Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Stowe, VT: 03/15 & 03/16/2014

Stowe's gondola, Sunday morning 03/16/2014.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
Almost all of my ski days are family ski days. I get in a few “professional networking” ski days without the family, and occasionally the kids and I will ski without Beth. But it’s a real rarity for Beth and me to ski together without the kids, requiring us to plan and coordinate schedules weeks in advance. If you have kids, you know how hard that can be to pull off. So you can imagine how pleased we were when the trip we had planned to Stowe weeks in advance happened to fall right after the biggest snow event of the winter.

The post-storm powder frenzy was already over by the time we arrived in Stowe early Friday afternoon. Instead of trying to squeeze in a couple hours of lift-served skiing, we figured Friday afternoon would be perfect for a short nordic tour. We’ve both skied many times at the groomed nordic touring centers (Trapp Family Lodge, Mansfield XC Center), but had never done the ski tour up into Smuggler’s Notch, so we settled on that.

Looking up into Smuggler's Notch

Beth skiing up the road

4 feet of snow on the ground

Impressive cliffs on the Mansfield side of the notch

The Smuggler’s Notch tour is so easy and so accessible (you’re skiing up a closed road), it seems a stretch to call it “backcountry.” It’s one of the best ways to kick off a visit to Stowe since it gives you an up-close view of the spectacularly rugged terrain of the notch, views that you just don’t get from the ski area or the mountain road. On top of that, it’s the perfect excuse for stopping at the Matterhorn for après-ski beers.

Deserted early morning trails

Nice snow on Hayride

Lines built by mid-morning but were no more than 10 minutes

The Octagon half-buried in snow

Our relatively laid-back day on Friday made it easy to get up bright and early Saturday morning to take advantage of Stowe’s 7:30 green light on the Forerunner Quad. We didn’t make first chair, but we were skiing by not much past 8am. The early start turned out to be doubly advantageous: not only did we have the slopes to ourselves for our first few runs, we also scored the nicest weather of the day. By 10am the snow was becoming noticeably wetter in the rising temperatures on the lower third of the mountain, by noon clouds had engulfed Mansfield’s summit, and by 1pm it was positively dumping snow.

We split our time between the Forerunner Quad and the gondola, hitting black diamonds like Hayride, Nosedive and Chin Clip multiple times each. The powder from Wednesday’s storm was long gone, but we were left with some of the nicest soft packed powder I’ve skied all season. Moguls were soft and rounded and the woods were deep. And by afternoon, the new snow was beginning to accumulate on the upper half of the mountain.

Beth skiing the Cliff trail


Nosedive woods

Beth skiing Chin Clip

Beth on Chin Clip's runout with the snow starting to come down

You can’t be at Stowe on a day like Saturday and not ski the Front Four. I split from Beth for a run and flipped a coin between Goat and Starr, in my opinion the two best out of the four. Starr won, and I scored my run-of-the-day.

Starr, with snow pounding down

Starr's beautiful side woods

Selfie in the Starr trees

Lower Starr

Apres ski tunes and beers at the Mansfield base lodge

The snow that started Saturday afternoon continued overnight, and by 6am Sunday Stowe was reporting an unexpected 8 inches. Temperatures had dropped from the 30s to single digits, so the new snow was light and dry. Apparently the cold kept the crowds away, because the gondi and quad were virtually ski-on all day. With all that beautiful powder, the trees were the place to be and we incorporated trees into a good part of every run. It’s amazing how much great tree skiing there is at Stowe – it seems like there are skiable woods between every run, and lots of hidden stashes all over. Armed with some beta from a couple of Stowe regulars and my own knowledge from skiing Stowe a handful of times over the years, we sniffed out some hidden stashes of our own.

Looking up the gondi line through a snow haze Sunday morning

Ahhhh, trees on a powder morning

Untracked, but not for long :)

Into the woods

Me sniffing out a rabbit hole: Going...



Bypass - a short but highly enjoyable <><> off the quad

Once again I split from Beth for a Front Four run, this time a top-to-bottom Goat. If you ask me, Goat may be one of the best on-the-map lines in the east. Steep, narrow, double fall-line – it doesn’t get more challenging than that, and in top-notch conditions like Sunday Goat is a joy to ski.

Upper Goat

Upper Goat: ski it if you can

Don't let Lower Goat's mellow looking entrance deceive

Looking back at the Notch at the end of the day

Perhaps the only thing that could have made the day even better would have been to hike above the gondi to access some of Mount Mansfield’s epic sidecountry. You can bet I looked longingly at the boot track heading up to the ridge. But since I would be solo, limited to a narrow time slot, and hadn’t been up there before, it’ll have to wait until next time. And there will most certainly be a next time - with Mansfield's abundant snowfall and challenging terrain, Stowe is a place to which we will want to return.

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