February 22, 2010

VT Retrospective

Mid-winter introduction to Vermont for this Alaskan was a great fit. It snowed every few days. Every area I visited was interesting. Skiing was good everywhere. With more insight on my part, it would be even better.

Skiing was very satisfying in the Mount Mansfield backcountry via Trapp Family Lodge trails and the Bolton Valley lift-served area, as well as the other areas described in separate blog posts (Bromley, Camel's Hump, Prospect Mountain/Bennington, and Stowe/Teardrop). Stowe and Bolton lift served areas were entertaining. Backcountry touring was excellent. Though, I really didn't find the right place to yo-yo laps in the backcountry. Although Stowe has 2000+ ft highspeed lifts, Vermont vertical was difficult for me to accumulate.

AK ski culture is strong, but we can learn a lot from VT's experience and practices. The Catamount Trail, a 300-mile cross country ski trail extending from VT's southern to northern borders, is a particularly unique public / private cooperative approach to quiet recreation.

Mount Greylock, Massachusetts

Resurrection of the classic 'down mountain' ski race on the Mount Greylock Thunderbolt Trail was planned and organized for February, but then postponed due to lack of snow. It was to be the 75th anniversary of the first Thunderbolt down mountain race (racers hike up and then are timed on the ski back down.) Volunteers had to be deeply disappointed; they had spent countless hours working on the trail, preparing for the big race on Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt trailhead was bathed in beautiful morning sun, but the "dangerous conditions" reported at the local outdoor shop a week prior did not seem much improved by the fresh snow there - dust on crust, very icy, ugly crust. Greylock was one of the first places to make the must ski list for my east coast trip, so it was hard to give up on it. The Bellows Pipe Trail has a more northerly aspect on Greylock, and is less steep than Thunderbolt. The 2" fresh snow at Bellows Pipe trailhead on a modest base was all I needed; up I went. Wax worked well for the up track on Bellows Pipe, and the glide back down was great fun with some telemarking available on the easy trail.

February 19, 2010

Powder Prospecting in VT

Vermont skiing has come full circle at Bennington, VT. Just 15 minutes from Bennington's main street business district, Prospect Mountain is the southern-most ski area in Vermont, and is actually located in the town of Woodford, VT. It operated for more than 50 years with surface lifts, but the operator shutdown the lifts around 1993 to focus on cross country skiing. I was an hour and a half ahead of schedule while passing through Bennington, so I made the sidetrip to Prospect.

It turned out that my foray coincided with Williams College winter carnival collegiate xc races at Prospect. It was a ski carnival atmosphere at the base with Bowdin, Colby, Dartmouth, Harvard, and other colleges set up with support tents and outdoor cooking. The racers were making laps on the lower trails, so the upper area seemed like the place to go.

Donning skins on my rugged touring/light telemarking skis (Fischer Outtabounds Waxbase), I followed a skin track up the lift fairway to the top of the area about 700 feet vertical above the parking area. The mid 20's F temperature and 6" of fresh snow provided fabulous telermarking on the low angle slopes. Had it not been for my midday appointment, I would have spent all day making laps and tracking it up!

February 16, 2010

Mount Mansfield, VT

Stowe, VT
An interesting Vermont place, sprawling Stowe along Mountain Road and its offshoots with accommodations, restaraunts, and boutiques reminded me of Mammoth, CA: a lot of people and a lot of cars, with New England architecture. This is a holiday week and the locals tell me midweek is usually very quiet. And, Stowe with its working farms in the valley, hardwood forests and brooks is Vermont and not California.

California-like sunshine and groomers were the ticket for the morning. My base plan included a one-ride lift ticket with a backside adventure on the Teardrop Trail, but the resort no longer offers single ride tickets unless you're registered to stay at the stone hut near the top of Stowe's Forerunner chair. So for $89, I rode the lifts until the crowd created a 10 minute wait at the highspeed quad. There was no line at the old Lookout Double fixed chair two-seater.

Enjoying the sunny skies and clean, calm air, and having invested in a holiday-priced lift ticket, a few runs felt right. On one lift ride, I had the pleasure of chatting with a particularly interesting couple. The gentleman's story included skiing Stowe since 1950; his goggles had built-in corrective lenses, and his demeanor reminded me of the cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. He was hard of hearing and not shy about expressing his opinion.

His female companion, seated between us, was quite pleasant and assisted in translation among the males. She explained that he felt so strongly because a friend's son had been rescued on the backside of Mansfield... The gentleman wanted me to clearly understand that only fools go to the backside, and he has never been there and would never go there, and that I would be on my own if I went there. Later, I felt a little guilty about my baiting response, "No, I don't expect to be on my own back there, I expect the Government of Vermont to save me if I become lost." I meant it as a joke, but when taken seriously, I allowed my prior sentiment to remain unknown.

He wanted to know my name, so that he would know it was me when he read about a fool getting rescued on the backside of Mount Mansfield. We chuckled. In parting, he wished me luck in a friendly way, and I smiled and thanked him for the advice.

I really only scratched the scritchy surface of Stowe's lift-served area. The snow was beautiful off trail in the tight trees (and not scritchy) where untracked lines were plentiful, and the groomers were nice courdoroy, a little scritchy, with a few hard icy spots. At noon, I departed the front side for a backside adventure.

