Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 20FEB2024

An image of the setting sun during an afternoon ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of a condominium in the Village along the edge of the Nordic and Backcountry network of trails at the start of an afternoon ski tour at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The glow of afternoon sun hits the mountains as I set off past some of the Bolton Valley Village condominiums onto the Nordic & Backcountry Network for a ski tour.

I was fairly busy today, but I did have a chance to get out for a sunset ski tour up on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network. I’d say powder depths were roughly similar to what I found on yesterday’s tour, with perhaps a touch of settling. The powder in the backcountry just seems to get better each day though as the lower layers of the surface powder settle and bond to the subsurface. This is one of the more impressive progressions I’ve seen in the improvement of the powder skiing over time, and as I was gearing up for my tour, I heard other skiers talking about it as well.

I didn’t have a ton of time before dinner, so I did a quick loop up Bryant to Coyote and on to Gotham City with a descent of Gun Sight and subsequent glades. As mentioned, the powder was simply fantastic, and by the time I was descending the sun had gone down and I was skiing by the light of the moon (with headlamp assistance at times). There are still plenty of untracked lines throughout the lesser used glades, although you have to work a bit more to get untracked lines in the more popular glades since it’s now been a couple of days since the last substantial snowfall.

An image of the Village area and night skiing trails after finishing up a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Finishing up my tour in the dark with a view toward the Bolton Valley Village and the ski trails lit up for night skiing

Since it’s a big vacation week, the night skiing was going full tilt when I got back to my car, and it seems like the resort is getting some solid visitation. For those who are on school vacation this week, they certainly got a doozy in terms of both snow conditions and weather.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from a sunset ski tour in February on the Nordic and Backcountry Network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from this afternoon’s sunset tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 19FEB2024

An image showing high quality powder from recent rounds of snowfall in February in the Gun Sight glade area on the Nordic and Backcountry Network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of ski tracks in powder snow in the Devil's Drop area on a ski tour of the Nordic and Backcountry network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Leaving some tracks in the powder while dropping down out terrain near the Devil’s Drop area on today’s backcountry ski tour

I was too busy to get out for turns yesterday, but I had some time this afternoon and was able to head up to Bolton. Thanks to the arctic front that came through overnight, they picked up another 4-6” of snow, bringing their recent totals to 16” in the last 48 hours and 36” in the past week.

I was definitely interested in checking out the new snow, but between still being in the President’s Day holiday period, temperatures a bit on the chilly side, and the typical consistency of the subsurface I’ve observed in areas with skier traffic, touring on the Nordic and Backcountry Network seemed like the best option. Based on my experience out there today though, issues with the subsurface snow quality are rapidly disappearing. While we’re not typically looking for the champagne powder on the slopes to settle, it eventually does, and in this case the compaction of the lower levels of the surface snow is really starting to pay dividends with respect to the overall quality of the skiing. When we first began to get these latest rounds of fluff, it was just dry powder atop the old firm base. There was no bonding between the old and new snow, and if you weren’t in bottomless snow, you were hitting a very hard subsurface. Whether due to the new overnight snow, the settling of the lower layers in the surface snow, or more likely a combination of both, I noticed a dramatic change in that surface/subsurface interface today. There’s a substantial, denser layer of snow above the subsurface now, and contact with the old subsurface is far less frequent. Even when it comes to very dry powder, if you get enough of it, you will eventually get to the level of a resurfacing, and apparently, snorkel-deep levels of champagne are enough.

In any event, powder turns were absolutely fantastic out there today. With the lower levels of the powder getting crushed into denser snow, in undisturbed areas you’ve got a right-side-up snowpack that is reaching very high quality. The powder is so good that it’s now supporting great turns on low-angle, mid-angle, and even high-angle terrain. The addition of the new snow combined with settling seems to have held powder depths in the range of what I found on Saturday, with probably 12+” at 2,000’ and 17-18” around 3,000’. I’m amazed that the powder still works for low angle terrain with how deep it is, but it’s so dry in the upper layers that it just does – at least on 115 mm fat skis.

