Vermont Snow Updates 2009-10

Bolton Valley, VT 29APR2010

On Thursday morning I was back up at Bolton to see how the powder was doing. The freezing line had certainly crept upwards from where it had been on Wednesday, and even up at the main base (2,100’) there was a thick melt crust on the snow. I could see that there had been a lot of activity on the slopes on Wednesday, and everyone’s tracks were frozen up. The resort had run a groomer right up Beech Seal, which was probably very helpful on Wednesday with the deep snow, but it wasn’t much help on Thursday morning. It was still the most attractive ascent option, but anyone who has skinned on frozen cat tracks knows how the hold of skins can be tenuous. My arms got a good workout on some of the steeper pitches as I struggled to hold ground.

When I found that the crust was still present even up above mid mountain, I was getting ready to just descend and call it a workout, but I had some time and decided to keep going to the big Sherman’s Pass switchback at 2,800’. Right around there I saw the first traces of more decent snow, so I pushed on to the Vista Summit. The melt crust was certainly decreasing by that elevation, although now that I was up near the ridge line, a wind crust was taking its place in exposed areas. I finished my ascent via Sherman’s and Hard Luck Chute, wrapped around above the Vista Quad summit station, and de-skinned near the top of Alta Vista. The wind was ripping through there pretty nicely, maybe 20-30 MPH from what I could tell. I found a spot out of the wind, and there actually was some nice medium weight powder in protected spots at that elevation.


I headed down Alta Vista, which had a couple of tracks in the steeper section up top, but those folks had retreated to Sherman’s before the more moderate grade. Presumably they wouldn’t have been moving well without the steeper pitch on Wednesday. Now that the snow had consolidated a bit, I was able to ski out the rest of the untracked Alta Vista. The snow wasn’t billowy and light like it had been on Wednesday morning, but it was still decent.


I was glad I’d had those turns though, because below the Sherman’s Pass switchback it was pretty much survival skiing with the return of the crust. Staying in my skin track was too fast without the option to bleed speed by wedging, and staying out of the track was just really tough with a semi-breakable crust – even skiing in alpine mode. When possible, I actually worked out an interesting solution for that part of the descent. I kept one ski in my skin track, and one ski out in the crust, and regulated speed by shifting my weight between the two. Below mid mountain, I took the Bear Run route as the easiest/safest option.

Back down near the base, there were the very faintest first signs of the snow softening, so with that change there was hope for better skiing later in the crusty areas. I saw what looked like a father and son just starting up for a hike, and hoped they knew what they were in for. So overall it was a good quick workout, with a bonus leg workout on that difficult descent, and at least some nice turns up high… but nothing in the league of Wednesday.

Thursday warmed up somewhat and the snow was melting quickly in the valleys, but the mountains were still looking nice. I grabbed a shot of the Mansfield Chin area as I was leaving Burlington:


This update was for our NNE thread over at Eastern, but I realized it would also be useful in this thread.

I finally had a chance to look at the totals from our storm at the end of April, so here’s what the precipitation data look like for our location, Mt. Mansfield, and Mt. Washington:

Waterbury (495’): 6.6” snow/1.33” L.E.
Mt. Mansfield (3,700’): 21.0” snow/2.44” L.E.
Mt. Washington (6,288’): 25.4” snow/3.10” L.E.

April is over, so I’ve updated my snowfall and snowpack graphs and some of the season data.

