Potential April Fool’s Day Storm

BTV Winter Weather Warnings Map
Winter Storm Watches are up for Vermont and New York as of this morning

There appears to be a storm on the way for the Northeastern U.S. in the Thursday through Saturday timeframe. The exact effects on our region aren’t known yet, but there is the possibility of some decent snowfall. I’ve added the latest Burlington NWS advisories and potential accumulations maps to this thread, and more details are in the NNE thread at Americanwx.com.

Potential Snowfall Accumulations Map
Initial snowfall projections from the Burlington office of the National Weather Service - click to view the larger image

Four inches and counting…

BTV Radar Image
The second round of precipitation approaching the area this evening

As of 8:00 P.M. we’ve had about 4 inches of snow here at the house, and it looks like there’s still a bit of snow to go.  We got a surprisingly good shot of snow this evening after the main round earlier today; I’ve added a radar shot of the evening snowfall as it was coming into the area.  More information can be found in my evening update at Americanwx.com.

Monroe’s Sugarin’, Barton, VT 19MAR2011

Steam rising from the sugarhouse
Steam rising from the Monroe's Sugarin' sugarhouse as boiling commenced

The visit to Steve’s sugarhouse was great today, with the usual assortment of food, snowmachines, skiing, sledding, sugar on snow, and many of the other things that go with spring in Vermont.  Temperatures were actually just below freezing, but with the sunshine and no wind, it was comfortable outside.   

Skiing in Barton Vermont
We found some nice turns in snow that had warmed from the sun.

Additional pictures and more details about the day are available in my full report.The snowpack was plentiful, and we even got to do some skiing during the afternoon.

Mt. Washington, NH 29MAY2010

An image of Jay Telemark skiing on the Snowfields of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire on Memorial Day weekend 2010
We found lots of options for great turns on Mt. Washington’s snowfield’s this weekend.

The Mount Washington Auto Road was finally open for business by the weekend of May 22nd – 23rd, but since E was out of town, Memorial Day weekend was our first opportunity for a ski trip.  As always, weather was an important determinant in whether or not we would try to take the boys up the mountain, but as the weekend grew closer, the good forecasts continued to hold.  None of the days looked like a total washout, but Saturday looked like the best bet since the NWS point forecast indicated the chance for gusts as high as 100 MPH in the higher elevations of the Presidential Range on Sunday, and Monday had higher potential for precipitation.  On Friday evening we put ice packs in the freezer, charged batteries, and planned to make a final check on the forecast in the morning.

Saturday morning’s forecast still looked decent; there was a chance of precipitation in the afternoon, but winds were expected to be low with comfortable temperatures.  I reserved a campsite for Saturday night, and we spent most of the morning getting things together for the trip and taking care of other stuff around the house.  We finally headed out in the late morning under mostly cloudy skies, but no signs of precipitation.

Once we’d reached the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, we stopped in at the Great Glen Lodge to hit the restrooms and check on the summit weather.  We were excited to see that the summit weather board indicated winds of just 4 to 12 MPH and a temperature of 50 F.  Even better though, was being able to look up toward the higher elevations to the west to see blue skies.  Last year’s trip featured 50 MPH winds and fog, conditions that were more amenable to playing in the strong gusts on the deck of the observatory than skiing with the boys.  From our views along Routes 2 and 16, the snow up high looked less plentiful than we’ve often seen at this time of year.  The level of the snowpack was potentially due to at least a couple of factors.  Although there were some nice snowy storms in April and May, too many of the midwinter storms skirted off to the south of Northern New England this season, and more recently we’d seen warm, or even hot, dry weather with lots of sun.  One never really knows quite what the snow situation is going to be until they get up on the mountain though, and based on the Mt. Washington web cam images, we knew there was going to be plenty of terrain to ski.

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The fair weather made for an enjoyable drive up the Auto Road, and the views were stupendous as usual.  We stopped in just briefly at the summit, and got an overview of the various eastern snowfields on the drive back down the road.  We could see that there were plenty of options, and continued our drive down to the parking area below Ball Crag where we’d based ourselves before.

