When Ty and I were out hiking for turns on Mt. Mansfield on Sunday, November 16th, we’d had a front row seat as dramatically colder air was ushered into the region. Little did we know that we weren’t just going to make a return to excellent temperatures for snowmaking, but we’d eventually be getting a natural snow bonus in the form of a substantial lake effect/upslope dump.
The following Thursday I was out at Ty’s school in Morrisville for a holiday event, and if the snow was looking good, the plan was for us to hike for some additional Mansfield turns on the way home. Any questions about the state of Mt. Mansfield’s snow had quickly been answered thanks to Scott Braaten. He’d sent in a nice report from Mt. Mansfield on Wednesday, showing that the snowmakers had been out in force, and on top of the man made snow there was even a bit of natural fluff to provide some powder turns. As I was driving around in the valleys on Thursday, temperatures were in the mid 20s F and there was persistent light snowfall, but I didn’t see any snow accumulating. The Morrisville area had a decent ½-1 inch coating of snow from previous snowfall, but most other valley areas were patchier in their coverage.
After a great meal with his classmates, Ty and I switched into our ski clothes and we were off to Stowe. As we passed by the Stowe Toll House area (~1,300’) the snow coverage still wasn’t all that consistent, but up at the Mansfield Base itself there was a more solid 1 to 2 inches around. The light snowfall that we had been receiving was coming from a clipper system that was a good distance off to the south, and it was weak and getting weaker, but Mt. Mansfield had certainly been wringing out the available moisture. Even at the base area it was blowing, and snowing… and accumulating.
There was easily enough snow to safely start skinning from the base area (~1,500’), but since Ty was going to be hiking in his alpine ski boots, in a show of solidarity I decided to do the same. My knees don’t seem to like it all that much compared to using more flexible hiking boots, but it beats hiking in other boots and changing into my ski boots in the snow and cold. As we departed from the car, Ty and I walked through several inches of fresh powder on leeward side of the Mansfield Base Lodge where it had collected out of the wind, and that felt really nice. The mountain was blowing snow on North Slope, so to hike away from the guns we headed over toward Lower Lord instead. There were cool snow formations on the ground where previously blown snow had collected on various grasses and weeds. Some of the formations were a couple feet tall and had accreted on just a thin spindle of vegetation; they were ripe for destruction and Ty enjoyed several minutes taking care of that task. As we began our ascent up Lower Lord, I was actually quite impressed with the snow depths there; I was getting readings in the 3-inch range right from the bottom of the run. I think the depth there was being helped out a bit by blow over from the guns on North Slope however, as once we reached Crossover (`2,000’) and headed away from the guns, the snow depth was back to an inch or two.
We took a break on Crossover away from the guns, and watched a couple of guys hike up one of the steeper runs above us with skis on their backs. Neither Ty nor I wanted to manage the steeper, rockier slopes in our ski boots, and I suspected managing such a pitch would take a toll on Ty’s energy reserves. So, we continued all the way to the end of Crossover and headed up Tyro, which represented one of the mellower hiking options. It was nice to be a good distance away from the snow guns in terms of noise, but it was making for a longer route to get back toward the snowmaking terrain where we’d planned to ski. Not long after we got on Tyro, Ty made his first comment about getting tired, and I knew our steps were numbered. I convinced him to hike to the relatively flat area at the bottom of Duck Walk (~2,200’) before letting him take a long rest. We’d only hiked about eight tenths of a mile and 700’ of vertical at that point, but Ty didn’t seem to have quite the stamina that he’d had when we’d been out the previous Sunday. Truth be told, my pack was feeling heavier and more awkward that day as well. Perhaps his physical state had worn off on me? I was more than willing to go as far as he wanted; it was just a question of how far that was going to be.
Anticipating a run on the deep man made base, we hadn’t brought rock skis, so we really needed to get back to the man made snow in the North Slope area if we wanted to make some turns. I conveyed this fact to Ty, and said that I’d get us back to snowmaking as soon as possible since he was tired, but he’d have to buck up and do some additional hiking. So, after an extended break hanging out in the snow, and with the knowledge that we were headed directly to more skiable snow, Ty summoned the strength for another push. It was fortunate that we were right at the base of Duck Walk, because it really was a rather direct route back to the snowmaking. We had to hit a couple of steep pitches that slowed Ty down, but with every step the sound of the guns got closer and our progress was made more tangible in that regard. After only about 10 minutes or so, the guns were in sight, the slope mellowed, and I knew we were in good shape for Ty to make it. Getting onto some of the man made snow in the Lord area gave Ty another boost of energy, since we were able to switch up from dealing with a couple inches of snow on grass and rocks, to kicking in steps in the deep snow. Communication became a bit more difficult amidst the roar of the guns, and I told Ty to stay close to me in case we encountered a snowcat or snowmobile. We sought out a nice spot to stop out of the spray and noise of the guns, and found ourselves venturing onto T-Line, which was narrow, sheltered, and actually seemed to have collected a decent amount of natural snow.