An image of the Bryant Trail approaching the Bryant Cabin on the Nordic and Backcountry Network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The snowy scene on the Bryant Trail today as I approach Bryant Cabin

With the powder hitting the depth for even high-angle terrain, I opted for exploring some steeper lines today. On my tour, I started up Heavenly Highway and set in a skin track out toward Devil’s Drop to get in some turns there, and also put in a track to get me out to some of the steeper terrain above North Slope. All the terrain out there is really good right now.

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

The clouds pulled away today to leave us with a brilliant, sunny, midwinter afternoon. Anyone out there touring in the backcountry was definitely getting a top 10-20% day, and the snow quality should stay great with these cold temperatures, so tomorrow should be just as good. As a bonus, I was surprised to see that despite the holiday weekend, traffic on the Nordic and Backcountry Network has actually been fairly light the past couple of days – I’d say 75% of the glades I saw had in the range of zero to three tracks in them when I was out this afternoon.

An image of snowy Mt. Mansfield in Vermont in February as viewed from the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont
Taking in the view of Mt. Mansfield while in Burlington today – the Northern Greens are simply loaded with fresh snow thanks to round after round of snowfall in recent days.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 17FEB2024

An image of Ty skiing in deep champagne powder from a February snowstorm in the Moose Glen area of the Nordic and Backcountry Network of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty on Telemark skis jumping off a rock into deep powder in the Moose Glen area of the Nordic and Backcountry Network during a February ski tour at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty launches into some fresh powder off a jump in the Moose Glen area.

With the off piste conditions being so much better than what’s available on the trails right now, Ty and I had plans to take a ski tour up to Stowe View today and hit some of the Moose Glen terrain at Bolton Valley. I was just up there a couple of weeks ago, and there are many acres of high elevation glades that I’d expect to have fantastic snow with the way the spine has recently been getting round after round of heavy snowfall.

It was dumping huge flakes at the house when we left this morning, and 1”/hr. snows in the valley turned to 1-2”/hr. snows as we ascended the Bolton Valley Access Road. The snow was falling so hard and fast that the access road was absolutely covered. Even down by the Catamount Trail parking area before the big S-curve below Timberline, vehicles were already lined up due to some cars not being able to get enough traction on the grade. I’m not sure where they were in the plowing cycle for the road because there wasn’t a plow around that we saw, but with the rate the snow was falling, it almost wouldn’t have mattered. Cars were turning around to descend, and some were evening having to back down in the downhill lane because they couldn’t turn around. Descending cars were moving at an absolute crawl to avoid sliding, and some still struggled with sliding just due to the crown of the road. After about 15 minutes we made it up to the base of the S-curve and started the ascent there, and I saw that a line of cars were stopped about halfway down from the top of the grade. That’s one of the steepest parts of the access road, and you don’t want to have to restart there from a dead stop if you can help it.

An image of cars backed up on the Bolton Valley Access Road as heavy snowfall from a February snowstorm stops traffic below the Timberline area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Traffic was at a total standstill on the steep parts of the Bolton Valley Access Road this morning due to heavy snowfall that made the road too slick for most vehicles.

I could see that the whole situation was going to be trouble, and there was no immediate sign of the next plow, so we made the split second decision to turn around and simply park at the Catamount Trail parking area about 100 yards below us. We were going to be ski touring anyway, so we figured we’d just start our tour from there instead. It does add a couple of extra miles to the route, but we had the time, and it was far better than sitting in traffic and risking an accident on the road. And as bad as the driving was at that point, the snow simply continued to pound down and make the road worse. While gearing up for our tour at the car, we met another couple of guys who had decided on the same plan.  They weren’t too familiar with the resort, but I assured them that the Nordic and Backcountry Trail Network connected right up to the Nordic Center and Village, and from that point they could head wherever they wanted on the network.

