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.
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.
With no obvious fresh snow in the past few days for the Northern Greens, there wasn’t a huge extra incentive to head out for turns this weekend, but as PF noted with his report on the conditions at Stowe, the quality of the snow that is out there on piste is tremendously high. We’ve had a few decent resurfacing events this season, but this most recent series of winter storms including that low pressure from the Ontario/Quebec border passing southeast across the region on the 26th, Winter Storm Piper on the 28th, that quick moving system that came across from the Great Lakes on the 1st, and then Winter Storm Quest on the 4th, has probably been the best. We picked up roughly 30 inches of snow in the span of that week at our site in the Winooski Valley, and of course the mountains did substantially better than that. Moreover, being the late February/early March period, all that snow came in with a strong snowpack in place, more so than any of the previous resurfacing events. The snowpack at our house currently has 5 inches of liquid equivalent in it, so the mountain snowpack must be absolutely loaded. Suffice it to say, the past couple of weeks has been a setup for great ski conditions.
E and I found ourselves with some time yesterday afternoon, and the skies were clear with temperatures in the 30s F, so we headed up to Bolton Valley for some on piste Telemark runs at Timberline. The first thing we noticed was that Timberline was a very popular place for a Sunday afternoon, and that was because the third annual Blauvelt’s Banks competition was taking place there. Dylan had mentioned that he’d seen them building the course there earlier in the week, and that was an interesting change of pace because they’ve held it up at the main mountain in the past. This year, the course was on the lower part of Showtime, with an excellent view for those riding the Timberline Quad, and the course looked great. The placement of the course did mean that access to Showtime and Twice as Nice was restricted though.
In terms of our ski session, we hit just about everything else that was available off the Timberline Quad. Even after a number of days without fresh snow, the quality of the ski surfaces continues to be fantastic. The snowpack can certainly take a beating as we get farther into spring with those seasonal temperature fluctuations, but even with temperatures edging a bit above freezing, the snow just seems to stay beautifully consistent. Most terrain has soft, winter snow, and even in areas at lower elevations in the sun where the snow was transitioning to a more spring-like surface, it continues to retain that winter-like consistency and softness. You can just lay into every turn and get a beautiful, smooth, quiet carve out of it. We stuck to on piste terrain on this outing, but I did check the snow off piste, and it still seemed quite light and powdery, even down near 1,500’ elevation. It looks like yet another system, Winter Storm Sage, has the potential to affect the area in the next couple of days, and the ski conditions will hopefully continue to be strong because any snow it brings should be going down atop the current quality snowpack.
Our most recent system was named Winer Storm Nova, and while it wasn’t especially warm in our area, the storm still contained some mixed precipitation. Some of the mixed precipitation was freezing rain, which I experienced on my way to Burlington yesterday morning. After getting the car out of the garage, I‘d only driven for a couple of minutes before my windshield suddenly started to ice over very aggressively. I switched to the defroster and that took care of it quickly, but it was clear that our area was getting a shot of freezing rain. Thankfully, the roads had been well maintained and they remained ice free, but everything else was taking on a glaze.
All the precipitation eventually changed over to snow, but with some freezing rain in the mix, I really wanted to see how much snow fell on top of it to decide whether or not it would be worth skiing this weekend. Down at our house we picked up a total of 1.5” of snow on the back side of Winer Storm Nova, and with Bolton Valley only reporting a couple of inches, it didn’t seem like that would really be enough to redeem the snow surfaces from the icing they’d likely seen. This is also the President’s Day holiday weekend, so skier traffic would likely be even higher than usual. With all that, I figured it would be a good weekend to stay off the slopes and instead go snowshoeing or something along those lines.
My ski plans changed though when Erica told me that her niece Allie was staying up at Bolton with some friends. It’s hard to pass up the chance to see friends and family at the hill when we’re just a few minutes away, so we headed up in the afternoon to make some turns with Allie. E and I parked down at Timberline with the intention of heading over to the main base to meet Allie, and I could tell today was going to be trouble when I nearly killed myself attempting my first three Tele turns on Villager after getting off the Timberline Quad. My skis aren’t totally without edges, but I just couldn’t get a decent bite of the snow; the area that I’d chosen over on the skier’s right was just too slick. Thankfully, we did encounter some areas during the day where skiers had pushed snow to provide a skiable surface (middle of Beech Seal by the lift towers, parts of Sherman’s Pass, parts of the Snowflake trails), but those were relatively few and far between. I think the only other day that I’ve been out this season with really poor snow conditions was back on January 14th, which I rated as a 2 out of 10. Well, today wasn’t a total zero, but it was somewhere in the 0 to 1 range. I had a number of other close calls with slick surfaces simply kicking my skis out from under me due to lack of grip, and the surfaces simply felt far more dangerous than they were fun.