We’d covered about 900’ of vertical and 1.2 miles of distance by that point, and Ty seemed to quickly switch from concerns of being tired to enjoying all the snow that was around him. The combination of natural snow that had been sequestered in the T-Line area, along with some snowmaking blow over, had built up quite a lot of fluff. Some of the trees along the edge of the trail held several inches of snow, which Ty enjoyed knocking off, and there was probably a foot of loose snow on the ground over some base, so Ty decided to do a bit of sliding as well. After sliding below the trail he actually found himself trapped on one of his runs, and I had to help him back up. I’d say Ty needed a mental break as much as he needed a physical one. We got to watch a snow cat over on Standard as it chugged along with a train of snow guns, and that was pretty cool. The free time was apparently good for Ty, since after that he was willing to hike even a bit more. The natural snow up above us on T-Line was apparently enticing enough to interest Ty in some turns, so we hiked for another several minutes and got part way up the trail. The snow got a little thinner after a bit of ascending up T-Line, but coincident with that, Ty was ready to go, so I called it our zenith for the day and we prepared for descent.
I descended through the natural snow on T-Line, which was really nice, although there was only a thin base so I still had to choose my turns wisely. There were only a few inches of powder in some spots, but I was getting my first real powder turns since October, so that felt good. I then stopped and took some action photos of Ty getting his first powder turns of the season. From there we merged onto North Slope and into the world of snow guns. I once again cautioned Ty to stay pretty close to me because of the potential for snow vehicle traffic. Ty was extremely excited about skiing among the guns, as he couldn’t really remember skiing with them before. In actuality, I think he might have skied among working snow guns in the past, but Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana, which was our home mountain until he was age 3, doesn’t have any. And, with Bolton Valley favoring December instead of November openings, they seem to generally be past the point of having to actually make snow on trails that are open to skiers. So, Ty doesn’t get much of a chance to ski among working snow guns. I’m not a fan of skiing in guns because of the noise and the way your equipment can get coated with ice, but the skiing we had on North Slope that day was pretty fun. The surface was that usual, thick sort of artificial snow, but the top inch or so was loose and held a nice edge. Perhaps the cold temperatures (upper teens F) were giving the snow a more reasonable consistency. Riding among and over the snow whales was a gas. North Slope already has a pretty good pitch to it, and when combined with the steep back sides of some of the whales, it made for some very steep areas. Ty seemed a little intimidated with some of those steep pitches at first, but quickly got the hang of it and was really hooting and hollering by the second half of the trail. We did have the whole trail to ourselves, so despite the cacophony from the guns, it wasn’t total chaos out there. Unfortunately I didn’t pull out my camera while we were in the guns, since a few of them did seem to be throwing out wetter snow on the lower part of the trail and that stuff can be a nightmare. Even from those few we guns, our goggles were coated with an opaque film that we had to wipe off to regain visibility.
Back down at the car, Ty was going nuts about the experience. He though the mayhem of the guns and catching turns off the snow whales was the coolest thing since sliced bread. My GPS odometer recorded a distance of 1.78 miles for the round trip, a bottom elevation of 1,476’ and a top elevation of 2,393’ for a difference of 913’. The vertical descents recorded by the altimeters for the trip were 940’ on the Avocet and 978’ on the Suunto, for a difference of 4.0%. So, after struggling a bit with the distance of our circuitous route, Ty did manage to get in a hike and ski of almost 1,000’ of vertical. Considering both mental and physical aspects, that seems to be a good range that he can handle at this point. He hasn’t appeared to be fatigued at all on the descents thus far this season, and since the point is to get out and do some skiing for fun, enjoying the descent is the most important part.
The snow was really coming down in the parking lot as we packed up our gear, and we’d even accumulated some snow on the car. Different areas of the mountain seemed to be getting hit with varying intensities of snowfall. There was a snow cloud stuck in the notch and over near the Gondola area, which looked like it was feeding snow over to the Main Mansfield parking lot, while there were occasional glimpses of blue sky south of The Nose. We left the mountain at around 3:00 P.M. and the base area temperature was 20 F. Later in the day we even started to get some flurries in Waterbury, and the local radar was showing a northwest flow that looked like it held some upslope snowfall potential. I suspected we’d pick up some snow overnight, but since there was no storm around I didn’t think it would too substantial. But, thanks to upslope effects we were about to get 14.2 inches of upslope snow at the house, and the mountains were going to be looking at a couple feet of the white stuff in the Friday/Saturday timeframe. I’ll have more about that event in the next report.
Pictures and data plots from the day are also available at
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