An image a cabin in heavy snowfall during a February snowstorm near the parking area for the Catamount Trail along the Bolton Valley Access Road below Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heavy snowfall envelopes us near the start of today’s ski tour as we pass a cabin near the parking area for the Catamount Trail.

The ascent to the Village was beautiful along the Nordic trails, and the very heavy snowfall was with us for the first mile or so before it tapered down at least a bit. I’d actually never skied that full connection before, so it was great to be able to experience the route. We didn’t need to stop in at the Nordic Center, so we simply cut right up to the Bryant Trail along with a couple of women who were out on a similar tour. From there, it was just the usual route on up to Stowe View with some water and snack breaks. Ty hadn’t had any breakfast, so with the extra distance, he quickly made use of the snack he’d brought, and I dove heavily into the reserves in my pack to get him additional calories. It was about 4.5 miles and over 2,000’ vertical up to Stowe View by that route, so that’s roughly double the vertical and triple the distance relative to a typical tour to that area starting in the Village. That increase definitely required more calories.

An image of Ty slicing through powder while Telemark skiing in the Branches glade area of the Nordic and Backcountry Network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Ty slices through another powder turn as we make our way through the Branches glade area of Bolton’s Nordic and Backcountry Network during part of today’s ski tour.

We skied various parts of the Moose Glen glade areas as planned, and the powder was simply fantastic. Even down at 1,200’ there was a solid 12” of settled powder, and up around 3,000’ it was typically in the 17-18” range. It was champagne light, so it actually worked well on a variety of different slope angles. As long as you had first tracks, even steeper terrain was in play for bottomless turns. We had a long, long run, with glade after glade of powder, down through areas like White Rabbit and Branches, and eventually we reached the Village where we could take a quick break and plan our next move.

An image of Ty reaching for his next pole plant while Telemark skiing in deep powder from a February snowstorm during a ski tour on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontWe were on contact with Dylan, who had parked at Timberline and we decided that instead of heading back to the car via the Nordic and Backcountry Network, we’d complete our tour using the alpine trails. We got a lift assist off the Vista Quad, and made our way from Cobrass to Maria’s where there were still plenty of untracked lines to ski. Lower Tattle Tale was also still really good along the edges where we found untracked snow.

An image of the Timberline Base Lodge through heavy snowfall from a February snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Another round of very heavy snowfall was pounding the resort today as we were finishing up our ski tour near the Timberline Base area – Mother Nature has really been on a roll with the snowfall in the Northern Greens over the past couple of days.

We found Dylan at the Timberline Base Lodge and caught up over some El Gato burritos. We’d planned to ski down to our car at the Catamount Trail parking area if necessary, but we just caught a ride with Dylan and it made for pleasant finish to a tour that was almost 10 miles in total and brought us literally from one end of the resort to the other using the Nordic, backcountry, and alpine trail networks. It was a great way to make use of all the recent snows and great powder conditions that have developed.

An image of a Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a ski tour out on the Nordic and Backcountry Network of trails at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The map of today’s ski tour on the Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry Network with GPS tracking data on a Google Earth map

Bolton Valley, VT 16FEB2024

An image of the Mid Mountain Double Chairlift obscured by heavy snowfall from a February Alberta Clipper system at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of two skiers walking through heavy snowfall during a February Alberta Clipper snowstorm near the base area of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A couple of skiers trudge up toward the Vista Quad amidst the very heavy snowfall delivered by our most recent Alberta Clipper system.

The clipper that began affecting the area yesterday evening was definitely potent – by the time I headed up to the mountain early this morning, we’d already picked up 7 inches of new snow at the house. I couldn’t really get a sense for accumulations heading up the Bolton Valley Access Road, but up in the Bolton Valley Village elevations around 2000’ I was measuring 8 inches of new snow. That was definitely a transient number though, because it was snowing at a rate of at least an inch per hour. Visibility was so low in the heavy snowfall that you could only see a distance of about a dozen chairs on the Mid Mountain Lift – beyond that the lift simply disappeared.