Thankfully, there were some bright spots on the day. It was great to get to hang out with Allie on the slopes and catch up with her. Temperatures were nice and comfortable up in the 20s F, and when you were in the sun it was especially pleasant. Bolton was making lots of snow down at Timberline, so they are really setting up the base there at their lowest elevations to be able to last well into the spring ski season. And, it looks like that base snow could soon be put to good use – the weather modeling suggests we’ve got a good run of winter storms on the horizon. The most recent GFS run shows about seven storms lined up over the next couple of weeks. Perhaps our favorite part of the day was when E and I discovered that El Gato Cantina has now moved into the food service area of the Timberline Base Lodge. We had an excellent taco salad along with chips and guacamole, and having some great food in the newly expanded lodge is definitely something we’re looking forward to doing again.
Today was the much anticipated season opening of Bolton’s Timberline area, and as announced, they livened things up a bit for the event with free coffee and a visit from the El Gato Food Truck. Bolton Valley fans were of course excited to get the last main pod of the resort open for the season, shifting the alpine trail network up to its full speed, but even more exciting was the fact that the snow at Timberline has simply been sitting there and accumulating over the course of these last several storm cycles. There’s been some ski touring traffic in the area, but the Timberline Uphill Route hasn’t officially been open, so the visitation hasn’t been all that heavy. All this, combined with the fact that the back side of Winter Storm Kassandra finally put some of that classic Northern Greensupslope fluff in place to top off the snowpack, meant that some fantastic powder skiing awaited the visitors.
E and I headed up for the anticipated 9:00 A.M. opening of the Timberline Quad, and when we got into the lineup around 8:45 A.M., there were only about a dozen people there. The lift opening went off without a hitch, and from then on, Timberline was a lift-served powder playground. There was a mid-morning rush where the lift queue grew large, but before that point it was minimal to nonexistent. We had light to moderate snowfall for a good part of the morning when one of the small waves of low pressure in the area pushed through, and temperatures were about as perfect as you could want – they were on the mild side, but stayed below freeing to avoid any disruption to the quality of the powder.
“The Tattle Tale Headwall was even open, and that speaks volumes about the state of the snowpack right there because it can take a lot of snow to get covered. A couple more solid storm cycles would push it to that next level for hitting bigger features, but the snowpack is certainly in midwinter form.”
The conditions were certainly nothing in the realm of all-time by Northern Greens standards, but it was great, right-side-up bottomless powder everywhere we went, and even down to the 1,500’ elevation, the base depths are good for just about all the terrain. The Tattle Tale Headwall was even open, and that speaks volumes about the state of the snowpack right there because it can take a lot of snow to get covered. A couple more solid storm cycles would push it to that next level for hitting bigger features, but the snowpack is certainly in midwinter form.
I was too busy yesterday to hit the slopes and check out the new snow from Winter Storm Kassandra, but Dylan was out at Bolton for some runs and said the skiing was excellent. He told me that he and Colin got third tracks down Preacher, which must have been pretty amazing. The snowfall continued right through the day yesterday though, and there was a decent signal for upslope snow on the back side of the storm cycle, so it seemed like today would hold some promise for great turns as well. My drive home from Burlington yesterday evening went from partly cloudy conditions in the Champlain Valley, to gradually increasing snowfall as I pushed farther into the mountains, to a pounding of huge flakes by the time I got home. The roads were snowy, but the visibility was the tougher part of the drive. When I measured the snowfall rate at our house yesterday evening, it was up in the 2 to 3-inch per hour range for a while, so the flakes were building depth quickly. And not surprisingly, those huge flakes were stacking up with impressive loft. When I ran a snow analysis at midnight, the stack density came in at 2.3% H2O. We haven’t really had a lot of upslope snow on the back side of storm cycles this season, but we got some this time, and it suggested good things by morning with respect to the skiing.