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Consistent with the faster depletion of the snow this season, although potentially due to seasonal variability as well, the snowfield that we’d skied with the boys in May of 2008 was absent.  But, based on the boy’s enthusiasm, along with their improved endurance and ski abilities, we were looking to hit some different snowfields this season anyway.  The plan was to head up the Nelson Crag Trail for a bit as we’d done on our last ski trip to the area, and then traverse generally southward below Ball Crag to search out some snowfields that would work well for everyone.

Our equipment setup from our last Mount Washington ski trip had worked well, so we used a similar configuration with just a couple of changes.  I carried the big SLR in my photo/ski pack, which is also set up well to carry multiple pairs of skis, so I carried mine as well as the boy’s.  E and I simply hiked in our Telemark boots, but since the boys would be skiing in alpine ski boots, they wore their hiking boots to make their traveling much easier, and along with her skis, E carried their ski boots in her pack.  The boys had their poles for hiking, and a new addition this time was that they carried their water, food, clothing, and helmets in/on their packs.

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We hiked roughly two tenths of a mile up the Nelson Crag trail before breaking off and contouring southward.  The boys were very mobile in their hiking boots and light packs, and they moved along at a great pace.  Compared to our last ski outing on Mount Washington, Ty was much more comfortable traveling through the alpine setting; he was well ahead of the rest of the group and opted for a much higher traverse.  I knew that we would eventually run into the main portion of the east snowfield if we didn’t run into any other snowfields first, but there turned out to be earlier options.  Ty was the first to spot some of the bigger snowfields below us along the Upper portion of the Huntington Ravine Trail, and we planned to work our way toward those after seeing what we found ahead of us.  After only about a tenth of a mile of traversing, we hit a small snowfield, and the group, which had become a bit scattered during the traverse, got back together to start the descent.

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That first snowfield was moderately steep, perhaps in the 30 degree range or so.  Since it was steep and rather short, the boys decided to wait until one of the bigger snowfields to start skiing.  They opted to simply do some sliding on the snow.  E and I mentioned that it was likely to be easier to ski than slide since they would have edges to control their descent, but they were having fun.  E and I skied the snowfield, and then we all traversed over to a much larger snowfield off to the north.  When we’d arrived at the initial snowfield, there had been a couple of people skiing laps on the edge of the larger snowfield below, but by the time we got there they were gone, and we had the whole thing to ourselves.  In fact, they were the only people we’d seen on any of the snowfields in that area.  We were surprised by the lack of people since it was Memorial Day weekend, but perhaps everyone had already done their skiing the previous weekend.  The weather continued to feature interludes of sunny and cloudy periods, and although we’d seen what looked like thicker clouds and showers off to the Green Mountains in the west, no precipitation materialized in our area.

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Ty and Dylan were the first to ski the larger snowfield, and it was fun to watch Dylan follow Ty through the terrain.  The snowfield wasn’t quite as steep as the first one, and it was a fun experience for the boys to have the whole face to themselves with the ability to decide what route they wanted to take.  The boys stopped about 2/3 of the way through the descent to wait for us, then E joined them, and I skied all the way to the bottom to get some pictures from below.

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From the bottom of that snowfield we traversed north and slightly upward to another snowfield section that was connected to the first.  At that point we were on the long collection of snowfields that sits above Huntington Ravine.  The next section of snow didn’t provide quite as much vertical drop, but it didn’t seem like it had seen any skier traffic in quite a while, so it was extremely smooth.  I made a boot ladder that was spaced well for the boys, and we hiked up to the top of that section.  The boys had been happy with their earlier turns, and were most excited to play on the rocks and stairs of the Huntington Ravine Trail, so they switched back to their hiking boots and played around while E and I did a bit more skiing.  Those turns were a lot of fun, and E got the time she’d been looking for that let her practice and dial in some smoother Telemark turns.

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I hadn’t really been following the recent freeze thaw cycles up on Mt. Washington prior to our outing, but looking back at the Mount Washington summit weather archive, it says that the lows for the two nights before our trip were only down to 35 F, and the nights prior to that were even warmer.  Apparently, once the corn is formed, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the temperatures go below freezing nightly or not in terms of maintaining quality conditions for spring skiing.  We never encountered sticky, rotten, or mushy snow, just good corn with a peel away layer on the surface.  I’m sure it would have been much less enjoyable for the boys if the snow had been difficult, but thinking back, I can’t recall any really tough snow in our Mount Washington outings at this time of year.  Perhaps the snowpack is dense enough by this point in the season that freezing cycles aren’t as critical.

