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Thanks to our big snowstorm at the end of October, I was able to get out for some of Mt. Mansfield’s powder on Thursday the 30th, and since the snow was still around for the weekend, E and I wanted to take the boys out for some turns. It’s not every season that one has to juggle time between Halloween festivities and skiing, but this was one of them. On Friday night we were in Burlington with family so the boys could go trick-or-treating, and that was coupled with an overnight at my parent’s house which had been a long time coming for Ty and Dylan. We had an enjoyable time taking things easy Saturday morning, but it meant that we wouldn’t be getting an early start on the snow. October snow can sometimes take quite a beating if you wait around too long, although it sounded like Halloween’s sunny weather had already hit some of the powder pretty hard. While those relatively mild temperatures had been nice for being out and about in the evening, Saturday’s temperatures were cooler and more conducive to preserving the snow for skiing; during our drive back to Burlington around noontime, the valley temperatures were still in the upper 30s F. It was sunny as well, so it looked like it was going to be a good day to be out.
We didn’t head off to the mountain until mid afternoon, and the scene in the valleys was rather disconcerting in terms of snow. The minimal accumulations that the lower valleys had seen were totally gone in the Burlington to Waterbury corridor, and I couldn’t even spot any snow up in the local hills as high as 2,000’. By mid afternoon, the valley temperatures were into the 40s F, but the air still seemed pleasantly cool. Driving to Stowe we didn’t find any snow through Waterbury Center, and I was worried that we weren’t going to find any snow at all when we looked up at the Worcester Range and couldn’t see any obvious white at the top of Mt. Hunger (>3,500’). However, from our first views of Mansfield we could see that the higher elevations still had a lot of white, and our fears were allayed a bit more as we got into the Moscow/Stowe area and started to see patches of snow along the road in shaded areas, even below 1,000’. Once we approached the Mt. Mansfield area, we could see that Spruce Peak wasn’t going to be a practical option, as it was half melted out due to its southern exposure. Once we got up in the Toll House area though (a bit over 1,000’) it was obvious that there was going to be decent skiing on the Mansfield side of the resort because even the trails at the bottom of the Toll House had skiable snow. It was getting rather patchy there, but up at the main mountain things looked a lot better. I’m always amazed at Mansfield’s ability to accumulate and retain snow. Grassy areas were appearing on the gondola trails which get more sun, so I decided that we’d head up above the Mansfield Base Lodge for our turns.
There were only a couple hours of good light left on the mountain as we began to gear up in front of the Mansfield Base Lodge, but there were still a few other cars around from other skiers. As I inspected one of my photos of the Gondola area trails more closely, I could also see that there were still several people out hiking and skiing on Gondolier. E and I were excited about this ski outing, since it was the first in which we planned to let Dylan hike entirely under his own power. Dylan had actually done quite a bit of hiking on our spring outings at the end of the 2007-2008 season, but for the most part we’d still gone with a child carrier and a plan to carry him as needed. This time, the plan was for both boys to hike under their own power wearing their alpine ski boots with snowshoes. E and I would be skinning on our skis, and I would carry the boy’s skis attached to my pack for the ascent. On the descent, the boys would obviously be on their skis, and E could easily fit their snowshoes in her pack.
We hiked up to the base of the Mountain Triple above the lodge in our ski boots, and then started skinning and snowshoeing from there. The boys had never actually hiked with their alpine ski boots in their snowshoes before, and although I was optimistic that the setup would work, we didn’t actually know until we tried it. Fortunately, the fit and mobility were excellent. Although Dylan doesn’t yet use poles for his downhill skiing, he was very anxious to be like Ty so we brought along his Nordic poles to use for hiking if he wanted to. Soon we were all set up and ready to ascend. There were still several inches of snow at that elevation (~1,550’), but it was much more consolidated than what I’d encountered that Thursday, so using skins and snowshoes was more for convenience and fun than absolute necessity. When I’ve already got two other pairs of skis on my back, I prefer to keep my own skis on my feet whenever possible.
We ascended Lower Tyro, which has a nice pitch that Dylan could handle, and it also seemed to have reasonably good snow coverage thanks to protection from the sun. A group of snowboarders was just finishing their descent in the area as we started, and they seemed to be having a lot of fun. In terms of the snow surface, there had certainly been some thaw/freeze, but we just encountered about the top inch of the snow being thick, without any real crust. Below that top layer of snow was snow of a dry sugar/granular consistency down to the ground. The ascent went rather slowly since the boys stopped a lot to play around in the snow, but we made steady progress. After about 150 vertical feet and maybe a third of a mile, Dylan made his first comments about being tired, but we were able to pick a local high point a little farther ahead and set that as a goal for him. He made it to the goal, about 200 vertical feet above our start point and roughly 0.4 miles in distance.
