New England Snow Holes

christopherb

New member
Thought i would post a quick report until I have time (patience) to do a longer one. Despite several major snow storms hitting the Northeast so far this season there is still a significant lack of "strong" base at many New England areas. Last weeks storm left feet of snow in parts of New England: Burlington, VT, Crawford Notch, Sugarloaf/Saddleback area. However, after first hand experience and discussions with friends I can confidently say conditions are not great anywhere that I know of from Central VT and NH south to the Berkshires. :-k
In other words a great "snow hole" in parts of western New England
First of all, make no mistake, I believe any day on the mountain is a good one. It's what I'd rather do than anything else.
But an honest assessment of conditions should be given. 8-[
My experience at Killington and Okemo this week was one of thin cover on natural trails and glades, lots of ice and hard pack and a desire to go back to the groomies & snow making trails. My buddies have brought back similar tales from Cannon, Sunapee and Stratton over the past week. There was a lot of hype about snow but me thinks much of it was quickly blown into the woods or off the mountains entirely and into the valleys.
Stratton / Mt Snow area down through the Berkshires is in fair condition and it is no surprise,the CT River Valley and surrounding areas has been in the screw zone for some reason this winter. (Storms 100 miles off the coast will do that -lol)
However, my friend Bob reports that the Mt Washington Valley is also hit or miss. He said Bretton Woods was good but you had to work hard to keep finding where the snow blew. He said Wildcat was o.k. but the entire upper Mt was windblown ice and the next day he went cross (back) country instead.
In short we need a few storms that blanket all of northern and central New England or it will be a short spring season to say the least.
Until another decent snowfall comes through (at least a week to 10 days by my estimations) I'm sticking to non-lift serviced in the eastern Berks (close to home) and saving my $$ for better conditions. :-"
 

riverc0il

New member
This year's storm patterns in New England have been fairly atypical with many of the normal big winners doing poorly (see Stowe and Sugarbush last weekend) and some other places doing way better than average (see Saddleback and Cannon last weekend). Also note last month's storm that killed south eastern New England but hardly gave any snow to locations north of MA and west of Worcester. Cannon has already received 87" year to date which is more than half of their seasonal average with three months to go in the snowy months, just as one specific example.

During the past eight or so years since I have been pursuing skiing seriously, I do not recall any season during which as much terrain has been open this early in the year. Most areas in Northern New England are at or close to 100% open including glades. The current coverage for many NNE areas would be considered adequate for February or March at many locations. My 12 day season total so far includes 7 powder days of 6" or more (and I missed at least one good storm not to mention mid-week days less than a foot). While November was terribly warm and mid-December after the first big storm of the season was lack luster, the past three weeks have been nothing short of amazing for Norther New England.

I am not sure I buy your "snow hole" theory for Western New England, either. See evidence of great powder skiing at Magic Mountain in SoVT this past week (these trip reports are plentiful over on AlpineZone.com and TGR forums). When Upper Magician and the trees at Magic are skiable during the first week of January, something really good happened.

Your friends' first hand observations suggest they got to the mountains long after the storm blew through or they skied mountains that did not benefit from the past storm due to receiving more wind than snow. This suggests they skied the wrong areas following a storm or they skied them too late or they had unreasonable expectations for the area given this is only the first week of January. Keep in mind that there have been many Januarys in recent memory that we were lucky to even be skiing groomers.

In the past week, I have skied in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont experiencing boot deep all three days with extended periods of knee deep on two of those days with even deeper shots off the map. The goods are out there. But it is only January! All of that snow fell on a barely adequate base so once the new snow is skied off, you are left with really thin coverage. Instead of seeing these thin coverage issues as problematic, I say just be EXTREMELY thankful that we have had such great storms this early in the season and be thankful for such a great base that only needs one more storm to be back in play as great skiing.

Do certain areas get dry slotted more than others? Absolutely. But even though certain areas do better on average over the course of the entire year, any given area can be dry slotted during any given storm. If you want the best conditions, you gotta follow the weather, be flexible, and go where the new snow is. Being willing to go deep into the woods doesn't hurt either.

