Waterbury, VT 2/16/2008

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Waterbury, VT 2/16/2008

Postby J.Spin » Tue Aug 19, 2008 8:12 am

Larger version of the pictures, video, and data plots are available through the link at the end of the report.

In the middle of February, Mother Nature took a couple of days off after our Feb 9 & 10 weekend storm before coming back with another decent storm for the midweek. The snowfall started up on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning we’d accumulated a few inches of snow so I took my first observations and made some comments:

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008: 6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New Snow: 2.7 inches
Liquid Equivalent: 0.29 inches
Ratio: 9.4 to 1
Snow Density: 10.6% H2O
Temperature: 23.0 F
Humidity: 79%
Barometer: 28.76 in Hg
Wind: 10-15 MPH
Sky: Moderate Snow
Cumulative storm snow total: 2.7 inches
Cumulative storm liquid total: 0.29 inches
Current snow at the stake: 28 inches
Season snowfall total: 150.2 inches

“When I first looked outside this morning at around 5:00 A.M., there was little if any snow falling at our place in Waterbury. Based on the radar, it also looked like there had been minimal precipitation in our area for quite a while, so our snowfall presumably came from what started falling last night at around 9:30 P.M. By the time I took my 6:00 A.M. observations however, moderate to occasionally heavy snow was coming down. I didn’t detect any sleet in the precipitation, although there were some granular snowflakes in the mix, as well as some rather large (1 to 1.5 cm flakes) in there as well. Boarding the bus in Waterbury at around 6:15 A.M., the same moderate intensity of snowfall continued, although the granular flakes were not present. During the bus ride to Burlington, I couldn’t see much in the darkness during the first half of the trip, but I did hear some noise on the windows at around the Bolton/Jonesville area that may have been some granular snow or sleet. When we arrived in Richmond at around 6:35 A.M., there was no obvious precipitation falling, but in Burlington at around 6:55 A.M., there were a few large flakes coming down. Checking on the ground at UVM I found perhaps an inch or two of new snow. On an accumulations note, the 2.7 inches we’ve received from this event so far in Waterbury does push us over the 150-inch mark for the season, and today’s inch or two should already bring BTV past the 90-inch mark, as they were indicating 89.2 inches as of yesterday’s climate report.”


As noted above in my comments, that first round of snow pushed us past the 150-inch mark for seasonal snowfall accumulation at the house. During 2006-2007, we hadn’t reached that mark until the tail end of season, and the total 2006-2007 snowfall ended up at just 153.4 when all was said and done. It was obvious that 2007-2008 was going to best that mark, especially since the midweek storm wasn’t over quite yet. We picked up additional accumulation during the day on Wednesday, and I recorded it in my observations that evening:

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008: 7:00 P.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New Snow: 3.1 inches
Liquid Equivalent: 0.55 inches
Ratio: 5.6 to 1
Snow Density: 17.7% H2O
Temperature: 29.8 F
Humidity: 98%
Barometer: 28.44 in Hg
Wind: Calm
Sky: Light Snow
Cumulative storm snow total: 5.8 inches
Cumulative storm liquid total: 0.84 inches
Current snow at the stake: 30 inches
Season snowfall total: 153.3 inches

“I had to go and run the snow thrower through the driveway after my measurements, but as of 7:00 P.M. we were at 5.8 inches for this event. Based on the density of the snow, there had to be some sleet in there (and of course my wife told me that some mixed in during the day) but it must have been very dry and well mixed in with the snow because I couldn’t find it. The snow is somehow quite fluffy. I brought my ice scraper out to the snowboard, expecting the potential for a nasty ice layer in there, but the snow slid off easily the way dry powder always does. The yard snowpack is at 30 inches now, and my 30 inch stake is just barely poking out of the snow. I walked around the yard and probed the depth in various places, and that seems to be on par with the rest of open areas. However, I probed some of the more sheltered areas and the snowpack is close to 40 inches. An additional item of note is that there’s already been another tenth of an inch of accumulation on the snowboard, bringing us to 153.4 inches of accumulations on the season… and tying our accumulation from all of last season. To think that it’s only mid February and there are still 2 to 3 months of potential snowfall left is pretty amazing.”


