Waterbury, VT 16FEB2008
Pictures and data plots are embedded in the text of this report, and also available along with video at the following link:
In the middle of February, Mother Nature took a couple of days off after our Feb 9 & 10 weekend storm before coming back with another decent storm for the midweek. The snowfall started up on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning we’d accumulated a few inches of snow so I took my first observations and made some comments:
As noted above in my comments, that first round of snow pushed us past the 150-inch mark for seasonal snowfall accumulation at the house. During 2006-2007, we hadn’t reached that mark until the tail end of season, and the total 2006-2007 snowfall ended up at just 153.4 when all was said and done. It was obvious that 2007-2008 was going to best that mark, especially since the midweek storm wasn’t over quite yet. We picked up additional accumulation during the day on Wednesday, and I recorded it in my observations that evening:
So as of that evening we’d already tied our snowfall accumulation total from the winter of 2006-2007, and we were in uncharted territory beyond that point. We picked up less than an inch of additional snowfall overnight, putting us at 6.1 inches of snow for that event and bringing us to exactly 40 inches of accumulation for the month… and the month was only half over! In addition to the bit of snowfall, it appeared as though some black ice had formed on the highway based on the pair of jackknifed trucks I saw on the trip into Burlington on Thursday morning:
Below are pictures of the snow-producing cloud bank on the Green Mountains as seen from Burlington on Thursday morning, February 14th.
With consistently cold temperatures for most of the period, all our new snow from the recent storms just continued to pile up and sit there with only modest consolidation. There had been a little sleet in the midweek storm, but it seemed to disappear into the rest of the snowpack, and we hadn’t seen liquid precipitation of any sort. On Friday, the valley temperatures warmed to create a bit of sun crust on the snow, but that seemed to be restricted to only the lowest of elevations, and as a bonus, one more small snowfall event came through on Friday night. That event dropped an inch or two in the valley, and we were hoping it set down even a bit more at elevation to put the icing on the cake in terms of the local powder skiing. By Saturday morning the snowpack at our back yard stake (495’) stood at 30 inches, with some places in the yard surpassing three feet of depth. In the higher elevations, the Mt. Mansfield stake (~3,700’) indicated that the snowpack there had reached 86 inches.
The weekend of February 16th was President’s Day weekend, which of course typically means an increase in ski resort visitors. Saturday was expected to be clear and cool, and combined with the extra visitors and no big storm for the weekend, it was clear that the backcountry was going to be one of the best options for powder. I’d been waiting for the right day to introduce some of the guys to our local backcountry skiing options up behind the house, and by chance the stars aligned for James and Chris to come over to our place on Saturday.
James and Chris arrived in the morning, and after some time gearing up, eating, and just generally hanging out, we got going at a leisurely 10:00 A.M. or so. The temperature was about 15 F as we started our tour, with the high for the day predicted to be around 20 F. Despite the previous night’s snow, the weather had cleared out to perfectly blue skies just as predicted. Even before we merged onto our local V.A.S.T. trail, we knew it was going to be a big day for snowmobile spotting. We could hear them around in the area, and one could imagine that just like us, it would be hard for the guys with sleds to resist being out on such a gorgeous midwinter day with a healthy snowpack. We decided that we’d try to count the number of snowmobiles we saw throughout the day, to get a real sense of just how many were out and about in the area.
We skinned along the edge of our road and soon we were onto the V.A.S.T. 100 trail heading north. As we passed the big clear cut (620’) I could see that it looked like it could offer up some decent skiing with such a good low-elevation snowpack, but we had goals in the higher elevations for this tour. As we got into the meat of our ascent above the clear cut, it wasn’t long before James started spotting deer, even if Chris and I didn’t quite get to catch more than glimpses of them ourselves. The nicely-groomed V.A.S.T. trail made for quick travel, and James was often on point monitoring the movements of the deer as our presence pushed them around. In a couple of spots we found some curious footprints. They appeared to be human footprints, or in this case deep post-holes, but their placement was strange. Whoever made them didn’t use the obvious V.A.S.T. trail with its nicely packed snow, but instead walked right across the trail and didn’t appear to have any rhyme or reason in their direction. We wondered who in the world would be traipsing around in these woods, off trail, without any snowshoes or skis. Since the footprints were so deep in the snowpack, it was actually hard to see far enough down to really analyze them, but once we did our best to inspect them more closely, we quickly realized that they were made by moose, not man. That revelation made a lot more sense, although that sort of travel has still got to require plenty of energy, regardless of who’s putting it out; we were up above 1,000’ in elevation at that point, and the snowpack was in the range of 3 to 4 feet deep. I’m not even sure if any of the crusty supportive layers from numerous prior storms would be much help for the relatively small contact area that moose have to walk with.
