The mountain snowpack that had been building up over the first half of the month melted back somewhat in the middle elevations at the end of last week, but this latest winter storm seemed to have the potential to replenish it. As of this morning, we’d picked up roughly 4 inches of new snow composed of 0.6 inches of liquid at the house, so the local mountains should have added enough new snow to set the table for more low-angle touring in the powder. Bolton Valley was reporting 3 to 4 inches of new snow overnight, and 5 inches in the past 48 hours. Assuming a similar density of snow to what fell at our house, plus whatever snow was in place before, it definitely felt like it was worth a visit. I didn’t expect the snow quality to be outstanding enough to suggest that E or the boys should join me, so I expected it to be a solo tour. As I was about halfway through preparing my gear, Ty woke up and let me know that he was actually interested in getting in some turns before work, so that meant I’d have some company!
In the Winooski Valley at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road, we found 1 to 2 inches of new snow from this most recent storm, and up in the Village, total depths were 4 to 5 inches. Temperatures this morning were around the freezing mark, with a mix of wintry precipitation types as we set out on our tour. We found that snow depths increased a bit with elevation, hitting 5 to 6 inches around 2,500’ and 6 to 7 inches where we topped out around 2,700’.
The powder skiing was decent, with snow that was relatively dense but not sloppy or soggy on the upper half of our tour. The density did increase a bit more as we descended back toward the base around 2,000’, but the snow still hadn’t progressed to that spring-style sticky stuff. I had freshly waxed up my skis in the morning, and that did appear to help give me an slightly easier time than Ty, who hadn’t waxed.
While today’s powder was decent, the snow I found while out ski touring last week was definitely superior. I think that last week there was a touch more base, the snow overall was a bit deeper, and most importantly, the snow was notably drier. All those factors came together to set that skiing above the quality of what we found out there today. This dense snow that we just received does have the water content to set up a more substantial base though, and it’s really going to be great with some additional rounds of snow on top. The models do suggest that there are some events in the pipeline over the next week, so we’ll see what the mountains get from those.
Sometimes Mother Nature just lets you know that it’s time to get out to ski, and apparently today was one of those days. I was just about the head down to the basement for another pre-season leg workout… but somehow my head transitioned to thinking that we might just have hit that threshold where it was time to actually get out and ski. Perhaps it was time to move on from pre-season to… season. I’m sure it was partly due to the flakes that were falling just outside the window, but Powderfreak’s winter vibe Stowe pictures from Saturday definitely played a role in getting me motivated. We’ve had numerous rounds of snow thus far over the first half of November, and if Powderfreak’s photos were what the slopes looked like before this most recent storm, there had to be enough out there at this point for some low-angle turns.
The cloud ceiling seemed to be around 1,500’ to 2,000’ this morning, so I really couldn’t get a good view of the snow coverage up at Bolton Valley via their Main Base Webcam. What I could see on the cam was that everything was white… extremely white. The snow coverage looked great, but the clouds were just too thick to get a good sense for what the snow depths were like beyond the areas where they’ve made a bunch of snow. This latest system did just drop another round of accumulation though, even down to the lower valleys, and the natural snow from all the storms we’ve had in the first half of the month has not been melting back in the higher elevations.
Even without a real-time view, it felt like the snow from this latest storm should have pushed the snowpack to the point where it was ready for some touring on low-angle slopes, so I decided to pop up to the mountain this morning on my way to Burlington. With this latest storm, the snow never really seemed to accumulate much to the west of our area in the lower elevations, so there were only a few traces of snow in Bolton Flats and at the base of the Bolton Valley Access Road. Accumulations gradually increased as I headed up in elevation though, and here’s a rough summary of the snow depth profile I encountered this morning:
As the summary shows, the depths increased slowly at first, and it wasn’t until somewhere in the 1,200’ to 1,500’ elevation range where snow coverage became continuous. Assessing the depths in the Bolton Valley Village parking lots at around 2,000’, I wasn’t initially sure if I was going to end up ski touring or just going for a hike, but I threw my skis on my pack because it looked like touring would be good to go as long as the base snow was substantial enough. Snow depths increased notably above the 2,000’ mark, and a few minutes into my ascent, it was obvious that I was going to be able to ski on the descent. I had my climbing skins in my pack, but never put them on my skis because the hiking was easy enough, certainly easy enough that I didn’t want to add the extra transition time that putting on the skins would throw into the tour. If one does want to skin on the ascent though, there’s plenty of base to do it.
