Bolton Valley, VT 03FEB2011


While the ski conditions in Northern Vermont had been decent, and certainly consistent through January with some nice powder days, the snowpack depth still wasn’t all that great.  In fact, as February approached, the snowpack at the Mt. Mansfield stake had been below average for a good portion of the season, and consistent with that trend, the snow depths and coverage on the trails seemed to be lagging behind as well.  The potential snowpack increases associated with large synoptic storms and cold air in the La Niña weather pattern weren’t quite being realized in the far north.  Snowfall numbers had been decent (as of January 31st we’d picked up 104.9 inches of snow at the house and were running at 113.7% of normal), but the liquid associated with a lot of that snow was paltry.  We were living off the upslope magic of the Greens, with mostly the fluffy Champlain Powder™ to survive on.  While it was loads of fun to ski, the fluff wasn’t preceded by dense snow, the snowpack depth was stagnating, and it just wasn’t possible to finish off the coverage on the steepest and most windswept areas at the local resorts.  A real hit of moisture from a big synoptic storm was needed, yet systems of that caliber had simply continued to focus on Southern New England, leaving Northern New England on the fringe.  Finally though, it looked the weather pattern was going to shift… a big synoptic storm was crossing the country and seemed poised to really kick the Northern Vermont ski season into high gear with an inch or two of liquid equivalent in the form of snow.


The colossal storm was setting up to hit us during the midweek period, and because it was affecting so many people across the country, it was getting plenty of national media coverage.  The storm was coming through as a one-two punch, with an initial surge on Tuesday, and then a larger batch of moisture on Wednesday into Thursday. 


By Tuesday evening we’d picked up 2.5 inches of 6.0% H2O snow at the house from the first round of the storm, and we awaited the heavy stuff associated with the main course that was scheduled to come into the area on Wednesday.  By 6:00 A.M. Wednesday morning when I sent in my CoCoRaHS report, the second punch of snow was already coming down with some fervor.  I’d found a couple new inches on the snowboard, and it continued to snow at close to an inch an hour:


Wednesday 2/2/2011 6:00 A.M. update:


Event totals: 4.3” Snow/0.36” L.E.


“At the 6:00 A.M. reading I found 1.8 inches of new snow on the board.  It was coming down fairly heavily, but I wasn’t ready to call it heavy snow.  The flakes were small (1-3 mm) and this stuff is dense, coming in at 11.7% H2O which is essentially twice as dense as what we got yesterday.  If we get a healthy dose of this stuff, it could really be the shot in the arm that the local ski resorts need to finally clean up any bare spots on the trails that have been hanging around due to our lack of synoptic storms.


I left the house right around 7:00 A.M. and took a quick look at the snowboard on my way out.  It seemed to have a bit shy of an inch on it, so that would fit well with being just below an inch per hour snowfall; just below what I’d call “Heavy Snow”.  Still, the snow was coming down with plenty of vigor, and driving was tricky on Route 2 with low visibility and enough snow on the road to push the tires around a bit from our spot on the Waterbury-Bolton line until just before the center of Richmond.”


In Burlington it snowed throughout the day on Wednesday, just a good steady rate that wasn’t too outrageous.  But in the mid afternoon when I was getting ready to head back to Waterbury, big fat flakes really started to pour down to the tune of 1 to 2 inches per hour.  I got home to find 5.5 inches of 10.5% H2O synoptic snow on the snowboard, and when I checked in at to leave my report, I could tell that it hadn’t just been my perception of the heavy snowfall in the Champlain Valley.  I saw that even some infrequent forum visitors from the Burlington area such as caberg, drew13btv, and WeatherEmperor had remarked about the recent pounding of snow as well.  The storm seemed to be on track, and that afternoon we were approaching double digit snowfall accumulation at the house:


Wednesday 2/2/2011 4:00 P.M. update: 


Event totals: 9.8” Snow/0.94” L.E.


“In Burlington early this morning it was snowing steadily with at least moderate intensity.  The intensity of the snowfall dropped during the middle of the day, but boy did it come on in the mid afternoon.  I was leaving work around 3:00 P.M. and huge flakes up to 1 inch in diameter were pounding down.  The rate of snowfall had to be over an inch an hour, and visibility was below ¼ mile.  It clearly hadn’t been snowing that hard for too long, since I found only about 4.5 inches of snow on my car, which represented the 8-hour accumulation from 7:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.  Driving was fine on I-89, and even on Route 2 since the plows were able to keep up with the snowfall – aside from the heavy stuff that was going on when I left Burlington, snowfall was light to moderate at most.  At the house I cleared the snowboard after finding 5.5 inches of new snow on it; that was the 10-hour accumulation since 6:00 A.M.  It was again fairly dense snow (10.5% H2O) as I’d found this morning, with a hefty 0.58 inches of liquid in it.  There was also a neat layer of graupel down near the bottom, with some fairly large balls up to 4 or 5 mm in diameter.”