Upon reaching the junction with Woodard Hill Extension (~1,450’) we took a quick break and I let the guys know that we’d completed a good chunk of the ascent. Snowmobile traffic hadn’t been too heavy up to that point, although a couple groups had passed us going up the big V.A.S.T. 100 hill. We’d had plenty of time to hear them and make sure that we were off to the side of the trail. Another group arrived while we were at the top, and it was interesting to again hear the comments about the ascent from the guys on sleds. From the clear cut area up to the junction with Woodard Hill Extension is a climb of about 1,000 vertical feet in roughly a mile, so the average grade is getting up into the range of 15 to 20%. It’s pleasant skinning terrain, but no doubt a workout for some sleds and their riders who tackle the whole thing in the span of just a few minutes.
We were soon on our way again, traveling westward along the level ground of Woodard Hill Extension. We were at a major crossroads of V.A.S.T. trails and we saw several more sleds. To get to the glades we planned to visit, I generally use an access road to one of the local camps to make things easy. However, on this occasion the camp appeared to be having a big gathering of riders with all their sleds right outside on the access road, so we skirted around the scene to avoid skinning right through their party. I’ve actually met some of the owners of that camp in the summer while biking, and they were pretty cool with me using their access road, but as they have a sign specifically alerting people that their road is private and not the actual V.A.S.T. trail, I suspect the might see enough traffic from people taking wrong turns. So, we set our skin track up around the camp to avoid any unnecessary intrusion. James did manage to get a count of all the sleds at the camp and add it to our growing total, which was already up to around 40.
Our skin track brought us through some nice hardwoods and a beautiful section of evergreens, and soon we were ascending the final trail along the east side of the glades. The powder was looking good, and it had easily passed a half foot of depth by the time we hit the top of our ascent at an elevation of ~1,740’. We relaxed, ate a bit, scoped out some lines, and just generally enjoyed the scene before making our descent. I’d been up to the glades earlier in the winter with visits back in December and January, but in mid February the snowpack certainly looked to be the highest I’d seen it for the season. I wouldn’t say that the deeper snowpack opened up too many additional lines in that specific area of glades, since the undergrowth there is fairly minimal to begin with, but the skiing looked good and some extra snow never hurts.
We started descending from our spot to the north of the main section of glades, and then we moved off to the western side of the area to hit some steeper terrain. The base depths in the 3 to 4-foot range were actually more than sufficient for even the steeper terrain, and the 8 to 12 inches of fluffy powder topping everything off made for some sublime turns. After a few pictures and some video in the area, we’d dropped the 400’ of vertical down to where the fall line intersects with Woodard Hill Extension (~1,330’). At that point we had to make a decision. We could either head back eastward on Woodard Hill Extension and check out some of the more familiar terrain near the V.A.S.T 100 trail… or we could try something different. The terrain directly below us looked rather promising, but I’d not explored it previously and I didn’t know quite where it ended up. I’d always been by myself on previous outings in the area and hadn’t had the time to get too sidetracked, bottomed out, cliffed out, or just downright lost in the woods. Today however, we had a group of three, and some additional exploration was a more practical option. We decided to go for it, with the added bonus that if the terrain was good, it was going to make an easy extension of the glades above and provide a continuous run in the range of 1,200+ vertical feet.
Just before continuing on, we saw a snowmobile heading eastward on Woodard Hill Extension, and James noted that it was our 42nd snowmobile sighting of the day. I didn’t actually remember where we were in our count right then, but we caught James talking about it in one of the few video clips we captured. We slid across Woodard Hill Extension and followed some mellow terrain that had just enough pitch to keep us going in the powder. At around the 1,200’ elevation mark we came across yet another camp, the fourth one that I was aware of in the area, and a new one to me. It looked to be buttoned up for the winter, and it had a staircase on hinges that could be lifted up off the ground. I wasn’t sure if it was to keep out critters, people, or was just to accommodate deep snow, but it was an interesting feature.
