Stowe, VT 30OCT2008
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October generally brings some snow to our local mountains, and occasionally the snow even makes it down to the valleys for an early season taste of what’s to come. Most of the time there’s also some October skiing to be done, but you never know quite what you’re going to get; it may be a couple feet of powder or perhaps just a few inches in the higher elevations to provide some skimming for the junkboarders. This October we had three distinct snowfall events, and each one seemed to progressively up the ante in terms of snowfall and skiing possibilities.
The first snowfall event came at the beginning of the month. On Thursday, October 2nd, the forecast was looking good for some snowfall in the highest elevations from Thursday evening into Friday. Scott Braaten provided his weather thoughts on SkiVT-L early Thursday evening, and by the next morning once the clouds began to rise, reports and pictures began to come in of the new snow in the mountains. The snow accumulations were nothing too outrageous, but at Sugarbush they were enough to force them to halt their mountain biking operations for the day. In the end it appeared as though the mountains around the Mad River Valley had received some of the more substantial accumulations in Vermont, and some riding was done on Mt. Washington and probably other regional peaks where people were excited to get out. On Friday afternoon in Burlington, I got a couple shots of the snow on the summit areas of Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump when the clouds finally cleared away, and on Sunday I got to see the vestiges of the season’s first snowfall on The Chin when E and I hiked it with the boys. The new snow was a nice way to kick off the month on top of autumn foliage that many feel had been the best in several years.
Our second October snowfall event occurred on the 22nd and 23rd of the month. Scott Braaten provided an initial update to SkiVT-L on Saturday the 18th, and early on Wednesday morning the 22nd we had our first valley snowfall of the season in our area. With snowfall reaching down to the valley I was able to provide some related weather observations:
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008: Waterbury-Burlington Weather Observations
“At around 5:00 A.M. this morning in Waterbury (495’) we had a temperature of 35.4 F, and when I looked outside the precipitation was snow flurries with no obvious liquid precipitation. The flakes were small in the ~1-2 mm range. At that point there was no accumulation on the snowboard or grassy surfaces. Between 5:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. the temperature fluctuated in the 35.4 F– 35.6 F range at the house, and when I was leaving at around 6:00 A.M. the snowfall had intensified to the range of light snow, with larger flakes in the ~0.5+ cm range. There was still no obvious mixing of rain in the precipitation, although the intensity of the snowfall did seem to taper off a touch by the time I’d reached the center of Waterbury (~500’). At the Richmond Park and Ride (300’) at around 6:30 A.M. there was light to moderate snowfall, with no accumulation visible on any of the grassy surfaces or vehicles that had been parked in the lot. I did notice what looked like a small (~1/4 inch) accumulation of snow on one of the cars that appeared to have recently pulled into the lot, although I’m not sure where that vehicle had come from. At around 7:00 A.M. at UVM in Burlington (380’) the precipitation was again back to snow flurries.”
It snowed much of the morning even in the valleys, and around midday I provided another weather update from Burlington:
Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008: Midday Burlington Weather Observations
“It’s been snowing here at UVM in Burlington (380’) all morning, although it’s only been flurries to occasional light snow at the most. There’s been no accumulation, but all surfaces are wet from the precipitation. There have been a couple of times when cracks of blue sky appeared as well, and as of noontime we’ve got just a few flakes of precipitation coming down. Off to the east the mountains have been obscured by snow and clouds, but there is certainly enough snow up there for a few turns as I’ve seen a couple of trip reports on SkiVT-L already. Powderfreak mentioned that he was heading up to Bolton, so I suspect he’ll have an update on some snow accumulations above 2,000’ in that area.”
I didn’t have any valley snowfall accumulations to report with that event, but the mountains made out decently. For that storm, it looked like Killington obtained some of the highest accumulations in the state, with about 7 or 8 inches up near the peak, and the accumulations appeared to taper off somewhat as one headed to the mountains of Northern Vermont. That event certainly had enough accumulation to convince a number of people to get out on the slopes, and there were some nice reports from Killington, including one from Jonathan Shefftz with some pictures.
Our third snowfall event took place from October 28th - 30th, and kicked things up yet another notch in terms of snowfall. From about a week out, the experts at EasternUSwx.com were noticing hints of potential coastal cyclogenesis that could affect our area, and Typhoon Tip started a thread on October 21st to monitor the development. It was a lot of fun reading along as the weather pros discussed the storm’s potential development, and it looked like there was a chance for something VERY big. Finally, as the storm began to form, it appeared as though it was going to take a somewhat inland track, and Vermont was going to be on the eastern fringe of the substantial snow accumulations. The Adirondacks and Upstate New York looked to be in the sweetest spot for a big dump, although our local forecasts still indicated that the Green Mountains were likely to get quite a bit of snowfall between the first phase of the storm and the upslope that followed. Scott Braaten sent out his final snow accumulations estimates on Tuesday morning the 28th, and reports of significant accumulations started coming in from New York State and even points farther to the south. In Waterbury, our snowfall didn’t start until a bit before 8:00 P.M. on Tuesday evening. There was no accumulation to report at that point, but I sent out a message to the local ski and weather communities to let them know that the changeover had worked its way west to our location and down to our elevation:
“I looked outside at around 7:50 P.M. and snow had started here in Waterbury. Small flakes in the 1-2 mm range at first but rapidly growing larger with 5-10 mm flakes mixing in now. The temperature had dropped pretty quickly over the previous couple of hours from the mid 40s F down to 35.4 F. There are already slushy crystals building up on the snowboard so I should have an accumulation to report tomorrow morning.”