So as of that evening we’d already tied our snowfall accumulation total from the winter of 2006-2007, and we were in uncharted territory beyond that point. We picked up less than an inch of additional snowfall overnight, putting us at 6.1 inches of snow for that event and bringing us to exactly 40 inches of accumulation for the month… and the month was only half over! In addition to the bit of snowfall, it appeared as though some black ice had formed on the highway based on the pair of jackknifed trucks I saw on the trip into Burlington on Thursday morning:

Thursday, February 14th, 2008: 6:00 A.M. update from Waterbury, VT.

New Snow: 0.3 inches
Liquid Equivalent: N.D.
Ratio: N.D.
Snow Density: N.D.
Temperature: 29.8 F
Humidity: 81%
Barometer: 28.76 in Hg
Wind: Calm
Sky: Light Snow/Partly Cloudy
Cumulative storm snow total: 6.1 inches
Cumulative storm liquid total: 0.84 inches
Current snow at the stake: 30 inches
Season snowfall total: 153.6 inches

“We picked up three more tenths of an inch of snowfall last night, bringing us to 6.1 inches for this event. After tying last season’s 153.4 inches of snowfall yesterday evening, this accumulation puts this season cleanly into the lead with 153.6 inches. The NWS has Burlington’s accumulation for the season now at 93.0 inches, and they are (perhaps not so coincidentally) on the verge of passing their total of 94.6 inches from last season. This morning’s snowfall accumulation at the house was very fluffy stuff that had apparently drifted down in the perfectly calm air. In fact, it was still drifting down as I took my morning’s observations to the tune of what I initially thought I’d call flurries, but there was just too much of it falling and I had to go with light snow. It was also one of those occasions where much of the sky was actually clear, but it was still snowing. I couldn’t tell if there were clouds directly above me or not because it was still too dark, but I could see that the sky was virtually clear as I looked east toward the center of Waterbury where it was getting bright with the coming sun. Even in the darkness I could see that there were certainly some clouds sitting along the spine of the Greens, either directly above me or perhaps slightly to the west. As I traveled east into the center of Waterbury, the snowfall continued, and at the Park and Ride it was still snowing at about the same intensity as what I’d seen at the house. The sky was certainly much clearer there. I can remember a person inquiring on the forum about how they could be getting snow when the sky was essentially clear. A well-informed response asked if they had any mountains near them, because they said oftentimes snowfall that is occurring in the mountains can be blown to nearby areas that are not under cloud cover. I’m guessing that’s what was going on today, and although it does seem to happen fairly often to us, this morning was a rather nice example that stood out so I decided to comment on it. The setup was even more obvious as I headed west of the Greens. Looking back from Richmond I could clearly see the bank of clouds sitting along the spine of the Greens, while everything to the west was clear. The bank of clouds wasn’t even that high in elevation (probably topping out at around 4,000 to 5,000 feet), so although I couldn’t see past the clouds, it wasn’t hard to comprehend that it was clear to the east of the spine as well. I didn’t take a liquid precipitation measurement this morning, but it would have been tough to get with such a small amount of dry snow. I estimate the snow was in the 4% H2O range, so that would equate to just a tenth or two of liquid which would be hard to measure with my equipment. The roads must have been nasty this morning for some reason because at around 6:30 A.M. on the bus ride into Burlington, we passed two tractor trailers that had jackknifed just before the Richmond Flats area as we were heading west on I-89. They were both sitting there being attended by emergency vehicles in the span of maybe a mile or two. I spoke with our bus driver, Buddy, and he said that road was actually fine when he went through, so the trucks may have hit it just right to catch some black ice. I took a few pictures of the clouds along the mountains and have included them below.”