Personally, I think we are off to one of the best starts to a season I can remember (excluding November and lack of early season earned turn powder which was exceptionally unusual).
 

Patrick

Active member
riverc0il":1dxhf1jt said:
This year's storm patterns in New England have been fairly atypical with many of the normal big winners doing poorly (see Stowe and Sugarbush last weekend) and some other places doing way better than average (see Saddleback and Cannon last weekend).

Noticed that same thing looking at the storm numbers from home :-( on January 3rd.

Jan 3 09 - Snowstorm numbers and question
viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8467

riverc0il":1dxhf1jt said:
Most areas in Northern New England are at or close to 100% open including glades. The current coverage for many NNE areas would be considered adequate for February or March at many locations.

River is right, I haven't ski NE so far this season except that one day at MRG on December 20th. I can tell that it looked pretty good for prior Christmas skiing.

Mad River Glen VT, Suncolday December 20, 09
viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8411
 

christopherb

New member
Hey rivercOIl I hear you in terms of at least everything is open in New England with decent coverage. I think I may have gone to the wrong part of VT. Magic is a lot closer to me than Killington and Okemo and it sounds like you found good conditions there. I'm surprised Magic was in such good shape b/c Stratton had a lot of ice but they are a few miles from each other and it has been a localized type of winter with storms. The ice may have had just as much to do with Stratton's skier volume as opposed to lower #s at Magic.
Part of my post is related to frustration that I've been hearing from friends with high expectations of great snow everywhere based on the post storm reports. I think people tend to forget that lots of little snows are usually better than the "epic" storms because big storms are generally followed by big wind!
My problem with following the weather is that Vt is much more attainable for me from western Ma. than W. Maine and N. NH.
I await the w/e reports from Jay and Stowe... (and await an east- west highway in N. New England - LOL)
In the meantime this is probably a back country week for me out in the Savoy state forest or maybe Greylock. :wink:
 

Tony Crocker

Administrator
Staff member
This thread illustrates the difficulty of constructing an accurate record of Vermont snow conditions: http://webpages.charter.net/tcrocker818/vrmthist.htm . By my criteria the first post and kingslug's Sugarbush report do not meet the standards of A conditions. I gave last weekend an A on the strength of 30+ inches recorded at Killington and in Burlington and that the central/northern Vermont areas were on average 95+% open. As Patrick's quote says, some of the recentstorms were unusually spotty in their distribution of new snow, rather than having clear cut subregions that got the most snow.

But I am also not surprised in Riverc0il's comment:
...they skied mountains that did not benefit from the past storm due to receiving more wind than snow. This suggests they skied the wrong areas following a storm...
One of the advantage Vermont skiers have is multiple areas from which to choose. In constructing that chart I try to assume the best weekend conditions among the areas ranging from Killington to Jay Peak. A local should be able to figure this out most of the time, as River and some others have demonstrated. OTOH I do not think it's reasonable to give credit to Vermont for a 2+ hour trip outside the immediate region to find better conditions.

During the past eight or so years since I have been pursuing skiing seriously, I do not recall any season during which as much terrain has been open this early in the year.
I disagree. 3 years in the past decade have produced two A weekends in December, and last season had one. As of December 22 this season the northern Vermont areas were just getting past 50% open. They were essentially starting from ground zero on Dec. 1, and and the natural snow built a base gradually through the month.

After the setback of the now traditional Christmas rain, it's been continuously below freezing with a decent amount of natural snow. I see the NE season as slightly above average by now, but far behind the really good seasons of 2000-01 and 2007-08.
 

riverc0il

New member
Tony Crocker":3ebcg010 said:
I disagree. 3 years in the past decade have produced two A weekends in December, and last season had one. As of December 22 this season the northern Vermont areas were just getting past 50% open. They were essentially starting from ground zero on Dec. 1, and and the natural snow built a base gradually through the month.

