A couple of pictures from the day are embedded in this message, and also available at:
March 2008 had really come in like a lion in our area. Back to back storms at the end of February and the beginning of March dropped a combined 18 inches of snow at our location in Waterbury (elevation 495’) and feet of snow in the mountains over the course of a few days. However, after that initial burst the snowfall slowed down quite a bit for the valley, and my records show just four small snowfall events totaling 5.7 inches of accumulation through the middle of the month. Our snowfall for the season at the house did manage to pass the 180-inch mark during that stretch however. The ski conditions in the local mountains hadn’t been all that powdery with the lack of major snowstorms, but they were starting to get back to a more typical mid winter state as one of the small Alberta clipper-type events earlier in the week had brought them about 6 inches of fresh powder. In line with that event, Scott Braaten sent in a SkiVT-L report and pictures on Wednesday the 12th that saw things looking quite decent at Stowe after the boost from Mother Nature. A fifth small snowfall event began on the night of Friday the 14th. Although the accumulations with the event were expected to be minimal for the northern valleys, I did find a small amount of new snow on my back yard snowboard Saturday morning so I went ahead and collected my usual weather data:
Saturday, March 15th, 2008: 6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT
New Snow: 0.6 inches
Liquid Equivalent: 0.09 inches
Ratio: 6.7 to 1
Snow Density: 15.0% H2O
Temperature: 32.9 F
Barometer: 29.85 in Hg
Sky: Light Snow
Cumulative storm snow total: 0.6 inches
Cumulative storm liquid total: 0.09 inches
Current snow at the stake: 25 inches
Season snowfall total: 184.7 inches
“There was no snow falling yet when I last checked at around 11:00 P.M. yesterday, but I woke up to 0.6 inches on the snowboard and light snow coming down. The snow is definitely wet compared to the two events from earlier this week, since down here in the valley we’re sitting right around the freezing mark. As for the higher elevations in the state, a few Vermont ski areas have come in with their morning reports. Stowe reported an inch, it looks like a couple of inches in the Mad River/Sugarbush area, and Stratton has reported 4 new inches. So as expected there appears to be a gradual increase in accumulations as one heads to the south.”
Our friends Dave and Lori were planning to come up for a ski trip using the new season’s passes they’d picked up on their last Bolton Valley outing, and they were especially excited to get out in the elements and test the new ski wear they’d just purchased. In the previous week they had acquired some Arc’teryx Sidewinder ski jackets at a ridiculous half off sale down in the Boston area. I had yet to see the Sidewinder Jackets, but I expected they’d be built to the usual rigorous Arc’teryx standards. I’ve been very impressed with Arc’teryx stuff ever since our friend Ben worked for the company years ago, and now that I own some of their clothing I have a hard time buying anything else. Arc’teryx always seems to have thought of the nuances in clothing that you don’t even necessarily know are going to matter – until they do. The only downside is that the features work so well, you never even get to appreciate what might have been a nuisance unless you’ve previously experienced it in another article of clothing. Lori also picked up a new pair of ski pants. I think since she was going to be doing a lot more skiing now that she had a season’s pass, it was important to have her own gear that fit and performed well.
E had headed down to Massachusetts with the boys for part of the weekend to catch her nephew’s science fair presentation, so I would be hosting our guests solo. Dave and Lori were driving up from Boston that morning, and would meet me at the resort later on, so I headed up to the slopes alone to get an early start. With a little new snow at the house, I figured there was at least a chance for some powder on the mountain and decided that the sooner I got up there the better. The temperature that had been near the freezing mark at the 6:00 A.M. snowboard clearing had risen to 35 F by the time I left the house at around 8:00 A.M., and the light snow that had been falling had switched over to light rain. The rain continued through the valley, and the temperature was fluctuating in the 35 to 36 F range up to the bottom of the Bolton Valley access road (340’). The precipitation stayed as rain on the access road until I hit the big S-curve (~1,300’) below the Timberline area, at which point it switched over to light snow. My plan had already been to head up to the village to catch the early lift, but with the snowline so close to the Timberline base (1,550’) it seemed like the obvious choice. Up at the village elevation (~2,150’) it was snowing lightly and the temperature was just above freezing. I found about an inch of new snow in the village, which was really just a touch more than we’d received in the valley.