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With consistently cold temperatures for most of the period, all our new snow from the recent storms just continued to pile up and sit there with only modest consolidation. There had been a little sleet in the midweek storm, but it seemed to disappear into the rest of the snowpack, and we hadn’t seen liquid precipitation of any sort. On Friday, the valley temperatures warmed to create a bit of sun crust on the snow, but that seemed to be restricted to only the lowest of elevations, and as a bonus, one more small snowfall event came through on Friday night. That event dropped an inch or two in the valley, and we were hoping it set down even a bit more at elevation to put the icing on the cake in terms of the local powder skiing. By Saturday morning the snowpack at our back yard stake (495’) stood at 30 inches, with some places in the yard surpassing three feet of depth. In the higher elevations, the Mt. Mansfield stake (~3,700’) indicated that the snowpack there had reached 86 inches.

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The weekend of February 16th was President’s Day weekend, which of course typically means an increase in ski resort visitors. Saturday was expected to be clear and cool, and combined with the extra visitors and no big storm for the weekend, it was clear that the backcountry was going to be one of the best options for powder. I’d been waiting for the right day to introduce some of the guys to our local backcountry skiing options up behind the house, and by chance the stars aligned for James and Chris to come over to our place on Saturday.

James and Chris arrived in the morning, and after some time gearing up, eating, and just generally hanging out, we got going at a leisurely 10:00 A.M. or so. The temperature was about 15 F as we started our tour, with the high for the day predicted to be around 20 F. Despite the previous night’s snow, the weather had cleared out to perfectly blue skies just as predicted. Even before we merged onto our local V.A.S.T. trail, we knew it was going to be a big day for snowmobile spotting. We could hear them around in the area, and one could imagine that just like us, it would be hard for the guys with sleds to resist being out on such a gorgeous midwinter day with a healthy snowpack. We decided that we’d try to count the number of snowmobiles we saw throughout the day, to get a real sense of just how many were out and about in the area.

We skinned along the edge of our road and soon we were onto the V.A.S.T. 100 trail heading north. As we passed the big clear cut (620’) I could see that it looked like it could offer up some decent skiing with such a good low-elevation snowpack, but we had goals in the higher elevations for this tour. As we got into the meat of our ascent above the clear cut, it wasn’t long before James started spotting deer, even if Chris and I didn’t quite get to catch more than glimpses of them ourselves. The nicely-groomed V.A.S.T. trail made for quick travel, and James was often on point monitoring the movements of the deer as our presence pushed them around. In a couple of spots we found some curious footprints. They appeared to be human footprints, or in this case deep post-holes, but their placement was strange. Whoever made them didn’t use the obvious V.A.S.T. trail with its nicely packed snow, but instead walked right across the trail and didn’t appear to have any rhyme or reason in their direction. We wondered who in the world would be traipsing around in these woods, off trail, without any snowshoes or skis. Since the footprints were so deep in the snowpack, it was actually hard to see far enough down to really analyze them, but once we did our best to inspect them more closely, we quickly realized that they were made by moose, not man. That revelation made a lot more sense, although that sort of travel has still got to require plenty of energy, regardless of who’s putting it out; we were up above 1,000’ in elevation at that point, and the snowpack was in the range of 3 to 4 feet deep. I’m not even sure if any of the crusty supportive layers from numerous prior storms would be much help for the relatively small contact area that moose have to walk with.

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Upon reaching the junction with Woodard Hill Extension (~1,450’) we took a quick break and I let the guys know that we’d completed a good chunk of the ascent. Snowmobile traffic hadn’t been too heavy up to that point, although a couple groups had passed us going up the big V.A.S.T. 100 hill. We’d had plenty of time to hear them and make sure that we were off to the side of the trail. Another group arrived while we were at the top, and it was interesting to again hear the comments about the ascent from the guys on sleds. From the clear cut area up to the junction with Woodard Hill Extension is a climb of about 1,000 vertical feet in roughly a mile, so the average grade is getting up into the range of 15 to 20%. It’s pleasant skinning terrain, but no doubt a workout for some sleds and their riders who tackle the whole thing in the span of just a few minutes.