It was only a few minutes of hiking to get back to the car from there, and it really had been an efficient outing; for all the skiing we’d done, it had only required about ¾ of a mile worth of total travel.  Although I’m sure Dylan was a bit tired, both boys were still bounding around on the final leg back to the car, so the distance had clearly been good for them.  Just as we were about finished changing clothes and packing the gear back into the car, one of the Auto Road vans came by and let us know that he was the last one heading down.  It was just about 6:00 P.M. by that point.  We didn’t dawdle on the way down so that we wouldn’t hold up the final van, but there were plenty of people still out of their cars below us as we passed by, and even a pair of hikers just below our parking area that seemed to be making their final descent via the road.

After an enjoyable Auto Road descent with more fun views, we headed over to Shelburne, NH and checked in at White Birches Camping Park.  We’d reserved a grassy site, and they’ve got some nice ones right on the edge of an evergreen forested area that contains access to the Shelburne Basin Trails.  The evening’s burgers were some of the best in a while, and there were no complaints from me when Ty couldn’t quite polish his off burger or sausage.

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In the morning, we had some breakfast and broke camp, then the boys went off with E for a while to go swimming and play on the campground’s equipment while I worked on repacking the gear.  The weather was still nice, so we decided to take a circuitous route home and see some sights.  We headed back to Gorham, then north along the Androscoggin through Berlin, past Umbagog Lake, and up to Lake Aziscohos.  North of Berlin, we were certainly in the land of lakes, loons and logs; houses seemed just as likely to have a loaded logging truck in their yard as anything else.  Between the abundance of big rivers, dams, and lakes, it’s quite a water paradise.  We saw several groups of flat water and whitewater boats, and lots of fly fishing taking place.  At Aziscohos we were getting close to the Saddleback/Sugarloaf zone, although we didn’t head quite that far into Maine.

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After lunch at the picnic area on the south shore of Aziscohos, we headed west through Dixville Notch and got to take in its impressive craggy views.  We also stopped in to check out The Balsams Resort Hotel and The Balsams Wilderness Ski Area, which we’d never visited before.  The ski area isn’t huge, offering just over 1,000 feet of vertical, but from everything I’ve heard, it’s very much the type of ski area we enjoy.  Akin to some of our favorite local ski areas like Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana and Bolton Valley in Vermont, it’s got low skier traffic, low speed lifts to keep it that way, and decent snowfall.  Wilderness doesn’t quite get the 300+ inches of annual snowfall that Bolton and Lost Trail do, but knowing the snow trends for northernmost New Hampshire, I suspect they do decently on snow preservation like Saddleback and Sugarloaf.  Based on an article I found by David Shedd on easternslopes.com[SJ2] , it sounds like minimal skier traffic helps out in maintaining the powder and general snow quality as well. The 1,000 feet of vertical at Wilderness is said to be nicely sustained, with no runouts, and that was definitely the impression we had when we drove to the bottom of the lifts and looked around.  E and I have been thinking it would be nice to do a ski trip coupling Wilderness, Saddleback, and Sugarloaf together.  Of the three areas, we’ve only been to Sugarloaf, and only in the spring.  It’s usually hard to leave Northern Vermont’s snow during the middle of the ski season, but a good time to go east would be when one of those storm cycles comes through that focuses on Northern New Hampshire and Western Maine.

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We got back into Vermont in the far northeast part of the Kingdom, and took the northerly route to I-91 along the Canadian border past Wallace Pond.  It’s not a huge body of water, and it was fun pointing out to the boys that the houses just a couple hundred yards away on the other side of it were actually in Canada.  We also passed Great Averill Pond, Norton Pond, and finally Seymour Lake, where we stopped for a few minutes.  We went through Derby, but didn’t quite get up to Derby Line to show the boys how the library/opera house is split by the international border.  At some point we will have to get them up there.  Once on I-91, we were pretty quickly back in our own neck of the woods, and I’d say one of the more surprising things that we discovered was how close Balsams Wilderness Ski Area is to our location.  Being so far north in New Hampshire, and mentioned so infrequently, it seemed to be on another planet.  But, barring horrible road conditions, it should only be two to three hours from Waterbury.  After our visit to the area, it has certainly moved up higher on my hit list.