After the setback of the now traditional Christmas rain, it's been continuously below freezing with a decent amount of natural snow. I see the NE season as slightly above average by now, but far behind the really good seasons of 2000-01 and 2007-08.
You can disagree all you want Tony, you are not the one skiing out here and you yourself have just noted the difficult in determining snow quality in NE with your methodology. Here is what the numbers do not show:

While almost no ski areas were able to open in November due to above freezing temperatures, lack of snow making, and no natural snow (excepting one big dump the week after Thanksgiving that melted within a few days), NE has experienced a prolonged cold stretch of almost a full month which has equated to excellent snow making and base building. Enough natural snow fell during the second week of December that MRG was able to open essentially the entire mountain on December 12th. While a little rain did happen during one event in December, it was not much and followed by cold which essentially locked up a bomber proof base. Then these past two weeks have pretty much been non-stop snow for New England. I think it has snowed almost every day somewhere in New England for the past two weeks. With no January thaw and potentially another storm on the way next week and most mountains in NNE fully open, I am about as giddy as I have ever been for a season.
 

riverc0il

New member
christopherb":z8ktit7z said:
Hey rivercOIl I hear you in terms of at least everything is open in New England with decent coverage. I think I may have gone to the wrong part of VT. Magic is a lot closer to me than Killington and Okemo and it sounds like you found good conditions there. I'm surprised Magic was in such good shape b/c Stratton had a lot of ice but they are a few miles from each other and it has been a localized type of winter with storms. The ice may have had just as much to do with Stratton's skier volume as opposed to lower #s at Magic.
Part of my post is related to frustration that I've been hearing from friends with high expectations of great snow everywhere based on the post storm reports. I think people tend to forget that lots of little snows are usually better than the "epic" storms because big storms are generally followed by big wind!
My problem with following the weather is that Vt is much more attainable for me from western Ma. than W. Maine and N. NH.
I await the w/e reports from Jay and Stowe... (and await an east- west highway in N. New England - LOL)
In the meantime this is probably a back country week for me out in the Savoy state forest or maybe Greylock. :wink:
I did not ski Magic but am just retelling what I have seen in other skier's trip reports. VT is fine if you go to the right mountains. I just hit Smuggs on Saturday and it was almost in the epic category. The last report I saw from Jay was that daily small snows were adding up in the woods but on trail was blown due to wind. As mentioned, typical usual winners from the past storm saw more wind than snow so no surprise many places did not ski well.

We are only one storm away from most major areas skiing at their best once again as the base is there, snows continue off and on at the usual places, and skiing is actually still spectacular at certain areas. Keep your eyes on this weekend to see what this next event does and enjoy those BC turns!
 
I'd disagree with Chris on his assessment, at least as western Massachusetts is concerned. My local mountain has 100% of its terrain open with excellent, groomed man-made conditions on all trails. The cold weather prior to Christmas (the rain storm notwithstanding) and the sustained cold weather since late December has been like manna from heaven for any resort that has 100% snowmaking. We also got 7 to 8 inches of natural snow from that storm last Sunday (very light powder although some got blown into the woods) and we've had some smaller snowfalls from localized snow showers. We've had enough natural snow to at least give it the look of winter in the woods. All in all, one of the best starts to the ski season around here in years. It makes you realize that sustained cold weather is really the key in parts of New England to give us good ski conditions.
 

Tony Crocker

Administrator
Staff member
Then these past two weeks have pretty much been non-stop snow for New England. I think it has snowed almost every day somewhere in New England for the past two weeks. With no January thaw and potentially another storm on the way next week and most mountains in NNE fully open, I am about as giddy as I have ever been for a season.
No argument at all about the recent past or near term prospects. But didn't it rain nearly everywhere Dec. 25-27? It had to take a few days to cover up/restore what was left after that. So the consistently good skiing has been going for what, a week and a half ( a bit longer at Quebec City where Dec. 25-27 was snow)?