Some details from the 4:00 P.M. observations are below:

New Snow: 5.5 inches
New Liquid: 0.58 inches
Snow/Water Ratio: 9.5
Snow Density: 10.5% H2O
Temperature: 20.8 F
Sky: Snow (1-5 mm flakes)
Snow at the stake: 24.5 inches


The next morning I had some time and decided to stop off at the mountain for a few runs on my way in to Burlington.  Down in the valley, our storm total had sailed right past the 1 foot mark for snow and 1 inch mark for liquid equivalent, and some of the local ski areas were in the range of 2 feet of snow for the event.  I provided some totals in my morning update before I headed out:


Thursday 2/3/2011 6:00 A.M. update:


Event totals: 13.2” Snow/1.11” L.E.


“We picked up a bit more fluff overnight, and based on the radar it looks like the snow is just about done.


I grabbed the 48/72-hour totals from the Vermont ski areas that have updated this morning, which should represent totals for this event.  The list is north to south in the state, but I had to leave out several areas that either hadn’t updated or didn’t provide any text about 48 or 72-hour totals.”


Jay Peak: 26”

Stowe: 17”

Bolton Valley: 26”

Sugarbush: 15”

Pico: 16”

Killington: 16”

Stratton: 9”

Mount Snow: 15”


I had checked on Bolton’s snow report before heading up to the mountain, and it sounded like the lifts had been on hold on Wednesday.  That bode well for access to untracked snow for the Thursday visitors.  I hopped on the Vista Quad and talked about skis with the woman I rode with – she had on some fairly skinny skis that she had pulled out in preparation for an upcoming trip, but she had fatter skis in the car and was thinking about putting some extra girth on her feet.  I’m not sure what she ended up doing, but I bet she had fun either way; Mother Nature had finally delivered some significant liquid equivalent to the northern Vermont areas, and with the base being finished off everything was just that much better.


When I reached the Vista summit it was just about time for Timberline to open, so I decided to head through the environs of Cobrass to get over there.  After finding the Cobrass headwall in pretty nice shape, I opted to check out Cobrass Woods for the first time this season.  I’d worked in there in the off season with Quinn and the crew, and was eager to finally see how it was skiing.  There had been some traffic in the area, but the flow of the improved tree lines was excellent, and the new snow was oh so good!  The one thing I did notice though was that we may need to get our pole saws out and trim things a bit higher; the snow-laden branches were already a bit low, so if we were to get a couple more big synoptic storms it could start to get very tight in the upper spruce sections.



I worked my way down to Timberline Run and over to Tattle Tale to catch its lower half.  Before descending, I stopped to look up and saw that the newly-opened upper section of the trail was looking really sweet.  I watched a couple of folks make their way down in the powder, put it on my agenda for the morning, and continued on below.  Lower Tattle Tale had some divine snow, perhaps not quite up to the fluff level of January 13th, but still pretty far up there on the powder quality scale.  We’d had the good shot of 10-12% H2O synoptic snow, and then my subsequent analyses from the house indicated that we picked up rounds of 3-6% H2O snow on top of it to finish off the “right side up” layering for the storm cycle.




For my next run I caught the top section of Tattle Tale, which was definitely ready for prime time, and it delivered some sweet, steep turns in the new powder.  I continued on to visit the KP glades, dropping in via one of the ledge entries.  Those drops are definitely more fun after deep dumps of light powder, but even without the feet of bomb-dropping fluff, the coverage was so good that the ledges were workable.



While on the mountain, I did a few depth checks and generally found 9 to 14 inches of powder on the trails, with some areas having presumably been skied, at least during the Tuesday part of the storm.  Off piste I measured depths of around 26 inches of powder, but since there was no real base layer underneath areas where people hadn’t skied, it sort of depended on how hard one wanted to push down to get a snow depth. 


I eventually had to call it a morning and head to Burlington, but the sun was peeking through at times in the lower elevations and I got to see some excellent views on my trip through the Winooski Valley.  Various areas along the walls of the valley were getting lit up in different ways, and the new snow was doing a nice job of catching the sun.




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