The rain had likely changed over to snow in the local mountains much earlier than it had for us in the valley, so prospects were looking good for plenty of accumulation by the following morning. As I’d suspected based on the way the snow was falling Tuesday evening, we even picked up some overnight snow accumulation at the house, and I reported that in my morning observations:
Wednesday, October 29th, 2008: 6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT
New Snow: 0.5 inches
Temperature: 34.9 F
Dew Point: N.D.
Cumulative storm snow total: 0.5 inches
Current snow at the stake: Trace
Season snowfall total: 0.5 inches
“I first saw snowfall at the house yesterday at around 7:50 P.M.; the rain had changed over and the air temperature was 35.4 F. It snowed lightly until I went to bed, and this morning there was a half inch on the snowboard with the grass covered with an uneven coating of white. There were still flurries in the air with a temperature of 34.9 F, and the lowest value recorded by the thermometer since yesterday evening was 34.7 F. As I traveled through the Richmond area this morning they appeared to have a more substantial coating of snow than we had in Waterbury, however here in Burlington there is no snow on the ground.”
One of the largest accumulations I heard about from the event was at Windham, in the Catskills of New York, where they reported 27 inches of new snow. Jonathan Shefftz was once again out on the scene and provided a report on the skiing there. Lots of people got out into the local Vermont mountains on Wednesday, where accumulations of up to 10 inches were being reported. Later that evening, I assembled the local ski area accumulations I’d seen into a list, and it was nice to see that Mt. Mansfield had already picked up a foot of snow and broken a daily accumulation record at the stake:
Jay Peak: 8” (5:30 P.M.)
Stowe: 7” (9:37 A.M.)
Mt. Mansfield Stake: 12” (5:47 P.M., ~3,700’)
Bolton Valley: 6” (9:40 A.M., 3,150’)
Mad River Glen: 3” (8:00 A.M.)
Sugarbush: 6” (8:48 A.M.)
Killington: 10” (Peak)
Okemo: 3” (9:28 A.M.)
Mt. Mansfield and Stowe appeared to be doing quite well with accumulations based on the snowfall data and trip reports I’d seen, and I was leaning toward taking a trip to that area for some skiing. When I woke up Thursday morning to find that even more snow had accumulated at our house, I knew that the mountains would have received an even better hit:
Thursday, October 30th, 2008: 6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT
New Snow: 1.0 inches
Liquid Equivalent: 0.08 inches
Snow/Water Ratio: 12.5
Snow Density: 8.0% H2O
Temperature: 32.5 F
Dew Point: N.D.
Barometer: 30.18 in. Hg
Sky: Light Snow
Cumulative storm snow total: 1.5 inches
Cumulative storm frozen liquid total: 0.27 inches
Cumulative storm liquid total: 1.13 inches
Season liquid total: 1.13 inches
Current snow at the stake: 1 inch
Season snowfall total: 1.5 inches
“We picked up more snow overnight here in the valley, and in our location we’ve certainly got a more substantial coating on the ground than last night. The snow is also much drier in this round, as indicated by the water content (8% H2O). It must have all fallen into cold air because there wasn’t any slush on the bottom and it just slid right off the snowboard. We continue to have steady, light snowfall outside, and we’ve picked up another couple of tenths in the past half hour so the snowfall is running a bit under 0.5 inches/hour. It certainly looks like this is upslope snowfall so it will be interesting to see how the mountains are doing.”
Anticipating the chance for some very good powder turns, I’d prepped my gear the night before and managed to get out of the house by about 7:00 A.M. As I approached Waterbury Center and eventually the Moscow and Stowe areas, I could see that they’d picked up a more substantial coating of snow than what we’d received near the Waterbury/Bolton border, even at similar elevations. Whereas we’d picked up about an inch at the house, those areas looked to have probably two or three. It was enough accumulation to do a nice job of covering up the grass and it made the views quite wintry. The temperature fluctuated around the freezing mark during the drive, with no obvious temperature drop as I approached the mountain and even headed up above 1,000’.