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Below I’ve added a web cam image of the east side of Mt. Washington from last weekend, showing the various areas of snow that were present at the time.  The longest runs up near the summit still seemed to be off the main east snowfield that we didn’t visit.  We haven’t had any of the hot temperatures that we had the week before our visit, and things have been much more seasonable, so there should still be some decent easy access skiing up there at this point.

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Click through temporarily for integrated images in the report at SkiVT-L.

Stowe & Mt. Mansfield Chin, VT 25APR2009

An image of some of the trails of Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont taken from the alpine area up near the Chin of Mt. Mansfield
Looking back at the resort trails today as I head up into the alpine

The boys were more interested in planting flowers with Mom on Saturday than skiing, so unfortunately I couldn’t interest them in going out for some turns.  This meant that I was on a solo outing, but the upside was that I’d be able to do a much bigger tour than I would have been able to with Ty, or especially with Dylan.  The skies were clear and blue all Saturday morning on what was likely our warmest day of the spring up to that point.  The temperature was already around 80 F when I pulled into Stowe’s Midway lot (~1,700’) in the early afternoon, and with the forecast for temperatures in that range, I hadn’t been too optimistic about the snow quality.  My major goal was to at least get in a good workout, so I was willing to negotiate some sloppy snow on the descent if that was the way it had to be.

Snow was available right from the Midway Lodge elevation, with just a couple hundred feet of fairly flat walking on grass to get on it from the parking lot.  I was immediately surprised when I got on the snow and found that it wasn’t sloppy at all; it was all corn with just the top inch or so loosened up.  That’s the sort of corn that seems to provide some of the easiest turns, so I was immediately enthusiastic about the potential for a quality descent.  There wasn’t much of a breeze in the lower elevations, but the snow helped keep the air temperature a bit cooler and the ascent was very enjoyable.  For ascent attire I’d gone about as minimally as I felt comfortable doing, with a short sleeve polypropylene T-shirt and my ski pants with the side zippers fully open, and that worked out to be a comfortable setup for the temperature.  I hadn’t made a non-powder ascent on skins in a while, and I was quickly reminded how the lightness of Telemark gear allows you to simply fly up the slopes.  Before I knew it I was up at the Cliff House (3,625’) and feeling great, so I decided to keep going up into the alpine.

I set my skis onto my pack and hit the climbing gully.  There was a bit of rotten snow in spots, and as I didn’t immediately find a boot ladder, I had visions of an inefficient, sloppy climb with lots of post-holing.  I’d already post-holed a few times in the outskirts of the gully (it only took one of those to remind me to get my ski pants zipped up at least halfway) but fortunately, about 50 feet up the climbing gully I found a boot ladder made by some nice big feet.  That made the going fairly smooth, and the views of the Green and White Mountains continued to improve with each step.  Near the top of the gully, I ran into a guy about to descend.  He had spent an overnight or two on the mountain, and said that he’d been amazed to find fresh powder on Friday morning when he’d started skiing.  It sounds like along with Thursday morning, Friday morning had also been good in the higher elevations with regard to fresh snow.  The downside of the fresh snow was that conditions in the alpine were still a bit sloppy.  The new snow had not yet cycled to corn in the highest elevations, so it just wasn’t going to provide an optimal surface.  By the time I departed from my conversation in the gully, I was moments from the Mansfield ridge line.  Up on the ridge I enjoyed the new westerly views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and decided to stop in at the top of The Chin (4,395’) since I was so close.  There was a small group of college students enjoying the popular leeward side of the summit, and there was a pleasant breeze of probably 15 MPH or so.  The high temperature for the day at the Mt. Mansfield Stake came in at 67 F, so I suspect that the summit maximum temperature was probably close to that.  Getting an April day like that at the top of The Chin is certainly a treat.

