Bolton Valley, VT 12JAN2008


To head right to the pictures from the day go to:


The week leading up to Saturday, January 12th had seen above average temperatures, with 40 to 50 F readings in the valleys for the first half of the week and no new snowfall.  Finally, as we approached the end of the week, the temperatures fell closer to normal January levels, and we began to get back into some frozen precipitation.  It had actually been only six days since we’d had our last snowfall, but when you’re used to having a storm or at least some minimal amount of snow every couple of days or so, six days can feel like a long time.  We’d accumulated a bit of snow by Friday morning, so I took some observations:


Friday, January 11th, 2008:  6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT.


New Snow:  0.8 inches

Temperature:  32.7 F

Humidity:  95%

Barometer:  30.03 in Hg

Wind:  Calm

Sky:  Light Snow/Sleet

Cumulative storm total:  0.8 inches

Current snow at the stake:  10 inches

Season snowfall total:  98.0 inches


“When I first looked outside this morning right around 5:30 A.M., I saw what looked like ½” – 1” of new snow on the snowboard, and the temperature was 31.3 F.  A quick glance at what was falling from the sky revealed light snow.  I headed off to get ready for work and mentioned to my wife that there was some new snow, so that she could take a look as well.  When I talked to her a little while later, she said that she’d taken a look at the snowboard, but it looked like the precipitation was sleet to her.  Sure enough, when I took observations at 6:00 A.M., the precipitation was sleet with some light snow still mixed in.  The temperature certainly seemed to be rising as well, since it had gone above freezing to 32.7 F.  Around that time we got a call from my wife’s school in Morrisville indicating that they were going to have a two-hour delay due to the conditions.  Shortly after taking my observations, I headed off to catch the bus to Burlington, and noted that the precipitation seemed to be a real mixed bag of sleet, a little snow, and what even appeared to be some plain rain in there.  I don’t believe there was much freezing rain in the mix at that point, as there was none accumulating on the car, and both the house and car thermometers were registering temperatures a bit above freezing.  When I arrived at UVM at around 6:50 A.M., I found what looked to be perhaps a little under ½ inch of new snow and there were a few spits of what appeared to be drizzle in the air.”


The 0.8 inches I recorded was about it in terms of snowfall accumulations in the valley, and by Saturday, things were clearing out.  We didn’t expect the ski conditions to be that great with only minimal new snow, so we planned on a short day of skiing with the boys and headed up to the mountain around 2:00 P.M.  It was easy to get a great parking spot at that point in the day, and even though there wasn’t much in terms of new snow accumulation, it was sunny out and the slopes looked very inviting.  The Timberline Lift wasn’t running, although it didn’t appear to be due to snow coverage issues so there may have been another reason it wasn’t open.  There were actually some bare spots on some of the steeper trails at the resort however.  Most notable were the steep west-facing trails like Spillway and the upper part of Show Off that had shallow base depths because of the way they get hit by strong winds.  One probably could have picked their way down those trails among the exposed rocks, especially along the edge of the trails in the more protected snow, but in general it wouldn’t have been much fun and the mountain had the trails closed anyway.


We headed out from the base lodge and I noticed that the huge kickers in the Chill Zone Terrain Park looked really cool in the afternoon sun.  The snow surface that we encountered was certainly not what we were used to; it was mostly frozen granular snow with just a bit of softening from the sun.  We started off with a run in the Snowflake area, and the groomed surfaces were hard and scratchy to a level that we’d not seen in a long time.  You definitely needed to have edges on your skis, and based on the sound and texture of the snow I knew it was the kind of day that I would have just turned around and gone home if it weren’t for wanting to get the boys some turns.  We also had to stay on the groomed areas, because off trail the surface was just an impenetrable refrozen crust.  The condition of the off piste areas wasn’t immediately apparent just by looking at the snow surface, but Ty quickly discovered their state when he ventured off the side of the trail in his usual manner.  He headed into the trees expecting to sink into the snow, but found himself skittering loudly in the surface.  He looked at me with a “What the heck is going on here?” type of face.  I’m not sure the last time Ty had encountered that type of snow surface, but whenever it was, he didn’t seem to remember it.  I explained that this is what can happen to the slopes if the temperatures get too warm or there is too much rain, and then everything freezes again.  I told him, “It’s why we always want snow in the winter, because if it rains this can happen.”  One fun thing that arose from the conditions, an aspect that I’ve always enjoyed watching when the surface gets glazed, was the way any chunks of hard snow would just go flying smoothly along the porcelain-like surfaces off piste.  Ty and I had fun watching sprays of frozen granular tinkle along the top of the snowpack.  I remember a ski trip to Sunday River in Maine back in the late 80s with I believe Chris, James, and Tom, where we found this type of surface out behind our condominium near the mountain.  I recall crunching our way through it to get back and forth to the recreation center, and sliding slabs of crust across the surface of a huge field out our back door.  I don’t recall the skiing much aside from finding cool intermediate-pitched bumps on the trail known as 3-D, but I do remember playing with that crust.