I was out on the slopes by about 8:30 A.M., and the mountain was still deserted. I rode the Vista Quad, and the inch of new snow accumulation at the base turned into a couple up at the Vista Summit (3,150’). It was certainly well below freezing up at the Vista Summit, and there was a bit of wind too. The new snow had stuck to the trees and created a beautiful world of white, but I was skeptical about how much a couple of inches of snow could do to enhance the snow surface. However, as I took my first turn in the powder off to the left of Sherman’s Pass, I was rewarded with quiet, floaty gliding on my Telemark skis. I did touch down a bit on some subsequent turns, but it was a good start; the snow had certainly blown in there to more than a couple inches. The latest inch or two of snow was denser than the stuff from earlier in the week, so it probably helped to substantiate the new accumulations.
I followed Sherman’s Pass in the direction of the Wilderness Lift, and then cut up onto Upper Crossover to set up for some tree lines below. I was interested in checking the depth of the powder in that area, since it would be a good indication of what we’d have to work with in the trees for the day. I dropped into the trees and found plenty of powder over the old base. I probed the snow depth several times, and consistently found 6 to 7 inches of unconsolidated snow, which was plenty to keep me floating on that pitch. The only issue was that some of the lines in there were clogged, as many trees were bent down with ice from an ice storm earlier in the month. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of permanent ice storm damage at the resort. Some trees were bent over in the higher elevations, but I only saw a few broken trees or large branches down.
I continued on over to the Wilderness lift area, where conditions were quite good. There was the inch or two of new snow on the groomed surfaces, and as it was dense enough I was able to float quite a bit even there. I’d say I still touched down to the subsurface more than half the time though. Off to the skier’s left side of the Wilderness Lift Line and Lower Turnpike, I found the same 6+ inches of powder that I had observed up in the woods earlier, and I was easily floating those turns. But, off to the skier’s right side off those trails, the same snow was not bottomless. I don’t think it was wind, but sun, that had altered the snow on that side of the trails. The skier’s right of the Wilderness Lift Line and Turnpike trails marks their north side which is exposed to the sun, while the skier’s left side is protected from the sun. So, the far right of those trails only had the latest inch or two of powder. I quickly found that I was touching down there and focused on the left sides of the trails, which probably produced some of the best turns throughout the morning. At that point in the day, the only other person I saw in the entirety of the Wilderness area was a patroller checking things out, so the powder was pretty much unlimited. The patroller let me know that Wilderness wasn’t running yet, so I’d have to wait until about 9:00 A.M. to load there.
With that in mind I headed back up the Vista Quad and took a similar route to check on the Wilderness Lift status again. I noticed some people riding the Wilderness Lift on that run, but I found that they still weren’t loading so I must have seen some mountain employees. The conditions were still very much in mid winter form. It had been snowing lightly on and off for our first hour or so up on the mountain, and although it hadn’t added much new snow, the clouds and snow probably helped to keep sun from getting through and warning the air temperature much above freezing. I switched things up after that with a run on the Mid Mountain Chair and had a nice trip through the glades, and after another Vista run over to the Wilderness area, I found that the Wilderness Lift was finally loading. Since I was one of the very first people to head up Wilderness for the day, I managed to get in on what fresh snow there was. Even with only a couple new inches on the groomed surfaces, I enjoyed some nice turns in the upper elevations of Peggy Dow’s. It was fun traveling among all the snow-covered trees coated from the most recent snowfall. I found more nice turns on Turnpike, and at the base decided that it was time to get a snack so I walked over to the base lodge.
Conveniently, Dave and Lori showed up while I was in the lodge, so they joined up with me as we headed back outside and did another Vista to Wilderness run like I had done earlier. We focused on the Wilderness Lift Line in the lower elevations that time around, and worked our way down to load the Wilderness Lift for the next run. From the Wilderness summit we checked out the Peggy Dow’s and Turnpike combination. I noticed that a big new sign had been installed near the entrance to Heavenly Highway, so I slid over to check it out. It was a white sign with red capital letters reading ATTENTION: YOU ARE LEAVING THE ALPINE TRAILS AND ENTERING THE NORDIC TRAILS. NORDIC PASS REQUIRED. USE WITHOUT A PASS IS PUNISHABLE BY FINES. –bv nordic center. It seemed that the mountain was trying to crack down on all the skiers and snowboarders from the alpine trails that were riding or passing through the Nordic trails without the appropriate passes. Since the resort conveniently offers a combination alpine/Nordic season’s pass for only a modest increase in price over a full alpine pass, that seems like the obvious way to go for local alpine skiers that want to use any of the Nordic network. Lower down on that run, Lori had a pretty good crash into an icy tree on Turnpike resulting in a thumb injury. Fortunately, it wasn’t too serious, so I was able to introduce her to the expanse of trees that Ty enjoys between the Wildness Lift Line and Lower Turnpike and she enjoyed that.