After a 15-minute skin up a communications tower road from the top of the Forerunner Chair, and one false start, I found the Teardrop. In spite of some tracks that lead to the Teardrop, I started a descent down a POWDER line that cliffed out. Realizing I was lost in the VT BC, and wondering about my karma for letting Mr. Magoo believe I really expected a government bailout, but not desiring to be a newsworthy rescue story, I backtracked a painstakingly steep climb in deep snow to the tower road (it was a sweet 500 ft vertical with a few 3-5 ft drops), and finally found the Teardrop. The false start was almost worth it, but I wouldn't recommend it. A local probably could link that false start line with other trails, but not being a local and finding cliffs beyond my huckability, backtracking the steep powder line was my decision. Later study of the maps revealed that I was descending totally separate drainage with a terminus a few miles from the Teardrop terminus.

Good snow, bad route

Old Teardrop is a narrow hiking trail at the top where it shares the Long Trail route. After following the tracked trail for a quarter mile, or so, several tracks cut skier's right through the glades. Noting the untracked lines, I followed and enjoyed an untracked steep evergreen forest line for 800 ft vertical where it popped out on the CCC Road, a hiking and skiing trail. Lower angle, powder paradise in a widely spaced hardwood forest was available below the CCC Road. After crossing the W.B. Trail, I skinned back to the CCC Road, skied it down to its junction with the Old Teardrop, and skinned Old Teardrop back to the "Nose" road. Finally arriving back at the lifts at 4:30 p.m., I found them deserted - last chair was 4:00 p.m. Enjoying a sojourn down the empty groomers with several forays into the liftside glades was icing on the cake.

CCC Road

Top of the Teardrop

February 15, 2010

Alaskan in Vermont

Camel's Hump lived up to its reputation. A fresh 4" fell yesterday on a soft base and created an exceptional backcountry ski trip.

The trip started in Williamstown, MA with a 4-hour drive to Waterbury, VT via a quick visit at Montpelier. These little VT cities are enchanting. After one wrong turn, I arrived at the Camel's Hump Monroe Trailhead and started my ascent through a hardwood forest. The gentle Monroe Trail did not really require heel elevators for the first two-thirds of the skin. Hemlock and spruce took over above the hardwoods, and lichens populated the blustery, treeless summit. Monroe Trail traverses below some huge cliffs with frozen waterfalls, prompting a mental note to avoid wandering too far skiers' left on the descent through the spruce zone.

Below the spruce zone, the descent enters the hardwoods with exceptional glades. The snow today was perfect powder. Boot top with hoar crystals was the perfect recipe for the mellow gradient in the glades.

Bluster prevented my reading the summit landmark. The wind nearly blew me over. And with powder below, the landmark inscription didn't seem important.

February 14, 2010

Alaskan in New England

Visiting Williamstown cured my curiosity. The Berkshires are enchanting, rich with history, poor in snow, and the people are very friendly. But, my sunshine is where this lovely young lady resides.

Bromley Mountain was where I reached the highest elevation east of the Mississippi in my life time. Departed Williamstown this morning planning to ski Stratton, but came upon Bromley, found a trailhead, and off I went on rugged touring/light telemarking gear. Skinned a gradual ascent from VT Highway 11 to Bromley summit where it was a bit breezy.

The hardwood forest was not totally foreign, but not common terraine for yours truly. The snow was good, 4" fluff on a base that varied from firm to soft. It was a most enjoyable adventure. Some nice folks kept me pointed in the right direction, and I managed to find my way back.

February 7, 2010

Super Twofer

Man, when did I fall behind the times? Time was Super Sunday was a great day for mechanized powder pursuits with lineless lifts. 5000 other powder seekers had my same strategy. Our strategy was emboldened by Alyeska's twoferone lift tickets and 26" fresh over the prior 48 hrs. But, all day back-to-back trams kept the 3 to 4 tramful line moving.

And, there was the trackless high traverse line (Rudy's) Doc and I rendered with pretty sinusoids with optimal face shots, blower but not suffocatingly blinding, Kootenaylike quality running chin deep. Crowded it was, neverthelss like most days on 2 planks, it was a super day.

February 6, 2010

Stuckagain Storm Skiing

Carl Skutstad said it was a no brainer to stay off the Turnagain tilted terraine. Failing to rally with Doc for Alyeska's fresh 18", and failing to rally a Summit expedition, the mission came into focus.

Near Point!

Skiing the 6" fresh was so sweet after such a drought! The storm continued all day with a hammering wind above timberline. Near Point summit bowl is such a rock garden that survival skiing was required to get down from the summit. Sastrugi, rocks, breakable crust were the highlights in the summit bowl. But the snow below timberline fell in cold, calm air. The skiing was so good down below, I almost forgot the alpine pain.

The Pain

The Pleasure

February 5, 2010

Storm at Summit

Blue bird days were almost becoming blase, so we embraced the idea of stormy weather. And although we had scarcely crossed a track all winter, a shot of powder brought cheer.

BJ, Geno, DP, Eruk, Lucky Lucy and yours truly found powder paradise at Lower Summit Lake west side. We ascended the ridge up to peak 3807 above Fresno Mine, and found a few tracks in the bowl, but we found plenty of untracked, too. With the flat light, it really helped having a track to follow in the alpine.

On our first ascent, Lucy found a rabbit's foot. She gnawed and chewed it, and displayed it with great pride. We earlier saw a bald eagle flying low over the forest, perhaps Lucy's treasure was the raptor's scrap. Eruk the Hunter explained that rabbit's feet rarely get eaten, too boney we supposed.

Lucy's lucky find portended the sweet snow we would enjoy. Sweet and stable.

Snow quality was very good overall. Like most ridge tops, it was rocky in places. But, the glades were heavenly and the alpine gullies were terrific.