An image of a snowcat returning to the operations area amidst heavy snowfall from a February Alberta Clipper system as I set off on a morning ski tour using the Wilderness Uphill Route at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A snowcat returning to the operations area as I set off on my morning ski tour from the based of Wilderness

I started off my session with a quick tour up to about 2,500’ using the Wilderness Uphill Route. Powder depths didn’t seem to increase drastically with elevation, as I measured about 9 inches at the 2,500’ level. Being a weekday morning, it was very quiet and I don’t recall seeing another soul until a lone rider appeared as he descended the Wilderness Liftline off in the distance. The Vista Quad had started loading, and the appearance of the rider meant that people were starting their first descents. It was a good sign that it was time for me to descend as well. I descended on Lower Turnpike, which hadn’t seen much skier traffic, so there were plenty of fresh turns to be had. I’d brought my 115 mm fat skis, and they were definitely the right tool for the terrain, keeping me surfing at a nice pace on the lower angle slopes. My analyses from down at the house indicated that we’d picked up about a third of an inch of liquid at that point, and assuming something similar for the mountain, that meant the powder was somewhere in the 3 to 4% H2O range. It offered little resistance with respect to slowing my descent, and fat skis were more than enough to keep the turns bottomless.

An image of the Miso Kome food hut viewed through heavy snowfall affecting the base area during a February Alberta Clipper system at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A view of the Miso Kome hut as I return from my morning ski tour and the heavy snowfall continued to hit the resort
An image of Stephen and Johannes walking up from the base lodge to the bottom of the Vista Quad Chairlift amidst heavy snowfall from a February Alberta Clipper snowstorm at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Stephen and Johannes head up through the snowfall to meet me at the base of the Vista Quad

After my descent I caught up on texting with my colleague Stephen about getting together for some turns. He and his son were just finishing suiting up in the lodge and they met up with me near the base of the main mountain lifts a few minutes later. We rode the Vista Quad and hit Alta Vista followed by Fanny Hill. The subsurface out there is really firm due to the extended period we recently went through without much snowfall. Aside from the areas of powder along the trail edges, Alta Vista was really firm. Fanny Hill was much better – after the initial steep chute area, the rest of the trail was out of the wind and had seen little skier traffic. It had a mid-angle pitch that skied perfectly for bottomless turns in the available powder. I couldn’t stay too long at the mountain, but from what I was able to sample, that mid-angle terrain was great. You really wanted to be getting fresh tracks though for quality turns – there just wasn’t enough liquid equivalent down at that point to really hold up to multiple skiers before you’d be contacting the base. A third of an inch of liquid can’t go too far in that regard, but thankfully it was midweek, so there were plenty of opportunities for untracked snow.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 04FEB2024

An image looking to the east from the Stowe View area on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of evergreens covered with a light coating of snow in one of the glades below the Moose Glen area on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A view of some of the evergreens as I glide my way through some of the terrain below Moose Glen on Bolton Valley’s Backcountry Network

Today was gorgeous, but we’re definitely in a dry spell with respect to winter weather events. Relative to the usual frequency of winter storm in the Northern Greens at this time of year, the period we’re in right now feels like being in the middle of a desert. The little clipper system that came through at the end of the week would typically be just a blip in the storm parade, but in this case it was a much appreciated mini oasis for this stretch of winter. I wasn’t sure if I was going to ski at all this weekend, let alone get out for two sessions, but the way the new snow set up the low angle terrain for powder turns wound up creating some respectable conditions. And then of course there was today’s perfect midwinter weather with clear blue skies and temperatures pushing into the upper 20s F – that really sealed the deal to get out for another ski tour.