We were soon on our way again, traveling westward along the level ground of Woodard Hill Extension. We were at a major crossroads of V.A.S.T. trails and we saw several more sleds. To get to the glades we planned to visit, I generally use an access road to one of the local camps to make things easy. However, on this occasion the camp appeared to be having a big gathering of riders with all their sleds right outside on the access road, so we skirted around the scene to avoid skinning right through their party. I’ve actually met some of the owners of that camp in the summer while biking, and they were pretty cool with me using their access road, but as they have a sign specifically alerting people that their road is private and not the actual V.A.S.T. trail, I suspect the might see enough traffic from people taking wrong turns. So, we set our skin track up around the camp to avoid any unnecessary intrusion. James did manage to get a count of all the sleds at the camp and add it to our growing total, which was already up to around 40.

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Our skin track brought us through some nice hardwoods and a beautiful section of evergreens, and soon we were ascending the final trail along the east side of the glades. The powder was looking good, and it had easily passed a half foot of depth by the time we hit the top of our ascent at an elevation of ~1,740’. We relaxed, ate a bit, scoped out some lines, and just generally enjoyed the scene before making our descent. I’d been up to the glades earlier in the winter with visits back in December and January, but in mid February the snowpack certainly looked to be the highest I’d seen it for the season. I wouldn’t say that the deeper snowpack opened up too many additional lines in that specific area of glades, since the undergrowth there is fairly minimal to begin with, but the skiing looked good and some extra snow never hurts.

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We started descending from our spot to the north of the main section of glades, and then we moved off to the western side of the area to hit some steeper terrain. The base depths in the 3 to 4-foot range were actually more than sufficient for even the steeper terrain, and the 8 to 12 inches of fluffy powder topping everything off made for some sublime turns. After a few pictures and some video in the area, we’d dropped the 400’ of vertical down to where the fall line intersects with Woodard Hill Extension (~1,330’). At that point we had to make a decision. We could either head back eastward on Woodard Hill Extension and check out some of the more familiar terrain near the V.A.S.T 100 trail… or we could try something different. The terrain directly below us looked rather promising, but I’d not explored it previously and I didn’t know quite where it ended up. I’d always been by myself on previous outings in the area and hadn’t had the time to get too sidetracked, bottomed out, cliffed out, or just downright lost in the woods. Today however, we had a group of three, and some additional exploration was a more practical option. We decided to go for it, with the added bonus that if the terrain was good, it was going to make an easy extension of the glades above and provide a continuous run in the range of 1,200+ vertical feet.

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Just before continuing on, we saw a snowmobile heading eastward on Woodard Hill Extension, and James noted that it was our 42nd snowmobile sighting of the day. I didn’t actually remember where we were in our count right then, but we caught James talking about it in one of the few video clips we captured. We slid across Woodard Hill Extension and followed some mellow terrain that had just enough pitch to keep us going in the powder. At around the 1,200’ elevation mark we came across yet another camp, the fourth one that I was aware of in the area, and a new one to me. It looked to be buttoned up for the winter, and it had a staircase on hinges that could be lifted up off the ground. I wasn’t sure if it was to keep out critters, people, or was just to accommodate deep snow, but it was an interesting feature.