This morning I was on my way up to earn some early turns at Wilderness, when I passed by Timberline and realized the timing was right for the Timberline Uphill Route to be open. The snowpack has thus far been thin down at those lower elevations, but Kassandra definitely seemed to push it over the top and I had my first Timberline outing of the season. We had some outstanding powder skiing around here in mid-December, but I think today’s turns might have just edged out that period to set the new bar for the season. The snowpack was surprisingly robust during that December stretch, but the fact that we’ve now had multiple winter storm cycles, multiple inches of liquid equivalent going into the snowpack, and a skiable snowpack that reaches down even to the Timberline elevations, means a lot. The turns today were so very bottomless and effortless with all the new champagne on top, so it was certainly one of the premier days of the season thus far. Bolton is planning to run the Timberline Quad tomorrow for the first time this season, so that’s a sign that we’re really moving into prime time. They’re also planning on some nice additions to celebrate the day like free coffee, and a visit from the El Gato Food Truck, so it should be a fun way to get Timberline rolling for the season.
This morning, Ty, E, and I headed up to Bolton Valley to check out the snow from Winter Storm Oaklee. The boys were both asleep as E and I were just about to leave to get in on some of the fresh powder, and we assumed they were just going to sleep in. Ty just happened to wake up at the right time, and he was excited to join us, so that was fortuitous timing for him!
Having clear skies, comfortable winter temperatures, and about a foot of fresh snow held the potential for some great skiing. Based on my snow density observations down at the house, the storm cycle progressed from denser 8-10% H2O snow into some impressive 2-4% H2O champagne, and indeed what we found out there at Bolton today was some very high quality powder. This was also the first chance for E to try out her new Rossignol Spicy 7 HD skis, and she was very happy with how they felt with today’s conditions.
The denser snow from the front end of the storm cycle wasn’t too evident underfoot actually, so the only major downside of today’s powder skiing was that it wasn’t quite bottomless. Depending on the pitch, you were certainly touching down on the subsurface, but on everything except for the steepest terrain, the powder turns were quite good. On moderate-angle terrain you could typically get by with 80-90% bottomless skiing, and because the powder was just so incredibly dry, you could ride it on lower angle terrain and it skied really well because of such low impedance.
Measurements throughout the morning revealed plenty of 8-12” powder depths, and we just ended up staying down at Timberline for our entire session because there was rarely a lift queue of note. A lot of trails weren’t open simply because the headwalls didn’t have quite enough snow to cover them up fully, but routes were available to traverse below them, and all that terrain was just loaded with quality powder. We generally stayed on piste because there was plenty of powder available there, and it was the better option anyway. Some off piste areas are dicey because of the recent warmth, but the off piste areas that are typically protected from the warmth and are well manicured were in great shape, so we did have some nice turns in those spots.
Storms like this are where one’s knowledge of their local hill really comes into play for putting together a fun session vs. one where you’re constantly dodging rocks and logs, wrecking your skis, or even worse, potentially wrecking yourself. Although we did spend most of our time on piste over the weekend because there was plenty of available powder there, our travels also brought us into some off piste lines that we trusted, and we found great turns in those areas.
From conversations with friends and colleagues who have skied in different spots in the Northern Greens over the past few days, it sounds like with respect to off piste turns, the farther north you go, the better the base gets. These next couple of bread and butter systems that are coming though this week should only help in that regard, and then we’ll have to see if that mixed system that’s farther out there in time can further substantiate the base.
Today was forecast to be the warmer of the two days this weekend, with highs in the 10-15 F range, so E and I headed up to Bolton for some turns. There wasn’t much more than a trace of new snow around here from Winter Storm Kenan, the recent coastal system, but Bolton did pick up an inch or two from a cold front that came through the area on Friday. That was nice to freshen up the snow surfaces a bit, but more notable was the fact that it was the first day of lift-served skiing at Timberline. A bit of touring traffic was all the Timberline area had seen up to that point, so it was pretty much a bonus powder day for that entire section of the resort.
The snow we found on today’s Timberline outing wasn’t quite on par with a fresh powder day, since a lot of the powder had been sitting and settling to a degree, and some exposed areas had taken on a bit of wind crust. Areas that hadn’t seen any wind certainly had 10-12” of dry powder that had been well preserved in the arctic cold. The opening of Timberline also meant that the resort finally had 100% of its lifts running for the first time this season. Bolton put down manmade snow for the main Villager/Timberline Run route, and that surface was fine, but the rest of the trails were running on natural snow and even the packed surfaces were far softer than the manmade route. There are still a few of the steepest wind-scoured spots like the Tattle Tale headwall that will need one more large synoptic-level event to be fully opened.
