My cousin Steve owns a sugarhouse in Barton, Vermont, and each spring he has an open house in conjunction with a state-wide event held by the Vermont Maple Sugar Maker’s Association. Steve’s 2007 open house took place on March 24th, and it was our first opportunity to attend since returning from Montana. We had quite a classic spring day for the 2007 event, with the prime combination of sunny, warm spring days and cold nights leading up to the open house that saw the sap running at a tremendous rate. Steve’s got thousands of taps, and I couldn’t believe the torrent of sap that the vacuum system was pulling into the sugarhouse that day. Imagine a flow equivalent to several household bathtub faucets running full tilt, and then think of collecting that all day long.
This year, the event was taking place on Saturday afternoon, March 29th, and it didn’t look like we’d have quite the same sort of spring conditions that we’d seen in 2007. Mother Nature appeared to be more than happy to stay in winter mode. A moderate winter storm had come through Vermont that Friday, delivering 4.2 inches of snow to our location in Waterbury (elevation 495’), about a half foot of snow to our local mountains, and nearly a foot to some of the more southern Vermont ski resorts that were closer to the heart of the event. I had headed up to Bolton Valley on Friday morning for a few turns as the storm was making its way through, and since we picked up a bit of additional snow on Friday night, Ty and I paid the mountain a short visit on Saturday morning to get in on the fresh snow before heading to Barton. Despite the calendar saying it was almost April, we’d encountered mid winter conditions up on the mountain, with very dry powder, temperatures in the teens F, and substantial winds near the mountain summits. We had a chilly couple of runs for the end of March, but we found some great skiing.
After getting back down to the house, we packed up, waited for some family and friends to arrive, and then headed off to Barton caravan style. Barton is up in Orleans County of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a couple towns to the southeast of the Jay Peak area, and off to the east of the Lowell Mountains. Even from Waterbury, it’s well beyond an hour of driving, since the mountains necessitate a somewhat circuitous route. Last year we used MapQuest to find a more direct route on back roads, and after being confronted with roads that didn’t even seem to be open because of winter snow closures, we ended up having to head north and use one of the more typical routes anyway. This time, we knew it was best to just stick to the standard route, especially with the way the snow had been flying so far in the spring. On our drive we headed along Route 2 through Waterbury, Montpelier, Plainfield, and Marshfield, where we found temperatures in the mid 20s F. However, as we rose toward the 2,000’ elevation mark, the temperature really dropped. We passed through the Danville area around noontime and the temperature was only 18 F! That section of the drive also had some of the most impressive snow depths that we encountered on our journey, with a consistent snowpack of several feet throughout the area. As we passed by Joe’s Pond (1,562’) we could see that it was frozen solid with what looked like a deep layer of snow on top. We wondered just how long the pond would take to thaw, and laughed about what the people competing in the annual Joe’s Pond Ice Out were thinking this year in terms of choosing their dates. As we descended back down towards I-91 and the Passumpsic/Connecticut River Valley areas, the temperature rose back up to a pleasant 25 F, but a northerly wind was keeping it cool even in the bright sunshine. We stopped briefly in the Lyndonville area for a bathroom break, and I got out to inspect an area of snow that was getting hit by the sun. You could really see how the snow was in the midst of a battle. The snow wanted to stay frozen because the temperatures were well below freezing and the north wind was brushing away the heat, but the strong solar energy wanted to try to cook it. The effect was that the new snow on the top of the snowpack appeared to be ending up somewhere between dry powder and corn snow.
In the early afternoon we arrived at Steve’s sugarbush, which is on about 130 acres on the east side of Burton Hill (1,565’) near the intersection of the Barton, Glover, Irasburg, and Albany town lines. The land around the sugarhouse starts at around 1,300’, and rises as you head north and west up into the sugarbush. Off to the east there are open fields that contain decent pitch for skiing, as well as access to snowmobile trails. Steve had contacted me earlier and told me that his snowpack was quite deep, with several feet of snow on the ground, so I was definitely bringing my Telemark skis to go for a tour and make some turns.
For the first part of the afternoon we got to partake in all the fun stuff like eating loads of maple-themed food, downing warm maple syrup shots, eating sugar on snow from the snow trough, and just generally having fun with the family and friends that were there. Outside, Steve usually has snowmobile rides going on, a bonfire, and a large collection of snowshoes available so people can take hikes and explore the sugarbush. One of the biggest hits with the kids (and many adults as well) seems to be the sledding, which takes place on the bottom slopes of the sugarbush. It wasn’t too long before most of our group found ourselves over there taking runs.
