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Our second big December nor’easter began at around 11:00 P.M. on Saturday night the 15th, and by Sunday morning at 8:00 A.M. we’d picked up 4.1 inches of snow at the house in
Since the timing of the storm had been pretty much locked in for a couple of days by the weather models, I’d been trying to decide when to head out skiing to make the best use of the new snow. Monday morning was an obvious choice in terms of maximal snowfall on the ground, but the winds were predicted to be quite strong after the storm, and I wasn’t sure how many lifts would actually be running on Monday morning. Sometimes at the front end of one of these big storms, you can catch those times when the snow is absolutely dumping, yet even in the mountains, the wind hasn’t kicked in. It’s just so fun to be out there when the winds are minimal, and the snow is coming down so hard that your tracks essentially disappear between each run. Some of the fluffiest turns can be had before the snow has had any chance to settle or get touched by the wind. With the scene occurring at our house that morning (no wind and 2+ inch per hour snowfall), I figured there was at least a shot at getting in on some of that in the form of Sunday turns up at the mountain. It wasn’t quite the scene for Dylan yet, but I figured that Ty and I could head up to
Ty and I blasted down the driveway and along our road through what was roughly 8 inches of new snow at that point, and while I suspected our road would have been plowed by the time we returned, I didn’t think we’d be able to get back up our driveway if the snowfall kept up at the rate it was going. When we got onto Route 2, we found that it had at least been plowed… somewhat. There had been some earlier plowing and there was other traffic from vehicles, but there were still probably 4 to 6 inches of snow on the road outside of where it had been tracked up. I soon realized that the calm conditions we were experiencing in our sheltered neighborhood were the exception, not the rule. The Route 2 plowing had been a little more recent on the Chittenden side of the county line, so the snow on the road was about half of what we’d initially experienced, but the
I cleared the snow from the driveway, and decided that it was the perfect opportunity to skip any more driving and head out into the local backcountry. The snow stake in the yard was reading almost 20 inches, which was the highest it had been up to that point of the season. And, with some consolidated base below the new snow, there was a good shot that the local backcountry skiing would be decent. Mom put Dylan down for a nap, and she and Ty had similar thoughts about enjoying the new snow as they went out on their snowshoes for a tour around the trails on the property.
The heavy snowfall had tapered off significantly at around 11:00 A.M., and in a way that might have been a good thing because the storm carried the threat of some sleet. Sleet can make for some durable base, but it’s not what you want for powder skiing. Sleet stayed away during much of the midday precipitation lull, and we had just light snow until around 1:30 P.M. At that point, I was just departing the house for my tour and a little bit of sleet had finally started to mix in with the light snow. That situation lasted between 15 to 30 minutes, at which point the precipitation changed back to all light snow.
After skinning down our road, I merged onto our local VAST trail, and was a bit disappointed that not a single snowmobile had hit it yet that day. Therefore, I found myself breaking trail through the same 10 inches of new snow that we had at the house. The woods were peaceful, although I was also half listening and hoping for a snowmobile to come along and blaze a path for me. My hopes were realized at around the one mile mark when I hit the big clear cut (~620’) and found that someone had come from the east and ridden their sled onto the trail at that point. I quickly scoped out the clear cut for future turn potential, and while it actually looked decent enough for turns, I’m aware of all the debris that is sitting under that snow from my summer inspections and bike tours, so it would probably be safer with a snowpack of 2 to 3 feet.
I was very happy to have a broken trail from that point on because the route proceeds to rise close to 1,000’ in under a mile. Trying to mountain bike up that section in the summer is exhausting, but when I find sections like that on trails, it usually means there’s enough pitch for decent skiing. I had done some exploration of the potential ski lines out there in the off season, and as I ascended, I got the chance to see how they looked with a decent snowpack on the ground. Some of the lines to the east that I had previously scoped out looked nicely filled in with snow, but with the time I had, I focused mostly on drop off points to the west that would make for a reasonable loop back to the house.
I topped out at the big junction on Woodard Hill Extension (~1,360’) at around 3:00 P.M., and got ready for my descent. While I was transitioning to downhill mode and having a snack, a group of riders on snowmobiles came up the trail I’d just ascended. We exchanged greetings, and they were psyched that I’d ascended the route on foot. I got to listen in on their discussion about how tough it was to get up that trail on the sleds, especially with almost a foot of new snow. One guy had a passenger on his sled (looked like a young adult/teenager) and it had been especially tough for them. Another guy who was bringing up the rear said his arms were totally cooked. Many people aren’t aware of what a workout it can be to ride a snowmobile through tough terrain and deep snow – both for the machine and the rider. Watching the annual snowmobile races at Lost Trail in
The snowmobiles headed off in the direction of Waterbury Reservoir, and after a little more time enjoying the
The sleet had begun to taper off at some point during my descent, and back at the house we got to witness an interesting transition back to snow. Around 4:00 P.M. when I was taking the next snowfall reading off the snowboard, I noticed what looked like huge (half dollar-sized albeit irregularly shaped) snowflakes among the sleet. I caught a few of them and they looked like huge accretions of snowflakes welded together with a bit of ice. Over the next couple of minutes, the sleet disappeared and the huge snowflakes took over. It continued to snow heavily for a while, and transitioned to light/moderate snow that was a mixture of grainy flakes and graupel with some larger flakes. Between 11:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M., the light snow and sleet had only added up to about 0.2 inches of accumulation, but after 4:00 P.M. the second round of the storm came in and we ultimately ended up with 16.5 inches of total snowfall from that event at the house. It was our second largest valley snowfall event of the season up to that point, and the snowpack at the house reached the two-foot mark for the first time since last spring.
Some pictures and data plots from the day can be found at:
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