“There were occasional sticky spots, but in general it was just really nice corn snow that you could slice right through with each carve.”
Since yesterday was fairly gray and we didn’t expect the snow to soften the way it would with plentiful spring sun, we didn’t hit the slopes, and instead took the opportunity to get some things done around the house. After many weeks of such great snow and commitments with the BJAMS ski program, it was really nice to have a break to catch up on other things. I took the opportunity to get a bunch of low voltage media wiring done that I’ve been putting off for months, so it felt great to get that off my plate and get all the wall plates and electronics buttoned up. Today’s weather was a different story though; as the storm system cleared out, it left brilliant blue skies in its wake, and we knew that was likely a recipe for some great spring skiing. Today was also Bolton Valley’s last day of lift operations for the 2013-2014 ski season, so we didn’t want to miss out on that if Mother Nature cooperated. We waited until the afternoon before heading out, as we often do on these days, to let the west-facing terrain of Timberline soak up that sun. The mountains were definitely holding onto some chilly temperatures today though; I was a little worried that the Bolton Valley Weather Station at 2,100’ was still hovering around the 32 F mark at midday, but with sunshine and lower elevations, I was confident that Timberline would be sufficiently softened and ready to go.
“Despite the great snow coverage today, it’s interesting to note that this is the third year in a row that Bolton will be coming in well below average with respect to snowfall.”
From roughly 50 F in the Winooski Valley, we headed up to a temperature around 40 F at the 1,500’ base of Timberline. There were actually a fair number of cars parked in the lots with people taking advantage of the nice weather and final day of lift-served skiing. One thing that we found immediately impressive was the snow coverage. Although Bolton Valley has had quite the low snowfall season, and will be ending their season with just 206 inches of total snow (66% of average), there was impressive coverage with just a few bare spots starting to open up on the low-elevation trails of Timberline. With the use of snowmaking, that isn’t actually too surprising on the trails that get it, but with the way this season went, snow was never even made on Showtime. To have all those low elevation trails in play in April without the aid of snowmaking, really speaks to how well the snow was maintained this past March. The mountain was essentially 100% open, and running all the lifts going into this last day of the season, so it was indeed a nice way to go out.
For our first run, we headed to the Timberline Summit to check out Adam’s Solitude, but we found that ski patrol had already closed it off as they were preparing to shut down the lifts for the season. That left us with the option of Sure Shot, which had some great corn snow. On the lower part of the run, Ty started working on some 180s off available jumps, and seemed to be having a lot of fun landing switch. We found ourselves alternating runs between the Sure Shot option and Twice as Nice, which we also found to have good snow. There were occasional sticky spots, but in general it was just really nice corn snow that you could slice right through with each carve. On one run, Ty left his poles at the base and enjoyed carving low and getting his hands down on the snow. Dylan had a lot of fun playing in the bumps that were forming near the bottom of Timberline Run and top of Twice as Nice, continuing with his pole work and separation of the upper and lower body. In one section of moguls he had a lot of fun making exaggerated movements as he worked on his technique, creating the semblance of a dancing skier. It was classic Dylan.
It was a great day on which to end Bolton’s lift-served season; we caught up with some of those Bolton Valley employees like Cam and Josh that we often see throughout the season, and got to enjoy the weather through a number of sunny rides on the Timberline Quad. We hadn’t headed up to the main mountain at all, but when I asked Josh about how it was up there, he said that it was definitely softer down at Timberline, and that it was the place to be. One interesting topic of conversation on the lift was the ski area that appears in Ty’s dreams. Apparently it’s his own ski area, and all his ski dreams take place there – he regaled us with a detailed lift and trail layout, and I told him that he should make a map because it sounded like a great place.
Despite the great snow coverage today, it’s interesting to note that this is the third year in a row that Bolton will be coming in well below average with respect to snowfall. Fortunately, we didn’t really feel it on the slopes in March, since the temperatures were cold and the snow kept coming, but the deficiencies were definitely there in December and January, and the downside of that type pattern is that snowfall in those months is most critical for building the base. If those earlier months bring decent storms and then it doesn’t snow that much later in the season, at least the base is down, but if it’s not present at the beginning of the season, the natural terrain skiing during that period is simply lost. We’ll have to see what next season brings, but a snowy holiday period like last season would be appreciated. In any event, we’ve still got a lot of this season to go, and the snowpack in the mountains is deep, so we’ll hopefully have more opportunities to get out there and enjoy it.