Passing the camp, the terrain remained as mellow hardwoods for a bit longer, then we broke out into an open area before the terrain fell away into a steep gully. From above we could see that the gully had a mix of hardwoods and evergreens near its entrance, but the evergreens seemed to take over in its shadowy depths. The area looked really inviting all around in terms of skiing, but we decided that we would play it safe and stay on the east side of the gully to ensure we’d end up reasonably close to my house in the end. I knew our general location thanks to my GPS, but I didn’t know if it would be a hassle to get back across the gully lower down, and we could always explore the west side of the gully on our next trip when we really knew the lay of the land. We caught some really nice steep and deep turns in the gully, and the substantial midwinter snowpack continued to be plentiful even as we passed below the 1,000’ elevation mark. James noted that many of the evergreens in the gully were Hemlock trees, so we dubbed the location Hemlock Gully. For some reason the terrain reminded me a lot of the glade trail “In The Spirit” at Blackcomb in British Columbia, perhaps because of the layout of the evergreens. In contrast though, I’d say that Hemlock Gully is steeper than my recollections of “In The Spirit”, which is actually marked as an advanced run on Blackcomb’s trail map, although perhaps that’s because of its trees more than its pitch. One great asset of Hemlock Gully though, is that it doesn’t require me to take a plane ride to get there, or even a car ride for that matter ;).

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At around the 600’ elevation mark I could see where we were going to end up. We were coming down between two of my neighbor’s houses on the other side of Route 2. We were quickly returning to civilization at the point and our tour would be ending, but it was reassuring to know exactly where we were. One of my neighbors was out on his deck enjoying the beautiful day, and seemed to be somewhat surprised to see the three of us coming down out of the woods on skis. Hemlock Gully ended with a large culvert/bridge that ran under the road to the local houses, and since the road was snow packed and steep we used it for our final short descent to Route 2. From there it was a few minutes of sliding and shuffling back to the house. Apparently we saw several more snowmobiles in the area of the Winooski River snowmobile bridge because we wound up seeing more than 50 of them on the day according to my notes. As we finished our tour on my road, James commented on the big power line on the other side of the Winooski Valley that he’d been eyeing for turns. The line is generally north/northwest facing, and seems to hold onto snow quite well throughout the winter and spring from what I’ve seen, so it’s definitely on the list for exploration.

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The temperature had risen to about 20 F when we finished the tour, so it had remained pleasantly cool for ski touring and the snow has stayed pristine even with the abundant sunshine. Later that afternoon, James’ family came over for dinner in what seems to be becoming a tradition after our backcountry ski days. We had Chinese take out with the kids, recounted our adventure, and reviewed our pictures and video. It had been quite a day, but the discovery of Hemlock Gully and the knowledge of how much addition terrain there was in the area to be explored already had me anxious for our next outing.

In a rare occurrence, both my Avocet and Suunto altimeters recorded exactly the same vertical descent for the tour: 1,480’. The final steep descent in the gully was really an added bonus on top of the hardwood glades, but it makes for a very efficient descent back to the house, and we hope to explore it further next time around. There’s also a lot more terrain than needs to be explored above the start point we used. The total continuous descent down to Route 2 with the addition of the gully stands at about 1,200’ for the tour we did, but some initial exploration of other routes down from a local peak (1,970’) in the area indicates that a ~1,500’ descent wouldn’t be too difficult. Above that, another of our local peaks (~2,800’) east of Woodward Mountain looks to be the pinnacle of continuous descents with reasonable pitch, and that descent would be around 2,200’ – 2,300’. Descending continuously from Woodward Mountain (~3,100’) itself looks “theoretically” possible, but the grade would just be too gradual. I think a Bolton Valley lift-assisted tour down from the Woodward Mountain area will ultimately be quite feasible, even though it would probably require a small bit of ascending to make it fun. The distance down to the house from Woodward Mountain is only 3 to 4 miles, but making that connection will require more exploration to see if a decent route could be established. It’s certainly a good activity for the off season.

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Larger versions of the pictures, data plots, and video from the day are available on the following page:

http://www.JandEproductions.com/2008/16FEB08.html

J.Spin
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J.Spin
 
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Location: Waterbury, Vermont - Image: Skiing Bone Mountain in the Bolton Valley backcountry, VT

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