While Erica, James, Kim, and the kids were on the sledding hill, I decided it would be a good time to pull out the Telemark skis and go for a little tour around the area. I headed up into the sugarbush first, and thanks to Friday’s snowfall I found that off-trail areas generally held several inches of fresh snow akin to what we’d received in Waterbury. I don’t think the temperatures ever got out of the 20s F even during the height of the day, so in many spots the powder was still light and dry. However, the late March sun was strong, so some of the most sun-exposed areas were transitioning to partially spring snow. I skinned up Steve’s main trail in the sugarbush, which was nicely groomed from a combination of snowmobile and four-wheeler traffic. As Steve had mentioned earlier, the deep snowpack necessitated ducking way down to get under some of the sap lines. Most of the main trail was clear of lines, but there were still those big black ones that spanned the trail and connected various sections of the flow. I continued to meander on up the trail, and encountered a couple other groups of people out touring on snowshoes, as well as one of the sugarhouse guys out on a four wheeler. After I’d toured upward for about a half hour, I stopped at one of the closer high spots in the sugarbush (~1,560’) and decided that I should head back down to join the others.
I ripped off my skins and started my descent. The terrain in Steve’s sugarbush is generally rolling, but there are plenty of nice downhill sections for turns. Underbrush was generally not a problem since it’s a sugarbush, and there was a nice deep snowpack. However, the deep base of snow did limit line choice somewhat because I didn’t want to mess up any of Steve’s sap lines and thus had to avoid certain areas. The snow was the mix of winter and spring snow that I mentioned above, so the skiing was tricky at times, but very nice in most areas where the subsurface was smooth. Back down near the sledding hill I got into more open terrain that had seen additional sun, so I found snow more on the spring side; the powder had consolidated into a couple of more dense inches on top the base which was still fun and not too sticky for turns. I stopped in to check on how the sledding was going and took the opportunity to shoot some pictures of the mayhem. The boys got into a couple of nice crashes so I had fun getting shots of that.
After hanging out for a while with everyone at the sledding hill, I decided that I had time for a little more skiing, so I headed off just to the east of Steve’s property to check out some open terrain in the fields. From the snowmobile trails up near the top of the fields, slopes dropped down to the south. I didn’t even bother to put my skins on, and just herring-boned up to catch a nice gentle line along the edge of the field. Despite the sun, I was amazed the find that somehow that snow was still rather wintry and the turns were fantastic. I looked longingly off farther to the east at some of the much longer lines in the field, but they’d have to wait until next time as we would have to get going soon. My Suunto altimeter had recorded 331’ of vertical descent during my tour, and I think I had turned on my Avocet altimeter as well, but I must have written down the descent data and misplaced it because I don’t have the number handy.
Before leaving, we bought some syrup gallons from Steve, and James got to tour the facility. I’d had a tour at the previous open house, but it was good to have another because with all the reverse osmosis stuff, transport piping, storage tanks, etc. I still don’t have it all straight. I do know that the end result tastes great though. With the weather being sub-freezing cold, the sap wasn’t really running for the open house, but it had been running earlier in the week and Steve had some sap in his storage tanks. This year’s syrup crop apparently came out with a lot of fancy-grade, which has a delicate taste that I really enjoy. It’s fun to think of Steve and all his hard work every time we pour out his syrup.
On our way back to Waterbury in the evening we still had a lot of light because daylight savings had switched over at its new earlier time of the second Sunday in March. The combination of cold temperatures and late sunset was just too weird, as it felt way too cold for how late the sun was going down. But, the northerly wind was beating out the solar energy. We got to enjoy some nice views on the way home at least, whereas we might have been in dim light with the old daylight savings time setup. We caught some cool views of the White Mountains from the Danville area, and I snapped some photos of a subdued Joe’s Pond covered with a deep winter blanket. It was interesting weather, but with that cold Saturday I think many people, even up in snow country, were getting sick of all the snow and cold that we’d had for so long. Folks who were hankering for spring to get going must have really been jonesing at that point. But, there would be plenty of months to enjoy the warmth.
Pictures and data plots from the day are also available at:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - SkiVt-L is brought to you by the University of Vermont.
To unsubscribe, visit http://list.uvm.edu/archives/skivt-l.html