After discovering the generally hard surfaces in the Snowflake area, we took another ride up the Snowflake Lift and decided to head towards the Mid Mountain lift to check out the condition of that terrain.  Now that we had a sense of the on piste surface conditions, we let Dylan pick his own lines to give him some freedom and see where he wanted to go.  We headed down Sprig O’ Pine and he opted to take the long route around near Cobrass Run and Deer Run.  This was probably a good idea with the slick conditions, as this route is the mellowest and he would have less speed control to worry about.  Now that Dylan was choosing his own line, he decided to head off the side of the trail at times, and he too was initially unfamiliar with the hard surface.  But, he didn’t seem to be too deterred by the conditions and with the freedom to go where he wanted he would try to follow Ty wherever he went – even on occasional forays into the skating rink that existed off the edge of the trail.


We made it down to the Mid Mountain Lift and rode it up.  E and Dylan headed around on the green circle Bear Run/Sprig O’ Pine route, while Ty and I went down Beech Seal.  Knowing the conditions, it was obvious that I’d need to use my edges to get carving on the steeper top section of the run.  I recall thinking that it was only the second time that season that I’d really needed to rely on my edges, but my carving skis (Salomon Pilot Hots) had a fresh tune from the beginning of the season and hadn’t seen much time on the snow so they were very much up to the task.  Not that I’d want to deal with conditions like that too often, but it was actually fun holding a rail on that surface.  Ty also seemed to be carving it up great, although perhaps with a bit more caution than usual due to the more intimidating surface and the loud sounds that our skis made upon it.  It was enough fun that we immediately headed up and did it again, while E brought Dylan into the lodge because he had indicated that he was done skiing.


The carving had been enjoyable enough that we decided to take one more run from the Vista Summit.  Dusk was approaching, and the night skiing lights were coming on to make for a neat scene as we ascended.  To the west, a few rays of light were still coming through clouds near Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to make for quite a dramatic scene.  Up high near the Vista summit, it was clear that some freezing rain had hit at some point, and the off piste was simply horrendous.  I wouldn’t have thought that the surface could have been any worse than what we’d found off piste on the lower mountain, but boy it was.  The crust was thicker, and it somehow seemed meaner than it had been down below.  Even the first major pitch of Sherman’s Pass, which had been groomed, was very icy in the middle.  Fortunately we did find plenty of loose granular off to the edges of the trail that was more fun to ski.  It was obvious why the ski patrol had closed all the steep, ungroomed runs near the summit, as on pitches like that you were just asking for a death slide.  We even found scary conditions on ungroomed intermediate terrain.  On the last pitch of Sherman’s above mid mountain, I was showing Ty the consistency of the surface off to the skier’s left of the groomed terrain.  He approached the slick surface with a good bit of speed, perhaps thinking he would ski on it, and I didn’t have time to tell him to slow down.  He got onto that stuff and I though he was going to end up in a long slide off the trail.  Somehow he managed to arrest himself.  I don’t think he had his ski poles with him, but there’s yet another good reason to have them and I’ll have to teach him that ski pole arrest technique at some point.  Fortunately we got to Beech Seal next and finished off the afternoon with some good carving.


The altimeters recorded 5 runs for the day, with 2,325’ of descent on the Avocet and 2,274’ of descent on the Suunto for a difference of 2.2%.  Although it was certainly a day that I would have avoided myself, I think the boys at least got some good time out on the snow, and some outdoor time and exercise in general.  They also got to experience some really nasty off-piste conditions, which will hopefully add to their skiing knowledge in some way, even if they don’t remember the day directly.


A few pictures from the day can be found at:




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