In terms of snowfall, the snow we received on April 28th was the latest measurable accumulation in the four seasons that I’ve been keeping track at our current location. The latest event brought our April 2010 snowfall (7.1”) to just an inch shy of the average I have for the month here (8.1”), and the result was similar in Burlington; they picked up 5.5” for the month and their average is a slightly higher at 6.2”. It also brought us back up above 70% of our average snowfall (70.9%) here at the house, as we’d been below 70% of average for much of the month. It was both the November and March numbers that really depressed the total snowfall here; normally I would expect about 42” of snow from those two months based on my data, but we only got 2.3”. This is also the first time I’ve recorded more snowfall in April than in March. Another notable data point is how Burlington received more snow than our location in January. Those trends are visible in the monthly snowfall plot:


For snowpack, the two moderate to large April events were really just blips on my valley plot, but they were both substantial spikes in Mt. Mansfield’s upper-elevation snowpack, and they are clearly visible on the Mt. Mansfield snowpack plot:


The snowpack was really dropping off after that last storm, but it has slowed in the past week, whether through cooler temperatures or getting down into some denser snow.

The forecast is for snow in the higher elevations tonight and tomorrow. There’s still base out there, so we’ll have to see if there’s enough new snow to head out for some fresh Mother’s Day turns. Our NWS point forecast doesn’t call for any snow down at this elevation, but it does suggest a low of 36 F so I’ll certainly be on the lookout. As yet I have not recorded any May snowfall at our location, but Burlington’s long term average is only a tenth of an inch or so, so I don’t suspect we’re too far from that.

After this weekend’s snow, the next chance still looks to be in the midweek range.
We went to the Stateside base of Jay Peak (2,000’) and did some skiing today on the lower slopes. The wind was howling at times in classic Jay Peak style; I bet it was gusting to 40 MPH, and the temperature at that elevation was 30 F. With the wind, I measured snow accumulations from 4 to 18 inches in the lower elevations, although if I had to put a number on the accumulations at 2,000’ I’d go with 6”+. As noted, the Mt. Mansfield stake report this evening indicated 10.5 new inches, so there could easily have been a foot up top at Jay Peak. The snow was dense, but not wet unless down in a water bar or other low area. It's still snowing here at the house in Waterbury, moisture is still visible on the radar, and the forecast temperatures are below freezing even for the lower valleys tonight, so I don't see any reason the skiing shouldn't be great tomorrow. Additional valley snowfall observations from the trip are in the NNE thread at Eastern.
I visited Bolton this morning, and I almost turned around right at the main base because the view was rather uninspiring. I guess the initial shock came because all the main trails looked pretty scoured and nothing like the deep coverage I’d seen yesterday at Jay Peak. After a quick walk around the base area I spied some better looking snow over in the Snowflake area, so I decided to stick around for a run and skinned up there. Although Bolton definitely picked up less snow that what I saw at Jay, once I was on the snow I could tell that they’d done OK. Outside of scoured areas, I measured 3” – 6” at the main base, and then 6” – 8” up at around 2,600’ – 2,700’ on Cobrass. The key is really to find protected trails, and then there is some very nice powder (some of the driest I’ve hit in these April/May events) with a density gradient that delivers bottomless turns. I was on my skinny “rock” Telemark skis (107/70/97) and there was no problem floating right down even the steepest part of Cobrass Run. I descended in that area with a connection over to the Snowflake trails, but I’m sure anyone that pokes around (or already knows) the mountain will find the protected powder. There is some sort of wind crust in spots, and it’s quickly possible to see that it’s a slightly darker shade that the soft powder, so it can be avoided on the descent for some really sweet turns. I’d recommend rock skis or J-boards if you really want to ski without concern, but I’d also say go to Jay (or Stowe from what I’ve heard) if you have the time because the coverage was notably better – no real need for rock skis based on what I saw at Jay. But, if you only have time for Bolton you’ll be able to get some very nice powder in spots out of the wind, and I didn’t even explore above the 2,700’ level. A few more weather details from this morning are in my morning post to the NNE thread at Eastern.