A heart shape traced in the fresh snow along the Bryant trail on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontOn yesterday’s tour I hit a good collection of low angle terrain and explored some new spots that don’t typically lend themselves to great turns in deeper powder. Whereas yesterday I’d topped out around 2,800’ on Heavenly Highway, today I pushed out a bit father out toward Stowe View and topped out around 3,200’. Even up at that altitude, I wasn’t detecting any notable increases in new snow depths, so the general 2 to 3 inches that I’d encountered yesterday was still the rule.

An image of recent snow on a railing by the Backcountry Tent area on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Recent accumulations of on a railing in the Bolton Valley Backcountry Tent area at around 2,750′

My target terrain for today was some of the lower angle slopes in the Moose Glen/White Rabbit area. I hadn’t been up there in a while, and it turns out there was a lot of terrain that was steeper than I’d remembered, especially in the initial parts of the descent dropping down from Stowe View and Moose Glen. Although that terrain was a bit steep for today’s conditions, the visit did serve as a reminder to get out there when the powder is a bit deeper, because the terrain is quite expansive. I eventually got into more of the lower angle terrain that I’d remembered, and that offered some nice powder turns with similar consistency to what I’d experienced yesterday. Overall I’d say yesterday’s tour had a slightly higher yield in terms of catching smooth, bottomless turns on the right terrain, but today being Sunday, it did mean another full day of visitors getting out there in the snow. Even on the backcountry network, traffic eventually tracks up the snow, and with these conditions, you really needed untracked snow for the best turns. Just one pass through the snow by another skier makes a big difference with these lighter accumulations.

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

One neat thing I did see today while heading up Birch Loop was a skier returning from out on the Catamount Trail heading toward Bryant Cabin. There’s a bit of rolling terrain there that isn’t optimal for having skins either on or off, and what he did was to have a skin on one ski but not the other. When he was skiing, he was one-footing it on the ski with no skin for maximum glide, and then he could use the other ski with the skin on it for better grip going uphill. I thought that was a pretty slick compromise for that sort of rolling terrain. Being on Telemark gear, I typically just go without skins on rolling terrain since herring boning on the uphill sections is simpler with the light gear, but that guy’s technique could be a nice way to go on a heavier setup like alpine touring gear.

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

The snowpack out there is midwinter deep and ready for prime time as soon as we get another decent storm – let’s hope something pops up before mid-month so we don’t have to spend another ten days in this veritable snowfall desert.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 03FEB2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sterling Forest and Sterling Range, VT 21JAN2024

A view of the Sterling Mountain Range in Northern Vermont in January while approaching from the southeast
An image of glades during a January backcountry ski tour up through the Sterling Forest and into the Sterling Range of the Northern Green Mountains of Vermont
A view down through some of the many glades available on today’s backcountry ski tour up through the Sterling Forest into the Sterling Range

Today the temperatures were still quite cold, so I again opted to stick to ski touring instead of riding the lifts, but it was a bit warmer than yesterday, and I decided to go a bit farther afield and higher in elevation. I set my sights on skiing in the Sterling Range, an area that has been on my list of ski touring spots for quite a while, but I just hadn’t gotten around to making the trip. A very convenient access point to the range is through the Sterling Forest area, and they have a really nice parking lot that’s maintained at the top of Sterling Valley Road.

I’d been up to the area in the warm season for mountain biking, but I haven’t been up there much in the winter. The snowpack around the houses up there is impressive, and you can tell that the area gets, and holds, a lot of snow. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising with a number of houses that are well above elevations of 1,000’. Indeed there’s some good elevation there as you approach the Sterling Forest – the parking area is around 1,700’, which is 500’ higher than where I began my tour yesterday.