Indeed it’s the sufficient base snow that sealed the deal in terms of the skiing. Below these recent couple of inches, there’s a good amount of consolidated snow at varying degrees of depth. I only had time to tour up to about 2,500’, but the depths did look like they were continuing to improve above that point. It’s best to seek out low-angle, nicely maintained, grassy terrain at this point, but with that, you’re good to go for some very nice powder turns. I saw a couple of older ski tracks on my tour, but nothing from this morning, and that was helpful – untouched snow provided the very best powder turns, so staying away from any footprints or other snow traffic is the best bet. In the untouched snow, turns were bottomless, and I was only on 86 mm skis. The top half of my tour definitely offered the deepest snow and most ability to play around in the powder, but it was still decent all the way back down to the main base around 2,000’. In the lower couple hundred feet of vertical though, you just had to be more selective in sticking to the untouched snow for the smoothest turns. Rock skis or regular skis are both options if you know the terrain you’re going to be on. I didn’t have rock skis, but only made a hard touch or two to objects below the subsurface. Touching below the subsurface is pretty inconsequential on grassy, low-angle terrain, and thankfully, Bolton’s Wilderness area has plenty of those types of slopes.
While we haven’t had any huge winter storms yet this season, all throughout the mountains and mountain valleys there’s been a nice winter vibe. With these typical November rounds of snow, accumulations have been melting back in the valleys, but in the mountains they’ve been building up to the point that people are definitely getting out to enjoy it. Just as I was finishing up my ski tour, I spotted someone who was out for a Nordic ski around the Village, and I bet it was someone who lives right up there at Bolton Valley. I saw them passing above me while they skied the access road, and I quickly fired off a bunch of shots before they disappeared into the clouds. And while the combination of thick, low clouds and mid-November sun angle made for some notably low-light conditions today, it really just helped to give the outing that November/December early season mystique.
Unlike the previous couple of weekends, there were no real concerns about the weather for skiing this weekend – both days have been looking quite reasonable without any major bouts of precipitation expected. Today looked great with clear skies all morning, so I eventually headed back out to Mt. Mansfield for some turns.
I was torn between skinning and hiking for the ascent. There appeared to be nearly continuous snow through various routes on The Nose side of the resort, but there were also plenty of areas in which the snow had melted out and dry ground was present. Because there were some breaks in the snowpack near the base area on Lower North Slope anyway, and since I’d been skinning for the past couple of weeks, I decided to set myself up for hiking on the ascent.
To generally stay on dry ground, I kept my ascent on trails to the south of the main North Slope/Lord route, and it made the route a bit less steep. There was still a lot of snow around, so I’d often find myself skirting the snow line on various trails, and I ended up mixing it up with some hiking on the snow as well.
I set my goal on ascending until I found a major break in the continuous snowpack, but I couldn’t really spot any obvious ones from the route I took, and I eventually topped out by the Octagon/Fourrunner Quad Summit. The views of the Presidential Range were impressive, and it’s obvious that there have been recent snows in the elevations above tree line.
On my descent of the main North Slope/Lord route, I did discover that there’s a fairly large break of about 50 feet or so in the continuous cover on North Slope, but I just couldn’t see it from where I ascended. Coverage is pretty much continuous aside from that break, and the couple of breaks in snowpack down by the base.
I saw a mix of people who were both skinning and hiking while I was out, and if I was to do it again, I think I’d bring along my skins so that I had them with me. The snowpack is strong enough in a number of areas such that there are long stretches where skinning is the more practical and efficient approach, and having the flexibility to swap back and forth between skinning and hiking would be a nice option to have for a smooth ascent. The skiing is still quite good with some great corn snow, and it will probably be around for a few more weeks unless we get some really warm spells.
Similar to last weekend, Saturday seemed like the better weather day for skiing this weekend, so today I headed to Stowe for some turns on the spring snow. I visited the Gondola terrain last time, so for this outing I decided to get in some skiing on Spruce Peak while the south-facing terrain is still offering some reasonable descents.
Starting from the MMSC parking lot, I had to hike for roughly 5 to 10 minutes before I was able to start skinning, and then I eventually made my way over to Main Street for the rest of the ascent. Main Street coverage is nearly continuous over most of its course except for the very bottom down near the base of the Sensation Quad, and up in the flats near the top. So, I topped out a bit shy of 3,000’ on the ascent vs. continuing on to the summit station of the Sensation Quad. I was definitely happy to stop where I did though, because southerly winds were absolutely howling ahead of the approaching storm. Main Street faces directly south with lots of exposure, so winds were sustained up in the 30 to 40 MPH range near the 3,000’ mark. I actually pulled into the forest to remove my skins and gear up for the descent, and that gave me a break from the constant buffeting of the strong winds and helped avoid the likely frustration of things flapping around and flying away.
