Waterbury, VT 16DEC2007


To head right to the pictures and data plots from the day, go to:




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 Waterbury (495’).  The snowfall rate for those 9 hours hadn’t been all that impressive (less than ½ inch per hour), but beyond that point the storm began to really unload.  I’d cleared the snowboard at the 8:00 A.M. reading, and by 10:30 A.M. we’d picked up an additional 5.5 inches, so we were being pummeled for a while there at over 2 inches an hour.  I typically think of the 1 inch per hour range as a reasonably heavy rate of snowfall, so when you jump up above 2 inches per hour - it’s really coming down.  One of the things I really like about our location along the spine of the Green Mountains is that we seem to get in on some of their orographic snowfall enhancement, but, we’re also deep in the Winooski Valley, so we can usually experience heavy snowfall rates with little if any wind.  It’s not a great location if you’re a fan of experiencing the wind that can come with big storms, but it’s great if you enjoy snowfall, and it’s very convenient if you are trying to measure snowfall.


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 Bolton and cash in on the conditions for a couple of hours.  I was suspicious about the possibility that the wind had already moved into the higher elevations, but I checked Bolton’s website and found no indications of wind hold on any of the lifts.  And, it’s only a few miles of driving, so the worst case scenario would be that we’d have to turn around and come home.


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 Bolton flats area featured blizzard-like, whiteout conditions.  We’re talking 30+ MPH winds and “can’t see the edge of the road, can’t even see past the hood of your car at times” kind of conditions.  As short as our drive is to the lifts, it was one of those times that really made you wish you were living slopeside.  The plowing and visibility outside of the flats and up the Bolton Valley access road were much better than we’d experienced at the start of our drive, but the wind continued.  I had hoped to make turns at the Timberline area below the mid station (which I’ve found can be somewhat sheltered from the wind) but the Timberline area was absolutely deserted and the lift stood dead still.  That wasn’t an encouraging sign, but I continued on up to the main base anyway.  Surely at least some lower-mountain lift like Snowflake had to be turning.  But, that wasn’t the case.  There were a few cars moving around when I reached the village, but the scene was akin to what I recon a white hurricane would be like.  Snow was being blasted with tremendous force on a westerly wind, and I could see that the resort wasn’t even making an effort to turn any of the lifts.  I considered checking in with someone at the service desk about a potential opening, but decided it wasn’t looking good if winds were just going to increase.  So, we headed back home.  The return trip turned out to be a much easier drive than the one to the mountain, because Route 2 had seen some additional plowing.  We couldn’t quite get the Subaru all the way up the driveway in what was at that point about 10 inches of snow, but it was safely off the road out of the way of the town plow, and I’d now have time to fire up the snow thrower and clear everything out.


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 Montana gave me a real appreciation of what these guys go through to get up steep grades.  It’s certainly a different sort of workout than hiking or skinning the same terrain, but it’s far from passive.


The snowmobiles headed off in the direction of Waterbury Reservoir, and after a little more time enjoying the high point of my tour, I was off as well.  Just as I was starting down, a heavy sleet storm came through.  It didn’t seem to affect the skiing, but it was a lot louder than the snowfall and gave the forest quite a different feeling.  I retraced my route back down the VAST trail for a short distance, and then turned off to my right to ski some of the open lines that I had seen on the way up.  With the help of my GPS, I was able to shoot right for a spot that would nicely catch a fall line run back to my skin track.  The powder was decent medium-weight stuff in the 10% H2O range, and while there were a few tight spots, in general there were open lines throughout the area from various eras of logging or other activities.  One could probably even ski the area with a slightly shallower snowpack than what was available at the time (since there was a previous consolidated base) but as usual more lines will be available with more snow.  It was kind of neat to be able to ski right back to the house after the tour, even though the last little bit of our road and our driveway require some double poling and skating to finish things off.  It wasn’t worth putting the skins back on though.  The total descent recorded by the Avocet was 1,135’, and the descent recorded by the Suunto was 1,125’ for a difference of 0.9%.


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:








Make distant family not so distant with Windows Vista® + Windows Live™. Start now! - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SkiVt-L is brought to you by the University of Vermont.

To unsubscribe, visit http://list.uvm.edu/archives/skivt-l.html