Bolton Valley, VT 10MAY2010

With the way it continued to snow into Sunday evening, along with the expected cold temperatures, it was likely that Monday was going to feature more powder skiing. I headed up to Bolton Valley in the morning, and while there was no snow at the house (495’), I was surprised at how quickly I saw the first traces of snow as I headed up the access road. The first coatings of snow appeared in the woods around the Bolton Valley welcome sign, even below 1,000’. The snow depth increased fairly quickly at first, and there was an even coating of perhaps a few inches up at the Timberline Base (1,500’). The increase in snow beyond that elevation was unimpressive though, and I was very surprised by the appearance of the slopes up above the village (2,100’). On initial inspection, it seemed like the mountain had picked up just a few inches of new snow, and what they had received had been scoured out in many places by the wind. The snow was certainly skiable, but it really looked more like junkboard territory, nothing like what we’d seen the previous day at Jay Peak.


The weather was inspiring in a ski sense though; it felt like November with a temperature of 28 F, very dry air carried on a light breeze, and a few remnant clouds between me and the skies to the west. I decided to take a quick walk around the base area and see if I could spot any inspiring areas of more respectable powder. I couldn’t convince myself that there was anything I wanted to hit over by the Mid Mountain Lift, but I finally saw some protected areas over by the Snowflake Lift that looked nice. I grabbed my gear and started skinning up Lower Foxy. Although certainly less than the 6”+ we’d seen at the Stateside base of Jay Peak, once on the snow I could see that Bolton had received some decent accumulations where the winds hadn’t completely had their way. With grass sticking out of the snow in most places, the view was less inspiring than what we’d seen on Sunday, but my checks revealed 3” – 6” of accumulation, which was generally dense and more than enough to keep me off the ground. In fact, there was an upper layer of lighter powder on top that seemed to be derived from some drying of the snow and/or the tail end of the snowfall. I skinned up to the top of the Snowflake area (2,400’), then connected over to Cobrass Run and continued up to the 2,600’ – 2,700’ range on Cobrass, where I found 6” – 8” of snow. Since the clouds had almost completely pulled away to the west, I enjoyed some excellent views of the Champlain Valley and Adirondacks, and Whiteface stood out clearly.



I had to think a little in choosing my descent lines, but managed some great powder turns on parts of Cobrass Run. There were some really smooth and dry areas of snow up there, enough that I would have stayed and gone for another run higher up on the mountain if I’d had the time. Down in the elevations of the Snowflake area it was harder to find that nice powder; the snow was generally on the denser side of the spectrum without the extra topping. Overall on Monday at Bolton there was some good powder, and lighter powder than some of the April/May shots of snow we’ve had this spring, but for the overall experience I’d put it near the bottom of the collection of days in the period simply due to the lower coverage.


I’ve completed my 2009-2010 winter weather summary page for our location in Waterbury. All the material can be seen by clicking on the linked text for the page, and I’ve also included a short report on some of the highlights/lowlights below.

Relative to the four years that we’ve been at this location, several snow-related parameters this past season were by far the lowest we’ve seen. The most obvious deficiency was total snowfall (127.7 inches) which was more than a full standard deviation below the four-year mean of 165.9 ± 32.6 inches, and 25.7 inches below our previous leanest year of 2006-2007, which had an abysmal start. Other parameters that came in as the lowest recorded were the number of accumulating snowstorms (36), max snowpack depth attained (21 inches), and snow depth days (1,040 day•inches). However, due to the accumulating snowfall from the Mother’s Day Storm, this past season topped all the others for most May snowfall (1.0 inches) latest accumulating snowfall (May 9th) and longest accumulating snowfall season (185 days).

A summary table for the past four seasons is shown below, with maximum values for each parameter shown in green and minimum values shown in red:


In terms of snowfall, the monthly breakdown reveals where the biggest deficiencies occurred this past season. A quick comparison of the 2006-2010 monthly snowfall averages (1st graph below) vs. the 2009-2010 monthly snowfall (2nd graph below) shows obvious snowfall deficiencies in November and March. March snowfall was 20 inches below the average, with just 2.1inches falling. November’s 0.2 inches of snow was a deficiency of almost 10 inches, and while December did produce 35.5 inches of snow, that was still almost 10 inches below average.