Main Street offered up lots of those steep, buttery spring snow carves that is typically does, and I didn’t spot any major areas of undermined snow that were of any concern. I was able to get down into the flats above the base of the Sensation Quad with just a couple short stretches of breaks in the snowpack. Although not quite 100% continuous from the Sensation Quad summit because of the break in the upper flats, the area still offers up quite a good yield of skiable vertical for the investment of the ascent. Taking in the views across to Mansfield gave me a nice look at the ski options throughout the resort, and there are still numerous ascent and descent routes for great touring. The snow on Nosedive looks a little more burnt out than I would have expected, but the melt out is different every year, which is part of what makes it interesting. North Slope and the surrounding trails in that area seem to have some great coverage, so there should be some good options around there for quite a while.
Near the end of my tour, rain shafts started to show up among the mountains to the south, and I was able to watch the peaks disappearing as the incoming storm moved into the area. The first spits of rain started to hit just as I arrived at my car, so the timing of the storm was right on with what the forecast had indicated. This past week has been seasonably cool, and it looks like that has helped to slow down the spring melt. With the forecast looking relatively cool for the next week or so, that should help to preserve the snow and ski options as we head into May.
Based on the forecast, today seemed like the better half of the weekend for turns, so I decided to head to Mt. Mansfield and make use of all the snow that’s still out there. A look at the Stowe Mountain Cam this morning showed that coverage still looked continuous on the Gondola side of the resort, and since that area generally melts out faster than the terrain under The Nose, I decided to ski that while it was still in good shape.
Based on what I’d seen from the webcam and views from the valley, the cloud ceiling seemed to be sitting at around 3,200’ on Mansfield, so my plan was to continue my ascent until I hit the lowest cloud deck, or the snow became too firm at elevation, whichever came first. Indeed, as the webcam view had indicated, coverage on Gondolier was pretty much continuous from top to bottom. It turns out that there are a couple of small breaks of a few feet, but they’re nothing substantial that would ruin a top-to-bottom run.
It remained mostly cloudy today, and not especially warm with temperatures around 50 F, so I was initially worried about the snow being generally too stiff for quality turns. It was a little tough to tell exactly how it was going to ski during the ascent, but the sky began to brighten a bit in the midafternoon period, and the cloud ceiling started to rise. The ceiling rose all the way up to 3,600’, and then slowly continued to rise beyond that, so I opted to make a full ascent to the Gondola Summit Station. The brightening skies probably provided that extra punch of solar radiation to ensure that the snow quality was decent at all elevations, so in the end, the whole descent provided some fantastic spring turns.
I’d expect some decent gaps to open up on the Gondola terrain over the next week if the weather was going to be mild, but the snow there might actually hold out for a while. The forecast suggests numerous snow chances over the next couple of weeks, so that could result in some accumulation and decent preservation as we head farther into the spring ski season.
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.
It looked like Bolton had been hit with similar intense snowfall rates, and it was obvious that there was far more than the initial few inches when I headed up to Timberline for a ski tour this afternoon. My depth checks from the Timberline Base at 1,500 feet were indicating 12 to 16 inches of new snow. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be much additional accumulation with elevation, but by the time I hit 2,500 feet, my measurements were in the 15 to 18-inch range. Bolton’s snow report update from later in the day had their accumulations topping out at 18 inches, so that fit well with my observations.
The actual skiing itself was rather interesting. On my ascent it was already obvious that the snow wasn’t at all wet at elevation. It was fairly dense though, with small flakes falling during my tour. With those small flakes falling atop the accumulation of the larger ones that would have fallen during that midmorning, the powder wasn’t perfectly right-side-up. It wasn’t exactly upside-down either, but there was an element of that in the powder, and combined with a foot and a half of new depth, it added some extra challenge. When you’re on 115 mm boards and you’re feeling like they might not be wide enough, that’s saying something. While I didn’t personally see anything slide or even slough when I was out on my tour today, I did feel tinges of spookiness of steeper slopes, with part of that coming from the slightly imperfect density profile. It didn’t come as a complete surprise when I saw the following in Bolton’s updated snow report:
Urgent Message From Patrol: Avalanche hazard present at this time. If travelling on terrain (especially uphill routes and backcountry) follow appropriate avalanche precautions and gear up accordingly.
So, be careful if you are riding in potentially hazardous spots in the near future with this current snowpack. And unfortunately, the best skiing really is on the steepest terrain right now. I could tell on my ascent that I was going to need some serious pitch to get a quality descent, so I dropped in on the Tattle Tale Headwall, and it certainly delivered. We’ll see what the back side of this storm cycle does for the snow profile, but for now, you’re going to want at least black diamond pitches for the best turns in undisturbed snow. Indeed, if you’re planning to head out for turns tomorrow on anything that hasn’t been tracked, bring your fattest boards and hit the steepest terrain you can find. Conditions should be great though, because we’re in the process of getting another massive resurfacing of the slopes, and its already atop a surface that didn’t really even need it.