I took a quick look at the coverage on Spruce as I approached the Stowe Mountain Resort area, contemplating a trip over there to avoid any crowds at Mt. Mansfield, but the accumulations on Spruce clearly didn’t look to be as deep as they did on the big mountain. I opted to park in the upper lot for the Gondola, and there were already a few dozen cars there with various people milling about. I overheard one guy taking to another about how even when he’d arrived back in the headlamp hours of perhaps 5:30 A.M., there were already lots of people there. As I was gearing up, there were even people packing up and leaving because they had already finished their skiing for the morning. The early morning powder culture was certainly alive and well on Mt. Mansfield.
There was light snow falling from the sky and no wind as I eventually began my descent up the mountain. There was a popular boot pack on Gondolier with various people heading up that way, but as I was going to be skinning I decided to take a different route. Perry Merrill was feeling like a good option. As soon as I was out of the parking lot I was already in 6 to 8 inches of fluffy snow, so I knew there was going to be no problem skinning right from the bottom. I’d heard that Wednesday morning had only featured a couple of inches of snow at the base, so it sounded like hiking down low and then switching to skins higher up on the mountain was more popular. Clearly the mountain had picked up quite a bit of additional snow overnight. Once on Perry Merrill, I immediately started picking up snow depth readings of 9 to 11 inches with my measurement pole as I ascended the climber’s left. Those accumulations were the norm, although I could find depths as low as about 6 inches if I probed around on certain parts of the trail and perhaps found a raised rocky area. In general though, the accumulations were fairly even across the trail because there was little if any wind. On the trail itself there were about four tracks at that point, which appeared to have come from snowboards. The snow was deep enough that I could certainly notice its effect on setting my track, so I began following one of the snowboard descent tracks for my ascent and that made the going a lot easier.
The conditions remained about the same for the next 1,000’ feet of vertical, and then the snow depth jumped up to about 12 inches. However, at that elevation the wind began to finally kick in, so there were a few scoured areas with accumulations of only a few inches, but also lots of spots with depths in the mid teens of inches. I contemplated switching my ascent route at both Lower Rimrock and High Road as I reached them, but neither trail had tracks and the snow was only getting deeper making breaking trail more of a chore. So, I kept on my course up Perry Merrill and stuck to the tracks of the snowboarders that had descended. A couple other groups of snowboarders descended during my ascent, so they added a few more tracks, but I could see from their riding that the snow was going to be really good on the descent.
Eventually I reached the elevation of the Gondola waterfall (~3,200’) and looking up I could see that Perry Merrill immediately above me had been fairly scoured by wind. Since my plan at that point was to descend Perry Merrill, I decided to stop my ascent there. The wind was howling at a good clip up at that elevation, so I headed off to the skier’s left of Perry Merrill into the trees to get out of the wind and prepare for my descent. With one step off the edge of the trail I was up to my waist in snow. I checked the depth of the drifted area with my pole and got a reading of 33 inches. I had a drink, put away my skins, got the rest of my equipment on for the descent, and got ready to head down.
In terms of skiing, the first 600 vertical feet of the descent were more interesting than I had expected. Although I’d noticed the wind in those elevations, I hadn’t really noticed that the snow had been scalloped into small valleys and ridges that ran perpendicular to the fall line. The powder had been affected by the wind just enough to pack it down a bit, and with my rather long and skinny rock skis on the first outing of the season, I had to take some time to adjust my technique. It was hard to tell whether I figured out the snow first, or it simply changed into pristine powder that the wind hadn’t touched, but somewhere around the 2,600’ elevation mark everything just became a piece of cake. Turns were effortless and it didn’t matter what skis I was using. I found myself in powder that would be considered good for any time of year, anywhere. I wasn’t hitting anything under the snow, and on Perry Merrill at least, that was the elevation range for the best powder skiing. As I descended below the 2,000’ mark, the snow did appear to lose a little depth because I touched down a couple times and had to make an effort to avoid some less covered areas. If one was going to hang out in that area for multiple runs, I’d say lapping the elevations between 2,000’ and 2,600’ was the way to go for the best balance of coverage and pristine powder.
I finished off the bottom of Perry Merrill, and was quickly back at the car with a descent of 1,788’ recorded on the Suunto. People still seemed to be arriving at the mountain as I left, so I’m sure there was a good crowd there for much of the day. The temperatures remained around freezing through Stowe, and then increased to the mid 30s after that. After passing though Waterbury, the valley snow accumulations tailed off until in the Bolton/Jonesville area there was no snow in the bottom of the valley. Traveling on I-89 through the Bolton Flats area revealed some dramatic images, with beautiful green grass surrounding the houses, and the mountains bright white above about 1,000’. The Honey Hollow Valley was stunning with a few yellow-leaved trees remaining in the broad valley below all the snow. I really wanted to grab my camera and get a picture there, but since I was cruising along at highway speed it wasn’t quite practical. Just as the valley snow accumulations had disappeared as I left Waterbury, it reappeared in the Richmond/Williston area, before disappearing again in Burlington. In terms of valley accumulations this storm was interesting in that instead of a gradual increase in snow depth as one headed east from Burlington, there appeared to be that snow hole in the Bolton Jonesville area.
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