Yesterday afternoon we were up at Stowe for our weekly school program, and I was once again given the “young advanced” group. The new wrinkle for this week was that in addition to my skiers, I was getting two snowboarders who were too advanced for the other snowboarding groups. One of the snowboarders was out, but I still got to meet Alexia, who is a third grade snowboarder that really rips. I don’t think she would have minded if I’d just skied but to keep things even, I snowboarded for the first half of the session so we could focus on that. She handled Upper Smuggler’s with plenty of moguls and hard, crappy snow like it was nothing, so it didn’t look like there were going to be any limitations on what we could do as a group. When it came time for choosing trials, her main wish was that she could ride something that could challenge her, not in a cocky way, but she just wanted to step it up as much as possible and have fun trying whatever she could.
Mid afternoon we hit the outdoor hot chocolate session in the little village square area, and while we took a break in the lodge, I switched into ski boots and we headed off to Mansfield. Since challenge was the call of the day, my plan was to bring the kids in below the Kitchen Wall and see how they liked it, but the corner of Perry Merrill had already been roped off, so we continued on down to Cliff Trial and into the Nosedive Glades. Alexia did a nice job in the trees, the only drawback being that she was on a board and it limited her mobility in terms of traversing and climbing. As far as I know I’m getting the mixed group next time, so we’ll see how that goes for boarders negotiating the traverses etc. in the trees.
We’ve got a couple of weeks before our next session, but I think we’ll be doing a lot of trees next time unless conditions change. Yesterday at Stowe really reinforced the conditions trends that I've seen there over the past couple of weeks. Even though there’s been another 1-2 feet of snow in the intervening period, compared to the exact same period a week earlier, yesterday afternoon revealed a clear drop in on piste snow quality. And that’s from a level of conditions that I already considered pretty low on the upper slopes of Mansfield. A few trail areas held serve on snow quality compared to the previous week, but in most cases the drop in on-piste quality was remarkable. I actually don’t know what that first steep pitch of Perry Merrill was like a week ago because we didn’t ski it, but yesterday it was simply a tragic mess of windswept ice with a few rocks thrown in for good measure. I can guarantee that most of the other parents in our program are not as picky as I am when it comes to conditions, and yesterday for the first time I heard several comments about how hard (and in some cases scary) the snow was.
With this group we are skiing Sunday afternoons, at the tail end of the busiest time of the week, so perhaps the timing has something to with the conditions. I’m guessing the situation must be Stowe’s high volume of traffic in combination with the winds or whatever, but the conditions are not nearly what we experienced at Bolton's Timberline area on Saturday afternoon. Perhaps things are better in the mornings after grooming, but from what I’ve seen, Stowe badly needs a resurfacing snowstorm with 1 to 2 inches of liquid equivalent in it to get the trails into decent shape. A few of those storms of the type that they get in the Mid Atlantic would be just the thing to freshen up the trails. Coverage in general on the trails is fine, although not great on some of the natural snow mogul runs like Upper Smuggler’s. The bigger factor is just how hard the on piste snow has gotten. The ample fluff that Stowe has received recently seems to give some decent powder days, but it just hasn’t had the staying power to hold up on the trials over time.
Anyway, with that said about the on piste conditions, things almost couldn’t be more remarkably different off piste. Compared to last week, the coverage, depth, and quality of the powder all seemed improved. Untracked areas were dreamy, even in the lower elevations of Spruce Peak where the kids showed me some glades that they liked. I’d highly recommend the off piste options at Stowe for now.
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