During those first couple of runs with Lori and Dave, I’d noticed that the consistency of the snow surfaces was starting to change from what I had encountered earlier in the morning. The issue with the powder wasn’t so much due to people (although the skier traffic certainly started to cut up the new stuff) but Mother Nature. During the first couple of hours, I noticed that the powder was getting thick only at the village/base area elevation, but after about 10:30 A.M., the freezing line gradually began to creep up the mountain and the powder (as well as the snow on the groomed surfaces) was getting heavier. Dave and Lori had arrived right about the time that the freezing line started to rise, and on our first run together I’d say the freezing level had hit about 2,500’ to 2,600’. I could feel the exact point at which the snow was changing over as we descended on Old Turnpike on our second run together – it was right below where Cougar dumps in, and I can recall commenting on that fact to Dave.
We decided to catch some runs on a lift that we could all ride together, so after a bathroom break and quick trip up the Snowflake Lift, we took the easy roundabout loop along Sprig O’ Pine and loaded up on the Vista Quad. For a change of pace we tried out Alta Vista for our descent from the Vista summit, which had seen enough traffic to expose a lot of the firm, windswept surface below the new snow. Below that we worked our way down into the Fanny Hill area and found more firm snow in the main area with the jug handle-style chute. Traffic had really seemed to take its toll on the conditions compared to what I’d experienced earlier in the day, so I decided we’d hit some less-traveled areas. We took Sherman’s Pass all the way back around until it looped under the Vista Quad for the second time, then stayed hard left to get over into the unused terrain in the Deer Run area. It was only blue/green terrain, but the snow was far better than what we’d encountered in those high-traffic areas on the previous run.
We next opted to give Cobrass a shot, and along the way I decided to check on how the snow conditions were faring at the summit elevations by that point in the day. I re-checked the depth and consistency of the powder in the small field to the east of the Vista Summit patrol house, and that spot had 7 to 8 inches of snow atop the old base. It was just about losing its fluff at that point so it must have been right around freezing. On Cobrass, we found that the windswept upper section of steep terrain was very icy. The combination of steep pitch and firm surface gave Lori a lot of trouble, and at one point she fell off to the right side of the trail and aggravated a shoulder injury that she had. We continued on down through to Cobrass Run, where the snow improved a lot, but the combination of traffic and warming temperatures meant that the surface just wasn’t up to what I’d found in the morning. The drop in snow quality had me ready to head home, and with Lori aggravating her shoulder, we were all ready to leave.
I was pretty satiated in terms of skiing for the day though, as I’d put in a decent morning. The altimeters had recorded 11 runs with 9,865’ of descent on the Avocet, and 9,682’ on the Suunto for a difference of 1.9%. The morning was an interesting combination of winter conditions followed by early spring conditions, and my favorite turns of the day were certainly those first couple of morning runs. I was glad I’d headed out early to catch those because that was definitely when you wanted to be there if you were looking for your powder fix. I’m not sure if the Vista Summit got too much above freezing before we left (~1:00 P.M.) as the advance of the freezing level seemed to slow towards the lift summits, but the 32 F line was certainly right around that elevation based on the consistency of the powder I’d checked out on our last run. I never saw any corn snow before we left, although perhaps the Timberline elevations were low enough to start going that route. In terms of skier traffic, it appeared to start having an impact on some of the trails after about 11:00 A.M. Most of the stuff we skied still held some of the couple inches of powder (albeit somewhat dense as the day wore on) throughout the morning, but those runs on steeper, upper elevation trails like Alta Vista revealed that their windswept bases just didn’t have the staying power to hold up to the day’s traffic. You really had to ski the sides of those trails if you wanted good snow, but they seemed to be the exception for what we skied. On the lower mountain, the warming through the day appeared to keep some of the higher traffic areas soft that might otherwise have become slick. But with that warming, the lower mountain was likely to be quite firm when the temperatures dropped, so new snow would be needed if they were going to return to mid winter form.
Pictures from the day are also available at:
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