We had a snack and prepared for the descent, and as usual Ty was very anxious to get his skis on. I told him he could put them on and walk around the area, but he needed to wait for us for the descent. He walked around quite a bit while we took care of the gear, and eventually Dylan had to join him. After a while, Ty actually started hiking up even higher on the mountainso that he could get a longer run. As we’d soon see, while we’d given Dylan a bit of a workout with the hike, we were apparently nowhere near Ty’s limits. Ty hiked to another plateau area above us, and then got in some early turns by skiing down to our elevation. He sure had made the skiing look easy. In what was rather funky snow, he’d immediately started ripping nice carves down to our spot. He doesn’t seem to have missed a beat in his turns since May, although spending evenings watching ski movies while practicing his angulation on the living room carpet has probably helped keep his mind and muscle memory in ski mode. I was almost wishing I had short skis like him, as I suspected my long, skinny rock skis were going to feel like quite a pair of boats in that snow.
At that point we all started our descent, and Ty was off like a shot. E stayed with him somewhat, while I hung back and worked with Dylan. Soon however, Ty was gone down the hill and it was just E and I working with Dylan. At first Dylan had a bit of trouble committing himself to pointing his skis downhill, and he kept traversing across the trail trying to find that opportune point to do it. From our close vantage point it was easy to see that it was a combination of the funky snow and just a bit of extra pitch that were combining to give him trouble. But, near the edge of the trail he finally felt comfortable to commit to a turn and he had one under his belt. It wasn’t his prettiest turn, but he’d made the commitment. From there on, he improved quickly over the next few turns, and as soon as the pitch began to mellow even a little bit he was right into the flow and skiing down the mountain. Dylan had only been off the ski leash for the last couple of months of the ’07-’08 season, so we’d tried to get him plenty of days on the snow during April and May to ensure that he’d be able to carry that forward into this season. With the amount he’s followed Ty with his skis out on the carpet in the house during the off season, I suspected he’d be comfortable enough with his equipment to pick up right where he’d left off, but I also knew that throwing a borderline blue pitch and funky snow at him simultaneously would be a challenge. It was nice to see that he met it well.
E and I worked our way down the slope with Dylan, and by the time we were about halfway down we met Ty hiking back up with his skis. He said that he needed to do another run so that he could focus on using his poles, since he’d forgotten to do that the first time. That was nice to hear, since it’s something he needed to work on, and we hadn’t talked about it in quite a while. Sometimes I’m amazed at the things he remembers. I tweaked the position he was using to carry his skis so that he could do it more efficiently, and up he went. He asked if I would go with him, and I couldn’t refuse. Thinking he would only go so far, I decided to simply herring bone up the slope on my skis, but little did I know he was interested in going all the way back up not to the elevation where we’d been before, but the elevation that HE’D reached before. I decided to keep my skis on my feet for the workout, and after a while I decided to carry Ty’s skis to make things easier on him. With that setup we moved at about the same pace and had good discussion along the way.
Once Ty deemed we’d gone high enough, he clicked back in and we were off. Just as he said he’d do, he worked on using his poles for planting and did a pretty good job. The descent was a lot of fun, and as we neared the bottom we ran into E and Dylan, who had left their skis near the bottom and were hiking around to keep themselves occupied. We arrived at their skis and then we all finished off the flat area below the triple chair together. For the outing, the Avocet recorded a descent of 375’ and the Suunto recorded a descent of 374’ for a difference of 0.3%.
Back down at the car, E and I were able to take care of all the gear while the boys played in the snow behind the lodge, and it definitely felt like we’d reached a new level of independence for Dylan in terms of ski outings. With each aspect of these trips that Dylan can do on his own, the benefits in time savings are reaped several fold. Not only do we not have to do the task for him, the time can be used for taking care of other chores, and there is a lot less gear to carry and take care of overall. Once in the car I broached the idea of getting some subs on the way home, and at that point Ty realized that he was absolutely famished. All the hiking he’d done had caused him to work up quite an appetite, and he was so anxious to eat as we were driving in the car that I almost wished I hadn’t reminded him of it. We were able to stop at the Subway in Stowe, and thankfully for Ty he was quickly able to get into some calories. He’s often hungry after skiing, but in this case I could tell that he’d worked hard with extra hiking and it was nice to see him having the added appreciation for food after a good bout of exercise.
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