tough yesterday with the heavy snowfall, but we still our best to document the great outing in one of the top winter storms of the season thus far.
After a couple of great outings in the new snow on Friday and then again yesterday, I wasn’t really sure if I was going to ski today. I figured the snow would be settling or warming, at least in the lower mountain elevations, and combined with skier traffic, that would bring the conditions down a notch. Ty was still at the house for the weekend though, and when he was eager to get out for some turns, that easily tipped the balance and we decided to head up to Bolton Valley.
It was late morning by the time we hit the mountain, and they were already running out of parking spots at Timberline, so people were clearly eager to get out today. Once we hit the hill, it was easy to see why. Winter Storm Quest had departed, the weather was pleasant, and the quality of the snow seemed like it hadn’t changed at all. There had been some additional snow on the back side of the storm cycle, but even the earlier snow seemed like it was in great shape. Amazingly, it almost felt like it had dried out a bit more and the powder seemed notably less dense.
We had planned on a mellow day on the Telemark skis enjoying the groomed and packed runs, but that plan fell by the wayside a bit when we found that there was still plenty of untracked powder around, and it was of such good quality. We had a great time touring around the mountain and managed a big loop that hit every chairlift at the resort and concluded with a big long run down from the Vista Summit to the Timberline Base. Temperatures were very wintry and chilly up above 3,000’, and remarkably pleasant down around 1,500’, but still cold enough to continue preserving the snow.
We were most impressed by the durability of the recent snow. The surfaces just continued to hold up with incredibly soft composition and no signs of ice, even in high traffic areas. I know that we’re really skiing on snow from more storms than just Winter Storm Quest, but even the packed runs were just so enjoyable because on every turn you made, you could rely on encountering only soft, yielding snow. We’ve reached a point where the quality of the snow is so good that it’s actually dropped the difficulty of every trail down a solid notch. Skiing advanced runs feels like skiing intermediate runs, and you can definitely enjoy the steeps without having to dodge patches of hard snow. This aspect of the skiing was displayed prominently on the steepest pitch going down into Maria’s, where tight, high-angle, moguled terrain just seemed to flow because you never had to avoid ice or other obstacles. It was a great day for Ty to push himself with his Telemark skiing on challenging terrain, so I’m definitely happy he tipped the scales and got us out for those turns.
I’m not sure exactly when the snow from Winter Storm Quest started up around here, but it was well into the overnight hours, and I’m not even sure if I saw any accumulation before midnight. So, waking up this morning to find over 8 inches on the boards for 6:00 A.M. CoCoRaHS observations meant that the snow must have been coming down in the 1 to 2 inch per hour range. There were plenty of large flakes falling at that point, and this morning’s liquid analysis revealed that the water content in the snow was 8.5%, or a snow to liquid ratio of approximately 11 or 12 to 1.
Ty and I got up to the hill just about the time of the opening of the Timberline Quad, and had a great bunch of runs while we waited for Dylan and Colin to join us. During those morning runs, it was quickly obvious that the new snow that had fallen had laid in a massive resurfacing of the slopes. The snow was actually on the dense side due to fairly small flakes up at Bolton Valley, and I’d say it was running a bit above 10% H2O up there. The snow was dense enough that you wanted terrain on the steeper side to really have a good flow on the descent, and that was fine, because in terms of sufficient coverage of the base snow and any underlying obstacles, it didn’t matter how steep the terrain was. On piste, off piste, it didn’t matter; just pick the steepest lines you could find, ski as aggressively as you wanted, and you weren’t hitting the subsurface. We tested many of the steepest lines available on Timberline like the Spell Binder headwall and the Tattle Tale Headwall, and they skied beautifully. We hit steep off piste lines that I don’t usually find to be that great because their pitch is often too much for the quality of the snow or achieving bottomless skiing, and it just didn’t matter.
In terms of surface snow depths, our checks in the 1,500’ to 2,500’ elevation range were about 15 inches if we had to pick a best estimate, but it was really hard to tell exactly how much snow came from just this storm. The new snow was sitting atop snow from other recent storms, and it all just continues to stack and set up excellent surfaces. It snowed all morning, so that kept piling on new snow to the accumulations as well. Total snowpack depth is 40 inches or more above 2,500’, and the snowpack depth at the Mt. Mansfield stake being over 60 inches speaks to that.