An image showing the trailhead area for the Upper Gorge Loop Trail of the Sterling Town Forest in Stowe, Vermont
A view of the trailhead area near the Sterling Forest parking lot as I start off on today’s ski tour

Most people I’ve talked to, as well as reports and videos I’ve seen, use the Upper Gorge Loop trail area as their main thoroughfare for touring. It serves as the approach and as a collector trail if you’re skiing the north side of the basin. For my approach I followed the northerly section of the Upper Gorge Loop Trail, which seemed to be the most popular based on the levels of traffic packing the snow. Following the trail, I began to see skin tracks branch off to head up the north side of the basin, but I continued on the loop trail until I hit its apex, just so I could get the lay of the land. I then skinned back a couple of minutes and took the highest skin track that was available. That brought me to the top of the ridge on the north side of the basin, and along the way I passed numerous open glades that had very few tracks and offered a lot of impressive skiing. I topped out around 2,900’ along the ridge, and descended through the glades back to the Upper Gorge Loop Trail.

Powder depths were very similar to what I found yesterday with respect to similar elevations. I was curious if there might be a difference in surface snow depths since I was about 12 miles farther north in the Northern Greens, but my measurements didn’t reveal any substantial differences.  I did ascend substantially higher on this tour though, so it let me add on to what I’d found yesterday. The powder depth profile I found today was as follows:

1,700’: 7-8”
2,000’: 7-8”
2,200’: 8-9”
2,500’: 10-11”
2,700’: 11-12”
2,900’: 12-13”

There are other options for nice touring out there, such as dropping down the back side of the ridge into the next drainage, but the approach to the slopes in the main basin is already a couple of miles even before you begin the main ascent through the glades, so I couldn’t really tack on more with the time I had. It was a gorgeous midwinter day though, with lots of sunshine, and that definitely helped to bring the temperature up that extra notch relative to yesterday.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data for a backcountry ski tour in the Sterling Forest area and Sterling Range in the Northern Green Mountains of Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data from today’s backcountry ski tour in the Sterling Forest and Sterling Range in the Northern Green Mountain of Vermont

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 20JAN2024

An image of evergreens and mountains obscured by snowfall in the Beaver Pond area of the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of the Caribou's Corner sign in the Beaver Pond area of the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley ski Resort in Vermont
Passing by Caribou’s Corner on my ski tour today in the Beaver Pond area of Bolton Valley’s Nordic and Backcountry Network

Since today’s forecast was in the single digits F, and there was the possibility of wind as well, ski touring seemed like the natural choice vs. riding the lifts. In addition, our current weather system, while certainly enough to freshen up surfaces, isn’t expected to be large enough to really reset the powder in areas that had been recently skied.

With the cold temperatures, and the way the depth and quality of the snowpack has been improving over the past week or two, I decided that I’d tour in some relatively low elevations nearby to see what potential they held. I started my tour at the Catamount Trail access area at roughly 1,200’ on the Bolton Valley Access Road, and did a ski tour up to the Buchanan Shelter near the 2,200’ elevation. That’s not a heavily used part of the Bolton Valley Backcountry Network, so I suspected that untracked powder would be relatively plentiful.

While I was out touring in the afternoon, light snow fell continuously, and throughout the tour I checked powder depths above the highest detectable subsurface layer in the snowpack. The powder depth profile I found with respect to elevation was as follows:

1,200′: 6-8”
1,500′: 6-8”
1,800′: 7-8”
2,000′: 7-8”
2,200′: 8-9”

Even with cold temperatures, powder of the 3-4% H2O variety that we recently received from Winter Storm Heather can’t sustain that level of loft forever. Indeed, the powder I encountered today had settled down to something more in the 6-8% H2O range, so the numbers above are the depths to which the surface snow has currently settled. Obviously all these recent storms continue to push the useful snowpack to lower and lower elevations, so overall snowpack depth wasn’t an issue even down to the 1,200’ mark. It’s hard to get estimates of the total snowpack depth because the lower layers are so settled and thick, but the snowpack is maybe a couple feet deep down at 1,200’? While I don’t have an exact number, even if there was only a foot of base below the powder, it’s so consolidated and flush with liquid equivalent that it would easily do the job.

