Bolton Valley, VT 06JAN2008


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Saturday, January 5th, had been a backcountry day for the dads as James and I explored the powder in the Robbins Mountain/Honey Hollow area, so Sunday was the day for a family outing up at Bolton Valley.  When we were out on Saturday, James and I had seen the first hints of an incoming winter storm as high clouds built in and the winds began to pick up.  I recall people being somewhat concerned about the storm being too warm and ruining the powder, but at least from what we experienced on Sunday, it didn’t seem to be too big a deal for the higher elevations.  My records indicate that we accumulated just a tenth of an inch of snow as of 8:30 A.M. down at the house in Waterbury (elevation 495’) but we were still below freezing (31.3 F) there when we headed up to the mountain around mid morning.  Also, there was little change in the snowpack at our back yard stake, with a 21” depth recorded on Saturday morning, and a 20” depth recorded on Sunday morning after a little more settling.


Once we climbed in elevation, we found that there was some sort of inversion in effect, because the air temperature actually rose as we headed up the Bolton Valley Access Road.  It turned out to be 34 F at the elevation of the village (2,150’) when we arrived there a bit before 10:00 A.M.  Then, once you ascended even higher, the temperature dropped again.  I don’t have hard numbers for the temperatures in the higher elevations, but it seemed that the freezing level was right around the mid mountain area (2,500’) and the temperature continued to drop as you ascended from there.  So, it appeared as though there was a temperature sandwich in effect with respect to elevation, with warmer air in the middle elevations surrounded by cooler air in the valleys and near the summits.


We started off the day with a quick run on the Snowflake Lift, and then moved on over to the Wilderness Lift.  We were using the ski leash with Dylan, along with the tip lock to help him keep his skis in control.  Ty was still not at the point of using his poles full time, and since we would be working with Dylan, Ty went without poles for the outing.  We rode all the way to the top of the Wilderness Lift, which I knew would mean helping Dylan out a lot with his speed control on the steeper areas of Peggy’s Dow.  Overall the mountain rates Peggy’s Dow as an intermediate run, but there are certainly a couple pitches there that I’d put into the advanced category, and those were the ones where Dylan would have little ability to control his own speed.  I do recall Ty exhibiting some really nice parallel carving on that first Wilderness run, and made a mental note to shoot some video on the next run, hoping that he would still be in the groove.  In terms of slope conditions when we arrived, we found that it was very nice packed powder on the groomed runs from top to bottom.  However, on the lower mountain where the temperature was above freezing, any unconsolidated snow was starting to get a bit thick.  Off-piste above the 2,500’ foot level, the powder was staying nice and fluffy.  In non-groomed areas that had been packed down by skier traffic through the week, there were a couple of fresh inches of snow to liven up the surfaces (compliments of the storm that had just come through), but there were plenty of areas on the upper mountain that still had bottomless untracked powder.  There hadn’t been any major snowfalls for about a week, so the bulk of the available powder had simply been preserved by the sub zero temperatures that we’d had during the midweek period.  That cold snap may also have helped to convince some skiers to stay off the slopes, potentially reducing traffic to below even the normal weekday levels.


After our top to bottom run on Wilderness, we followed it up with a mid station run.  Ty wanted to go down the steeper center portion of the Wilderness lift line, so I joined him there while E took Dylan around the side on Lower Crossover and Work Road.  I shot a little video of Ty under the lift line, and he didn’t quite have the consistency of parallel form that he’d show on the previous run, but he still had some good carves among some breaks into wedge-style stances.  That first pitch below the Wilderness mid station is more like an advanced than an intermediate pitch, so Ty did a decent job and was willing to let the skis ride a little thanks to the quality of the snow.  I also got some video of Dylan working his way back around to the lift line, as he continued to work on learning to turn.


Dylan was done after that run, so he headed into the lodge with Mom, and Ty and I went to hit some steeper terrain.  We went back to the top of the Wilderness Lift, and opted for terrain on the skier’s left of the area, where Bolton Outlaw and Upper Fanny Hill are located.  Those are two great runs with steep pitch, but without any grooming they are quite impractical for skiing with Dylan.  As we traversed along on Upper Crossover, I looked over to my right at one point and saw a real elevator shaft of a chute dropping away off the side of the trail.  It was very narrow, only about a ski length wide, and coated with a couple inches of fresh snow.  I’d never noticed it before, and I was keen on checking it out because it looked really inviting.  But, it had to be over 30 degrees in pitch, and combined with its narrowness, Ty didn’t even consider it as an option once he looked down it.  If he was older and at the same skill level he probably would have told me I was nuts and there was no way he was going down that.  So, that chute will have to wait for another day, but hopefully Ty will be there at some point.


We made our way along to Fanny Hill, and I convinced Ty that he cold handle the steep Upper Fanny Hill with a little help.  He was somewhat intimidated at first with the steep pitch and irregular terrain, but he soon realized he could manage it.  The snow quality was excellent, and Ty was quickly grooving along through the bumps.  We continued on down to the lower Fanny Hill area, and tried out one of the jug handle options off to the skier’s left, as the center of the trail had seen more traffic that pushed around the new snow.  We then cruised down to the lower mountain, and realized that the temperature, along with the freezing line, must have been rising.  The lower mountain slopes were starting to pick up that wet-packed powder feeling.  One way to describe it would be like a mild version of that surface that often seems to develop on the lower-mountain slopes at Whistler in BC when temperatures are getting above freezing.


We finished off our day at that point, with 4 runs recorded by my altimeters, 2,950’ of descent on the Avocet and 2,930’ of descent on the Suunto for a difference of 0.7%.  The suspected increase in temperature was confirmed as I found that the car thermometer was reading 40 F down in the village.  The interesting sandwich-style temperature profile was still present in the area when we left the mountain as well.  As we descended to the valley, the temperature dropped and it was reading 37 F when we got to the house.  However, at some point in the day, the temperature down there had actually topped out at 40.1 F.  Business seemed to still be going strong at the mountain despite the fact that the holiday period was over, because all the main lots were full and the Timberline lot looked just about full as well when we left at around 12:30 P.M.  The plethora of cars may have been associated with the large groups of students in the teaching programs however, because there weren’t any lift queues that we experienced and the trails were rather quiet while we were there.


Some pictures and video from the day can be found at:




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