Later in the morning we finally met up with Dylan and Colin, and we just went around hitting some of our favorite steepest off piste lines all over the mountain. Timberline had no lift queue for essentially the whole morning, but after about midday, the temperature at those lowest elevations seemed to creep up toward freezing and the snow became even a bit denser. It was somewhat subtle, but you could tell when you skied a run that the powder in the lowest elevations was a bit thicker than it was above 2,000’. After most of the morning at Timberline, we focused on the main mountain for the early afternoon where everything was above 2,000’, just in case Timberline continued to warm and the powder got wet.
We joined up with Parker and his dad for a final run on the main mountain before making a big long run all the way down from the Vista Summit to the Timberline Base. Temperatures clearly hadn’t gotten too high to really ruin the powder because it was still fine all the way to the Timberline Base at 1,500’. Ty, Dylan, Parker and I finished off our day around midafternoon with a visit to the Timberline Base Lodge and some great food from El Gato, and we definitely felt like we’d earned a good meal with the energy we’d put into the day’s skiing.
It continued to snow most of the day, and after a bit of a lull around midday, the snowfall picked right back in the afternoon to the level it had been in the morning. So, we knew there was definitely more accumulation on the way. Back down at the house at 500’ that afternoon we could see that temperatures had definitely gone above freezing because some of the new snow had settled, but the mountain elevations seemed to fare quite well with respect to any melting or settling.
Today had been looking like a good ski day for quite a while. The cold air was moving out to bring our temperatures back up into the 20s F, and low pressure from the Ontario/Quebec border passing southeast across our region looked to bring us more fresh snow. The weather models had been showing a nice shot of liquid equivalent coming into the area, and it seemed to hold some potential for a nice topping off of the current powder that’s out there.
I was working on some exam questions in the early morning in my home office and had the blinds closed, but I eventually finished off a section and decided to take a break. I opened the blinds to find that we were getting hit with heavy snowfall made up of some massive flakes that were nearly 2 inches across at times. The forecast did call for some snow starting around 10:00 A.M., but this was a bit early, and the intensity was impressive. A quick measurement out back revealed that the snow was falling at a rate of around 2”/hr., and it was stacking up fast and dry with that typical consistency of upslope champagne.
For today’s ski session, the plan was to head out with Dylan, Colin, and Parker, and there’s nothing like seeing the heavy snow pounding outside your window to kick the mood up a notch. I didn’t wake Dylan up immediately because I wanted to make sure he had the sleep he needed, but when I did check on him a bit later it turned out he’d been up anyway. He hadn’t opened his blinds, but he’d already gotten a text and picture from Colin; the same huge flakes had been pounding down at his place as well.
With the new snow not coming in until mid-morning, we’d planned on a late morning start up at Bolton Valley. That timing worked out well, because they’d already picked up a few additional inches from the intense snowfall. And, the snow that had just fallen was the perfect consistency to top off all the powder that was already out there – my morning liquid analyses from the house revealed that the snow came in at just 1 to 2% H2O. So, it was incredibly dry and set up some excellent right-side-up, bottomless powder skiing.
I had a tour planned that brought the boys around to some of the lesser used areas of the resort, so they had a great time and got to ski plenty of untracked powder. I’d say powder depths we encountered were generally in the range of about a foot, and there’s well over an inch of liquid equivalent in that surface snow now. With the new champagne on top, it skied quite well and was typically bottomless in the case of first tracks. You’re still hitting bottom at times on the steepest slopes, but that old base is becoming more and more distant with every one of these storms that comes through the area. On that note, it appears as though we’ve got another storm cycle on the doorstep for tonight into tomorrow.
In a discussion with my colleague Stephen at work yesterday, I learned that plans were in place to open the Wilderness Chair for the first time this season on Saturday, so Ty and I headed up this morning for a session. We didn’t really rush out to the mountain, arriving at about 9:30 A.M. for the scheduled 10:00 A.M. opening of the Wilderness Chair, but it turns out that was a bit too late with respect to optimal parking. People were already having to park down at Timberline because the upper parking lots were full, and since the Timberline Quad isn’t running yet, you had to take the shuttle bus up to the main mountain. Being the first notable weekend day with fresh snow in at least a couple of weeks, it seemed like everyone in the state was excited to get out for some skiing.