An image of the roofline of the Buchanan Shelter out on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A shot of the Buchanan Shelter while I transition for my descent

In terms of the skiing, the best turns were certainly up in the slopes just below the Buchanan Shelter where there is some solid pitch up into the black diamond realm. The approach portions of the tour have enough pitch to make a nice glide out and grab a few low-angle turns in certain spots, but with the current depths and density of the powder, descent speed is on the slower side right now. Also, cold temperatures like these reduce ski glide somewhat due to less melting, so that factors in as well. In the slopes up by the Buchanan Shelter I had the run of the area though in terms of fresh tracks. One person had recently skied back down the Beaver Pond Access Trail, but that was even a bit old, so it must have been from a couple of storms ago. Off in the trees, there were no prior tracks of any kind, so I had my pick of the most open lines, streambeds, chutes, etc. Fat skis were the call, and turns were definitely bottomless, but the best turns came from hitting those correct areas that appropriately accommodated the pitch, powder depth, cold snow, tree spacing, and all that.  There were some excellent powder turns on the tour though, so even down to the lower elevations in the ~1,000’ range, the current snowpack is really delivering.

A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of a ski tour up to the Buchanan Shelter on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A Google Earth map with GPS tracking data of today’s ski tour out on Bolton Valley’s Nordic & Backcountry Network

Bolton Valley, VT 16JAN2024

An image of Ty Telemark skiing in powder on the Wilderness Lift Line with the Wilderness Double Chairlift in the background as heavy snow falls from Winter Storm Heather at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of Ty laying down a ski track in fresh powder while Telemark skiing on the Wilderness Lift Line with heavy snow falling from Winter Storm Heather at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Winter Storm Heather blasted into the are this morning, with up to 8 inches of new snow already down by midafternoon to set up some great powder skiing at Bolton Valley

It wasn’t even snowing this morning when Ty and I headed off to Burlington for an early appointment, so we knew we’d be giving Mother Nature some time to get rolling and freshen up the slopes. The snow from Winter Storm Heather started up a couple hours later, and by midafternoon we decided to head up to Bolton Valley for some turns.

We were happy to see that the Timberline Quad was running, so were able to park and start our session right there. Snow was simply pouring down at that point, and my initial measurements revealed storm totals of 4-5” at 2,500’ and 6-8” at 3,000’.

An image of heavy snowfall from Winter Storm Heather at the Timberline Base Lodge at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Thanks to the arrival of Winter Storm Heather, snow was simply pouring down out of the ski at 1 to 2 inches per hour when we arrived at the Timberline Base today, and it just kept going like that all through the afternoon and into the evening.
An image of Ty Telemark skiing in the trees near Maria's in fresh powder from Winter Storm Heather at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
The tree skiing was excellent today with constant refills of fresh powder thanks to heavy snowfall from Winter Storm Heather.

The snow was light and dry (my past couple of liquid analyses from down here in the valley averaged right around 4% H2O), so it was very high quality powder. With such cold smoke snow, you weren’t getting bottomless turns on steep terrain, but you could on low and moderate angle terrain, and the turns were great even if you were contacting the subsurface.

An image of heavy snowfall and accumulations on vehicles in the Timberline parking lot during Winter Storm Heather at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in VermontIt was pounding 1-2”/hour snow the entire time we were on the mountain, so one could easily tack on another couple inches or so to the storm totals by closing time, and it even kept snowing into the evening.

Bolton Valley Nordic & Backcountry, VT 15JAN2024

An image of evergreens along the Birch Loop trail past the Bryant Cabin on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
An image of some of the glades below the Gotham City area with lots of untracked powder snow in the Nordic and Backcountry Network of Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Heading down through some of the glades below Gotham City today during my tour on the Bolton Nordic and Backcountry Network

In this morning’s update, Bolton Valley  was reporting an additional 3-5” of snow from yesterday’s lake-effect snow and snow squalls. The other recent snowfall numbers they had in their report looked solid, with 12” in the last two days, 27″ since Tuesday night and more than 48” for the first half of the month. The season snowfall for the resort currently stands at 157”, and that’s very respectable since it’s already about half their annual snowfall average when we’re not even halfway through the snowfall season.  What makes that pace more impressive is that they’ve had all that snowfall despite the second half of December being quite lean on snow. That really speaks to how much has been falling up there during the snowier periods.

