Bolton Valley Alpine & Nordic 09JAN2010
Cold temperatures in the single digits had me thinking about earning turns instead of riding lifts yesterday, but 9 inches of powder had fallen up at Bolton due to the passing clipper system, and getting some lift-served access to that fresh snow sounded a little too good to pass up. Temperatures in the single digits were too low for the boys, but it gave me the opportunity to try out a combination alpine/Nordic tour that Iíd wanted to do up at the resort. Iíd yet to get over to Bryant Camp and check out the glades that everyone raves about, so I set that as my goal on the Nordic end.
From a temperature of about 10 F at the house (495í) I arrived up at the Timberline Base area (~1,500í) to a temperature of 5 F. It was sunny and there was little if any breeze, so those aspects were likely to help out a lot in terms of keeping warm. The fresh powder on the trails looked fantastic in the sun as I hopped on the Timberline Quad, and I could tell that conditions were going to be great when I watched and listened to a mom and daughter skiing below me on Showtime. You couldnít hear their skis at all, suggesting that both the surface and subsurface snow were very soft. It was quite a contrast to the sounds made by the racers that were training on the skierís left of the trail. As was pointed out in one of their recent daily updates, Bolton Valley is extremely white right now Ė blindingly white at times. Somewhere in the 1,500í-2,000í elevation range and above, everything is caked in snow. I suspect that some rime from earlier in the week may have been the seed to initiate the process, allowing subsequent rounds of fluff to cling to branches and boughs in a spectacular manner.
I headed over to Spell Binder and immediately knew that what had fallen in the past 24-hours was some extraordinary snow. It was Champlain Powderô all right, and it was so extremely dry that I was skiing right on the subsurface snow, almost as if the powder wasnít there. I might have suspected such snow based on my water-content analyses at the house (1.4 to 1.5% H2O for the 4.8 inches we picked up) but with deeper accumulations and potential wind up on the mountain, you never know exactly how the snow will settle and work for skiing. I checked in a few spots as I skied Spell Binder, and found between 9 and 13 inches of this snow atop the more settled base. Even though it didnít seem like there hadnít been any wind, Iím sure the whole stack of snow hadnít remained in the 1.5% H2O range like the smaller accumulations down at the house, but I bet it was still 4% H2O or lower. Overall, the skiing was simply excellent. The subsurface was a little firmer on the Spell Binder headwall where some snow had been made, but extremely quiet below that.
The skiing was so nice that I temporarily put my tour plans on hold and skied some laps on Timberline. I was torn about calling down to the house to see if E and the boys wanted to ski. I knew that Ty and Dylan would love the ultra dry snow as they have in the past; I think the greater contact time with the subsurface gives them a chance to have some added stability and security as they work on their powder skiing. I kept tossing around the idea of getting them to come out, but as I gauged the temperature during my runs, it just didnít seem practical. I spent most of the rest of my Timberline runs checking out various glades, wondering how they would ski in such dry snow. It turned out that the steepest glades that had seen previous traffic (especially evergreen glades where the boughs are still getting loaded) werenít prime in terms of powder skiing, because the latest rounds of powder hadnít made it entirely to the ground and you were simply skiing on the subsurface. But moderate angle glades, or those that had seen no traffic were quite bottomless. According to their records, Bolton has picked up 40 inches of snow in the nine days since New Yearís Eve, so there is some deep snow out there, especially in areas that havenít seen traffic. One think to watch out for is that lines in the trees are a bit congested right now. The heavy accumulations of snow on the branches are bending everything way down, and many lines are much tighter than they normally would be. In a few cases itís pretty amazing, and lines have almost disappeared. After a run through the Corner Pocket Glades, which had signs of just one buried track from some time in the past, and were a perfect fit for the conditions brought on by the recent snows, I decided it was time to kick off my tour.
I skied Villager to the main base area (2,150í), traversed above the main lodge over to the Wilderness base, strapped on my skins, and connected onto World Cup on the Nordic Network. I followed that until I came to Bryant (which is currently the route of the Catamount Trail as well) and started the ascent. The climb was pleasant; I was among two couples and a few folks on snowshoes, and we occasionally chatted along the way as various people passed each other on the trail. As we got nearer to Bryant Camp, off to our right we began to see the multitude of glades dropping down from above. One of those is JJís, which conveniently has a sign at the exit so you know what youíre looking at. It was after noon by that point, and for those of us that were planning to make turns, it was nice to see that the glades were essentially untracked.
It wasnít long before we reached Bryant Camp (2,690í), and I saw that a popular trail option among many of the skiers was Gardinerís Lane, which looked like it would be a nice route for getting above the glades that weíd seen. I decided to head up toward Birch Loop and Heavenly Highway too see what lay above. That route had also been well traveled, so the going was quick. While I ascended, I looked at the various options dropping back toward Bryant Camp, and eventually stopped my climb up around 3,000í near the junction with Devilís Drop. It was definitely colder up at that elevation, but fortunately the snow-caked trees kept out any wind.
I had to descend a bit on Heavenly Highway before gladed options presented themselves, but once they did, I dropped in and found fantastic snow. Iíd argue that the combination of tree spacing, pitch, and ridiculously bottomless snow I found up there came together for what may have been my favorite turns of the season up to this point. I continued on down through those glades and merged onto Gardinerís Lane, eventually choosing to descend through a glade called ďBig BlueĒ which had great snow. I skied a little way down Bryant and saw that JJís still had no tracks, so I threw my skins back on and went up for another lap. JJís offered another round of bottomless turns, and by the end of that run the afternoon was getting on, so I hopped on the outlet track that paralleled Bryant and made my way back to the base of Wilderness.
I used a combination of Wilderness followed by Vista to get back to my car at the base of Timberline. My final descent was a long top to bottom run from the Vista Summit down to the Timberline Base. I was hoping that parts of Cobrass Run and Five Corners would provide some good snow, but everything from Cobrass down seemed to have been groomed flat and offered surprisingly hard, anticlimactic snow. I did manage to traverse over to Lower Tattle Tale and catch some final soft turns though. The upper part of Tattle Tale is still closed, likely due to the way the wind has scoured the snow, and along with Spillway and Show Off, itís one of only three trails that werenít fully open. The sun was getting low by the time I got back down to the Timberline Base, and my car thermometer was reading 7 degrees F, but that was actually up a couple of degrees from what it had been when Iíd arrived.
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