Before Christmas I don't see anything great except for that isolated lake effect storm that gpetrics nailed at MRG. There must not have much base because 2 days later most Vermont areas were still less than half open. Compare to December 2000, 2002 or 2007 or the weekend before Christmas a year ago and it's not even close.

And no offense, but I have a hard time calling it a great season when half the eastern reports are still mediocre and and only the dedicated aficionados like Riverc0il are scoring good days. In great years (see eastern Canada 2008 or Vermont 2001) it doesn't take expertise; it's all good.
 

jamesdeluxe

Administrator
RivercOil's like a guy who was in a committed relationship for several years, and is now having fun playing the field.
 

christopherb

New member
berkshireskier":36820b7v said:
I'd disagree with Chris on his assessment, at least as western Massachusetts is concerned. My local mountain has 100% of its terrain open with excellent, groomed man-made conditions on all trails. The cold weather prior to Christmas (the rain storm notwithstanding) and the sustained cold weather since late December has been like manna from heaven for any resort that has 100% snowmaking. We also got 7 to 8 inches of natural snow from that storm last Sunday (very light powder although some got blown into the woods) and we've had some smaller snowfalls from localized snow showers. We've had enough natural snow to at least give it the look of winter in the woods. All in all, one of the best starts to the ski season around here in years. It makes you realize that sustained cold weather is really the key in parts of New England to give us good ski conditions.


Honestly I have only been out in the back country of the northern Berkshires so I cannot comment on the lift serve areas of Western MA. (Except for Berkshire East which has certainly gotten short changed on snow this year. I have encountered what I would call average snow depths in the Greylock area and lighter than average on the east slopes of the Berks.
My experiences this season in VT have been mixed thus the original impetus for my post.
One of the things that has happened is that the one really big storm that we have seen in northern New England had very unusual mesoscale banding that resulted in extremely localized heavy accumulations. You could literally go 10-20 miles and see snow amounts double!
The other factor has been the snow ratios. Most of the snows that have fallen in northern New England have been high ration snows. 15:1 or better snow to liquid equivalent. Great for fluff not great for base building. That is why the woods look rather this at some areas. We did not get the early season heavy wet 8:1, 10:1 snow to qpf that we often do to start the season. Novemeber was a complete non-event. There are definitely times when you would prefer to see a marginal temperature storm drop 1" of liquid equivalent and only end up with let's say 8"-10" rather than have temps. in the low 20's F and see 15-20" of pixie dust that blows off the mountain.
There is plenty of season left and I usually do the bulk of my skiing from mid-January onward. I was only posting to say that it certainly has not been more than an average start to the ski season in my opinion. O:)
 
Yea, I'm sure that the skiing in the woods or on trails with no snowmaking is not that great. We just have not had enough natural snow in Southern New England and the snow that has fallen has been quite powdery - not good for base building. But the skiing on trails with man made snow has been quite good, for this time of year. The sustained cold temperatures have been great for snowmaking.
 

christopherb

New member
berkshireskier":vuh2dj5r said:
Yea, I'm sure that the skiing in the woods or on trails with no snowmaking is not that great. We just have not had enough natural snow in Southern New England and the snow that has fallen has been quite powdery - not good for base building. But the skiing on trails with man made snow has been quite good, for this time of year. The sustained cold temperatures have been great for snowmaking.

Where are you skiing in the Berkshires? How is Jiminy this year?
 

rfarren

New member
christopherb":32gjze43 said:
berkshireskier":32gjze43 said:
Yea, I'm sure that the skiing in the woods or on trails with no snowmaking is not that great. We just have not had enough natural snow in Southern New England and the snow that has fallen has been quite powdery - not good for base building. But the skiing on trails with man made snow has been quite good, for this time of year. The sustained cold temperatures have been great for snowmaking.

Where are you skiing in the Berkshires? How is Jiminy this year?

My uncle who hits Jiminy every weekend said that it is as good as it's ever been for early January. He said the base was something like 50 or 60 inches. He could be lying, but I doubt it.
 