I learned that the Wilderness Chair had actually halted operations for a bit this morning due to a mechanical issue, but that timing worked out pretty well for us – by the time we took one run on Vista to get us over toward Wilderness, the lift was running. We spent much of our time today on Wilderness, exploring various off piste lines between Snow Hole and the Nordic/backcountry network, and the powder skiing was great. We could still use a couple more feet of base to cover up some of the usual obstacles and really get the off piste skiing into prime time, but everywhere we went it was pretty much good to go.
We wrapped up today’s session in the midafternoon with a run back to our car at the base of Timberline, and while having to shuttle up to the main mountain at the start of the day wasn’t our first choice, the run back to the car through endless powder was more than worth it. It doesn’t look like the Timberline Uphill Route is officially open yet, but we’d seen a number of skiers ascending there when we were waiting for the shuttle. Practically speaking, the snow at Timberline is ready with respect to ski touring, so it will be interesting to see if the resort officially opens that uphill route soon. The resort is making snow down at Timberline to presumably open it up for lift-served skiing before long, and if these next couple of winter storms deliver like Winter Storm Iggy did, they’ll probably be able to open it up even before all the snowmaking is done. The next system coming into the area has earned the name Winter Storm Jimenez due to its anticipated impacts, so we’ll see what it delivers over the next couple of days.
Today we decided to do some lift-served skiing for a change of pace, and E joined Ty and I for some Tele runs in the afternoon. Bolton has opened a number of additional trails due to all the recent snow, but the main route off the Vista Summit is still Sherman’s Pass, and we started with that since we wanted to warm up with some mellow terrain. The manmade snow on Sherman’s was pretty typical and firm, but we did venture over toward the lower slopes of Wilderness to check out the natural snow options. There was plenty of coverage since those lower slopes of Wilderness are only up to moderate angle, and the quality difference in the snow was night and day. At Wilderness you had nice chalky snow where it was skier packed, and powder off to the edges – it was soft and quiet snow, and unlike the terrain with manmade snow, you could really sink your edges in easily. That was unquestionably what kept us coming back for more, and if we could have gotten to that terrain more easily by just riding the Mid Mountain Chair instead of the Vista Quad, we certainly would have done it.
Ty was extremely excited about his Telemark turns today, and he really felt that he was getting them dialed in. He talked a lot about the nuances of technique with E and I after the session. One of the comments I made was that this fairly concentrated period we’ve just had in which he’s had several outings on his Telemark skis has been really good for his development. We’ve often seen with students that getting in more back-to-back ski days vs. having them more spread out can really assist in improving their skills, and I think that was the case here. The great snow we’ve had in the backcountry and on piste has helped in that regard as well, since he’s had the confidence to work on his turns without worrying about much else getting in the way.
It’s continued to snow over the past couple of days, and we’ve had another 3 to 4 inches of snow down here at the house that’s come in with an average density of around 4% H2O. The back end of Winter Storm Diaz had already topped off the snowpack with some dry upslope, so we expected that these additional rounds of snow should just represent more quality stuff that’s topping off the upper layers of powder that are already present. Ty and I headed out for a tour this afternoon that took us a bit above Bryant Cabin, and we skied a good variety of different glades that really solidified just how good the skiing was. The shallowest slopes are still a bit slow with the depth of the powder, but very nice if you want a gentler pace that lets you work in and out among tighter trees. As we’d already experienced back on Saturday at Wilderness though, the steep and moderate slopes are skiing great.
It’s amazing how one storm simply brought the backcountry conditions from very early season stuff that I hadn’t even contemplated skiing, to something that skis like a top notch midwinter snowpack. And it’s not as if this last storm cycle was a 3 to 4 foot monster. The snowpack we were skiing today is only in the range of about 20 inches, but apparently it’s just laid down so well that it does the job. I’m sure there are steep slopes out there with lots of big obstacles that are nowhere near ready, but the typical glades we skied on the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network today were in great shape.