Good stats , interesting your snow pack depth at 495' for the season at around 2' is on par with my own Laurentian records for last year taken at areas between 1600' - 2000' with a average of 2 ' . Elevation was key last year to salvage the season as the higher summits in vt had better snow depths . One area I keep track of is how many times it rains and for how long the temps stay above freezing relative to elevation . As gaps between snow falls are made worse when it rains in between.
Anthony":kv95ksc5 said:
Good stats, interesting your snow pack depth at 495' for the season at around 2' is on par with my own Laurentian records for last year taken at areas between 1600' - 2000' with a average of 2'. Elevation was key last year to salvage the season as the higher summits in VT had better snow depths.
It’s amazing to think of those elevations north of here having only 2 feet of snow on the ground during the winter, but I guess it speaks to how last season worked out in terms of snowfall. What snowpack depths would you normally expect to see in those locations? I suspect that our first three winters here in Waterbury (’06-’07, ’07-’08, and ’08-’09), where the snow in the yard got up to around 3 feet, are likely to be more typical in terms of maximum (and potentially average) snowpack depth:


I don’t have long term data for snowpack or snowfall at our location, and snowfall amounts aren’t a perfect indicator of snowpack around here, but based on the snowfall that Bolton Valley reported in those three seasons (303”, 330”, and 318” respectively) it doesn’t seem like they were extraordinary seasons for snowfall vs. their annual average of 312” – so I’d be surprised if they were extraordinary seasons at the house. I would have thought that the snowfall we got at the house in the ’07-’08 season was well outside the norm, but even with our current snowfall average, which has dropped quite a bit due to the incorporation of the ’09-’10 data, 200” is still only about 1 S.D. away. Our snow depth-days were definitely high in ’07-’08, but the maximum snowpack depth was still in line with ’06-’07 and ’08-’09. For what it’s worth, and despite the extra elevation, Bolton Valley is probably the best bet for comparison of snowfall trends with my location; other snowfall tracking locations that I know about are either more distant, or outside of the upslope snowfall zone.

Anthony":kv95ksc5 said:
One area I keep track of is how many times it rains and for how long the temps stay above freezing relative to elevation. As gaps between snow falls are made worse when it rains in between.
I’ve never really monitored the rain events during the winter, but even this far south, purely rain events are really infrequent during the heart of the ski season; there’s almost always at least some mixed precipitation in the storm, and I record those events. Tracking the rain and above freezing temperatures seems like a good idea to get a handle on the conditions during those periods, but in line with what Mike said in the thread where we discussed the length of the tree skiing season around here, new snow generally comes in so quickly after the rain that gaps between snowfalls are short and it’s not much of an issue. The mixed/rain situations are often a small minority of the events, and when they do become more frequent, it seems to be due to an active weather pattern where more snow quickly follows. The ‘09-‘10 season was a good example of the first situation: snowfall was low, but the occurrence of mixed or rainy storms was also quite low. It actually led to some very consistent backcountry conditions in this area. The ‘07-‘08 and ‘08-‘09 seasons were more “Niña-style” situations from what I understand, with higher chances for mixed precipitation, but very frequent storms. Looking at my data for those two seasons from the table in my previous post above, we averaged about 50 accumulating snowstorms per season down in the valley. I suspect that for the mountains that number would be 60+. If one assumes approximately 180 days for a winter/ski season, with that many storms there should be some new snow about every three days.

Based on what I’m hearing over at as we get into the fall, it sounds like this year might be one of those “Niña-style” setups, with more Miller Bs and southwest flow events for New England. Even if that means a slightly higher chance of mixed precipitation, it would be a nice reprieve from last season. If we can get a season that is as above average for snowfall as last season was below, then the Northern Vermont resorts would be in the range of 400 inches of snow. Whatever happens, hopefully it will be more interesting as we monitor the snowfall this season; it was tough watching so many powerful storms hit the Mid Atlantic last season instead of depositing their snow up in the ski country of Northern New England.