For my descent, I wasn’t able to ski right in the summit or the West Chin area due to lack of snow, but I was able to ski down the gully where the Long Trail drops away from The Chin as it heads south.  It was quite a perspective to see the snow create a flat surface through the gully, when in the off season it’s a 10-foot deep chasm containing the hiking trail.  I had to remove my skis to descend the very top of the climbing gully, but below that point one could keep them on continuously.  As expected, the new snow up high that hadn’t fully cycled to corn wasn’t as nice as the corn snow on the bottom 2,000’, but I actually had some fun turns in the climbing gully, and it let me work on Telemark turns in steeper, tighter confines.  I still had to make some alpine turns and throw in some side slipping up there since some areas were just so tight, but overall the gully allowed a good mix of styles.  The crème de la crème of snow surfaces for the day was probably the top half of the Gondolier descent.  There must have been very little traffic up there because most of the snow surface was just a smooth layer of ripe corn.  The lower half of Gondolier still had nice corn snow, but the surface wasn’t as smooth as the top half of trail.  Perhaps the lower elevations had experienced more melting that started forming aberrations in the surface.  Based on my GPS data, it looks like my descent was 2,720’, not quite what you can get for vertical in the winter when you head all the way back down to Route 108, but still a decent run.  There were still about 7 feet of snow at the stake on Saturday, and even though that level has dropped some with the recent warmth we’ve had, skiing should available on Mt. Mansfield for a while.

A Google Earth/GPS map showing the route of a ski tour up through Stowe Mountain Resort to the Chin of Mt. Mansfield on April 25th, 2009
A Google Earth/GPS map of today’s ski tour up to the Chin of Mt. Mansfield – Click the image for a full size map

Stowe, Hourglass Chute, & Hell Brook Trail, VT 22MAR1997

Well, the weather setup leading into this weekend was a 4 to 6 inch snowfall yesterday; so it came just in time for weekend turns.  Somehow, there came to be a bit of a crust on top, but unlike last weekend, it was paper thin and didn’t really affect the non-groomed terrain.

Today I caught up with Shawshank at Stowe sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 A.M. and we hit the usual stashes with other folks that we knew.  The big event came in the afternoon with a 1:00 P.M. meeting at the top of the Gondi and a hike into the swirling mists of The Chin.  Let’s just say, without the guidance of Shawshank, there would have been no way to find anything up there in the near zero visibility.  The wind was probably gusting to 40 mph at times, but it wasn’t bad for the top of a mountain, and by the time we reached the Hourglass Chute, we were protected altogether.  Hourglass was fun, although it seemed to be over so quickly.  I remember reaching this one point about as wide as the length of my skis (the narrow part of the hourglass) and four turns later we had to bang a left to make the connection to Hell Brook.  We traversed for about 50 feet, took a quick step up a short incline, then dropped a nice little section into the low point between the Adam’s Apple And The Chin (so I was told; still socked in).  After a bit more of a traverse, we found ourselves at the top of Hell Brook.  I thought that it was going to be a singletrack adventure down into the Notch; I was definitely wrong there.  As it turns out (at least at this time of year) it is much like an interconnected patchwork of trails, snowfields, and gullies which gradually narrows into a single gully towards the end.  Actually, a lot of it reminded me of the gullies at Alta or Snowbird, except that it was a lot longer and there were hardwoods about.  One could take this thing 20 times and still not know the whole maze; it makes for some very fun exploration.  A word of caution:  there were numerous spots where a wrong turn would mean a big drop or other hazards that could ruin your run so take it easy.  Shawshank lost his goggles in a little open water spot and before anyone knew what was up, they were down the brook and under the snow.  Damn.  We finally wound up on Route 108 for a mostly (one bit of uphill) downhill traverse back to the Gondola and nearly 3000′ of vertical in one run.  By the time we got back to the quad it was about 3:30 P.M. and we were kaput.

I stopped in at the Stowehof where my friend Chris was staying.  It’s a real quaint place with great views.  I think that the bar and restaurant are open to the public, but just walking around in there is a lot of fun.

Stowe, VT 02APR1994

An image of Jay jumping off the side of the trail on skis at Stowe Mountain Ski Resort in Vermont
Catching some air today at Stowe while Rolandos runs the camera

Today I spent the day skiing with Rolandos and Chris at Stowe – we had soft spring snow and hit some of the old favorites like Lord, and of course Hayride with those great bumps.  Rolandos took some photographs with his camera, and it was great having the chance to be out with a skilled photographer possessing a real SLR camera.  Rolandos scanned his negatives (or something along those lines) and created some digital images that I’ve added to this report.