J.Spin

New member
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to follow the weather throughout the entire Northeast as much as I’d like, but I am able to follow the snowfall/weather/skiing in Northern Vermont very closely, so I can make some comments on how this season has gone so far in this sub-region. In general I’d side with Tony in saying that the conditions have been close to average around here, but I certainly wouldn’t put them any higher than that. Sure there has been some great powder, but as I always say, that’s just the way it should be. In fact, I think I could make an argument based on the data below, that we’re actually a bit below average using some of the standard metrics. I’ve alluded to this before, but personally, I think that many people have a rather warped perception of what the average skiing is actually like around here. I’m not sure if it’s simply due to the extraordinary number of mixed precipitation events that have come through over the past few seasons, or the way a simple mixed/rain event can get so much more attention than a snowstorm (as evidenced recently in the Vermont Snow Updates thread). Perhaps it’s some aspect of human nature that causes people to focus on when the conditions have taken a bad turn – but it’s as if people are constantly looking over their shoulder for the next weather event that’s going to cause a downturn in ski conditions, and that may have an affect on their expectations. Those thoughts aside, we know that impressions and memory can be somewhat unreliable, so that’s why it’s good to look at the actual data. I’ll use three categories below to make the case for average or even slightly below average conditions:

Thaws, and mixed/rain events: River commented on how there’s been a prolonged stretch of cold for about a month, with the major hiccup being the event around Christmas. I know that in general, the farther south and closer to the coast one goes, the more likely it is to get warm, but that stretch of weather, containing just a single rain event is very much the norm for this area. Where are the data to say this? Thanks to Tony’s hard work, we are provided with those data for Mt. Mansfield at the bottom of his snow quality page. The way people talk about the rain/mixed precipitation events around here, I’d bet many would be surprised to find out that a typical season contains roughly ONE rain day per month in the December, January, and February period. Based on the precipitation numbers (just 0.85 inches/month), that likely equates to ONE rain event per month. So in that regard we are very much following an average progression so far this season, and if it turns out that there were actually two days with rain as Tony mentioned above, that would be a bit worse than “average” for December. We did have a very quick recovery from that rain event however, so that may have added to the quality of the skiing.


Snowfall: In general my snowfall data from Waterbury correlate fairly well with what is going on in the local mountains – the correlation isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty decent gauge, especially during the heart of the season when elevation-dependent snowfall events aren’t the norm. Granted I only have four seasons worth of data to use, but what do my Waterbury snowfall data say for the state of the season so far? They say that we are running around average at best, and more likely we are below average. Here are my Waterbury cumulative snowfall numbers for the past four seasons through January 11th:

2006-2007: 26.6 inches
2007-2008: 97.2 inches
2008-2009: 98.7 inches
2009-2010: 65.4 inches

Those four seasons reveal an average of 72.0 inches of snowfall through this point in the season. If anything, I wonder if that number is a bit low because of the extremely low 26.6 inches from the 2006-2007 season pulling the average down. That season saw little if any snowfall, not only for November like this season, but also for December, so that has got to be a rather rare occurrence. But are the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 numbers simply higher than average, making the average artificially high? It’s hard to say with only four seasons worth of data, but I’d argue that the snowfall numbers for those two seasons are not all that high. None of the local ski resorts in the northernmost part of the state had any astronomical numbers in those seasons, they were all in the typical 300+ range. I know there is one of these past few seasons that people consider notably better than average, but none of them have really been standouts as far as I’ve seen from personal experience or snowfall numbers from the local resorts. So basically my data say that at 65.4 inches of snowfall for the season so far, we are currently running below the average of 72.0 inches of snowfall in Waterbury. Then we have Tony’s snowfall data for the actual ski areas this season as of January 6th:

Jay Peak (mid)
Season snow: 95 inches
Percent of normal: 70%

Mansfield Stake
Season snow: 78 inches
Percent of normal: 86%

Smuggler's Notch
Season snow: 105 inches
Percent of normal: 84%

Sugarbush
Season snow: 71 inches
Percent of normal: 69%

These numbers are only through January 6th, but they are clearly below average. Snowfall has been OK lately, but we’ve really just been making up for the nearly snowless November, so that may have provided some good powder days.