An image showing cars with snow in one of the Village parking lots at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
A view of the cars nearby my parking spot showing the accumulations from recent snows in the area

There was no new snow falling today, which was somewhat notable because this morning’s snow report also indicated that if the current forecast for tomorrow’s snow comes through, they’ll be looking at 14 out of the first 16 days of 2024 with snowfall. With today’s break in the falling snow, I figured it was time to head out for a tour on the backcountry network as a reliable route to untracked powder.

I decided to head up the Bryant Trail to Bryant Cabin in the afternoon, and play it by ear with respect to lengthening my tour, depending on how my supply of daylight was looking. I was well ahead of sunset when I was up at Bryant Cabin, therefore I just continued on up to the Catamount Trail Glades so I could get in some turns in the higher elevations. Based on my recent outings at the resort, I knew that conditions improved a lot with elevation, so I wanted to get a good sampling of the powder up high. I topped out at an elevation of about 3,100’ on the back side of Bolton Mountain, descended through the Catamount Trail Glades, and then traversed back above Bryant Cabin and navigated a route through another half dozen different glades back to the base. Today definitely had a nice midwinter vibe, with bright afternoon sun, temperatures somewhere around 20 F, and great powder.

An image from the bottom of the Devil's Drop area showing the nearby platform structure out on the Nordic and Backcountry Network at Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Vermont
Passing below the Devil’s Drop area while out on today’s ski tour

The surface powder and upper snowpack analysis was really interesting today. Starting my tour around 2,000’ in the Village, I found 4-5” of surface powder, and then there was a fairly solidified layer below it. That layer marks the wet snow that recently came from Winter Storm Gerri, which hardened up somewhat as temperatures dropped back below freezing. The surface snow above it is from the snow on the back side of the storm, plus the additional drier snows that have fallen over the past couple of days. As you ascend to higher elevations though, that firmer layer gradually begins to soften, and then above 2,500’ it starts to disappear altogether. At that point there is another substantial subsurface layer, which I suspect comes from Winter Storm Finn. So, monitoring the elevation profile for the depths of the powder was bit unusual. Compared to the 2,000’ elevation, I didn’t detect any notable increase in the powder depths at 2,250’, but at 2,500’ it finally started to deeper, and as I continued higher, I could still sort of detect an interface from Winter Storm Gerri, but it eventually became hard to discern. So, what I’ve done for the surface snow depth elevation profile below is to indicate those different layers, with the first depth being snow down to the dense layer from Winter Storm Gerri, and the second being the depth of the snow down to the dense layer from Winter Storm Finn.

2,000’: 4-5”
2,250’: 4-5”
2,500’: 5-6”/8-10”
2,750’: 6-7”/10-12”
3,000’: 7-8”/14-16”

At some point between 2,500’ and 3,000’ that first depth number sort of becomes moot, and you’re essentially skiing in the 8-16” of powder depending on elevation, so go I’d say go in with that mentality. In terms of getting out there in the backcountry around this part of the Northern Greens, I’d recommend touring above 2,500’ if you can for the best turns. I went with mid-fats on today’s tour, but you could easily go with fat skis if you’re going to spend most of your time above 2,500’.  When I was up in the Catamount Trail Glades in the 3,000’ range, fat skis would have been nice, except in some of the denser areas of evergreens where they have trapped so much of the snowfall on their boughs, that you actually notice the deficiency of powder below.

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

The system that is expected to come into the area tomorrow is name Winter Storm Heather, and any snow from that should really be icing on the cake in terms of the ski conditions. Temperatures are forecast to stay cold, so you can pretty much take the powder depths I have above and then tack on whatever new snow comes next.

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