Passing the camp, the terrain remained as mellow hardwoods for a bit longer, then we broke out into an open area before the terrain fell away into a steep gully. From above we could see that the gully had a mix of hardwoods and evergreens near its entrance, but the evergreens seemed to take over in its shadowy depths. The area looked really inviting all around in terms of skiing, but we decided that we would play it safe and stay on the east side of the gully to ensure we’d end up reasonably close to my house in the end. I knew our general location thanks to my GPS, but I didn’t know if it would be a hassle to get back across the gully lower down, and we could always explore the west side of the gully on our next trip when we really knew the lay of the land. We caught some really nice steep and deep turns in the gully, and the substantial midwinter snowpack continued to be plentiful even as we passed below the 1,000’ elevation mark. James noted that many of the evergreens in the gully were Hemlock trees, so we dubbed the location Hemlock Gully. For some reason the terrain reminded me a lot of the glade trail “In The Spirit” at Blackcomb in British Columbia, perhaps because of the layout of the evergreens. In contrast though, I’d say that Hemlock Gully is steeper than my recollections of “In The Spirit”, which is actually marked as an advanced run on Blackcomb’s trail map, although perhaps that’s because of its trees more than its pitch. One great asset of Hemlock Gully though, is that it doesn’t require me to take a plane ride to get there, or even a car ride for that matter ;).
At around the 600’ elevation mark I could see where we were going to end up. We were coming down between two of my neighbor’s houses on the other side of Route 2. We were quickly returning to civilization at the point and our tour would be ending, but it was reassuring to know exactly where we were. One of my neighbors was out on his deck enjoying the beautiful day, and seemed to be somewhat surprised to see the three of us coming down out of the woods on skis. Hemlock Gully ended with a large culvert/bridge that ran under the road to the local houses, and since the road was snow packed and steep we used it for our final short descent to Route 2. From there it was a few minutes of sliding and shuffling back to the house. Apparently we saw several more snowmobiles in the area of the Winooski River snowmobile bridge because we wound up seeing more than 50 of them on the day according to my notes. As we finished our tour on my road, James commented on the big power line on the other side of the Winooski Valley that he’d been eyeing for turns. The line is generally north/northwest facing, and seems to hold onto snow quite well throughout the winter and spring from what I’ve seen, so it’s definitely on the list for exploration.
The temperature had risen to about 20 F when we finished the tour, so it had remained pleasantly cool for ski touring and the snow has stayed pristine even with the abundant sunshine. Later that afternoon, James’ family came over for dinner in what seems to be becoming a tradition after our backcountry ski days. We had Chinese take out with the kids, recounted our adventure, and reviewed our pictures and video. It had been quite a day, but the discovery of Hemlock Gully and the knowledge of how much addition terrain there was in the area to be explored already had me anxious for our next outing.
In a rare occurrence, both my Avocet and Suunto altimeters recorded exactly the same vertical descent for the tour: 1,480’. The final steep descent in the gully was really an added bonus on top of the hardwood glades, but it makes for a very efficient descent back to the house, and we hope to explore it further next time around. There’s also a lot more terrain than needs to be explored above the start point we used. The total continuous descent down to Route 2 with the addition of the gully stands at about 1,200’ for the tour we did, but some initial exploration of other routes down from a local peak (1,970’) in the area indicates that a ~1,500’ descent wouldn’t be too difficult. Above that, another of our local peaks (~2,800’) east of Woodward Mountain looks to be the pinnacle of continuous descents with reasonable pitch, and that descent would be around 2,200’ – 2,300’. Descending continuously from Woodward Mountain (~3,100’) itself looks “theoretically” possible, but the grade would just be too gradual. I think a Bolton Valley lift-assisted tour down from the Woodward Mountain area will ultimately be quite feasible, even though it would probably require a small bit of ascending to make it fun. The distance down to the house from Woodward Mountain is only 3 to 4 miles, but making that connection will require more exploration to see if a decent route could be established. It’s certainly a good activity for the off season.
The pictures, data plots, and video from the day are also available on the following page:
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