Snowpack: I checked on the current graph for the Mt. Mansfield snowpack, and was surprised to see that it is actually above average. The average snowpack depth at the stake for this date is 44 inches, and as of the latest update it is at 55 inches, so that is almost a foot above average. It should be noted that as of just a couple of weeks ago the snowpack at the stake was running right along near average, but as of now this parameter should clearly go in the above average category. I’ll add an additional note in this category based on some other comments I saw in this thread with regard to surprise about how much terrain was open. I created the image below to address the point about average snowpack on Mt. Mansfield a few weeks back, but I’ll also use it here. If one looks at the snow depths for the holiday period, they generally run in the three-foot range at the stake. Now the unofficial kick off for off piste skiing in the area is when the stake hits 40 inches, but that’s generally considered the marker for the start of relatively “safe” skiing in the trees. It’s quite obvious that woods skiing typically gets well under way with less than the 40 inches of snowpack at the stake, and from the graph below, one can see that the typical snowpack on Mt. Mansfield is just shy of that range. So again in an average season, one should expect to find plenty of off piste skiing in Northern Vermont for the holiday period. I’m not sure exactly how this relates to the percentages for trail openings, but if there is enough coverage to ski the trees, there should be enough coverage to ski the trails. The level of skier traffic may come into play for trails however. I think that once again with the string of rain/mixed events that have happened during the last several holiday periods, people may have a skewed perspective on what to expect for holiday offering around here.

11DEC09A.jpg



So what’s the tally in these three categories?
Thaws, and mixed/rain events: Probably average (or possibly a bit worse)
Snowfall: Below Average
Snowpack: Above Average


Certainly the data I’ve presented can’t speak for areas outside of Northern Vermont, and some of those areas do seem to be above normal, but around here I’d say conditions are roughly average based on those parameters. I don’t see any reason to go above that level based on those data – or personal experience from out on the slopes (since we know that these snow-related parameters are a big part of the story, but they may not tell the whole story). In terms of actual personal observations of ski conditions in this area, I can report on both Bolton Valley and Stowe from this weekend. At Bolton, the off piste is currently excellent (great in many areas, but not all) but on piste the conditions are rather unimpressive where trails have been groomed. Relative to my standards and compared to what it can be, the snow is rather firm in many places. At Stowe I was skiing on piste at Spruce yesterday, and the groomed runs are clearly a step below what I’ve seen at Bolton Valley. I’m not sure if it’s the wind, the effect of holiday crowds, or lack of recent snow, but Stowe’s groomed terrain (at least on Spruce) was much firmer than I expected. The off piste snow looked nice, but I didn’t get a chance to sample it.
 

Marc_C

Active member
J.Spin":1u5stfkq said:
The way people talk about the rain/mixed precipitation events around here, I’d bet many would be surprised to find out that a typical season contains roughly ONE rain day per month in the December, January, and February period. Based on the precipitation numbers (just 0.85 inches/month), that likely equates to ONE rain event per month.
Wow, thanks for pointing that out. If by "typical" you mean more or less average, it certainly reaffirms my perception that, indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.
 

rsmith

New member
Even with the rain events it seems probable that the NE is actually scoring higher (at this point of the season) on Tony's Snow Conditions ranking than Northern/Central Colorado...

Not to change the subject too much, but I'm curious about the 4.3% of wet snow months seen at Snowbird. I'm surprised that there's ever been even a single month that averaged 15-20% water at Snowbird. Is this an error?
 

Marc_C

Active member
jamesdeluxe":3k1arbpt said:
Marc_C":3k1arbpt said:
indeed, it does rain a lot in NE during the winter. And nearly a drenching inch when it does.
This is news?
Not to me, but I've only had an empirical feel about the truthiness of the assumption till I saw the distillation of the data.
 
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