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.
Since our first snows of the season back in September, we’ve moved on into a new month and another window for early season snowfall. This time the snow chances are associated with a series of small disturbances that started moving into the area last night and are expected to continue through the weekend.
While Friday turned out to be a bit too cool and breezy to really soften up the slopes around here, and yesterday didn’t seem much better, today saw more warmth and sunshine as the forecast had suggested. Mother Nature really wasn’t messing around, with temperatures moving up into the 60s F, a cloudless sky, and the disappearance of those persistent winds.
There was no question about whether or not the snow was going to soften up today, so I decided to head to Stowe for some afternoon turns. I hadn’t been to the general Stowe area in a while, but the usual views of Mansfield started to appear as I headed through Waterbury Center, and the alpine terrain was certainly lit up in the May sunshine.
I’d hoped that the south-facing terrain of Spruce Peak still had enough coverage to provide some nice uninterrupted turns, and indeed as I approached the resort I could see that the Main Street area and surrounding trails still had nearly continuous snow down the base of the Sensation Quad.
With the route I took on the lower part of the mountain, I ended up hiking about 1/3 of the ascent, and then skinning the final 2/3. I was initially questioning my decision to bring skins as I navigated the lower slopes, but once I hit the point where I started skinning, it was definitely the right choice in terms of efficiency; the upper slopes of Main Street have so much snow that it would take more effort to find dry areas for easier hiking.
In terms of the skiing, it was far superior to what I had experienced on Friday. The warmth and sun took care of getting the spring snow into something that was definitely worthy of turns. It wasn’t perfect, because there were still some sticky areas from recent snows on terrain that hadn’t seen the sun and/or skier traffic, but those were generally avoidable by skiing the sunnier sides of the trails.
With such a gorgeous day, I was surprised that I didn’t see a single other skier out there during my entire tour on Spruce. I did see two other cars when I first arrived at the MMSC Clubhouse parking lot, but they were just hikers. I saw them finishing up their hikes while I was ascending, and the entire parking lot was empty when I got back to my car. Everyone must have been skiing over at Mansfield!
I had enough extra time today, so I headed back out to Stowe for a hike and some more turns. Based on what I’d seen on Spruce on my last outing, as well as the views across to Mansfield at that point, I decided it was time to check out something by the Mountain Triple. There’s some easy access snow right down to the base over there, and that fit the time I had.
As I walked along past the Triple, I surveyed the snow situation and headed toward Lower Standard, which seemed to have the best coverage. That area makes for a pleasant stroll because it’s generally quite grassy with modest pitches. Somebody had built the shape of a heart out of rocks on the ground near the ropes course, so that was kind of a nice accent to the area. The snow on Lower Standard is definitely more broken up than what it was a week earlier, and there are a couple of gaps near the bottom that are really best walked vs. trying to skip across on your skis.
That afternoon we had thunderstorms in the area, and as usual, there were some great views surrounding the resort and toward the Notch as the peaks worked their magic and forced the clouds around. While I was hiking I started to hear thunder to the east and northeast, off past Spruce Peak and over toward Madonna and Sterling. Eventually I started to see some tendrils of virga over there, and the thunder was becoming more expansive. I was just getting up toward the Crossover elevation, which was about where I was going to stop anyway because the snow petered out there, but the timing seemed good with the thunder building. I started seeing the first visible flashes from lightning just as I was getting back to the car, and the first drops of rain began to fall, so that timing really did work out well. I would have stayed around for some lightning photography over toward the Notch, but none if was producing visible bolts, it all seemed to be well up in the clouds or too distant.
I haven’t been following the state of the snowpack at Stowe too closely over the past couple of weeks, but Powderfreak’s recent post on American Weather forum definitely provided a nice look at some of the snow on the slopes of Spruce Peak. I probably wouldn’t have even had Spruce Peak in the mix of top spots to head for turns if I hadn’t seen how much snow was still there, but it was obvious from the post that there was plenty.
Today I had time to get out for exercise, so I chose to enjoy a hike and ski in the Main Street area. The snowpack is certainly not continuous top-to-bottom of course, but there’s several hundred vertical feet worth of nice turns with deep base as Powderfreak’s image showed. The snowpack there is starting to get a bit sun cupped, but it’s nothing that really hurts the experience yet at this point, unless perhaps you were to stray the extreme edges where the snow has taken a bigger hit and there’s been no skier traffic.
Even if natural snowpack on Mansfield is still below average for this time of year, I have to think the coverage there on south-facing Spruce had got be at least typical for this far into May. From the view across the resort, I could see that the usual spots like Nosedive and some of those areas around the Mountain Triple still have some decent coverage, so it would be fun to mix it up with something over there next. That Main Street snow has some very deep areas, but it’s just getting a bit too broken up into segments that one eventually has to make the call to go with something with a bit more continuity for efficiency and longer flow of turns on the descent.
It is always fun this time of year getting to see which parts of the resort are holding the snow best for those late season turns. It’s different each season depending on the combination of where Mother Nature deposited snow and where the guns were blowing when temperatures were optimal as has been noted in some of Powderfreak’s comments in ski-related discussions at American Weather.
Today I headed to Stowe to go for a tour on Spruce Peak, and again the weather was simply sunny and fabulous. I hadn’t been to the resort in a while since we didn’t have our school’s ski program this season due to COVID-19, so I poked around the Spruce Peak Village for a bit first. There’s a huge new building going up where the ski patrol building was at the base of the Sunny Spruce Quad, so that’s another substantial addition to the village area. I’m not sure what’s going to be going in there, or if it’s more lodging? As usual, the crowd of folks earning turns was in the MMSC lot, and I found about a dozen cars or so there and ran into Shalagh, who was there skiing with some of her friends. You almost can’t help but run into someone you know on these days.
All I can say is that Main Street delivered what were unquestionably the best turns of the weekend, and probably the best corn snow I’ve skied the entire spring season so far. I’m not sure what it is about Main Street, but year after year after year, it just seems to deliver superior corn snow. Maybe it’s because it faces south and really starts its corn snow cycling early, or maybe it’s because they blow that massive amount of dense snow for the racers, or maybe it’s because it gets so much less traffic than the trails on Mansfield. Perhaps it’s a combination of all these factors, but it just delivered ridiculously smooth, perfect peel-away corn snow turns when I was there.
In terms of the ascent route, Main Street is really the best option with respect to continuous coverage for skinning, but those steep pitches are rough. Despite the tough ascent, my legs felt great making Telemark turns on the way down. Everything just seemed to flow, and I’m sure a lot of it was the quality of the snow. The snowpack there seems quite deep, and it’s definitely worth more trips while that snow is around.